So, I had an idea today. Since everyone now live blogs or tweets through major events like the Grammys or presidential debates, I thought I should be live blogging the upcoming middle school play. Because, the truth is, everyone wants to be involved in a middle school play at my school. And if you don't, that's only because you don't what you're missing. Sadly I only had this idea today, which means I've missed tech day and the first two dress rehearsals. So, I'll ctach-up posts on them. I'll start with last Friday:
Friday: February 10th. Rehearsal went very well today. Running time is looking good. It appears that we'll be at two hours, maybe just a bit over by the time we put set changes and intermission in. Things are going very smoothly. Tech day is tomorrow. I'm nervous about that, just because the set is so huge, huge, huge! I've got great stage managers, though, and some good crew members.
Saturday, February 11th. Tech Day. This is biggest and longest and most tiring day of the year. I approach it with fear and trepidation mixed with excitement.
Arrive at 8:00 and get some charts printed, get the piano lamp for the piano player, do a few other things. Stage crew arrives at 8:30 am. We talk about safety, following the stage manager, and I give them donuts and juice. We start cleaning up the theatre, getting everything in place.
Now, we walk through each scene and I show there where all the set pieces go. This takes a while because once we have things set, the stage manager has to record who will be moving it on and who will be moving it off. This has to be exact and everyone has to know what they are doing.
We also have to spike everything. This means, we put some colored glow-in-the-dark tape on the stage floor to mark where each set piece goes. This way, the crew will be able to place things in the correct place, consistently, even in the dark.
I'm already seeing some exceptional work by the stage crew. Lots of thinking and planning ahead. They're getting it.
One of our challenges are these huge pieces of scaffolding. They each have a piece of New York City painted on them. There are five of them and they cross the stage--about 40 feet wide altogether. I think there are 8-12 feet tall. They are very heavy and cumbersome. Fortunately we don't have to move them often, but they are hard for the kids to move. The wheels don't turn easily. I'm getting worried about this part of it. These are middle school kids, so they don't have a lot of mass to be throwing against this!
Wow. Ran through the whole show much faster than usual. I attribute this to my stage manager who has done this for years. She knows what's going on and she has some very good assistants. Experience makes a big difference. Also, the scenery for this play is huge! But, there are not that many individual scenes, so that helps.
We run the set changes again. Scaffolding is going to be a major problem. We are going to need to change that at intermission. I hate that because I don't want to reveal the beautiful restaurant set too soon, but there's no realistic way around that. Gosh, I wish we had a proper grand drape--the curtain that closes in front of a stage. It would be nice. Thought about getting one for this show, but it was too expensive and we just upgraded our sound equipment. Maybe next year.
Ran through set changes again. These kids are amazing. 11:30--Lunch break. After lunch the cast comes. We'll see how this goes...
Okay everyone, I'm going to give you a life lesson for free. Let's say you are an aspiring performer. Your school has an active theatre program and you have spent a few years in it. You hope and dream that one day, you'll get the lead (this could be changed, incidentally to be about something else, like starting on the varsity team in a sport, etc.)
Let me give you some advice on this.
If you are flaky and unreliable when you have a small role in the chorus, your director will pr0bably not trust you with a lead. If you goof off and miss rehearsal frequently (unless you are excused) then the director will probably not seriously consider you for a larger role.
Parents: if you grumble about casting choices (don't kid yourself--this stuff always gets back to the director) and if you are half-hearted in filling your obligation to sell tickets or help with props or paint the set or whatever, then you are shooting your child's future chances in the foot.
If you are glib about your child missing rehearsals because of your lack of organization or planning, if you don't live up to the commitment that came with your child being part of the play, then you are sending the director a powerful message that you cannot be trusted.
Sadly, that means your child can't be trusted since your child is dependent on you for rides and logistical support.
If I can't trust you with little things, I will not trust you with big things. Far too many people work too hard on a play to take a chance on someone I can't fully trust.
You don't get the lead and then develop responsibility. You act responsibly with small things, earn trust, and then (assuming you also have talent) you get the lead. So many people want to do this in reverse. But life doesn't work like that.
I would add that while I'm talking about the context of theatre, this applies to many other things in life--sports teams, jobs, and so on. If you can't be trusted with little things no one will give you greater responsibilities.
This seems so obvious, and yet I am always astonished at the number of people who don't understand--and act--on this principle. I get that adolescents might not realize how this works, but I am surprised more parents don't get it.
