Monday, December 14, 2009

My Favorite Memories from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

1) Frances Hull laughing.
2) The night the Savior's arm came off in rehearsal.
3) Ian Cole: "No."
4) Reuben Shelton: "He's out to get the baby and he's not even in the play??"
5) The Silent Night Moment: pin-drop/no-applause as the lights dimmed on the angels and all the Herdmans kneeling at the manger.
6) Lex, cool-headed and patient, at the lightboard.
7) Rolling down the aisle in the food pantry barrel.
8) Walking Teagan Chandler and her mom backstage.
9) Hugging the Bird and all my other favorite audience members.
10) Rachelle Cole: "And Imogene will be....Mary."
11) Twinkies in the Break-a-Leg bags.
12) Live piano music from Eva, er Evan.
13) Five performances + two matinees = 1521 audience members
14) "Chris Schaefer/Santa Baby".
15) Jayme pushing and Hudson calming.
16) Our two matinee audiences full of kids, who laughed loudly and long, and yet knew when to get quiet.
17) The smooth-running Variety Show
18) Looking at the marquee lights in my snowflake glasses.
19) The amazing 'get 'er done' new parents we picked up along the way.
20) Sitting at the Lees', bone tired, and listening to the happy chatter of my theatre family reflecting on the Show Past, Show Present, and Show Yet to Come.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Curtain Speech for the Final Performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

My name is Christine Schaefer and I’m the director of KidsPlay, Inc. children’s theatre and the CrazyLake Acting Company. In the twelve years that I’ve been introducing plays in this community, our primary goal has been to make you laugh and applaud—we’ve never wanted to teach a lesson or deliver a message—just entertain you. But the show you’re about to see—“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”—has turned out to be quite different from what we usually do. Yes, it’s a comedy and a children’s play, but somehow, it’s been more than that, and I think I speak for everyone who has had the privilege of working together on this show when I say that this has been something special for us and for a good deal of our audiences. I honestly don’t know if it’s just because of the Christmas season, or…because of the message…but all of us, in some way, have been touched…and changed by our involvement with this show. It’s been an amazing experience for us…for me…and I hope—that when all is said and done--that that comes through in our performance and that what you feel is what we feel, during this most wonderful season of the year. And now, it is my great pleasure and privilege to invite you to share in the magic that has been and is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

It's a sappy little show, really. Made into a stage play from a popular children's book. A fairly predictable story and script. Hoodlum kids invade the church's Christmas pageant. True meaning of Christmas "works its magic" and lives are changed. Everyone lives happily ever after.

We walk in some pretty deep footprints with this show. Creating storybook characters is tricky business, because when you read the book, you create the image in your imagination. Remember worrying if Harry Potter was going to be just like you imagined him? Or Frodo? Or Aslan? Would what you saw on the screen (or stage) live up to your imagination? The true Reader will tell you that the book is always better, so trying to bring to life the classic characters of Beth, Alice, Imogene, Gladys, Ralph, Mrs. Bradley is really going out on a limb.

But my kids--AND my adults--do it. They do it, and then some, making the characters their own. My adults: Rachelle, Kelly, Michael, Frances, Mona, Joe, and the rest--they've taken some fairly one-dimensional characters and brought them into 3-D, multi-dimmensional life. They've done a great job.

But my kids...oh, those kids...

They made me cry today. After 35 rehearsals and...six performances...still today, they 'got' me. Make no mistake, we pull out all the stops. The Herdmans smack each other so hard during the 'disruptive' scenes that you can hear the thumps and the slaps at the back of the auditorium. They race up and down the aisle at break-neck speed and get EVERYONE'S attention. Alice's disdain and perfectness are enough to make even model children gag. We use music to create a mood...and lights...the light on the manger, the spot on the family... Megan's timing on her heartfelt moments of understanding of the story...looking at the baby, laying in the manger, covering it, and leaving it...looking back...and leaving. And yes, Joe and Dennis, adding in the angel choir at the manger was the ne plus ultra. We've put together a beautiful little piece of theatre, if I do say so myself. And we're touching people. Making family memories. Creating a little Christmas magic all our own.

It's a wonderful show. It is. And it deserves an audience. We performed today the second of our matinees and it was a delightful experience. Sold out. The kids are truly the best audiences. They laugh and applaud. And then, they got quiet. They got it. We ALL got it. And, if you open your heart to the story, you will, too.

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever". It is. Go see it.

Friday, December 4, 2009


It’s 4:57 a.m. My alarm just went off and I’m up. For some reason, it’s important to know the weather. I run outside in my bare feet to see if I can see the stars and there they are. It is just as it should be in December. Cold and clear. I can almost hear the Christmas spirit jingling in the air.

Today. Something is happening today. Something special. The something that is the first thing I think of when I get up and the last thing I think of when I go to bed.

And what have I got? What have I got? I’ll tell you. I’ve got stars in my sky and stars on my stage. I’ve got kids, all in their places, with smiles (or frowns) on their faces. I’ve got boys who are gonna ‘bring it on’ tonight. I’ve got two girls, one little and one near grown who are gonna make ‘em laugh, and then make ‘em cry. I’ve got adults with barely contained grins, thoroughly enjoying this chance to ‘play make-believe’ once again. I’ve got the best Grace Bradley to ever pace the stage. I’ve got a support system—back stage, in the booth, upstairs, in the dressing room, in the lobby—that can withstand gale winds and sudden showers and still make it happen.

What more could I want on this fine, cold clear December day? I’ll tell you. I made my wish out there in the cold, and I’ll tell you….tonight after the people take their seats…if it came true.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Watching Carie's Vids

There is a girl I know. She makes videos, videos for the drama department She makes five-minute time capsules of times and places that only come around once: montages of clips, photos, scenes from the show, vignettes of silliness, dancing, bloopers, funny faces and craziness. Watching, I know I am seeing something unique to this world. I am honored at this glimpse into the lives of these young people, privileged to share that joy, to see them as they are, as they practice for who they will someday be. Watching, I know now what I will know twenty years from now: that these moments in life were...are...precious and sacred--holy moments, here in this temple we call the theatre, among the secret society known as the drama department.

In this video I see future theatre legend Sophia Russelberg talking about the exhilaration of her first show at G-C; I see Meredith in an Indian head-dress and a Paul Revere coat, take hops to the right and hops to the left; I see my son's beautiful eyes as he unveils his dry sense of humor. I see my team, Jayme and Hudson--and me, all within arm's reach of each other; I see Ellen's beautiful smile; I see The Lauren Prazeau, a freshman actress, being what I've raised her to be; I see Kyla in a beautifully unscripted moment, blowing a feather from her hand; I see the kids, my actors, hauntingly lit, in the glare of the spotlight; I see Lucas and Alex stealing the show; and the Cop, who earned my respect and admiration, mugging for the camera; I see the Irrepressibles--Evan and Cody; I see elegant Rachel smiling into the mirror; I see all four doors open at once; I see cutie Hailey, and Bri, Mary and Alexander, Portia, Rahel, Shelby, and Lucia, she of the 102 fever; I see kids thinking, processing, learning, internalizing; I see everyone pivot in the same direction all at the same time; I see a slap that had to have hurt; I see blue hair and yellow roses; I see so much unabashed joy and happiness that it's almost hard to take it all in. And I see me smiling. I'm smiling in all my clips. Who'd have thought? Smiling then, smiling still. I hear the message in the music, see it on young faces. Hold on to that feeling, kids. Don't stop believing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Defying Gravity into the Sunrise

Oh. My. Gosh!!!

Who would have thought? Who would have thought it???? They were wonderful! They were tremendous! I wanted them to have a standing ovation, but people here don't generally know what that is... Lord knows, they deserved it. I think I danced all during the second act. I couldn't have been happier with them. My rookies, my babies, my lifelong children. I love them, love them, love them.

