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Archive for Scripts

My Facebook Friend, Don Nigro, Or Why You Should Be Speaking to Your Playwright

I remember the day I pressed enter to send a request to be Don Nigro’s friend on Facebook.  I was sitting across from Mandy Connor, who had just produced his play, Paganini, and she and I were discussing our love of his plays.  I shared how much I loved directing his play about Edward Munch called Madonna as we discovered he had an actual account on Facebook, not just a fan page.  We both decided to friend request him and like giggling school girls, we pressed send at the same time.  We were over the moon when it came back accepted!  I was even more shocked to see that Mr. Nigro was open to discussing my show, was complimentary of the production photos and was interested in my program.  When I shared with him my desire to produce another one of his shows and told him my available casting options, he sent me several scripts, some not published yet, and offered his help.  I was in awe of his generosity and appreciation for what I did as an educator.

With my new friend’s encouragement, I began to approach play selection differently.  Not only did I look at the suitability of the work but also the possibility of connecting with the playwright so my students would have an additional layer of instruction.  By working with the playwright, when possible, my students had the opportunity to not only explore the work as a piece of literature with the author but, they were also exposed to another career opportunity in the field of Theatre.  I pushed my fear of rejection aside and began communicating with playwrights through their agents and publishing companies and almost every playwright has been open to e-mailing me or even communicating directly with my students when we produce their work.

It is funny but, as directors and educators, we sometimes forget that the playwrights who generate the material we work on are open to collaboration and are a tremendous resource for us and our students.  For many playwrights, the idea that their work is being produced in educational theatre is not only exciting for them but lucrative.  I have found in working with playwrights like Jeffrey Hatcher on Smash, George Brant on Elephant’s Graveyard , Heidi Stillman on Hard Times For These Times , Sharman Macdonald on After Juliet, and Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North, a real appreciation for what we do in developing young talent.  Playwrights are eager to see their work produced and many are willing to work with you and your company to clarify objectives and broaden the production experience.

Some playwrights have tailored their shows to be student centered and may even have study guides or supplementary materials available as I found when I worked with Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North. When I applied for the rights, Samuel French Inc. asked me if I was interested in Skyping with him.  I was thrilled with the possibilities of such an opportunity and connected with Mr. Burnett before and after the Skype with my students.  I told him my concept and discussed symbolism and meaning in the show.  We discussed his adaptation and I submitted my ideas for adapting his show for UIL.  Mr. Burnett worked with the students during the Skype session, answering their questions regarding the dramatic structure of his plot, his adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel and how he became a playwright.  The experience went beyond my expectations with Mr. Burnett sending his support to the students and empowering them to make the show their own and enjoy the journey.  His frequent shout outs to our company on Facebook were a real treat throughout the run.  Mr. Burnett connected with the student’s love of theatre and was a tremendous inspiration. Following our UIL debut of his production, he produced his own one-act version of the show.

I have had many colleagues share their positive experiences about working and corresponding with playwrights and I challenge you to reach out to your playwright.  Like me, you may be surprised at the amazing generosity of your playwright.  At the beginning of the year, I posted a simple status update “Ambiguous Dialogues anyone……”  It was an assignment we were covering that day in Theatre I class.  By the time I got to work, my good Facebook friend, Don Nigro, had e-mailed me two original scripts with ambiguous dialogues.  Wow! Nothing like having a direct line to a playwright!  And for the record, Mandy Connor, who so boldly encouraged me to hit send on the friend request to Mr. Nigro is now a published playwright herself!  I highly encourage you to check out her scripts, published by Playscripts, Ago and Lafayette No. 1.

Without hesitation, I encourage you to make contact with those individuals who wrote, adapted, and cultivated the script your students will be using to create their next masterpiece.  The guidance, encouragement, clarification and direction you will receive are well worth your time and effort to make a connection.  As you plan this year’s shows, look into corresponding with your playwrights.  Your students will benefit from the experience and you could find a resource that continues giving even when the curtain closes.

It’s Audition Time Again

I have a love/hate relationship with auditions.  As a director, I’m excited to see the growth of my students’ auditioning skills from their previous auditions.  I’m optimistic that new jewels are about to be discovered, and that those diamonds-in-the-rough from the previous year are now sparkling and ready to “wow” me. Watching students enter the audition process with excitement, hope, and determination is something that I absolutely love.  I hate, however, the eventual task of making those difficult (and many times hair-splitting) decisions, breaking hearts, and disappointing kids. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process if your students are truly invested in your program.

