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June 2014 entries

What?! It's Saturday?

Although we really miss our children and Gingersnap, I cannot believe that the week is over here at Thespian Festival. The past couple of days have been filled more beneficial classes and experiences than anyone would expect in a week. I took a puppet class from an amazing teacher, I learned about technology in the theatre classroom, I shared ideas with other drama teachers. I even went for a run around the Capitol Building and found a purple gorilla statue.

Tonight, we saw the show The Heights on the main stage. I knew only a little about the show -- Latino community, in the Washington Heights part of NYC, something about winning the lotto -- but I had heard that the music was great and that it was a high energy show. What an understatement!!! The music is really fun: Latin hip-hop/rap mixed with more traditional ballads. These particular kids danced their butts off. The singers were incredible and their show was spectacular. My students LOVED it.

Afterward, Mike and I went on a hunt for ice cream with a few of the kids. 5 miles later -- it happens, ya know -- we found a place cleverly called "Ivanna Cone" that made its own ice cream and formed waffle cones hot off the waffle maker. De. Lish.

And now...it's almost midnight. My roommate is packing her bags, gearing up for a train ride to Nevada. My bags are ready for our morning shuttle to the airport. My brain is still attempting to process all the information and techniques I learned this week. Aidan, Gabrielle, and Liam are ready to come home. Gingersnap is probably still staring at the guinea pigs at our friends' house where she has been staying for the week.

The next step is apply the knowledge and ideas I've gleaned this week to my theatre classroom and stage. I've already made plans to participate at our state thespian conference and have my students compete in the individual events. (Successful placement at States lands them a chance to perform at Festival next year.)

And who says teachers don't work over the summer? :)

What?!  It's Saturday?

What?!  It's Saturday?

What?!  It's Saturday?


Wednesday & Thursday

I had hoped to blog every day in great detail during this conference...who is surprised that the schedule is far too demanding to allow for that. This will be a brief overview of the past two days. [And I also apologize in advance for the formatting issues. When I use iPad to write my blog, none of the spacing I do shows up.] Wednesday: We started the morning with a mainstage performance of "Smokey Joe's Cafe." If you aren't familiar with the show, it's a revue of songs, ranging from high-energy dance songs to soulful ballads. The the bass lead was very talented and several of the female leads brought the house down with their powerful voices. I went to two workshops: one on scene study and another on how to build sets and props "good, fast, and cheap." The scene study workshop was a mind-blowing blend of what I do in the English classroom with close reading and stage application. I can't wait to work all that I have learned into my drama curriculum. After the workshops, we saw another mainstage performance (the set up and tear down over at the Lied center has been crazy! We met someone who was helping with the Mary Poppins crew -- they were finally done tearing down that show at 3:45 AM!!). The afternoon show was "Catch Me If You Can." I have always loved the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks -- and I love that it is the real story of a high school kid who fooled the FBI for years as he posed as a Pan-Am pilot and a doctor. The show is one I would absolutely LOVE to do at our school...but it has almost all male leads. We have too many girls this upcoming year, so it's one I would have to table for now. Thursday: I spent the bulk of the day in workshops. I took one with Don Zolidis, the playwright of "The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon," which we staged in the fall. He offered basic advice for comedy writing. The next workshop was on dramaturgy, which is something I do naturally as an English/Drama teacher, but I had no idea it was a "thing" and by "thing," I mean an actual theatre major. Essentially, dramaturgy is researching and creating the world of the play. The teacher was from Carnegie Mellon who raved about a recent CMU graduate from our area (what a small world!). She had us read a ten-minute play and led us through a series of exercises that helped to provide a precise structure that I will use in my classroom next year. The last workshop I went to gave me even more fodder for lesson plans. The class was on adaptation: creating plays from other sources. The instructor gave us a newspaper article from 1812 and after prompting us to consider how we might want to change the story: point of view, time period, storyline, etc., she gave 10 minutes to write. The article we read was about a newlywed couple who were tourists at a waterfall. The young bride fell tragically to her death. The activity allowed us to take the story to something that could be seen on stage. Definitely going to happen in B206 next year! Image
The shows we saw yesterday were "Of Mice and Men" and Chekov's "Three Sisters". Both shows were really well done, but the Chekov, performed by the Denver School of the Arts, was truly exceptional. The text is sophisticated and challenging, and the students truly understood their roles. I found myself forgetting entirely that they were middle and high school students. It was truly extraordinary. After the shows, we attended the "adult reception" for teaches and chaperones, and I swear it was nicer than most proms. Catered food, Roaring 20s decorations -- wow. The students had a masquerade-themed dance. Michael and I were on dance chaperone duty for half an hour, which was spent chatting with the PA Thespian Chapter President. We learned about how to get involved in the state level, and I am excited at the prospect of taking students to the state conference to perform and participate in workshops in December. And now it's Friday already!

Typical Tuesday...not!