They sure didn't look like rookies to me. I couldn't be more proud of them.

So, this morning, I JUMPED out of bed, ready to meet them all at the box office and freely give out smiles and hugs and love... I drove into a gorgeous sunrise of pink and blue combed clouds, listening to "Defying Gravity" and I wanted my car to just take off into the air, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! And fly! I love my life and all is well in the theatre world when the show comes together.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Opening Night

It's opening night for my high school show. I should be feeling happy and excited. Instead, I want to just stay in bed. I think the show is okay, pretty good, excellent, really for what I started with and how it's turned out. But that's what I think.

But the people around me--the ones I count on for advice and support, the ones whose opinions I trust--they have nothing good to say about it. I guess I started that. I was so discouraged. I'd like to change my tune a little now and offer something positive to my actors. Lord knows for all the notes and criticism I've given them, they deserve it.

For some of them, tonight is their very first opening night. Exciting, wonderful. a THRILLING feeling. I feel sad that I don't feel happier. Feel like I've failed everyone involved. Feel like I've failed them for not loving them more. Failed them for leaving so much of the details (that may or may not get done at this late minute) up to others. Failed them for...for...caring too much? It's the caring too much that makes me cry when I get frustrated. I know they give that a negative interpretation...but I can't help it.

Well...let's see what the evening brings...
Break a leg, everyone.

Friday, October 2, 2009


What happens? What makes it good? What is the difference between Monday night's rehearsal where I cried because I was SO discouraged....and tonight, where there were no emotive theatrics, and hope raised its weary head?

Yes, I know I'm overly emotional about stuff, but...I And maybe it's good to have things in your life that are worth crying over. I think so.

In any case, somehow, at least in my eyes (the ones that matter?), the show has gotten MUCH better. But...does it really GET better...or is it just that repeated viewings somehow subconsciously lower my expectations...alter my original vision, lower my standards for performance? Is it just that what I'm seeing is so beyond my recent expectations that it seems better than it really is?

I don't know. It's an interesting question. But what I do know is that...the show IS better. Timing, character, volume, delivery, the humor...most of these are suddenly THERE. Suddenly, I'm smiling. I'm seeing bursts of theatre beauty, moments of true entertainment. And I am PROUD of my 'rookies'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Never Fail

What am I doing wrong with this show? I've never felt so...powerless...when it comes to making a show a success. The success of a show lies in the director's hands, so it's up to me to motivate, inspire, lead these kids to something they can be proud of. I cannot just throw up my hands. I have to take charge and lead them. I have made them this promise--that they can be proud of what they've done. I'll work my hardest to help us all achieve this end.

I've never failed at this before. I won't fail now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Choir Rehearsal/Blocking Slowly

We had our first choir rehearsal on Tuesday. Hudson is our choir director and young Evan is our accompanist. It was impressive. Hudson led them through some--what I considered to be--difficult vocal warm-ups, talked to them about how their mouths should be shaped when they sing, and then led them in "Silent Night". And it was beautiful. It was really a moment. I was impressed; other parents were impressed. Parents who have had some musical training (unlike me) were impressed. That makes me smile. And it makes me proud.


Honestly, there are going to be SO many moments in this show. They are coming to the surface already, like a polaroid photo slowly coming into focus. I'm getting good stuff out of the kids already.

We are blocking the show very slowly. There are huge numbers of kids in the scenes and it makes it really hard for ol' ADD here to focus and see the whole picture. But I like what I've done so far. The blocking part is tedious and slow, but when we get up to speed with the real action of the show, I think it will look great. Rachelle is great. Kelly is great. MEGAN is great!! The last couple shows, she's really just done filler roles for me, but this one was made for her. She's showing her 'training' and her leadership right now.

The trick--the really difficult trick--is going to be making all the scuffling and horseplay look real. So far it's looking pretty 'staged', but it'll become more natural as we go along. We were missing three key people last night and that makes it difficult to see the moving picture we're making here. It will be frustrating having to go back and bring them up to speed, but...what can you do? There are conflicts and choices made and I don't have any control over them. It just makes it hard on the rest of us....

Anyway...VERY excited about this show. Looking forward to sewing this weekend. Loving my theatre life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic of Theatre

I'm blocking "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" reeeaaaalllly slowly. The first night, we did only 14 pages. Last night, we did 7, went back and 'locked' them in, then went back and did pages 5-19 again.

Already, I'm seeing a vision of what this show is going to be. Everyone around me is itching and pushing to get to the details and the polish, but we really have to go slow here. The scenes have TONS of kids in them and the process of making sure they're all in the right place, and acting and in character, is tough.

There are lots of laughs along the way. I laugh and I get laughed at. Joe Siefker pointed out an obvious change--we should walk this way instead of that way--and it WAS so obvious that I was almost embarrassed. Frances, one of my new moms, started laughing and pretty soon, we all were. Fun and funny.

There are moments of brilliance--I've seen them in Ariel, in Megan, in Aubree, in Alec, in these early interactions between the Herdman kids. This is really going to be a good show. This is something I think a lot of directors don't know or don't pay attention to--things like tussling, chasing, play-fighting all have to be choreographed. Most directors just let the kids do what they want to and it ends up looking amateurish and unpracticed--because it is.

Rachel, our girl that plays Beth, came in so much better last night. She slowed down a lot in her narrator speeches and that's good. Rachelle is good, too. I'm just really pleased with everyone...

Now...let's start worrying about the costumes!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Everything Always Comes Together in the End"

"Everything always comes together in the end." I REALLY hate this phrase. I get this rather often from my theatre parents...and others...usually people who are distanced from the process, but sometimes from people who are not. Yes, usually everything does come together in the end--with varying degrees of success--but NOT just by thinking about it and hoping that it will. Not just by continually repeating this phrase. It DOES come together in the end, but only with good planning and hard work. Work that SOMEBODY has to do--and it's usually somebody that isn't standing around saying, "everything always comes together in the end".

I think that that's what Caught in the Act is suffering from right now: "Everything-Always-Comes-Together-in-the-End" Syndrome. I think that there are people in the cast and people around me who think that just because we SAY we're doing a show, and we have a director and a cast, that it will happen just because we have all the pieces. Nope. You HAVE to put the pieces together. Really, there's work involved. It needs work. It needs dedication. It needs ATTENDANCE!! I don't think I've had a rehearsal yet where everyone was there!! Silly me, I believe that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. I'm not convinced that everyone around me feels that way. And I simply refuse to throw it to the wind with 'a wing and a prayer'.

Well, I can only work with the hand that's dealt me. Is that a cop-out attitude? It's a realistic attitude. I'm just one person. I can't complete the puzzle without ALL of the pieces.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Week in Review

Caught is looking up. Wednesday and Friday were my off-book deadlines. Wednesday was good. Friday, not so good. I was surprised at both ends of the spectrum--by people who really WERE off book and people who weren't. It really can only get better. I'm not saying it's bad, but that's the nature of the beast--rehearsals are supposed to make the show better--and they do. I hope that I get to rehearse on stage on Monday--doubtful, however, because I think that "Peter Pan" call backs will not only pre-empt us, but take some of my actors.... Because after all, everyone CAN do EVERYTHING. I also hope that I get to rehearse with my sound cues. I'm a little....hesitant to ask SoundGuy to sit in rehearsal and run them. Is that how it's done at the high school? I know this is my second year there, but it doesn't keep me from feeling like a stranger in a strange land who doesn't really know the language, the rules, the protocols, or what expectations are really on me....I feel like the Rookie Show is the low man on the totem pole and everything else takes priority over it. Grumblegrumble. In any case, I praised them before I let them go on Friday and gave them three assisgnments: 1) get louder, 2) slow down, 3) enunciate. Those are our three issues. They were all looking at me and I felt they were internalizing what I said. I hope so.

