Hello! Remember how I said I was back last week? Well, that was wrong. See, I always do this. I assume that since the play is over, life will be back to normal. What I always forget is that I have two weeks worth of life built up that I have to go through and it takes a long time.
I have some pictures to post soon from the play. It really did turn out well and I was quite pleased. I'll post the photos as soon as I've heard back from all the parents from whom I am seeking permission to post.
Auditions for The Wizard of Oz are this week. Can I tell you a secret? I'm dreading them. I hate auditions so bad. I try not to let on too much to the kids, but auditions are painful for me. I'm not asking for sympathy, but I do want to get this off my chest.
See, only one kid can get each lead. That's just the way it is. I don't struggle with knowing who the lead should be. Auditions are rigorous enough that it is abundantly clear who is best suited for the roles.
What is difficult, and what I can't get over, is the fact that it hurts so badly to audition and not get the role you want. It's especially keen for the 8th graders, for whom this is their last shot in middle school.
Yes, I know. I know this is part of life, I know that we can't get everything we want. I know this is preparing them for the future. I know all this, I believe it, and I preach it to them and their parents.
Still, having been an actor, I know how keenly it stings when you don't get the part you are dying for. It hurts and I know that. So, it's painful for me to be the inflictor of that hurt.
That makes me sad. But there's something else that makes me sad. I'm disappointed every year by how some of the adults react to their child not getting the role they wanted. The kids get over it. Some of the parents don't and every year, there are people I thought were my friends who suddenly become very chilly and sometimes downright mean. That's disappointing. I have a fairly thick skin after 25 years of doing this, and my self-esteem isn't based on what people think of me. But it still makes me disappointed and sad. This year is complicated by the fact that my daughter is an 8th grader, so these kids are almost like my own children in terms of the fondness I feel for them.
Ultimately, of course, this is about the kids. I want to provide the best experience I can for them. Doing that means producing the best play that we can do. Which means casting it right and setting them up for success. It all boils down essentially to doing it for the kids, even when they are disappointed at the moment.
This week, I'll have my parents meeting and go over the expectations and put on a strict face and give the speech about dealing with disappointment. I'll do the same thing with the kids. I'll put on a good face. But Friday we'll have call-backs. That night, I'll toss and turn all night long and not really sleep at all. Saturday I'll post the cast list and shed some tears for the kids who didn't get what they wanted. I'll watch some of them handle their disappointment bravely and graciously--congratulating the person who did get the part. I'll be disappointed again at the way some people handle it.
And then, life will go on. In the end, it's all good and it's a part of life. I get that.
But gosh, it stings!
Well, hello, everyone! I have almost emerged from the blogging isolation chamber imposed by my play. I've missed you all. I am constantly surprised, when I'm forced to take a blogging break, how much I miss everyone. I haven't dared check Google reader to see how many blog posts I have missed from you all--but I'll get to your blogs as soon as I can.
Thanks for your good wishes, thoughts, and prayers. The play was really good. I'm pretty critical, and there were very few elements for me to be critical about. In fact, I was really happy with how well my brave adolescents did with some very challenging material. I'll post more pictures later, but here is my daughters in full, green, ten-foot glory.
She was so good!!!
I'm writing this from my back porch, watching my family play frisbee/kickball. The forest at the back of our yard is bright and colorful, there's a cool breeze and the smell of rain. We've fasted today for a friend, and just had a lovely meal to end the fast. My play went well, we did good work, and now it's over and we can enjoy well-earned memories.
And, I'm back with my family.
Life is good, thank you, Lord!
Oh wait, not quite. My good friend Debbie, aka Crash Test Dummy is trying get a paid blogging gig and she needs lots of votes. If you are so inclined, would you mind going here and voting for her? It only takes a second. Heck, go every day and vote for her.
Well, it's opening night tomorrow (actually opening afternoon, since the show is at 4). I'll write more later, but I'm thinking it's going to be good and I'm excited.
A few months ago I went to a student's Bat Mitzvah. One of the things I loved was that her parents got up and read statements they had prepared about things they loved about their daughter--and she, a 13 year old, had to stand there quietly and just let them talk about her without rolling her eyes or arguing or anything.