With the beginning of another school year, many directors are currently going through the audition process.  Below are a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. The CALENDAR. Have a calendar with dates of rehearsals, performances, contests, and any other dates that your company members will be required to attend.  It’s important to be very specific concerning the expectations you have of your students’ time. This will, hopefully, eliminate conflicts in the future. It will also give you leverage later should a student ask to miss a required event due to a conflict that was not previously approved.

 

  1. The CONTRACT. A contract listing your rehearsal, performance, and contest expectations, along with information concerning the dates you require students to attend these events (attach calendar mentioned in #1) should be distributed at auditions.  Have students read the contract and allow them to communicate any questions they may have. Contracts should be signed by both the student and a parent. There should be a statement indicating that the parent and the student both understand and agree to your expectations and the student will be available on all dates indicated as a required event.

 

  1. The AUDITION FORM. I include a section for students to list their other activities (job, school activities, church activities, private lessons, etc…) on the audition form. Have students list all possible activities they will be involved with during the rehearsal process and through the run of the show (including advancement dates for contest and any rehearsals to accompany advancement). They should include dates/times for these activities.  It’s important that you get an idea how busy the student is and with which activities they are involved.  It’s best to know that a student has conflicts prior to casting them.  Sometimes, you can work through the issues and the student can still participate, but if the student is going to have to make choices, it’s best for them and for you to know that now.

 

  1. The PROCESS. It’s important to consider many things when perusing scripts: your talent pool, your audience, your community, your budget, and the literary merit of the material you’re considering just to name a few. Finding “the one” is often a time-consuming process.  If more than one script could be “the one”, consider auditioning multiple scripts to get an idea of which is the best.  During the audition process, include a brief interview with each of the students who receive a call-back (and, if time allows, during regular auditions). If you haven’t already discussed possible conflicts from the audition form with each student, the interview process is a great time to have that discussion. Interviews can be done during lunch and before or after school on non-audition days if desired. Also, consider using various audition techniques in your assessment of auditions.  A cold reading of the chosen script can be useful, but not all students cold-read well.  Warm-ups and improv activities can be valuable in discovering who is quick-witted, creative, or willing to get out of their comfort zone.  Having students memorize a brief monologue or scene for call-backs is yet another way to access a student’s abilities. Pantomime activities are a great way to observe a student’s use of physicality when acting.  When multiple assessments are used, a director can consider how each student uses the body, voice, imagination, and script.  This will give you a much better picture of the actor you are casting.  Crew members should also have an audition and interview process.

 

  1. The “TALK”. I give “the talk” prior to the start of auditions and at the conclusion of each audition session.  The “talk” at the beginning of the audition session will include information concerning what I’m looking for in auditions.  I also give each student a list of characters with character descriptions, a synopsis of the play, and the calendar/contract/audition form. I want the students to have all the information they need to be successful and to understand the expectations of them. At the end of each audition session, and especially on the final day of regular auditions and call-back auditions, I conclude with another “talk”.  I explain to the students that I have to make very difficult decisions, and not everyone will get what they want.  I ask that they look at me and really hear the following words, “I’m talking to you”.   So many of them truly believe they’ve aced their audition, and there’s no way you can’t choose them. They need to understand that rejection is a part of the process.  If you get the part you want, that probably means someone else (or several people) have not gotten what they wanted.  It happens.  It’s disappointing, and it is alright to be disappointed.  It’s NOT alright to be angry, bitter, or disruptive to the production process if you’re disappointed.  During the production process, we teach theatre, but we also teach “life”.  Teaching them how to handle disappointment and triumph is part of what we do.  I tell my students, “You’re always auditioning” in hopes that this will encourage them to reflect before reacting negatively. Help them learn that you love them enough to hold them accountable for their behavior.

Don’t forget that you, too, will be auditioning during the student audition process.  Students come into auditions evaluating you, your program, & your choice of script. They’re considering, “Do I want to spend my time being a part of this process?”, “Does this director seem like someone I want to work with?”, and “Do I really want to be in this particular play?”.  Be organized. Be engaging.  Be excited.  Students want to make sure that the commitment of their time, talent, and efforts is well placed. The audition process will help them make that decision.  Best wishes with your auditions this year, and remember—-you, and they, are always auditioning!

Productive Collaboration

Where to start?  My brain is mush as I sit here on the final night of Maestro Summer Directing Workshops. I have been so blessed to experience three of the four workshops where some of Texas’ finest theatre educators gather for professional development and collaboration. Even though I am physically and mentally exhausted, I am also inspired by the willingness of theatre teachers to share their ideas and craft.