We had our first blocking rehearsal for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever on Thursday. I wrote a little bit about it in my previous entry. It took us the whole two hours to block 14 pages, which is what I wanted to get through, but I had hoped to have time to go back and 'lock it in'. Hence, Block and Lock. The more people on stage, the more difficult it is to create my moving piece of art. I have twelve new families in KidsPlay and 21 new faces. I just hope the parents and the veterans can be patient while I teach the fundamentals to the newbies. Got involved in long discussions about the set, long discussions about lines, and costumes. Gave way on most; holding my ground on a couple....

This was a sewing weekend. I bought yards and yards and yards of white flannel for the angel costumes. I bought all that the east-side Wal-Mart, JoAnn's, and Hobby Lobby had and ended up driving down to Shelbyville to the only other central Indiana Wal-Mart that still carries material for another 14 yards!! I had good sewing help yesterday morning and again this afternoon. Thanks to Lais, Rachelle, Laura, Frances, Carie, and Shannon for your help. It was MUCH appreciated. I chose flannel because I thought it would be easier to sew with than the flimsy broadcloth, and you can't see through it.

Tuesday starts our first choir rehearsal. Wish us luck. <---and THAT'S a line from Caught. :-)


Sewing, sewing, sewing...
I'm sewing this weekend. We're making some 16 angel outfits. I picked flannel, much to some's chagrin. It was reasonably priced (with a coupon, of course) and it's thick enough that you can't see through it, unlike the broad cloth.

Photos are the 15th. HOW am I going to make that deadline?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Two Fall Projects

I'm actually directing two shows right now:

Caught in the Act by Pat Cook
Apparently I agreed to direct the Rookie Show for Greenfield-Central High School during a 2 1/2 minute conversation last November. I was very excited about it at first and there are moments when I still am--when there's a breakthrough moment during rehearsal, or when I see how earnestly the kids I'm working with strive for a positive comment. But there have been a lot of frustrations, too. We've gotten bumped out of the auditorium a few times. My supervisor schedules meetings and auditions that pull my actors away. There are delays in tech and actor absences. I'm working with beginners which is a challenge (but a delight when they stretch themselves). I didn't feel that I had enough time from the get-go to make good theatre, and these obstacles only enhance that feeling. I'm pushing my actors as hard as I think they will allow me to. It can only get better and it does.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
This is the show I'm doing with KidsPlay and CrazyLake--a joint production. Last week, we had auditions. This week was our parents meeting and our first blocking rehearsal. 40 people in the cast--two weekends, two day time matinees. A HUGE undertaking, probably the largest project I've taken on in theatre. "Jolly Roger" and "Three Tales of Christmas" come close, but I think this is the biggest. The first blocking rehearsal was long. It took 2 hours to block some 14 pages. All of the scenes have large groups of kids in them and the more kids on the stage, the more difficult and chaotic it is to block it well. I hope my adults are patient as I work with the kids.

So those are the two projects. You've officially been brought up to speed and you're ready now for subsequent blog posts about these projects and other future projects. :-)

A First Post

Yes, yes...most blogs are nothing more than 'vanity projects'. (See Reasons for Writing), and this one is no different. I simply decided I wanted another format (other than my personal blog) for blogging the progress of our productions, the joys and despairs of being a theatre person, and keep a record of our craft, so I decided to create "The Director's Journal".

For my first entry, however, I'd like to post a cut-and-paste letter from a previously started (and abandoned) blog, called "Love Letter to KidsPlay" I wrote back in March of 2007. This is a declaration of my love for what I'm doing, and a good way to start.

I think in my whole life, I have just fifteen minutes to myself every day, and that’s the time it takes me to drive to school in the morning. So it’s no surprise that this fifteen minutes of unstructured time is the time when I reflect on what I’m doing, the speed of my life, and how I’m spending my time here on earth. For me, there has been no greater joy than the privilege of getting to do what I do with you and your kids.

Some reflections from this morning’s drive…

I can’t remember when we have all worked so hard and been so…freakin’ happy about it. Everyone, I mean everyone, is walking around with a huge smile on their faces. I know that some of you have added the things you do for KidsPlay onto an already full plate, yet everyone seems so happy about the 2, 4, 6, 12 or 20 extra hours you’re putting towards KidsPlay every week. Please know that it does not go unnoticed.

Dennis stopped up after rehearsing with Donna for the Variety Show last night. He told me that he thought it was really starting to click. I look at him and he’s just beaming. Good heavens, I think, what was he doing before he found KidsPlay and this outlet for his considerable creative side? I mentioned as much to Donna on the way out the door last night and she said, “What did I do before all of you found ME?”

Some of the kids have already started their songs for the song contest. I haven’t even mentioned it yet in announcements.

We’re getting some outstanding work from the kids. I’m thrilled with the extent to which most of them know their lines. Sam is a little weak on the vocals, and Joe is still shaky on his memorization, but the two of them totally make up for that with the innovative stuff they’re trying out at rehearsal. They’re so into being actors and I LOVE it.

I finally decided, probably too late, to try to transition Blair away from the cockney, to a more genteel aristocratic British accent. She absolutely nailed it in the first act. Amazing. And Blair. Good heavens, I can’t believe this is her last show. [Yes, I’m going down this road already…] She’s been with us since she was a baby fourth grader. She has bloomed into such a leader for this group. What will we do without her?

And Sam. We haven’t had Sam long enough, and yet, he’s an 8th grader. I think that rehearsal will be a colder place without his absolutely irrepressible good humor. I think I could give him constructive criticism every 15 seconds, and he would just smile, make the adjustment and go on.

I can’t get over Wesley on the peg-leg. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s amazing. He walks on it, spins around, sometimes wobbles (only a little), but he doesn’t miss a beat. I can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction when he walks out on that stage. Surely, most adult theatres would not try this special effect (probably because adult legs couldn’t take what Wesley can do with his…). And he’s so matter-of-fact about it—doesn’t complain, doesn’t say it hurts (it can’t possibly be comfortable!!). He’s…just…making sacrifices for his art, is all.

There are so many other things: the kids’ obvious delight in their costumes; their comments and suggestions for improving the show—they have more ideas than I can process in any one rehearsal; their willingness to rehearse a scene or say a line, over and over again until I think we have it right; and the parents laughing and enjoying the scenes and the banter of rehearsal.

Sometimes I think that the stars have aligned to bring us all together combining all of our energies and our talents to create this wonderful thing that we’re doing. All this energy, all this fun and happiness and pride in our kids and in our own hard work. This is a great time for us. We need to soak up these moments while we can. There will be others, to be sure, but these times are golden--and they won’t come again.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Looking into Michael's Eyes

Michael and I were in this play together.
We've known each other awhile now. He's not in my tightest circle of friends, but...we've worked together on some shows and have gotten to know each other and respect each other fairly well. He's truly one of the nicest, most honorable guys I've ever met.

The first night we blocked the opening number, the director put us together, in a frozen tableau. We were to stand there until the music started, and then we could slowly start moving and silently interacting with each other. I knew from that first night standing there, looking up at him--doing our part to create that awe-inspiring opening scene for our audience--that we were part of something special. And I think, he knew it, too. It was 'a moment'.

And so it went. We rehearsed it several times a week. And every time, I would look up into his face. I'd see a hint of a smile. Sometimes--even though we were supposed to be silent--he'd whisper, "Hey, baby. How are you tonight?" I would nod, or whisper back, "I'm" And he would smile...or wink.

I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew....that we were just two pieces in an amazing puzzle; we were part of something wonderful out there. We, two of the oldest people in the cast...our own loved ones at home...we came to be part of this show and part of the 'something special' that it was. We knew, from that first night on, that we were creating theatre magic. And I knew from that first night, that I would always remember standing out there on stage, in the dark, waiting for the music, for the magic to happen, and looking up into Michael's eyes, making a memory, to keep in my heart and in my head, and seeing that he was, too.

