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The middle and high school kids and our music teacher and I have jumped into the study of silent film and how the soundtrack effects us as we watch it with both feet this week. We have been showing the children different types and genres of silent films and asking them to pay particular attention to what the music is telling them during each scene.
This coming week we will begin work on a storyboarding project, asking the students to storyboard the production of Peter and the Wolf we watched and then – take a deep breath – asking them to come up with the story for their own silent film and to create a storyboard for that one.
Sounds simple? I am not sure what will happen! But if I know these guys – and I feel like I am starting to know them - it will be a fun, quirky and very original project. And chaotic, of course, at least at first. But at times like this I always remind myself :
You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star.
OK, future dancing stars, let’s get started…
In November I received a note from a mom worried about some of the experiences her teenage daughter was having at rehearsals for a show she was in. This was my response, beginning appropriately enough I think with an apology for taking so long in getting back to her!
First, I would like to apologize for having taken so long to get back to you again. Things here have taken on a whirlwind pace, and though I am very thankful for that, I do feel bad about neglecting you for so long!
I imagine that the show went very well and that you and your child were happy with the experience after it was all over. The magic that happens when that curtain goes up can soothe a lot of hard feelings brought on by personality differences and stress from the long hours of rehearsal with a director that it sounds like has a very different style of working with the children than you and your child would have been comfortable with.
And yes, I think it is not excusable to forget this: these are actors, but first and most importantly they are children. My personal opinion is that as we are working with children, everything we do with them must be of benefit to them. Why else should a child be involved? At this time in their lives we owe it to them to make sure that every experience they have will encourage growth, be it growth of their cognitive, social or emotional selves, and that there is no excuse for “guilting” a child into participation.
Many times I think that we in the theatre are seen as unpredictable and outrageous, and that excuses are made for unpleasant or irresponsible behavior from directors or actors as being due to the “artistic temperament.” I do not agree with this concession; espeically in our work with children I feel that theatre expereinces are such excellent vehicles for teaching the joy of working collarboratively, the important skills of connecting with other humans, of really listening to and communicating with one another, that it is to me inexcusable to forget to pay attention to these things in a flurry of adult egos and control issues and the stress of getting a show up.
And yes, I feel it is important to remember that children must have enough rest, and must have enough time to just be kids. In the last few weeks of rehearsal this is a huge challenge, and everyone is often so exhausted by the time the show is over that if one is not careful illness and emotional upsets can be quite common. So I think it is important to oay attention to how much we ask of them. To make sure that they are not kept too late at rehearsals in the evenings. I like to schedule the longer rehearsals for weekend afternoons if possible; it can be time for catching up with all the cast members, little ones can attend without being exhausted the next day or having bedtime routines disrupted.
But it is all a juggling act. It is a challenge to keep things healthy for young people while working on such an intense project, there is no getting around that! But yes, I think there are ways to safeguard the emotional and physical well being of the kids while creating something wonderful for the stage.
I hope I have answered some of your questions, and perhaps offered you some ideas for what you might look for in future acting projects for your daughter. Please feel free to write again if you have further question or if I can be of service to you in any other way.
Please take care, and best of everything to you and your family!
Director, Center Stage Youth Theatre
This week I had my first drama class with the elementary students! I had been hoping for an opportunity to work with these younger guys since I started at the school and this week we were finally able to make it happen. They arrived at 11:15 Friday and after we discussed the procedures for my class we played a few name games and then moved on to playing “Everybody Who…” which has been a huge hit with the older guys in the last few weeks.
We played it with the same number of chairs as actors in this case, as I felt it important to get to know them all a little bit more before adding the stress of removing one chair (the game is ordinarily played in a fashion similar to musical chairs, with one less chair than actors.)
It was a great opportunity to learn more about these younger Glenforesters. And lots of fun.
And my goodness, they are clever!
This week I started gearing up for the next show, Annie. We’ll be using the Broadway Jr. version, which I am very pleased with for the most part, though the Hoovervillers are not in it. Sigh – that is such a big part of the history lesson of the show that I was a bit disappointed the first time we used that version, but FDR still makes his appearance and it is possible to squish in the story of the culture of the time through the other songs and plot details.
Some folks may worry that there are fewer boy’s parts than they might have hoped for, but there is room in the charming chorus for all the young gentlemen we can fine, as well as the absolutely charming Daddy Warbucks, the crazy and tricky Rooster and the stodgy but playful butler, whose names escapes me.
Many of my little guys came in to auditions last time asking to be considered for the part of Punjab. Punjab, I am sorry to say, is nowhere to be seen in this version. The movie featured him, but even though he was a big part of the original comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie” he does not appear in any of the stage versions.
