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The Post I Wasn’t Going To Write

IMG_0290I wasn’t going to write a September 11th blog post today. I’ve written several already, along with posts on the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. No, today, after changing my Facebook cover photo, posting my favorite Memorial picture on Instagram and watching  the coverage in New York and Washington; I had intended to remember privately.

I also wasn’t going to write about something else (directly connected) that has really bothered me for quite some time.

Such is life– things changed. So here I sit and write.

In the past, most of my posts have been structured with a specific point. This one is going to be a little more free-thought.

A few hours ago I was scrolling through Facebook and saw I was tagged in a post from a former student, then a post from another student and one from a teacher-friend. Plans changed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 12.35.45 PMWhen I was working at Bartlett High School, I wrote a play called, September’s Heroes; an ensemble, multimedia production; performed in honor of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve been stalling getting it published because I felt it still needed some work. In any case, had things gone the way I planned, September’s Heroes should have been on stage tonight. (I’ll get back to that later.)

Three Posts On Facebook. Natalie is an incredibly gifted young actress currently studying theatre at the University of Miami. I had the privilege of working with her and she was one of the key ensemble members in the cast of September’s Heroes. This morning, Natalie posted this:

“On September 11th, 2011, I walked off the Bartlett High School stage with tears in my eyes because I was so moved by the story of “September’s Heroes” that I had just shared with the audience. This was the first time I had reacted so viscerally to a piece of theatre. Each year I grieve for the souls we lost in 9/11 — each soul that didn’t get to finish their story. I am proud to be a theatre maker. And proud to be an American.”

Then I found a post by another student in that production that moved me for similar reasons. Ken wrote:

“It’s necessary to remember 9/11 as an important part of our history. To readily mourn the innocent lives lost that day and the graphic images captured of the tower collapsing.

However, its just as important to acknowledge the level of Islamaphobia that followed 9/11 that continues to haunt muslim folks, south asian folks, and everyone ‘mistaken’ as such still today .

Both the pain of those that lost loved ones on 9/11 as well as the families that continue to feel endangered today matter.

Acknowledging the former without recognizing the latter is being downright selective of the kind “American” history you want to remember.”

Ken- September's HeroesIn September’s Heroes, Ken had a monologue we referred to as “Hate” calling attention to the rise in fear and open racism that was a by-product of the 9/11 attacks. Now, Ken is becoming a voice– an activist; speaking out for minority rights. He current studies African & African American Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The third Facebook post by Charlie, a teacher-friend that I know from past theatrical productions wrote:

“9-11 isn’t even a memory to those I now teach. It is something they (may) have heard about…wow. As Ferris said, life moves pretty fast.”

Three different people. Three different posts. All three, unknowingly giving me a kick in the butt to do something I’ve put off for too long. Publishing September’s Heroes.

How Today Was Supposed To Happen. In June 2014, I started the process of securing space from the City of Elgin to produce a season of five shows, two weeks each at the Elgin Art Showcase. September’s Heroes was to be one of those shows. It should have– it would have been on stage tonight if it hadn’t been for the irresponsible actions of a city employee.

From the time I began the process, I dealt with three different people responsible for booking the space. The first left (who kept putting me off, delaying the process), the second was filling in (and tried valiantly to be accommodating with my requests) and then there was the third: the newly hired coordinator for the space. She flat out told me I couldn’t have the dates because she wanted them, even though they had already been promised to me.

I need to back up and say that I had also applied for this coordinator position. I had more than enough qualifications and experience, I’m an Elgin resident but I didn’t even get an interview. I was later told (by an insider) that the person they hired had already been tapped for the job, before the opening had even been posted. On top if that, she doesn’t live in Elgin (city officials claim to favor residents first) and she already holds a conflicting position, managing another space downtown. Strangely, her space is constantly active, while the Art Space sits empty.

Of the ten weeks I wanted, there has only been one, two-hour event in the space during the entire list of dates I had requested. It was nearly the end of last October before I was given contractual dates. At this point, it was already too late to successfully publicize the first two shows. I planned to release all but the last two bookings but when I discussed this (through email) with the new coordinator, she told me I couldn’t have the September dates, she was using them for her event. So I cancelled them all.

It turns out, IF they are using the space, it’s not on the city calendar AND the event (which is happening) isn’t until next week. My production of September’s Heroes could have gone on. At no point was I ever contacted and told that I could, in fact, have those original dates I had requested.

Yes, I’m bitter about this. I’m bitter about not being given consideration for the job and more so for having dates I had been given– in writing, taken away from me and then not used. The city pays a lot of money to subsidize this space and due to poor management– it sits empty. Yet another example of Elgin’s waste of taxpayer’s money.

Moving On and Being Inspired. So September’s Heroes is not on stage tonight but that’s not the end of it. Thanks to the inspiration of friends, I’m working on a new edit of my script to publish. Hopefully it will see productions for next year’s fifteenth anniversary.

Theatre moves, educates and inspires people. There is a whole new generation of children in school that weren’t even born when the terrorists attacked. They need to know the story. They need to hear about the heroes and the innocent people that lost their lives that day.