Looking into Michael's Eyes

Michael and I were in this play together.
We've known each other awhile now. He's not in my tightest circle of friends, but...we've worked together on some shows and have gotten to know each other and respect each other fairly well. He's truly one of the nicest, most honorable guys I've ever met.

The first night we blocked the opening number, the director put us together, in a frozen tableau. We were to stand there until the music started, and then we could slowly start moving and silently interacting with each other. I knew from that first night standing there, looking up at him--doing our part to create that awe-inspiring opening scene for our audience--that we were part of something special. And I think, he knew it, too. It was 'a moment'.

And so it went. We rehearsed it several times a week. And every time, I would look up into his face. I'd see a hint of a smile. Sometimes--even though we were supposed to be silent--he'd whisper, "Hey, baby. How are you tonight?" I would nod, or whisper back, "I'm" And he would smile...or wink.

I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew....that we were just two pieces in an amazing puzzle; we were part of something wonderful out there. We, two of the oldest people in the cast...our own loved ones at home...we came to be part of this show and part of the 'something special' that it was. We knew, from that first night on, that we were creating theatre magic. And I knew from that first night, that I would always remember standing out there on stage, in the dark, waiting for the music, for the magic to happen, and looking up into Michael's eyes, making a memory, to keep in my heart and in my head, and seeing that he was, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Actor's Prayer

Oh, god, I'm about to go on stage. On stage, in front of You and everyone. The ultimate loneliness; the ultimate in self-exposure; the ultimate in risk-taking. Please Lord, hold my hand while I'm out there, so alone. Keep me breathing and my heart beating, don't let my nervousness show.

Let my shoes be tied and double knotted, my wig/hat/scarf on firmly and straight, my costume securely fastened, my pants zipped, and my mic box securely in the waistband of my clothes. Please don't let me sneeze, sniff, cough, and for god's sake, don't let me get the hiccups. Don't let me faint or trip or fall out of the chair, off the ladder, or through the door, or god forbid, off the damn stage. And please make sure I remember to go to the bathroom BEFORE my entrance. Help me to manage my props skillfully--the bag, the food, the letter, the whatever I'm carrying/have to handle/pick up/move.

I'm an empty vessel. Open me up and flow through me like water, and allow all that I know is inside to come through and out into the audience. I've prepared for this for weeks, months even; help me to be what I can be and do what I know I can do. Open my mind to the lines I need to say; allow me to think on my feet; allow me that other-worldly experience of channeling the character I've created and need to be. Help me to remember EVERYTHING--my lines, my blocking, the choreography, the words to the songs, the accent, the inflection and nuances I've rehearsed for so long.

And lord, while I'm begging, do this for me--as if asking you to help me hide my nervousness wasn't enough--let me have fun out there. Let it be a romp in the park; a mountaintop experience; allow me to know the moments of joy that I find only in this theater temple. Help me to tune into the audience to create that love affair that is only between them and me.

Lord, this is my prayer--grant me all these things, but, most of all, help me to share what you gave me.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Tevye is My Hero

So I've been watching this Tevye character for several weeks now. He's a poor man, he complains a lot; he yells a lot. He loves his family, his god, his heritage, and his community. He accepts his lot in life. But....there's more there than meets the eye.

I have a pretty short list of heroes: Lincoln, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Walt Disney, and Randy Pausch. These are people whose values/contributions to the world I revere. I'd like to add the multi-faceted character of Tevye to that list.

First of all, he must have done something right with his daughters. Although he doesn't always agree with their life choices, somewhere along the line--in a very femme-repressed society--he taught them to think for themselves, to stand up for themselves, and to go after happiness. Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava all have courage and take risks to find love and happiness in their lives. Honestly, what more could you want for your children?

Tevye, in his hundred years ago east European village has some of the same issues we have today. He sings about money and wanting to be a rich man, true. But the verse that jumps out at me is this: "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray. And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall...that would be the sweetest thing of all." Ultimately, what he really wants is a little quiet time, a time to sit and reflect, and hear the inner voice that guides him through life. Yes...I'm right there with you, Tevye.

He loves his family, his five daughters, and ultimately, his wife, with whom he has shared 25 years of hardship in life. His life is very difficult, but he doesn't shirk his responsibilities. He loves his community and the traditions therein.

He is a forgiving man. What Chava did went against the very core of his being, everything he stood for and believed in. And although he can't forget, he does forgive her, and wishes her well with, "God go with you."

But I think what I admire about him most of all comes to light just after he celebrates his daughter's engagement to Lazar Wolf. There is a huge celebration in the tavern, and then the Constable shows up to burden Tevye with the announcement that there will be a 'demonstration' in his village... This is hard news, and he takes it as such, but...the Constable moves on. The music swells and Tevye, in spite of the difficulties of his life, in spite of what he has just been told, and the load he carries, is still able--always able--to find the strength and the joy within and slowly, slowly, he returns to his dance. This I admire about him and I hope that in spite of whatever hand I'm dealt in life, I, too, will always be able to hear the music and return to the dance.

So these things I admire about this 'plain, simple' musical theatre character. He's a model for us us all. God go with you, Tevye. And with us, too.

Nerves...No Hype This Time

Nervousness. What a strange, illusive, intangible concept this is.

Sunday--I got thrown off during the tech rehearsal because I didn't have my right bag to carry. How stupid. Brian said, "Don't worry, it's not about the acting tonight." Uh-huh, right. It's ALWAYS about the acting, Brian, and you know it.
Monday--nervous to the point of nausea. I did fine, however.
Tuesday--not quite so nervous...and I DID make a mistake, but I learned that I can recover. That's what I teach the kids--and they do it like breathing (I'm a good teacher....), but I really didn't know if I, myself, could do that.
Wednesday--back to being nervous again. I just couldn't get my breath. I felt dizzy, overheated (which I probably am in all those clothes), just weird. Being nervous is one thing, but not being able to support your speeches with breath is another. I drank a lot of water, ate all the cookies in my bag... I felt better after awhile. And the show went fine.

I don't know why I get so nervous.
I know my lines better than I know my address and phone number. In fact, I think everyone knows my lines. Hudson, that saint, has listened to me say them over and over and over again. HE knows them. Omg, I can never thank him enough for all the support and emotional handholding he's done for me. And DC, too.
I also think I'm...not too the show. I hope I am. So why should I be so nervous? Why can't I just relax and enjoy it? Everyone else seems to.
I asked Hudson if my nervousness shows. He said no. Wow. I almost can't believe that, especially when it's pulsing through me like the blood in my veins. He tells me what an enigma I am, to be so theatre-oriented, so good in the show, but so ill-at-ease there.... It is strange, isn't it?

I won't let anyone talk to me, or pat me on the back, or wish me well during the show. I just need to stay completely focused. That's not fun for Hudson. He loves the backstage camaradarie and he doesn't get any from me at all.

When I think about it in my head, it seems easy enough, a cakewalk, something I've done 10,000 times....for someone as extroverted and theatrical as me, it should be easy. I picture myself out there, smiling, confident, calmly, methodically, going through my part. Reacting to Beth, to CVett, to the audience's laughter, adding little bits, a kid playing in the home on the stage and in front of all the people. I can only hope and pray that's what I project and not the gritty nervousness I feel.

Break a leg, Christine. You CAN do this...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Hype and Nerves

"Meeting the challenge of making an audience laugh is one of the most rewarding things I have ever had the privilege to experience. I cannot WAIT for you to feel that when you step out in front of the audience after all this time directing, Chris. I'm not talking about the chuckles we got with our skits - I'm talking about the roar. The place will erupt with laughter, and it will be for YOU!"