But no matter - there are parts for everybody! A big chorus, some wonderful character parts for boys and girls, and of course… lots of little girls everywhere.
I have had the most delightful last nine weeks with my FAW group of kids. They worked well and got along well (ok, for the most part) happily took part in helping me prepare for the show by constructing and building and even velcro-ing the pipe system for hanging the black curtains. And I have been sad to think that it was almost time for us to change groups, though I had definitely missed some of the other Drama oriented FAW kids and was looking forward to working with them again as well.
So I was really excited when our music teacher suggested that we work together on a project. She told me that in her music class she had played ragtime for the kids, and they had really enjoyed it. And when she explained to them how it worked during the silent film era, with the music as the background, they became very excited and had a great time creating little silent scenes to go with the music.
So that’s what we have decided to do. And in this way the current drama kids will not have to move over for another bunch, as we can incorporate them all into the drama/music class while adding another set of kids for this big project. We’ll have twice as many kids as usual, but we will also have two teachers and lots of material to work with. I’m really looking forward to getting started tomorrow!
This week I have been doing a lot of thinking about which musical we should do in the spring. I had thought to do Once on This Island Jr – the music is wonderful, the story poigniant, but as a new theatre company, and with the young age of most of our actors I have begun to think it is not the best choice for us right now.
It seems to me that it is important at this time to do a well known, well loved show which can encompass a great many kids of all ages. Which has a large chorus and will bring lots and lots of kids out to audition.
And so get ready little ladies, because – Leaping Lizards! – this Spring, Center Stage is going to present: ANNIE!
Right before we closed for winter break the kids and I spent the last 2 weeks playing more new games, but also working on things for the set and props and costumes for the show. I was unsure how they would respond to these tasks, but as usual they showed themselves to be eager and quick learners – I think my favorite day was when I had them all working in pairs to construct the three new rolling clothes racks and the room was absolutely a-bustle with team work; I was so grateful to them! I never could have gotten these things together in such a short time. And watching and listening to them getting organized and down to work was interesting and informative for me, and I think I was able to learn more about their different learning styles by observing them in action this way. And I think they really liked being included in the show preparations; I was happy and proud to include them in the program.
Only 4 kids from Glenforest were onstage in the show – every one of them did a wonderful job and I was terribly proud of them – but so many other people from Glenforest helped out. The show truly did feel like a school function in so many ways. Thanks everybody.
Welcome to 2011 everybody! Wow – 2010 ended for Center Stage in a whirlwind of activity as we mounted our first big show…The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. As I have directed this one now 8 times – and still love it every bit as much – the actual show was not a mystery to me but the process of getting the show up and running here in my new home town was quite an adventure. But folks came absolutely out of the woodwork to help, and the feeling of joy I think people felt as we all worked together to help the kids shine was wonderful. I am extremely grateful, and I very much look forward to our continuing adventure as we approach the rest of the season: classes, a musical in the spring, summer camps and Shakespeare this summer.
Here we go!
Welcome to the portion of my life where it begins to imitate art. As we move along in the production of TBCPE I find myself feeling more and more like Grace Bradley as we move from blocking and repeated attempts to keep everybody quiet backstage to actual acting skills, set construction, props gathering and…well, more repeated attempts to ask for quiet backstage.
My world begins to revolve now around these 28 shiny young faces in a very real way, as they begin to get a clue about the magic that lies in wait for them on December 17th. My job now goes beyond teaching them and encouraging them and costuming them and reassuring parents and begging for help from the same parents to actually beginning to let the kids themselves take control over the show with the very important backstage guidance of the stage manager.
It never fails, and while we have our work cut out for us: new space, new program, no budget, almost no contacts, almost no lights, and a cast of exuberant, dedicated but largely inexperienced young actors – it doesn’t matter. Because what really matters is the way they will all feel when the curtain goes up and they realize that they are ready. And the way they will feel when it is over and success has been had by all.
There is nothing like it. And I love being part of this process with them.
Part of last week as well a the last few days before Thanksgiving break in drama class we played a new game I purchased for the fine arts program: the new charades game, Anything Goes. Here’s a description:
Yes it has a lot of rules, and oh my, yes, it is silly. But there is something about it that really appeals to my students. There are lots of steps to what you might think should be a pretty simple game, but that seems to help them exercise their cognizance of turn taking and help them with their attention to the rights and responsibilities of the others involved in the game. And having to perform two different unrelated actions at once is great for their helping them release their inhibitions around risk taking and being physical in front of the other kids.
I love watching them as they progress not only in their ability to be creative in body and face and voice, but as they learn to think of each other and to be more aware of what passes for acceptable behavior (to their peers, yes, but also to their teacher) and how good the developing supportiveness of their peers makes them feel.
Yep. What else could be more important for them to learn in Drama Class?