The ten days began by working with young teachers just beginning their teaching careers. Their energetic passion was contagious and they absorbed new ideas like a sponge. The last workshop of the summer hosted veteran teachers who are still passionate about teaching students and producing productions that coach actors and technicians to grow.

I love this atmosphere where novice and veteran directors collaborate while learning from each other. This venue allows theatre teachers to come together away from competition. I watched veteran theatre teachers share their skills and knowledge with those teachers who are just beginning their journey and I watched new, young teachers bring fresh ideas to the collaborative table. It is refreshing when teachers remind one another that the success of their program is not measured by the number of awards received during the year.  True success in a theatre department is found in the journey students take on that stage each production. It is inspiring to see everyone focused on the same goal – directing students to become better actors, technicians and, ultimately, productive individuals.

When a seasoned group like this comes together, an exposure to a myriad of scripts is shared. Teachers share their knowledge about scripts recently read and collaborate on the quality of literature.  There is also an exchange of favorite lesson plans or acting exercises. All leave feeling more prepared and excited to begin the new school year which makes the rest of the summer more enjoyable.

Many teachers come to the workshops for the structured, disciplined time to read and share with other artistic-minded teachers. We need that time away from the everyday expectations of our lives. It is hard to read scripts, prepare for productions and plan lesson plans while doing the laundry, dishes and paying bills. This escape makes returning to the real world easier because much of the burden for preparing for a new school year is done.

Thank you to all of the Maestro Theatre Summer Directing Workshop participants for your willingness to sharing your ideas and for being open to learning new ideas. Let’s all continue to share our skills and artistry with one another other so that educational theatre continues to excel.

More Than a Job

“Why do you want to go back to theatre?”  This is the question I have been asked many times over the past few weeks as I leave my English teaching assignment to return to teaching theatre and directing again.   I usually answer with something like, “It’s my love,” or “I am a better theatre teacher than English teacher,” or sometimes “I can retire in a few years and why not finish out having fun.”  While these are true, they do not truly articulate why I continue to return to teaching theatre in the classroom and on the stage.

As many of you know, I have resisted teaching theatre for many years.  Wait, I have never minded teaching theatre classes, I love teaching them. (Truthfully, I do not love teaching tech theatre, but I love the rest of it.)  Where else can I foster self-confidence and teach literature in a way a student “gets” it.  What  I have resisted is directing.  We all know the long hours directing a production involves and the toll it takes on our relationships.  We miss many events with friends, and sometimes family, because we have a show, or we have rehearsal, or we need to work on costumes, set, music cues, light cues, etc.  Over the past few years, I have tried to find other pastimes to enjoy; and in this quest, I have realized directing is the pastime, or hobby, I most love.  So, now instead of apologizing for being at rehearsal, I am going to compare it to playing golf, or painting, or wine-tasting.   When someone asks me what I do with my spare time, I am going to answer with “I teach theatre – that is my hobby.”

Hobbies are things that fulfill us, motivate us, make us happy.  Merriam-Webster defines a hobby as 1.  a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation,  2.  an interest or activity engaged in for pleasure.  I like the second definition much better.  Why must our hobby be outside of our regular occupation?  How much more rewarding is it if our hobby is our J-O-B.  I no longer want to dread going to work, I do not want to sit and wait for a final bell to ring.  I want to finish my career being engaged in activities that I find fun and fulfilling.  OK, maybe directing a production is not relaxing, but it will keep me excited and young at heart!

So, why theatre?  I love the creativity.  I love reading a script while I envision it coming to life on stage.  I love collaborating with students to produce the best product for that particular company.  This is why we can return to shows we have directed, because each show is different.  We cannot recreate the same show we did with other students, because it is a different group of creative energy.  I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding than watching the final night of a performance.  That is the only night I can really relax and enjoy the art unfolding on that stage.  That is magic for me.

I love how,  on a stage, students learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them.  Jacki Maenius, theatre director at Mason High School, and four time UIL State OAP champion, best described it, “In theatre, I think we [theatre teachers] send kids out into the world with a better perspective on humanity and THEIR purpose.”  We teach kids to be open-minded, to accept others as they are and not what we want them to be, and to look at the world through multiple perspectives.  We all know that literature opens a student up to seeing the world.  On the stage, students learn to dig deep into a playwright’s words and “chew” on them.  I know from teaching English, very few students do this in the classroom, but on the stage they thrive on digging deeper into the meaning of each word and action.