This is what my friend Dennis wishes for me, as we head into this critical week, which will culminate in opening night of "Fiddler on the Roof". I won't let him say it to me in person because...what if I don't live up to my hype, everyone's expectations of me, my expectations of myself? I don't want to believe that I can jump off a building and fly. Human beings can't do that, and I can't either. Don't tell me because I don't want to hear it...not now. Maybe later.

You just...can't...think about it too much. Just do it. Just go out there and do it.

Oh, I get so nervous...

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Love Letter to My Director

Now, I'm not saying I'm all that as a director, but...I take what I do very seriously...

"Directing is a search for truth: truth in movement, truth in voice, in reaction, in facial expression, body position, physical location, and juxtaposition to others near you, etc., etc. When I’m watching, I’m watching for what rings true and what appears false. So when we say, “Does this work?”, we’re really saying, “Is this true?” The difference between what is true and what is false can be as slight as two steps this way, looking down instead of up, tone of voice or inflection. And sometimes it’s true one time; and it’s not true the next, because everything is always moving..."*

As a director, I'm mostly self-taught. I've used trial and error, instinct, and my sense of 'how it should feel' to guide my direction. I've known for awhile now that there was room to grow and I was looking for the time and the right experience to make that happen. Amazingly, it landed right in my lap.

I can't begin to share what this experience has been for me. Walking in the shoes of the actor, being on the other side of the clipboard...has been AMAZING. I know now what it feels like (per our previous director) to be yelled at, to be...disregarded, to feel frustrated and blocked. I also know now what it's like to hang on the every word of the director, and to wait--sometimes in vain--for that dog bone of praise.

And then, that director left and we fell into the hands of a legend. How could we get so lucky?

I’m not sure I can put into words the exhilarating rehearsal we had last night. We got some direction—some REAL direction—and it was all I had hoped it would be and more.

He took the blocking of our previous (non)director and completely revamped it. Put his thumbprint on it. Made it his. He fined-tuned us, talked about character and motivation and what we, in the role, should be thinking and feeling. It was...awesome. I soaked it up like a sponge, like a thirsty man in the desert. His style, I think, validated mine, and he TOTALLY met MY needs as an actor to run it, and run it again; the need of an actor to feel valued; and the need of an actor to front of him and in front of others.

I so much wanted this experience to go beyond just having fun with my theatre buddies. Because God only knows when I'll have an opportunity like this again. Thanks to our director, my One Director, it is all I'd hoped and more.

*from "The Show Turns the Corner"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Being IN the Show Instead of Directing It

You know, I almost didn’t do this. I wasn’t sure I wanted to ‘mix blood’ with the Ricks-Weil people. I didn’t think I could commit—I was going on vacation right in the middle of the rehearsal period, I was directing a teen show, conducting a drama camp, working full time. I was afraid of a musical.

I got a LOT of pressure from Beth and from Dave. They courted me, shall we say, pretty heavily. “A part made for you”, they said….. “You’d be perfect”, they said. “Mmmm….” I said.

The night of auditions was a busy night for me. I had auditions of my own for my teen show until 8 p.m. Couldn’t get down to the theater until the last minute...and a last minute decision it definitely was.

When I walked into the theater, someone--don't know who--said, “There she is!” and people applauded. Applauded. At the audition. Wow. But you can't allow stuff like that to sneak into your head. Praise is a drug that makes you think you can jump off a building and fly when you really can't.

And so I read and I got the part. And I’m thankful every day for this experience…that Dave and Beth pushed me and that I made the decision to take on this challenge. In spite of all the drama-drama, I am having the time of my life.

Every day. Thankful, EVERY DAY.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Evening of Other People' Theatre

I have so many thoughts about this and I know that many of you wanted to hear my opinion, so I thought I'd kill several dozen birds (or hold several dozen conversations) with one blog post. So here are my thoughts.


In the beginning, honestly, I couldn't understand why everyone wanted to do this. I saw what they did last year, and it was no great shakes. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to attach his or her name to this show. But apparently, they did.
I heard a lot of reasons: experience, fun, young, likable directors, it was the only show in town, etc. They courted my prodigy with a ‘role just for you’, and when he asked my opinion, the advice I gave was to consider it CALENDAR IN HAND, rather than with his male actor's ego. He did, I think. He was able to fit it in. But that advice, in hindsight of course, turned out to be two-fold; there was another time-issue question that needed to be asked that maybe wasn't.

I had my doubts about the script. I tend not to enjoy (and certainly don't attempt) shows where some of the characters are animals. I worried about the scant rehearsal calendar. Could it actually be done within the confines of the production schedule that was laid out?

During production, I heard stories of rehearsal: wasted time, missing actors, lines not learned, goofing around. It was worrisome to me. Stressful. Not even my show and it was stressful. This week, I saw them still working late at night when I was finished with "Fiddler" rehearsal. I saw planks of lumber and set pieces outside the theater yesterday morning, and I worried. Will they be ready? Stopping by, I saw the aisles of the theater littered with props and costumes being sewn yet today, opening day. Would they be ready??? Stressful and not even my show.

I had faith when Hudson told me that they'd pulled in enough talent so that no matter what happened, the results would be pretty good. And there was a lot of talent: Hudson himself, Lauren, Carie, Hannah, Michael, for all his foibles, created a GREAT character in the Centipede. Watching him on stage actually made me wish (again) I'd gotten a chance to work with him this past summer.

But what I saw on stage last night was...something between amateur talent night at the county fair and a junior high improv class. After the first five minutes, I literally put my hand over my eyes.

I couldn't hear. I was sitting in the second row and I couldn't hear some of what was said--whether it was the British accent, or talking too fast, or not talking loud enough, or the frequently muttered cover-the-gap lines. They had mics, so I don't know what the problem was there.

The script, the story--I'll go out on a limb here and put of the blame for this on the script. "James and the Giant Peach"—who picked this, and WHY is it considered such a beloved children's story? It's like some child's stream of consciousness dream (or nightmare). Human-sized bugs? Crawling around inside a sticky-icky peach? Shark attack? Falling? And at the end, a ticker-tape parade through NYC. (For what? Spattering the city with thousands of gallons of fermenting peach juice? Ew.) The dialogue—and granted, it was hard to determine what were actually lines from the script as opposed to the abundant filler dialogue the kids threw in when their memories failed them—but we learn about the characters through their dialogue; and the things these oversized insects say to each other were just weird. They were whiny and complaining. A more pessimistic bunch of vermin I never saw. I didn’t like ANY of the characters…the vain centipede and his boot fetish, the gypsy spider, the ladybug who seemed to be of NO value to the story line. And what was with the sailors on the ocean liner? WHAT was the purpose of that mostly ad-libbed scene?

The scope of the production in the time allotted for it-here…I lay 30% of the blame. The play was very short, but the preparation required for it was massive. The special effect that it called for were…more than I would have ever attempted (so I respect the leadership on their courage and ambition), but…they only allowed right around three weeks to put this together. It just wasn’t enough time.


***Now you’re going to get a little insight into how I see myself in the theatre world. I generally walk through this world devaluing what I bring to it, flinching at praise, even stopping my ears at times because praise…is…like a drug…that makes you think you’re more than you are. Sure you can jump off that building…I know you can do it…you’re great!!! Wrong. You’ve got to keep both feet on the ground and keep your head and your wits about you. And then there’s the part of me that believes the hype and KNOWS just who I am and what I DO bring to my corner of the world.***

And so I look at this production from both sides of the glass. I marvel in horrified awe at what these two young people could possibly have been thinking to try and mount this production? In THREE weeks. With the production value requirement and the set required? WHAT were they thinking? From my outside [read: OUTSIDE] view, it seems like a LOT of time was wasted, actors didn’t show up for rehearsals, blah, blah, blah.
But from the OTHER side of the glass, the Smeagol side, I have to look at these two young people from the shadows and whisper to myself, “There for the grace of god go I…” I mean, both of us start with a happy vision: “Here is what we will create! And it will be wonderful! It will be fun! It will be art!” What happens between the origination of the idea and the final product? What IS the difference? What makes one group able to make it happen and another….not? People show up for my rehearsals. People learn their lines when I tell them to. I have a strict rehearsal schedule, set in stone before we start, and it doesn’t change. And…maybe I have a more realistic vision of what is possible to accomplish… I don’t know. There are many variables here.