Yesterday, two of the three morning workshops were limited to students, and the third was the belting class we already attended, so Michael and I did the only responsible chaperone thing to do: we went to Starbucks for coffee. While there, we met three talented and welcoming people who are directing the production of "Catch Me if You Can" that we will see tonight on the main stage. They told us about their program, which spans their District of six high schools. They have been selected to perform at the Festival many times -- something like 8?? -- so we immediately transformed ourselves into sponges and soaked up all they had to tell us. Unlike some of the people we have met here, these particular folks didn't want to command the stage in the coffee shop. They asked us a lot of questions about us and our students and our program. It was a great conversation, and time well spent. Afterward, we met up with the students who loved their workshops. Some took a dance class, others went to a musical theatre course. All were raving about the quality and what they learned. Our next experience was to go to the Lied Center, the large performing arts stage on campus, for a spectacular presentation of "Mary Poppins". The school that presented the show is in Las Vegas, and they have worked with Disney and Musical Theatre International (MTI) for 4 different pilot programs. (!!!!) I could not believe these kids were well...kids. Mary Poppins was in 10th grade (!!!!) and the entire cast was truly phenomenal. Bert and Mary flew (when an actor is attached to a cable and flown in the air) and Bert did a very cool move where he walked up one side of the stage and then proceeded to walk upside down across the stage (while SINGING) and back down again. Oh. My. Gosh. It was Broadway-quality. The MAHS students were blown away. Image
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We had about an hour to eat before heading to yet another production. Luckily, a street fair appeared outside the Lied for our convenience (Mary??) and Mike and I enjoyed some delicious Gyros. Image
The next show was presented by various students from all over Missouri (What a cool concept!!! Can't imagine the rehearsal schedule headaches on that one, though!). The show was "Violet" -- it's a musical about a young girl who is disfigured in an accident as a child. Her father was chopping wood and the ax head came loose, flying across the yard, slicing her face. She was left with a huge scar which greatly affects her self-esteem and adolescent development. As a young woman, she decides to ride a bus to seek out a famous televangelist. She believes that one touch from this man will heal her. Along the way, she meets two servicemen heading to Vietnam. The show has gorgeous music and offers a fluid timeline. One moment, Violet is physically on the bus, and in the next, a flashback shows us a young Violet being bullied by the school kids. The radio comes to life, as do Violet's dreams. By the end (spoiler alert), Violet learns that she doesn't need outer healing -- she needs to learn to forgive her father and heal from the inside out. Image
So -- ya know, a typical Tuesday. ;)

Thespian Festival 2014: Manic Monday

After starting our Thespian Troupe at Montoursville this year, I learned about their annual festival at the University of Lincoln in Nebraska. Because we just started the troupe, we are just learning about the opportunities available at the festival. In addition to the many, many workshops offered in 24 time slots throughout the week, students and troupes can compete in individual events like monologues, duets, musical numbers, and speech. They can also have their school productions adjudicated by national judges to be considered for performances during the Festival. Yesterday, we checked into our dorms and attended the first session of workshops. There were many choices, but because the "belt" style of musical theatre interests me (I've been classically trained and have been told by people who really don't know what they are talking about that you either have a belt or you don't...), I attended the Broadway Belting Workshop class with Broadway performer Kristy Cates. Kristy teaches at the New York Film Academy and was in Wicked for 4 1/2 years. She was an effective teacher and a spectacular singer. She contradicted the parenthetically aforementioned by declaring, "Belting is not a vocal technique -- it is a style. What people call a 'belt' is more accurately a mix between your vocal ranges." She introduced a variety of exercises to us and then had students volunteer to sing for her and she coached them through trouble spots. The entire session was enlightening and fun. Another comment from Kristy that resonated with me: "In musical theatre, the given is that you can sing. The variable is if you can act." Love. It. Image
After the session, we had dinner in our dorm and went to the Opening Night event, which was An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman, the creative minds who wrote the songs from Hairspray, Catch Me if You Can, and Smash, among other projects. A small group of student performers sang alongside two more Broadway stars. Shaiman and Wittman came out and answered questions from the students on stage. Though they offered a lot of insight, I took away two salient points: * One student asked how they prepared for a career in musical theatre, and what advice they had for the high school students here this week. The answer reaffirmed that I am doing all I can for my students: "We never had programs like this growing up. We are so jealous of you all right now. Take advantage of this!" * Another student asked how they came up with songs and lyrics, and asked how they would go about writing a song about the festival, for example. They answered that they talk to people who are here, living the life that they are trying to capture in song. And, sometimes a line just jumps out like, "Welcome to the 60s." The most important element: "Stay true to the story. The story is the most important part." I love these two comments because I firmly root my students (at least I try!) in the ancient art and essential tool of storytelling. All we do on stage serves to tell the story. After the opening night show, we went geo-caching -- a Connor family favorite hobby that some of the kids on our trip haven't ever done -- and we decided that it should be a bonding activity for the next school year. :) We also saw a wonderful production of Antigone that combined modern art/contemporary performance art (think aerialists on beautiful red silks hanging from the ceiling) and the classic Greek theatre. I am running out of time. Suffice it to say it's been an amazing experience so far!

Thespian Festival 2014: Day 1

Hello, Nebraska!!!

Because of an incredibly generous donation, the 8 members of our thespian group were able to fly to Lincoln instead of driving over 18 hours to get there. Amazing!!

We left Montoursville at 3 am and flew out of Harrisburg to Chicago to Omaha. We took a shuttle Lincoln and are staying the night in a really nice 2-story suite style hotel.

The festival begins tomorrow and we check in and figure out our dorm assignments and the workshop schedule. We are looking forward to this phenomenal experience!!!

Thespian Festival 2014: Day 1

Thespian Festival 2014: Day 1

Thespian Festival 2014: Day 1