Every year I'm shocked by the people who are shocked that they (or their children) didn't get big roles. Sometimes they haven't prepared adequately or worked to refine and stretch and develop their talents to the point that they could be seriously considered. Other times, perhaps most often, someone is talented but has goofed off a lot. Or a parent has been scattered, unsupportive, and not very good at making sure their child was where they needed to be.
Believe me, future stars, this makes a big, big difference. Trust me on this. I begin looking at potential lead material years and years in advance, watching carefully to see who has talent, but who has a good work ethic, who can focus. Who cares enough to try. And which parents will support them. I know other directors are the same in this regard, and I that that coaches are, too.
So, there it is! Free advice that will change your life. You are welcome.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had enjoyable celebrations. We had a lovely time here at Mockingbird Cottage--a quiet evening with the family and good food. Just the way I like it.
A few notes:
1. Just a reminder, I'm now answering comments in the comment section instead of via email. Just want you to know in case you think I'm ignoring your comments.
2. I'm working on an important post for next week MSM--an important trick I've found to getting adolescents to do what you want them to do. I don't have time to write it today, but do come by next week. I think it will be worth your while.
In the meantime, I thought I'd post some pictures from our last play (I do have permission from the parents of all the students, incidentally).
This fall, instead of doing one big play like any sane person would do, I decided to do two shorter plays. My intent was to create more opportunities for more kids. So, we did two one-hour plays as Act 1 and 2. Sondheim's Into the Woods, Jr. and Disney's Aladdin Jr.
I've been wanting to post pictures but haven't had time or energy until now. Here are some pictures from Aladdin. I'll get the Into the Woods batch up in another post. The story follows the Disney movie pretty closely with just a few minor modifications, mostly for the sake of time.
As always, I'm amazed at what committed middle school kids and supportive parents can pull off. It's really amazing! I have the most incredibly supportive and talented community.
Here are the narrators, getting the show started with "Arabian Nights."
Princess Jasmine in the marketplace.
Aladdin and Jasmine meet in the marketplace
Iago and Jafar
Close up of Iago. This girl was amazing! It's not easy to manipulate a puppet, and she did it so well, acting with the puppet and her own face.
Aladdin gets thrown in the treasure cave.
Aladdin finds the lamp at the bottom of a big pile of treasure. I wish we had a better picture....oh well.
Here's the Genie's appearance. We used a large CO2 fire extinguisher behind the treasure pile. It was cheap, easy, and very effective. Last spring, in The Wizard of Oz, the fog machines we used kept triggering the fire alarms, so this was a great alternative. You could use a number of these for bigger plumes of smoke. Great special effect tip! We just had to get it refilled between shows.
The Genie. Normally, he's a big, blue guy. But we had a small, pink, girl, and she was stellar. She lit the stage up every time she came on. For the staging in "Friend Like Me" we hired a magician to choreograph a magic show. That worked out really well.
Some of the magic tricks in "Friend Like Me." Every night, I died when she did this trick. She tied a rope around her neck and pulled it tight--and it apparently slipped through her neck. It was impressive, but I was always terrified that she'd do it wrong one night!
Another magic trick--"Can your friends pull this out of a little hat..."
Aladdin meets the Flying Carpet.
The start of the parade for "Prince Ali." We choreographed so that the kids crossed the stage, then doubled back and did it again. It gave the impression of a huge throng of followers.
The Genie, Carpet, and Aladdin try to figure out to get a date with Jasmine.
Aladdin's transformation into Prince Ali was tricky. It's supposed to be something the Genie does magically. The script recommends turning out the lights and then bringing them back on, with Aladdin making a quick change. That seemed a bit obvious, but we weren't sure what else to do. So, our magician taught the Genie to make some of Aladdin's costume items "appear" magically out of an empty prop. Then she handed them to him and they went off-stage where he changed during the scene change. It worked really well.
Aladdin, the carpet, and Jasmine and some dancers during "A Whole New World." Oh my goodness, could those two kids sing! They sounded so good--this Aladdin had a far more mature and rich voice than we usually see in middle school.
Nice shot of Iago and Jafar.
Aladdin, the Genie, and Jasmine in the finale
Well, the play is over and my life is returning, very slowly. This show was huge: 160 kids in grades 1-8, nearly 300 costumes, special effects, you name it. I am exhausted, but very proud. The kids were great, as were the parents who pulled off some incredible work with costumes and scenery and props.
Update: I really can't emphasize this enough. I am incredibly blessed to have an amazing group of people to work with--parents and colleagues who make the magic happen. I keep the trains running on time, but so many people do so much that I feel a bit cheap in taking any kind of credit for it.