I think that the final 10% of the blame belongs on the kids themselves. Their natural work ethic and dedication didn’t shine through here. They should have known their lines* and they should not have missed even one rehearsal in that short calendar. That, to me, is unforgivable. That, my children, is the one area where YOU had control. You may not have had control over production issues, bad script, costume delays, set problems, but YOU have control over your attendance and your line memorization.

In watching this week, part of me wanted to go up to the young director and say, “Let me help you….please….I can see you are drowning in this and it has ceased to be fun for you…” But three things held me back. First, I hardly know her. The second was that I am already over my head in my own projects and if I stepped up to help her, I would get lost in her project and lose focus on mine. The third was the groveling, self-effacing side of me feared that she would think that I think I’m ‘all that’, as in, “Here I am, the great Chris Schaefer and I will be the savior of your production.” No, no, no. I don’t think that at all.

The down side of me says stuff isn’t all that great**. I’m just too close to it to really judge whether it’s good or bad. Of course, however, no one does anything unless they think they do it better than anyone else, right? Of course, right. I think that KidsPlay/CrazyLake are the hidden treasures of Greenfield. I know my faults, my areas of weakness….and maybe they aren’t the jewels I think they are Maybe they’re just another kiddie/community theatre. Everyone thinks that what they do is the best, the best, best. And so do I. But how can it ALL be the best? Some of it is not, but which? And who decides?

And then… I get my comeuppance when I’m met by the opinion of people I respect who say, “Wasn’t that great? The kids did a good job, didn’t they?” What??? Are you kidding? You’re not, are you? So….apparently, it doesn’t matter if you work for 12 weeks or 3 weeks on a production, the audience will not know the difference and the response from the will be the same. That’s….disheartening, to say the least….


I couldn’t relax and enjoy it. I’m too close to theatre, too close to the kids in the show to just sit back and let it flow over me. Is there such a thing as vicarious stress? This was a classic example. I couldn’t sit down, couldn’t relax, I paced around like a caged tiger during intermission, actually going back and forth to the Gallery twice….

What was good:

1) The costumes were excellent. Excellent. Hats off to Haberman and Heather for that. I said earlier that I would never attempt a play with animal characters—bravo for your courage.

2) The make-up, particularly the spider and the grasshopper. Loved the pink highlights in Lauren’s hair.

3) The bells and whistles—again, these details are TOTALLY not on my radar screen of experience. In fact, we got all the way to the end of “Howl” before I even thought about the lab experiment scene—and Urban ended up helping us with that. Anyway, the growing peach, the lights and scrim (?) work, faulty as it was, went beyond my scope of experience. The flying bird, the snow (?), the infamous confetti cannons.

4) Given the poor script, the production issues and the limited rehearsal time, the acting, for the most part, was good. Their training sticks. Character communication (that is, how the character communicates itself to the audience) is so important, and you totally pulled that off. I saw the Aunts, James, the Spider, the venerable old Grasshopper, the Centipede, the Lady Bug and, yes, I saw the Earthworm. The ghosts of past characters standing in the wings, yes, but the acting and the current characters were there and strong and steady. Very good, my children. I am proud of you.

5) There was also one other REALLY cool moment when all the insects were standing on top of the peach, and they were backlit so that they were in silhouette. Really cool effect.

The worst moment of the evening, however, was the kids’ faces after the show. And this part made me angry. They knew. They KNOW me and they know what a theatre snob I am. They know what I think. One of the kids said, “Please don’t say, ‘I told you so’.” and my heart went out to him. They looked at me, sad, defeated, apologetic. And that’s when I felt angry. They should NOT have to feel that way about their work, their HARD work. They’re kids…and they signed on to this…and they trust the powers that be to lead them through it. They want to have fun and be PROUD of what they’ve done. That is ONE thing I promise all the KidsPlayers at the very first parents meeting: “We will work hard, and in March or early April, we’ll be tired of rehearsing and sick of each other…but I promise you, when we’re finished, and you’re on that stage taking your bow, you will have been part of something to be proud of. I promise you that.” That promise got broken for these kids last night. And who is going to be held responsible for that….?

**And how would I feel if someone came in and took MY show apart like this? Well, you don’t learn anything from being told how wonderful you are all the time. It’s happened to me, twice. Once, early in my career—someone, I didn’t know who it was—I still don’t—absolutely shredded my program. Ouch. And it happened again this spring after “The Odd Couple”. There were lessons that needed to be learned… You take what you can use, what you can deal with…and leave the rest for another time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On Being Yente

I cried over my lines in the shower this morning. No concerns. It was a good kind of cry.

I'm really worried about my performance right now. See, I'm on vacation--right smack dab in the middle of the rehearsals, I had a vacation planned. I'm so worried about this...that everyone in the show is getting better and better (yesssss, I have a typical actor's ego....), while I'm just 'staying in one place' in my part, my character development, and so forth. I'm worried that I won't shine the way I want to.

I'm particularly having trouble with my second act speeches. Yente just blathers on and on, rarely waits for people to comment or ask questions...she has long speeches. And the Eastern European way of forming sentences--real 'Yoda-like'. :-) I'm worried that in my nervousness to learn them and recite them, I'll just rattle through them with no 'acted' character at all.

The last monologue is the one I'm working on now, where she tells Golde what she's going to do since she and all the other Jews have to leave Anatevka. She tells Golde that she's going to the Holy Land to be a matchmaker. I heard myself delivering the lines, and suddenly, she was really me, telling someone (Dennis, Stan...) about some big new idea I had. And Yente became Chris and Chris became Yente, in that moment. And that small epiphany made me cry.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Payton Cole is a Class Act

Just an anecdote from Saturday's show. My partner (Cathleen) brought her children to the show. I saw them at intermission and Cathleen told me that they'd each decided who their favorite actor was. Her daughter Elise (sp?) is a BRILLIANT first grader and she picked Payton as her favorite. I saw them (Cathleen and Elise) later having a discussion at the flower table. Elise wanted to send a flower back to Payton. Intermission was nearly over and there was a bit of an issue as to whether it would get back there on time. And as it came to light, Elise wanted to deliver it herself... So I took her back into the wonderful maze of Christmas lights, props, wood, benches, paint cans, costumes, and bodies that is backstage. Backstage is something we all take for granted. It's long since ceased to be a magical place for us, but for just a moment, I really saw it through Elise's eyes, winding through the darkness, the shapes of people getting ready to go on stage, echo-y music from out front and the sounds of the audience on the other side of the set... We went back to the very crowded dressing room (it was running so late that the second act music had started) and we found that wonderful ethereal creature known as The Great Actress Payton Cole and Elise gave her the flower. Everybody 'aw-ed' and Payton bent down and hugged her. Geez, I have tears in my eyes thinking about it. Big-big points to Payton for realizing the importance of that moment and that gesture to a little girl.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Roller-Coaster Week

Good grief, but it's been an emotional week. And it continues. Woke up at 4:30 this morning boo-hooing (again) about KidsPlay. So I'll use this sadly low-visibility forum to organize my thoughts for the curtain speech for this evening's final production of "It's a Howl".

"My name is Christine Schaefer, and I'm the director of the CrazyLake Act-Teen Workshop. I'm also the director of the CrazyLake Acting Company. But mostly, I'm the director of KidsPlay, Inc. children's theatre, and it's on their behalf that I'm making this plea.

