We just finished our fall production. As always, I am amazed at what adolescents can do. When I watch these plays every year, and watch the students perform, watch students manage complex scene changes, run light and sound boards, I'm blown away.
However, when I look at the final product and compare it to the dress rehearsals that came immediately before I am even more blown away.
When I first started directing, I got very nervous because dress rehearsals were awful. But somehow the performances always worked.
It took me a few years but I finally realized that I didn't need to panic if the dress rehearsals were bad. Actually not "if"--rather, "when" the rehearsals were bad.
What do I learn from this?
A few things.
First of all, when things seem bleak with your adolescent child--and they will--keep going! Keep hope. Things may yet work out.
But there's another lesson. The question I've come to ask is why it always works out. Is it magic? Lots of prayer? Just luck?
I would not rule any of those out (especially the prayer--something I tend to do a lot of the week of a play!). But I think the answer is more mundane and less exotic. It's the process.
After years of experience and education and most of all--trial and error, my colleagues and I came up with a process that works. It takes a cast of students who have never done a particular play before and moves them from point to point until they are ready to perform. They learn the choreography to one song at a time. They learn the lyrics line-by-line. They memorize their dialogue. We teach them where to stand and when to move. We layer in props, scenery, lights, microphones, music--and boom! The play happens, as if by magic. But it's not really magic. It's the end result of a carefully planned process, honed over years of experience.
It's also not something I dreamed up myself. It's the way plays have been rehearsed, basically forever. I made some adaptations to fit my students and our particular situation. Our process isn't the same as on Broadway. But it's not vastly different, either, and they are differences in degree, not in kind.
Here's where I'm going with this. Humans have raised adolescents for a long, long time now. There is a basic process. It varies from culture to culture and time to time, but there are general patterns to this process. Don't throw it out. Don't reinvent the wheel. Make some adjustments if needed--but don't start from scratch.
Most parents that I see really struggle with raising their children tend to have bought into two philosophies that I think are damaging. The first is that they feel that it's the 21st century and everything is new, so why worry about the traditions of the past? They seem to feel that they can, by dint of their greater enlightenment, figure out how to raise their kids without all the silly old ideas, strictures, and patterns of the past. In my experience, this doesn't work. The collective wisdom of the past is a great asset. There is a reason that we evolved social and cultural norms. Maybe some of them are outdated--but not all of them. And I think we can benefit from considering them carefully.
The worst play I ever directed was when I threw out the tried and true rehearsal format and came up with all manner of clever new ideas. They were brilliant--and they should have worked. But they didn't, and the play was terrible. Happily I no longer live in that state. It was a painful experience, but I learned my lesson. Don't tamper with what works.
The second mistake I see is the opposite of the first--it's making no adaptations at all. It's clinging completely to the past without any regard to unique situations and people. It woud be analogous to me using the same rehearsal schedule they use on Broadway with my middle school kids.
So, I suggest not raising your kids like it's 1956 or even 1983. But I also strongly suggest not buying into all the social changes and conventional wisdom around. I very strongly suggest not getting caught up in trends and following along in contemporary currents.
Create a process. Look at people you admire. Look at people who have children you admire. Look at people with children you don't admire (but do this kindly, not in a judgmental way. You never know how kids will turn out). Look at the way you were raised, look at how cultures have raised kids for thousands of years.
Create a process and then stick to it. Don't panic when, in dress rehearsals, things fall apart. Tweak and adjust as necessary. Do what it takes.
One more thought.
One of the reasons the dress rehearsals always seem to go so badly is because it is the first time the kids have every aspect of the play all at the same time--they are trying to use props while worrying about costume and set changes, handle their microphones and lighting cues and on and on.
There's an old saying in the theatre: Bad dress rehearsal, good performance. It's not always true. But there's a reason it became a cliche--there is a lot of truth in it.
It is often the falling apart in dress rehearsals that provides the impetus and the experience necessary for them to succeed in the performance.
I think adolescence is like that dress rehearsal. There is a lot going on. Lots of layers, many different complex tasks. So it makes sense that there will be some failures. It may be that it is the failures and challenges of adolescence that will provide the impetus and experience for success as and adult.
So, if the dress rehearsal isn't going too well, don't panic. Don't despair. Your child is probably pretty normal--and you have to trust the process.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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