Since I'm not Jewish, I don't get the opportunity to stand up and say nice things about my daughter publicly, while she is compelled to listen silently. However, I have a blog. So I'm going to shamelessly brag about my daughter for a few pixels.
Let me just tell you how wonderful she is as a performer. Objectively speaking, she has a lovely voice. In our current production, she has a small role, but she is amazing. She plays the ghost of the Butcher's first wife in a dream and she is really superb. The wonderful costumers made her this really cool costume and she travels around on a wheeled platfom that makes her about ten feet tall, which is cool. But the coolest thing is the way she acts. She delivers her song with gusto and energy that is a bit beyond what most middle school kids can do. Somehow, she did not end up with my neruoses, and she is very comfortable in her own skin. I'm telling you, she just rocks this part.
She is also a sweet and loving person. One of the traditions at our school is for the kids to decorate each other's lockers on birthdays. There have been several days when my daughter has wanted to leave early for school so that she could decorate a friend's locker. That's nice, but what I really love, is that there have been several mornings when she also wanted to get to school early because it was someone's birthday and she was worried that, for various reasons, that person wouldn't have anyone decorate their locker. Every time she does this, my heart swells with pride and joy.
My daughter is a normal kid and she has her flaws, but she is a wonderful, wonderful kid. I'm proud of her, I love her, and I want the world to know it!
So, the play is this week, Thursday in fact, and I'm swamped. No post today. I did get a wonderful review from author LC Lewis (Awakening Avery, Free Men and Dreamer Series). One thing I loved about her review was that I wrote the book as a series of images--being a theatre guy, that's how I wrote the book. Lewis really got that, and it made me happy.
Have a good week! Hopefully I'll have glowing reports of the play and wonderful pictures next week.
It was Chesterton who famously said, "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around." (Orthodoxy, 1908).
As a confirmed Anglophile and Christian, I have always had a soft-spot for quotations by really smart English Christian guys. So, I grant, that I'm not a difficult sell. Still, I find Chesterton's quote compelling because it tracks with something I have been experiencing lately.
Recently I have been aware of how much I am enjoying my family. My wife, my children--they just bring me so much joy. We are certainly not a perfect family, but our pronounced humanness notwithstanding, I love them. And they make my life far richer and more full than it would be without them.
Occasionally, I shudder to imagine my life without them. What it would it be like? What would I be like? To tell the truth, I don't really want to know, but it wouldn't be good.
Not only does my family make me happy, they make me better than I would otherwise be. I terrifies me to think that I might have missed out on this tremendous joy and the growth I've experienced.
Happily, I didn't miss out on this, because in the culture where I grew up, getting married was a tradition, part of the established pattern of society. I could not have known at the time I got married and started a family how happy it would make me--but I didn't have to know. I didn't have to know because my grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents did understand this. A tradition, a cultural more, was created based on the collective wisdom and experience of many people.
In my opinion, this is the value of tradition. It tells us things we may want to know, things we should know, but things we cannot personally know at the point the decision must be made.
Tradition provides the benefit of experience and wisdom to the inexperienced and unwise.
Tradition also provides perspective. For example, during a rough spell with a colicky baby, a new parent might question the wisdom of having a family. Fortunately, tradition provides perspective--a perspective that says, "Hang in there--at some point, this is going to be worth it and you'll be so glad you stuck with it."
Of course, some traditions may not be wise or relevant, and I am not arguing that we should blindly follow every tradition. Still, the older I get, and the more I learn, the more I realize that while the world has changed a great deal, human nature has not, and in our most elemental moments, I believe that we, today, are asking essentially the same questions our ancestors asked. Today we travel on interstates in cars, whereas our ancestors travelled on dirt roads in carts. But the fact that we travel faster does not change the destination, and the fact that we have paved over the paths they blazed might make us more, not less, beholden to their navigational skills.