KidsPlay has been presenting shows in Greenfield for going on twelve years now. We were here before this theatre was built. We were here before the CrazyLake Acting Company. We were here before Ricks-Weil Theatre Company. When you go out in this community to see theatre at the high schools, there are young people on that stage that came up through KidsPlay. When you come here to see adult shows, you are most likely seeing still more former KidsPlayers or adults who are parents of KidsPlayers. What I'm trying to say is that KidsPlay has been good for Greenfield. This little children's theatre has played an important part in the development of Greenfield into the arts community and a theatre colony it is becoming.

KidsPlay has been rehearsing on the third floor of the Creative Arts and Event Center--thanks to the generosity of Bob and Bev Hunt--for the past three years, but our time there is drawing to a close. We are in desperate need of rehearsal space in hopes of continuing to do what we do best, and that's making people laugh. We are in need of a place to rehearse our next production, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever".

As director of three different theatre companies, I've stepped out on this stage more than two dozen times in the past couple years to introduce shows and ask for help for KidsPlay. In all that time, I've received one check for $20, one for $100 and one very generous donation of $2000. We know times are hard. We know that because we're about to present to you the results of six weeks of hard work and an evening of laughs for just $5. $5--less than the price of a movie ticket.

This little town has done a lot of amazing things--we've reinvented ourselves as an arts community and a theatre colony. We've all pitched in to renovate this building so that we can enjoy live music and theatre. And surely, we can band together to save KidsPlay.

Tonight, as you're watching this show--and laughing, bcause you will--take a look at the faces of these kids. Look at the joy you see there, the confidence, the joy that comes from being given the opportunity to create, and grow, and entertain. Take in the full measure of what they just gave YOU--and you decide if you have it in your wallet, your purse, your checkbook to help us continue to do what we do best--and that's bring laughter to the stages of Greenfield.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Perfect Happiness

Could it be possible to be happier? This evening, we moved our show ("It's a Howl") into the theatre. It's really some of the hardest work you could do--dismantling the set, moving our flats down three flights of stairs (complete with landings and 180 degree turns), loading them into the trailer, unloading them at the theatre, and assembling our set--taping, painting, adding trim.... A good number of my teens showed up to help--Father's Day or no--they were there, working hard, talking, laughing, all of us enjoying being in each other's presence, sharing the common bond of our theatre family...I had moments of perfect happiness. Could it get any better than this?

The show is good. It's more than good. It's so THERE that I'm worried about OVER-rehearsing it. Is there such a thing as over=rehearsing?

I love these kids. I love being alive. I love what we've created. I love our 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts' mentality. Could I be any happier? How could it be possible?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

CrazyLake Drama Camp for Kids—Week Two out of Three

My day starts at 4:57 a.m. when my alarm goes off. I drag Charlie out of bed and we're in the car by 7:20 and on the way to pick up Hudson. I wake up Hudson's entire neighborhood with "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In". He gets in the car in his KidsPlay shirt and his all important keys around his neck. He's wearing his Peace hat to get in tune with the music blaring forth. We circle back to pick up the Cole children and around to catch Hannah if she's walking. We arrive at the KidsPlay Studio at about 7:45 and there are Jayme and Spenser waiting for me. Hannah arrives, then Carie. Jayme is all business, all about getting me focused for the day: "Chris! What needs to be done?" Carie is all about hugs. Hudson establishes his territory in 'his' house, as if anyone had any doubts. Spenser was an excellent choice as she's great with the kids and I live to make Hannah laugh. We vacuum, lay out a craft activity, and I send her out for the snacks I didn’t have time to get the night before…. The kids start arriving and we engage them in a warm-up activity as we continue to plan out the day. Everyone is finally here and we go downstairs, escaping the grind of the power tools and the third floor construction, to play our Theatre Games. “This is a Pencil”, “Zip, Zap, Zop”, and role- playing games. We play, we laugh, we try to pull Lindsey out of her shell, and get Madison to focus, and allow Ian his Korean Boxer Moment. We go back upstairs for snacks. The counselors and I sneak M&Ms and Pepsis while the kids have apple juice and pudding cups. During Free Time, the kids dress up in the costumes I’ve brought in—hats, high heels, dresses, swords. Fun. The casting for our cutie, little pirate play is done and now it’s time to start the blocking. This is my moment—focusing them, directing them, creating art with these little people. Teaching them the basics, the fundamentals of facing the audience and projecting, of stage presence and movement. Such fun. I’m totally in my element.

And when I think I’ve pushed them as far as they can go, and their attention spans start to drift, we take them all back upstairs for a craft activity—toilet paper tube pirates, pirate bead jewelry, Walk of Fame star posters….and the parents start wandering in. Everyone seems to be having fun, the staff, me, the kids….and as long as the kids are having fun, the parents are totally on board. It’s fun…exhausting, yeah, but fun.

And once all the kids are gone, we jump in the car and go in search of food. We have approximately 55 minutes before we need to be back for our 1 o’clock rehearsal. Only time for the drive-thru….but these are stories for another day. Stay-tuned.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

After the Show

...everything is low. The set is down and away...there is no trace that we were ever there. Just the marquee that will soon be changed. Did anyone care enough to take a photo of it? I don't know.
Costumes away, props stashed in boxes to be sorted and stored. Tasks are a drudge now. My friends are scattered. I don't know where they are now. I don't know what they're doing. Back to their own lives. They're strangers again.
A play over is like a death to be mourned. All I want to do is sleep. Because I'm sad? Because I'm bored? Because I'm exhausted? I'm not really sure.
I'm in limbo in space. Between worlds, between lives, between dimensions. I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow or what needs to be done.
Dark and silent. The curtain is closed. The lights are off. The door is locked.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where Next?

On a night when I could least afford it--the night before a long day that includes dress rehearsal--I woke up in the night worrying. Not about the show. The show is good, it's beyond good. Worrying about the future.

The lease for our Studio is up in December...ten months from now. It has been a perfect place for us--right downtown, a block and a half from the theater. And Mr. Hunt has been more than generous with our lease agreement. But where to next? Where is there a place better than where we are now? Will be able to afford to move? I believe that when one door closes, another one opens--and it has many times for my little theatre group. But will another door open one more time...? I probably only have another ten years in me, but it's ten years I WANT to put in. Where will we go? What will we do? What will become of my little theatre world that I've created?

Worrying, worrying....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ten Lessons I Learned During This Production

1) I am ultimately responsible for ALL decisions.
2) People really do forgive.
3) Talent-schmalent.
4) Home is where the heart is.
5) Most people are content to settle for 'just okay'.
6) You can't please everyone, let alone make them happy.
7) Believe in your OWN vision.
8) Actions speak WAY louder than words.
9) People do what they want to do.
10) In the end, the only one you can really depend on is yourself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Beloved Studio

I'm up in my beloved Studio right now. It's so cold that my fingers hurt, but typing is helping to warm them up. I don't want to turn on the salamander because I only have one tank of propane and I need it for auditions tonight. (If you don't know what a salamander is--and I didn't before the Arts Council bought it for us--it is a propane fueled open flame blower, used to heat warehouses and construction areas--and our rehearsal space. When it's going, it heats this room pretty well.)

My Studio is on the third, heretofore unused, floor of the Creative Arts and Event Center at the corner of state road 9 and US 40 (State and Main) in Greenfield. It is a huge beautiful room-1500 square feet, with windows on three sides and wood floors. I LOVE it...probably more than I love my own house. It's like the loft where the Flashdance chick lived, but without the firepole. It's spacious, well-lit, and wonderful.