Dorothy tries to talk to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. Question: How cool is it that everything is black and white? Answer: WAY cool.
Dorothy sings "Over the Rainbow"
Miss Gultch comes to take Toto
While running away, Dorothy comes across Professor Marvel
Glinda, the Good Witch appears
Some of the leaders of the Munchkins. One of the faces is blurred because I couldn't get hold of his parents to get permission to use his photo.
Dorothy in Munchkinland. Note that her dress is colored now. So cool.
The Wicked Witch appears
More witch. Kind of a cool shot, I think.
The Witch confronts Dorothy. Sadly, her hat makes it very difficult to see her face.
Dorothy meets the Scarecrow.
Here are the apple trees that throw apples at Dorothy. I thought their costumes were pretty cool. I blurred out all their faces because I didn't want to bother to get permission to post a photo showing their faces.
Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the Tin Man. That Tin Man costume was incredible. Seriously incredible.
What do you know? One more of the Witch. Okay, I'll admit. She's my kid. And she was, frankly, wonderful. I say that with all possibly objectivity. Also, there was a cool sort of corset-thing the Witch wore. It really finished her costume of nicely. At this rehearsal, however, she forgot to wear it.
Here she is shooting a fireball at the Scarecrow.
The Cowardly Lion
The Emerald City (this is only about a third of the citizens. I didn't include the rest because the idea of getting permission to post any more photos exhausted me.
Here's one of the flying monkeys. When I was a kid these guys scared the stuffing out of me. There were a whole bunch of them in our play, but sadly, the pictures didn't turn out great of their scene.
Here are the witch's guards. You cannot believe these costumes. They were so cool.
Okay, since you asked, I'll show you one more of the Witch with fire. This is right before she melts, which was WAAAAY cool, but sadly, isn't something I can show in a photo.
I just finished the last round of auditions for our winter play, The Wizard of Oz. In a sense, I love auditions, while in another, I hate them. I love them because they are very exciting. I'm scrupulous about not pre-casting, or even flirting with it in my mind. I've learned over the years that I never get it right if I do that. There are always surprises--someone who shows up that I didn't know, or knew but hadn't envisioned in a certain part. This student gets up and magic happens and it's like the clouds part and a ray of light illuminates them while angelic choirs sing and it's clear to everyone that this student is the right fit.
Fit, after all, is important. I know a lot of great people who are fantastic individuals, but would not fit well together as a married couple. I know smart kids who would not fit well at every university. Will Smith and Will Ferrell are both highly paid actors, but wouldn't fit in every role.
Talented kids don't alway fit every role either, and it's exciting when it does happen. There's a surge of energy in the room and I think the kids there can all feel it, too.
That's the fun part. I hate and dread it because of the emotional baggage. There is a lot of disappointment involved. It hurts not to get a part you want. I've been there many times, so I know how it feels, and I really hate being the one to inflict that hurt on others. Especially kids. Especially kids of whom I am sincerely fond. But, that's life. We don't get anything good or worthwhile without some struggle and disappointment.
Sometimes the parents make it really bad and cause lots of drama. Happily, that wasn't the case this time and all disappointment was handled maturely, or at least privately. Which was nice for me, and ultimately, much, much healthier for the kids.
Are you still reading? My goodness, you are a charitable soul. I know this is kind of rambling, but it's been a big part of my life--perhaps the pre-eminent part of my life for the last three weeks so I'm decompressing.
Two days ago I had auditions for the lower school kids. 100 of the cutest, sweetest little kids you've seen tried out. They all make it, of course. I'll talk more about that another time. But after their quick little audition, reading a poem or singing a few lines of a song, I thank them and tell them I'd like them to be in the play. They'll be munchkins or Emerald Citizens or something, but the way their faces light up, you'd think they were getting multi-million dollar contracts to star on Broadway. Smiles, hugs, shouts and leaps for joy--it warms my stone-cold heart with a deep and comforting glow. My favorite thing is when they try to keep a straight face with me, and then go out into the hall and burst out in a shout, "I MADE IT!"
Anyway, it occurs to me that these little ones who are so thrilled to be Munchkin #79 have possibly discovered the secret to happiness. They went in with few expectations. They didn't feel entitled to something big. Consequently, they were thrilled with what they got. They are happy and grateful just to be in the play.
I think there's a lesson there for marriages, families, careers, and life in general: try for Dorothy, but if it doesn't work, embrace and celebrate your Munchkinness!
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!
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