So, I think it is foolish to dismiss traditions without giving them a careful examination, even, perhaps, the benefit of the doubt. I have found, and this is only the most recent example, that when I am careful and thoughtful, I can usually find the wisdom that inspired the tradition. But, and this is a HUGE but--this requires humility, something that those in the present usually don't possess. Instead, we tend to arrogate to ourselves unique circumstances and singular circumstances--our situation, we are sure, is different and we are wiser than our fathers and mothers were--or at least that our world is so different from theirs that they can have little of use to teach us.
This is the conceit of youth in every era, and I fear that our current culture has elevated this hubris to a civic virtue.
And yet...I look back to those I knew who lived guided by wisdom and traditions that had been passed on for generations. Are we truly that wiser than they? Have we solved difficult problems by severing our connection to the past? Are we more content, more grounded, more virtuous or more tranquil? If changing or shedding traditions has freed us in some ways, are we freer inside--are our souls truly more free, are we happier than our grandparents?
Okay, full disclosure: to be perfectly honest, there are times when my students are unruly and squirrely and make me want to pull my hair out, slit my wrists, or become a bagger at Kroger. Not many times, but they do exist. I say that simply to balance out the glowing, gushing post that follows.
A few weeks back, I wrote a post about things that make my soul sing. As I work to become a more grateful, loving person, I'm trying to make it a point to more frequently savor and enjoy the good things about my life, so I wanted to post some more of the things that bring me such joy that my soul begins to sing. On Friday, I left work feeling this way, feeling happy and satisfied because of my students.
These quirky, wonderful little people are straddling the two worlds of childhood and adulthood. Even the oldest among them is little more than a very large child, while even the youngest are inexorably hurtling to maturity. I think it is the confluence of youth and maturity that I enjoy so much about adolescents. They are young enough to be rather sweet still, innocent, even, but they are old enough to be able to do sophisticated work, to have well-developed senses of humor and so on.
Friday, my 8th grade chorus sang "Winter Wonderland" with precise, rich harmonies and attention to dynamic detail that was simply beautiful by any standard. I've been working with them since they were in 6th grade, and so hearing them sing like that is a triumph on many levels. We then worked on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"--a challenging piece for their age. In spite of the challenges, I had chills a number of times and got teary once. In fact, I had to turn and pretend to write something on the board as I don't want them to know they can wring tears out of my stern heart of stone. They sang like young adults and it was magnificent.
They did so well that I let them have the last few minutes of class to go outside and run around on the playground. There were two other classes out there as well--a 1st and a 2nd grade class, but I wasn't worried even a bit about my kids behaving appropriately.
I watched my students in the golden light of a crisp fall afternoon, playing kickball and spinning in circles and playing tag and four-square. They ran and kicked and laughed--the childlike sides of their current developmental states becoming dominant at that moment. I hope I am never so old or dour that I cannot be moved to great joy when watching children run and play in the sunshine.
After school, we had play practice and as I put my 11-13 year old actors through their paces, I marveled at them again. I am blessed with wonderful students, and so I have the luxury of being able to be a little relaxed with them--we work hard, but we can have fun as well. I love their senses of humor. They are old enough to get irony and dry humor, but not too cool to be ashamed of laughing unabashedly, or thinking something's funny. They like to be teased at this age, and will frequently tease me back--sometimes coming up with something really witty and clever.
I basked in how hard they worked to get this play ready. Fiddler on the Roof is not an easy play, especially for kids of this age. But they are such good sports and such good workers--it makes me happy and proud to watch them. They are also growing to the point that they can do some extraordinary choreography, sing demanding passages, and really, and truly act.
They are sweet kids, smart kids, funny kids. Yes, they talk too much and sometimes they make me think that a monastery in Tibet sounds like a good idea. But the warmth and energy they bring to my life, their laughter and sincere affection, along with the quality of their work--these things make my soul sing, and make my spirit swell with gratitude to be around them. When they do good work, when I see them mature and grow, when they come back to see me years later, or, as in the case of one sweet student yesterday, very sincerely invite me to show up to a birthday party (I thought it best to decline, but still, it was a nice thought!)--well, then sings my soul!