We lucked into the room because no one was using it. The man who owns our building first renovated the first floor into a soda shop and an art Gallery, and a common space for groups to use. Then he began working on the second floor, dividing it up into artist studios. For almost a year and a half, this room has been ours--for cheap! It was the space at the top of the building, the last space to be noticed and to receive renovation attention. Perfect for us in every way...except for the fact that there is no air-conditioning in the summer--and no heat in the winter.

Last winter, we froze up here. You could see your breath. Everyone invested in flannel lined jeans and wore hats and gloves during rehearsal. Even the kerosene heaters couldn't make a dent in the cold. Then we got the salamander. It helped a LOT. This winter, it's not quite that bad because some heat from the now-inhabited second floor seeps up. You can't see your breath anymore, even when it was 20 below a couple weeks ago. The salamander keeps us warm, but it's loud--and scary--an open flame in the room. Last summer, we bought some air conditioners, because the third floor of a brick building gets VERY hot. The sun shines in the windows and no amount of curtains seemed to keep the temperatures from rising to 80...85 degrees. It was really hot. Hot, I don't mind. It's the cold that's the worst.

Today, I'm up here cleaning. The third floor is finally getting noticed. They're working on the front room of the third floor now, but they're carting all the construction waste through our room to throw it out the window into the dumpster below. It is a dusty, unholy mess. There is a thick coating of white plaster dust on EVERYTHING, making me wonder how kids with allergies and asthma, colds and bronchitis, are going to manage. As if the cold, the three flights of stairs, the inadequate restroom facilities weren't enough to contend with. Now we have construction dust. There's dust on the candy, on the cups, on the chairs and the upholstery. What will the parents think? And we don't always have electricity. Yesterday, it came on for awhile in the bathroom and I quickly scrubbed the toilets and swept the floor. Today, it appears that after all my work--one of the construction guys threw UP in one of the toilets. Good grief. And it has to be cleaned again. And the floor. I mopped some areas of the floor, but all it did really was move the dust around... It's really bad.

It's cold, it's dusty, but I LOVE this room. This temporary space we're in....where we go from here, I don't know.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Adore Those Kids

I love, Love, LOVE the kids I work with in the theatre.

*This started out as a post called "Happy Together/Unhappy Together" about my travails with my adult theatre group, but I decided that writing about the theatrical journeys with my various and assorted youth theatre groups and their 'love of the game' would be a much more positive expenditure of my time.

I love my KidsPlayers. Oh, are they wonderful. They're dedicated and they work SO HARD. I hold them to a very high standard, behavior-wise, work ethic-wise, and performance-wise. I've been working with KidsPlay for nigh on eleven years--a lifetime in kid years.
Some of them come late to KidsPlay and I only get to work with them for a couple years before they move on to the high school. Some come early and I've gotten the joy of watching them grow up in the group.
In any case, once a KidsPlayer, always a KidsPlayer. I have undying loyalty to those kids for all they give and all they give up to be a part of KidsPlay.

Jacobs asked me once how I got the kids to hold fast to their off-book date. I told him, "I just do. We have a date for being off book for each act and I hold them to it."
"What if they don't?" he said.
I said, "Well, I expect a rough rehearsal on our first night off book, some, but not a lot of cueing... however, if I have somebody who's really slowing us down, I just say, 'Get your book. Go on, get it. You're slowing us down.' And THAT, to the kids, is devastating to them. I don't have to say anything more. They REALLY want to please me." And it's true...and almost hard they work for the small crumbs of praise I hand out. I'm way too stingy with my praise, but when it comes, they know it means something.
I have a wealth of wonderful stories with these kids: Katie, and Jesse, and Sam, and Blair, and Maddie, Payton, and Charlie...some REALLY wonderful kids have come through KidsPlay and left funny, poignant, heartwarming memories in my heart that I'll have forever.
I take joy in their happinesses and successes and I work very hard to make sure they reach their potential in the shows we do and that they recognize their own growth and talent. Oh, my KidsPlayers--this week are auditions for "A Tough Act to Follow" and I can hardly wait!

I love my Act-Teens. We 'test drove' this group over Christmas this year and I had the time of my life!! What a GREAT bunch of kids they are. I guess it's contradictory to say they make me feel young, because I certainly don't feel old (at 50), but when we all get going on our 'collective problem', I know I will ALWAYS be 16 in my heart. Their enthusiasm, their cleverness, their devotion to their craft--it overwhelms me. Rehearsals with them are exhausting, but I always come away exhilarated by their energy. There is more ahead for me and the Act-Teens and, chuckle--again--I can hardly wait.

The third group of kids isn't really mine at all--it belongs to Jacobs. The Greenfield-Central Drama kids are awesome. They welcomed me, as his assistant, early this fall and it's been a love affair ever since. They are the warmest, huggiest bunch of people I know. They are erudite, clever, and INTERESTING!!! And they've found their own place in my heart.

And those are my theatre kids. I love, love, love them. The time I spend with them--in theatre and NON-theatre time--is ALWAYS time well-spent, my work with them is my life's true calling.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On Stage (?): a Stress Dream

So...last night I attended a script-reading for a possible 'next production' for the CrazyLake Acting Company. For this production, which will be performed in September, I am turning the reins of directorship over to my most reliable, experienced, and trusted actor for his first venture into 'in front of the stage' instead of 'on'. In doing this, it is my hope that I will have a chance to perform for the first time in....twelve years(!!!). The play that we read had a medium-sized part, a wacky old lady, just right for me, and for which I will most certainly be auditioning, should we decide to do this play.

So...this morning after the script-reading, I wake up from my first stress dream.

I am on stage...and watching the action, watching people say their lines, when all of a sudden, I realize they're all looking at me. Oh. It must be my line...but as a director, I'm so used to just standing and watching the action that I sort of forgot I was IN the play. I look at them; they're all there: Kelly, Rachelle, Dennis, Chris, Joe, Terri... They're staring very hard at me. A couple of them mouth something to me, but I don't get it. (I never was any good at lip-reading.) I just sort of shrug...I really have no idea...I realize that I don't know my lines at all. AT ALL.

Shudder. This is enough to make me want to take last night's script and IMMEDIATELY put my lines on CD to start learning them whether we decide to do this show or not. Eek.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Show Turns the Corner

Whenever I'm directing a show...which, lately, is constantly...there's always a moment when the show 'turns the corner'. It's then that you know it's going to be okay, all the hard work, the worrying, the time that you've put in, it's all going to be worth it. It's the 'we've got a show' moment. For the CrazyLake Acting Company's production of "The Odd Couple", last night was that night. The show turned the corner.

We sent the poker guys home early--we've worked and worked with them; strangely, it's Oscar and Felix, who live right here in town, who have been neglected. So last night belonged to them.

Directing is a search for truth: truth in movement, truth in voice, in reaction, in facial expression, body position, physical location, and juxtaposition to others near you, etc., etc. When I’m watching, I’m watching for what rings true and what appears false. So when we say, “Does this work?”, we’re really saying, “Is this true?” The difference between what is true and what is false can be as slight as two steps this way, looking down instead of up, tone of voice or inflection. And sometimes it’s true one time; and it’s not true the next, because everything is always moving...

We worked on Act III. We stopped and started, backed up, discussed scenes and motivations (always humorously harking back to "Why am I carrying this box of groceries into the study, Lloyd?"). We tried it again in different ways, trying to find 'what works'.

And in the end, it was good. The collaboration between the three of us is good--it's more than good. I don't know what other directors do, but I like to listen to my actors. I think, for the most part, they ultimately have a much deeper understanding of their characters than I do. What I understand is the big picture of the scene, but THEY understand their characters. So we work together on what feels honest to the character and what feels right to the scene, the constantly moving painting we're creating. And when we get it right, we look at each other and nod and smile--and we keep working. Always looking for truth. I smile now just thinking about it. It's good; it's all good.

The CrazyLake Acting Company: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.