In my theatre class, I begin the year with activities to encourage self-discovery. So many students do not know how to look inward to uncover who they are.  I wish someone would have encouraged me to discover who I was when I was in high school.  Truthfully, it was not until I began teaching theatre that I began to analyze myself and started to grow as a person.  In my theatre classes, I begin the year talking about how students cannot become someone else on stage if they do not know who they are themselves.  To me, this is one of the biggest gifts a teacher can give a student – the freedom to discover their strengths, their weaknesses, and their dreams.  I love how we can do this in a theatre classroom and on a stage.  I cannot wait to begin this process with my new students and encourage them to be playwrights, writing their own stories, and seeing those on the stage through our Maestro Talk Theatre performances.

I know this sounds like some Utopia and I definitely know that is not the case.  I remember how I agonize over choosing a script, casting students, communicating with parents and administrators, preparing for opening night, and the long hours spent working on a production.  I also remember how difficult teaching technical theatre is for me.   Technical elements are not my friend.  But, I do know, sometimes the best learning happens when teacher and student are learning next to one another.  Truthfully, that is why I love directing; it is me and a group of students learning about that playwright’s intent, motivation, and lessons – together.  Nothing can replace that experience to me.  I have missed learning with students on a stage and I welcome that feeling with open-arms.

So, as I begin my twenty-eighth year of teaching, I am returning to joining students in an educational journey for all of us – in a classroom, a small scene shop and on stage.  I am nervous, excited, and at peace.  I feel like I am putting on old shoes that I loved but had misplaced.  Recently, an ex-student reminded me of a poem we used to say at the end of our rehearsals and before performances.  J.B. Priestly’s words best sums up the way most of us feel about our job/hobby/pastime/calling in life.


The Secret Dream
The hunger that can never be fulfilled
To come out of a late rehearsal and smell the lilacs
To have a play done as well as it can be done
By dear friends and tired colleagues
And not indifferently produced on all the stages of the world
Ah! Some of my friends will be onto it before you can say “knife”
To tell me that such a place cannot exist outside a daydream
But some of us,
As we go,
Hold to a notion quite different
For ours is the secret dream
 

The End is a New Beginning

With the end of the school year, and the anticipation of a new year, I have been reflecting on how one thing ending brings a new beginning. As I listen to theatre teachers at workshops, I see that this is the philosophy of our profession. Teachers talked very little about the past year. Yes, there are fond memories of productions and students over last school year, but most are focused on the anticipation of a new production season and a new school year. We should all embrace this philosophy in life. We should all look ahead and not behind.

As I look ahead and not behind, I plan to set some goals for this summer to better prepare me for the next school year. As I transition end of one school year and into the next, I want to set some realistic goals for myself.

Goal #1:  I am going to read a new script each week this summer. Surely, I can fulfill this goal. How hard is it to read one script?  Some of you are laughing as you read multiple scripts a day each summer. I am going to start small and move up. I thrive on success!  I am almost finished with Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph which I highly recommend. Sitting on my night stand to be read next are WTC View by Brian Sloan, Kin by Bathsheba Doran and The Best of Everything adapted by Julie Kramer based on the book by Rona Jaffe.

Goal #2:  Discard unused and unwanted items in my house and my classroom. I have had to face some harsh realities about myself. “Hello, I am Renee, and I am becoming a hoarder.”  Go ahead and laugh, most of you are too. It comes with the job. I look at almost everything and think, “I might need this in some show this year.”  But, this summer, I am going to get rid of things I have not touched or used in a year. I think this is a good way to start.

Goal #3:  Spend time with my family and friends without thinking of all the things I need to do. I find it difficult to live in the moment. Again, I think this is part of the job as a theatre teacher and director. We are always busy. Nothing is ever ready enough – on opening night the show is never completely polished, not every prop is perfect,  a music cue could be better or longer or shorter, there are buttons and hems that still need repair,  and wait, what about the program?  Whew, I could go on and on. This lifestyle contributes to why I find it hard to relax. Nothing is ever “good enough” to just sit and enjoy the moment. That is my goal this summer, sit and enjoy the moment with my family, friends and dog.

Goal #4:  Dream of the new beginning a next school year will bring. I want to find ways to make the year better than the last for me and my students. I can work on organization, new lesson plans, re-vamp old lesson plans. The idea of a new year is what keeps me going. I love the idea of new students, new shows, and new beginnings.

I hope I can accomplish all of my goals this summer. Truth is, I am already behind! Luckily, I’m pretty good at rushing to get things done at the last minute!  So, I feel that July will make up for what I did not accomplish in June and prepare me for the new beginnings August will bring.