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June 2015 entries

All Good Things

must come to an end. And, thus ends our week at the National Thespian Festival. And what a way to end our time here: we saw "The Little Mermaid" on the large stage at 3 PM. The students were gifted, and the staging was impressive. There were blue LED lights that gave the impression of the ocean which raised and lowered, depending on whether we were above or "under the sea." There were aerialists on silks and ropes (coming to a fall play at Montoursville near you ... #dontbelievemejustwatch). There were beautiful puppets and Ursula was on a creative stand with wheels operated by 8 kids in black morphsuits who also articulated her tentacles.

After a farewell dinner at Panera and some coffee at Starbucks like proper white girls, we went to the smaller theatre, Kimball Hall, to see "Unexpected Tenderness," a play about a family that breaks a cycle of domestic violence presented by a troupe that has no actual performance venue in their school. These talented and insightful students practiced for nine months in their choir room in Wyoming before staging the show in a community theatre and at their state festival.

The script is expertly written. Instead of creating a black-and-white dichotomy between the bad guy (abusive dad) and the good guy (mom who is doing her best to make the family happy), the play shows those very real gray areas which make it so difficult to leave an unhealthy relationship. The dad is sorry after he has outbursts, he cries, he begs for forgiveness and promises to change. There are moments of love and joy and romance. There is also a history of the women in the family accepting the "crazy" men in their lives, yet in one poignant scene, the grandmother begs her grandson not to "roar like a lion" like her husband and son have done.

In a sad twist of misunderstanding, the mother quickly goes from being the target of unwanted advances from her husband's co-worker, to the victim of her husband's jealous rage. The family is forever changed as a result.

Maintaining realism, the script features several comedic moments, about which one of my students admitted to feeling guilty for laughing. We had a good conversation on the way back to the dorm about why it really was acceptable to laugh at those moments, and how important it was for the playwright, director, and actors to portray an accurate picture of the complicated nature of domestic violence. It is not as simple as a woman deciding to leave a man she has built a life with, a man with whom she has had children. Because she believes in the possibility of him changing, because she wants a stable environment for her children, she may find herself tolerating or justifying an unhealthy situation.

While I fully appreciated all the musicals we have seen this week, I love a good play -- and "Unexpected Tenderness" went far beyond "good." The thought-provoking performance was the perfect ending to a fantastic week of theatre education.

All Good Things

All Good Things

All Good Things

All Good Things


Festival Fun

The Squad and I hit up 5 Guys for lunch, attended several workshops, and saw some shows yesterday. Of particular note was a production of Xanadu by Colorado Thespians. Xanadu is a weird show that mixes Greek mythology and California in the 1980s. Oh, and we can't forget the roller skates. The lead female performs most of the show on skates.

As all of the MainStage productions I have seen at the two Thespian Festivals have been -- Xanadu was phenomenal. The kids were incredibly talented, the sets were creative, the music was rocking, and the choreography was impressive. It truly was a Broadway-quality show. She flew on a sparkly Pegasus, for heaven's sake.

It can be tempting to wallow in self-pity and think I don't do enough at my school, but then I remember that I am an English teacher who teaches a drama elective, and these large-scale productions are offered by schools whose list of production staff members spans an entire page (or more) of their playbills. We're doing awesome work for the actual size of our school and program. And I truly stand in awe of what schools in other parts of the country are able to accomplish.

Big or small, theatre programs in high schools are invaluable educational experiences. Again,I am so grateful to be here, learning and growing as a theatre educator. And with that, I am going to a workshop class!

Festival Fun

Festival Fun

Festival Fun

Festival Fun

Festival Fun


Heart-breaking Business

Last night, my roommate, a teacher from Arizona, and I had a great talk about this heart-breaking business we call teaching. She is a young, single drama teacher who gives and gives and then gives some more to her students who are wrestling with neglect, abuse, family members in prison -- essentially all the things a kid in high school should not have to deal with. The more she gives, the more they need. And the more they expect. And the more it hurts when they lash out at her because she makes them face the consequences of their poor choices.

I listened and offered advice: carve out time for yourself. Set boundaries of self-preservation. Do not allow them to project their issues on to you. You cannot possibly fix everything they are dealing with in their lives in one class period a day, or a few rehearsals a week. You are not their mother. You are their teacher. You teach, you guide, you model for them. You are making a difference. It will come in a phone call or surprise visit 5 years from now, but you are changing their lives for the better.

I know all this because I have lived it. Students get close to the English and Drama teacher. They hang the moon on our shoulders and put the stars in our eyes, but we are human beings. We can't change a difficult homelife. We can't cure depression or bipolar disorder. We can't give everyone the lead role. So, we sometimes become the target of anger and misplaced resentment and blame.

The rational side of our selves knows that the hurtful words flung at us by a kid are just that -- the immature expression of a human who is a work in progress, who isn't ready to face their own part in whatever has happened to them. But, the emotional side of us -- the part that makes us good teachers who give a damn about our kids -- that side becomes deeply and permanently wounded every time something like this happens. We slowly learn to be more guarded, to give a little less of ourselves in order to protect ourselves.

The danger is -- as my roommate and I discussed last night -- that we run the risk of becoming burnt out and jaded. Are we really meant to be teachers? Are we crazy for doing this year after year? Couldn't we have normal jobs where we clock out and leave our work at the office and come home to free time that belongs to us? Or, do we take the summer to lick our wounds, nurse ourselves back to effectiveness and give it another go next year?