So, two weeks from today is opening night for our fall production, "Fiddler on the Roof." In case you have noticed, this is why I have not been to your blogs lately. The run-up to the play is crazy, and while I have an incredible group of devoted parents who help with everything you can imagine, there is still a fair amount of critical stuff that simply can't be delegated.
The place in the rehearsal process where we currently find ourselves is one of my favorites. Scenery is starting to appear and every night a little more of it is painted, so each morning brings a magical glimpse of what is to come. Costume racks are starting to fill. We're moving from rehearsing in small sections to running through the whole play, so I'm beginning to see glimpses of what could be.
Everything about the play is very much in the process of becoming. The entire production is pliable and flexible right now. Depending on the choices the young performers make in the next week or two, the play will either be successful, or not so much. I am fast approaching the point where the only thing I can really do is offer advice and be a cheerleader.
Perhaps, the best way to describe where we are at right now is that everything is still possible. The set, the costumes, the performances, the choreography, is all still a possibility. Choices can still make a difference. And yet, we are starting to see enough to be able envision what some of those possibilities are. It's terribly exciting to me.
You might say that the play is currently in its adolescence--the physical form is beginning to take shape, and one can see glimmers of where it is headed. At the same time, there is still a great deal that can happen--much that can change, for good or bad. The play reminds me of the kids I teach and direct--and of my own spirit.
Last February, our school play was "Annie." I directed 160 kids, which is a quarter of the school. It was a supremely joyful experience--one of the most enjoyable plays I've directed in over 20 years of directing. I was really quite pleased with how it turned out. So, I decided to share it with you, my blog friends. I've actually been wanting to post this since last February, but the book roll-out and then the beginning of school kept me too busy until now.
Yes, I realize that by posting this I may seem like the old man or woman who shows you a wallet full of pictures of the grandkids, but I'm going to do it anyway. This is sort of my way of immortalizing the show. Theatre is notoriously fleeting and ephemeral, so this provides at least a partial record. And, just for the curious, I did get permission from parents to post these.
I should warn you, if you are diabetic, you may not want to look. The sweetness quotient of these pictures is extremely high!
The NYC skyline. In a magnificent visual, it started out with just the paint. Then, when the house lights dimmed and the Overture started, the skyline lit up with tiny white lights.
Here's Annie saying her prayers while singing the song, "Maybe."After the lights went out during the Overture, a spotlight came up, showing cute little Annie kneeling by her bed praying that her parents would come get her.
Annie comforting her friend, Molly, who is having a bad dream.
Miss Hannigan making the orphans clean up the orphanage. Our Miss Hannigan was a beautiful day-dreamer who wanted to live the life she read about in her movie fan magazines. The frustration between her hoped for life and her real life warped her and made her mean. She was vulgar but not sleazy like in the movie.
Annie runs away and finds a stray dog. How's that for cute? Cute kid, cute dog. The dog was amazing. One of the most natural actors I've ever seen. Seriously. He even knew to look at the audience.
Annie eventually gets taken to the home of billionaire Daddy Warbucks. He quickly decides to adopt Annie and buys her a beautiful locket from Tiffany's as a token of his affection.
Here is Daddy Warbucks's efficient and loving secretary, Grace, sneaking a hidden, adoring glance at the boss.
Miss Hannigan and some of the orphans
Annie declines Daddy Warbucks's offer to adopt her. She wants to find her real parents, and he decides to help her. So, he offers a reward for the parents, and they go on the radio to announce a nation-wide search.
Rooster, Lily, and Miss Hannigan decide on a scheme where Rooster and Lily will impersonate Annie's parents and get the reward, which will land them on "Easy Street."
The other orphans come to the Warbucks mansion on Christmas eve and help expose the plot to wrongly adopt Annie.
Annie finds out her real parents have been dead for years--leaving her free to be adopted by Daddy Warbucks. So, of course, they sing and dance.
Warbucks proposes to Grace while Annie is reunited with Sandy, the dog.
This picture is kind of awkward, and doesn't really do justice to how it looked, but the last thing the audience saw in the play was a three-way group hug by the new family
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