It's a heart-breaking business, this teaching. We forever weigh the pros and cons, the costs and benefits -- and hope that we are making a difference in some small way in this world.


Our Little Artist

While I am in Nebraska, Ellie has been attending an art camp back home in Williamsport. She absolutely loves all kinds of art (even if she doesn't like art class at school, but that's another story), and when I saw the painting camp, I knew it would be perfect for her. I wish I could be there with her, but we have talked over FaceTime and Mike is great about sending me pictures. I love how happy she looks -- I wish I could keep her that happy her entire life.

Our Little Artist

Our Little Artist

Our Little Artist


More Nebraska Adventures

After seeing the Opening Show, we started to head back to our dorms. We were all told to turn around and get inside because there was a "situation" on campus. Talk about scary! It turned out that some "townies" were playing basketball on campus, a fight broke out, and one of the guys pulled a gun. The UNL and Lincoln City police responded quickly and cleared the area. The state officers and Broadway guest performers kept the kids' spirits up by dancing and goofing off. It was tense, but we quickly pulled through and got back to our dorms safely.

Yesterday, we attended workshops and plays. I helped with the Individual Events and guarded the door for musical theatre solos. There are many talented students here, that's for sure!

The mainstage show that we saw yesterday was "White Christmas" and it performed by a high school here in Lincoln. The shows that get to come here are exceptionally good. I hope to pick the brain of the directors of the show, if I meet up with them at one of our teacher events. If the cast we saw represents their student body, the school is filled with tall, fit, beautiful students who came out of the womb tap-dancing. Also, they seem to have no shortage of men who can sing and dance as well. The show was truly amazing, from the set design to the many elaborate costumes -- it was on the level of something that our local Community Arts Center would bring in.

We also saw some smaller shows, including "Art" and a short Shakespearean piece performed by puppets.

Today brings a round of workshops and more shows: "Lost in Yonkers" and "Xanadu" are on the mainstage, and several smaller shows are in the other venues.

More Nebraska Adventures

More Nebraska Adventures

More Nebraska Adventures

More Nebraska Adventures

More Nebraska Adventures


Thespian Society Festival 2015

Last year, Mike and I brought 6 students to the National Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. This year, I have three female students with me, and Mike is at home with Aidan, Gabrielle, and Liam. After two flights (State College to Chicago to Lincoln), we made it to Nebraska last night. We stayed at a nearby hotel and arrived at the University today. My two Kelsey's are seniors, and Bailey is a rising junior (and future AP student).

Many students and troupe directors are still arriving. We attended a workshop on movement and acting. The instructor works with the Denver School of Performing Arts, as well as other theatre venues in Denver. He taught for over an hour, using only hand motions and the occasional whistle. He broke the silence with about 15 minutes left in the class to explain the theory behind the acting games and activities we were doing.

Next up is dinner and the Opening Show, which is an Evening with Alan Menken, composer of many famous shows including The Little Mermaid and Little Shop of Horrors. Similar to the show that two of my students participated in at the State Thespian Conference, the Opening Show here features student performers from all over the country who submitted audition videos (Bailey sent one in, but unfortunately wasn't chosen). I am so excited for my students to experience the energy of a mainstage show in the Leid Center.

Here's to the start of another awesome conference! I am very grateful to be able to bring students to events like this!

Thespian Society Festival 2015

Thespian Society Festival 2015

Thespian Society Festival 2015

Thespian Society Festival 2015


We Be Jammin'

Gabrielle and I tried our hand at making strawberry jam for the first time. I found a simple recipe (no pectin, for those of you who know what the heck that is), and the result was . . . something that could probably be used to make a pretty banging strawberry sundae sauce.

"If at first you don't succeed, give up." No, wait, I mean "try again." :)

We Be Jammin'

We Be Jammin'

We Be Jammin'

We Be Jammin'

We Be Jammin'


Child Labor

Subtitle: Berry picking.

We went to the Green Barn Berry Farm in Muncy this week (finally, after a lot of rain-checks) and picked strawberries. We put "pick strawberries" on the summer bucket list each year, but for some reason, we tend to miss the window of opportunity.

The kids loved picking berries, and Liam even found a "super triple" strawberry that no one is allowed to eat. Will HE be eating the fabled "super triple," you ask. "No, I don't like strawberries."

Child Labor

Child Labor

Child Labor

Child Labor


Adult Ballet

I decided to take adult ballet this year. The course is offered to adults who have kids taking other dance classes, and I thought it might be a new and interesting way to get some exercise. I took a jazz dance class when I was 16, and that is the extent of my formal dance training. (yes, the rest of my amazing talent is simply instinct.)

I enjoyed the class, calling it "graceful yoga." The hour passed quickly, and it was a great way to relieve stress.

Then the fall play happened. Then the spring musical happened. Then the play I was in at the community theatre happened. I missed something like 3 months of classes and became a ballet delinquent.

When I return to class, imagine my surprise when I learned that we were performing in the recital as part of the extended ballet number. As moms, we would be playing the part of mothers of children at the party for "The Nutcracker." Oh, and we would be dancing, too.

I made Alison do the dance as I videotaped it, and as soon as school let out, I practiced like a fiend. I am proud to say I didn't publicly humiliate myself. (In case you haven't noticed, I am not exactly built like a ballerina. Maybe I'll take adult tap next year?) And, in the process, I made some new friends. :) Great job, ladies!

Adult Ballet