One Last Story. I want to end with this. I may have shared it before but if I have, it bares repeating. One of the people that ‘liked’ one of the Facebook posts this morning, is the mother of another one of the young actors that was in September’s Heroes in 2011. I didn’t really know him very well (at the time) besides the fact that he was talented and very polite. During the rehearsals, I got the feeling he was having a little trouble connecting to the material.

In January 2013, I chaperoned a student trip to New York and he was also on the trip. Besides seeing Broadway shows, we toured a little bit of the city and visited the National September 11th Memorial. We stood at the two pools that form the footprint of where the World Trade Center once towered over lower Manhattan. It was there that I saw this strong young man, emotional, as it all became real for him. It was a touching moment. An important moment that I’ll never forget.

It reminds me constantly of the power of theatre… the importance of history… and the necessity of telling and retelling the story.

It’s our duty to share, remember and #neverforget.


My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Stage to Screen

With the recent release of the film version of Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to share my top three favorite film versions of musicals that originated on the stage.

A number of adapted musicals have enjoyed big box office success and some are quite good; both for their stand alone entertainment value and in their homage to their source material. My Fair Lady and Grease are two good examples.

For me, there are three that stand above the rest for a variety of reasons. In two of the three cases, I think the film adaptations are actually better than the original stage versions.

marquee number - 3Dreamgirls (2006) Directed by Bill Condon and adapted from the Tony Award-winning original 1981 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dreamgirls was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two Oscars: Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.

Suggested by the rise of The Supremes, Dreamgirls is an exuberant tribute to the sights and sounds of the 50’s & 60’s.

Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls (2006)

I find the film version superior to the stage production because of the visual, on location advantages and smoother scene/time transitions. The screenplay (by Condon) stays true to the original.


4500-number2Chicago (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods). Screenplay by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse, Kander & Ebb musical, whose stripped-down 1996 revival, far exceeded the success of the original. Still running on Broadway after 18 years.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago (2002)

I’m not a fan of the stage version. I find it drab and dull. On screen though, Chicago is an exciting, vibrant song and dance masterpiece. By far, the best example of a film adaptation being much better than the original.


Fire Letters A-ZWest Side Story (1961) Based on the classic 1957 stage musical, the film is a true representation of the original stage material and by far, my favorite movie musical of all time.

West Side Story is a contemporary re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet love story, told against the backdrop of the gang-controlled streets of New York.

Ground breaking in so many ways with some of the best choreography ever created, West Side Story is perfection.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961)

The result was honored with a record 10 Academy Awards– the most of any other movie musical and the fourth biggest winner, overall in Oscar history.

I’ve loved West Side Story since I was a kid. When I finally saw it live on stage for the first time, I was completely blown away. It’s one of the few works that I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. The film and stage versions are equally brilliant.

I’m always shocked when someone says they’ve never seen West Side Story. If you’ve honestly never seen it. Put it on the top of your list now.

Why I Liked But Didn’t Love The INTO THE WOODS Movie


The good news is that Into the Woods was the second highest grossing film on Christmas Day and it finished third overall for the weekend.

The bad news is that I didn’t love it.

Let me compare Into the Woods to a piece of chocolate cake. Right off, you may either love or hate it because  you might like or dislike chocolate, cake, or both. If you’ve never had chocolate cake before– this may be the most delicious thing you ever tasted. If you like chocolate cake– this may be satisfying; but if you love chocolate cake, this may be underwhelming or a complete disappointment. There are still others that will find– good or bad, dry or moist– they are just grateful to have a slice of cake.

For me, this version of ITW is missing key ingredients. Or to draw from the script– the potion is missing it’s hair as yellow as corn. It didn’t work for me.

The original Into the Woods clearly explores the price that comes with wishes, what is really happily ever after; and the importance of teaching children, wishes as children  and the hope that exists in children themselves. Much of this is lost or brushed aside in the film. Instead of a film using fairy tales to tell a bigger story, it’s just a film telling fairy tales with a slightly different ending.

The movie is beautifully filmed and features an outstanding cast. BUT– I found it visually too dark; and with the major plot changes, I was never drawn in or emotional involved.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this particular film because I’ve had a long personal attachment to the stage version of Into the Woods.

Poster for the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.

Poster for the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.

I saw the original 1987 Broadway production– twice, the 1988 first national tour, worked the theater where the second national tour began in Chicago (non-equity), saw the 2002 Broadway revival, designed the set and costumes for a local high school production; and have seen literally dozens of professional and amateur productions over the years.

The stage version of Into the Woods is visually a combination of light (colorful) and dark images, where the movie was visually dark from start to finish. The village and castle scenes in the movie all had a dingy, dirty feel as opposed to embodying color, light or any fairy tale magic. Emotionally, the movie is pretty much gray from start to finish. I didn’t feel the passion of the dreams and wishes from the major characters; which is problematic because it leaves no real reason for them to go into the woods to begin with. We never truly see even a glimpse of the happy ever after they are so desperate to achieve.

Even in the worst productions I’ve seen, no matter how badly acted or staged– I’ve always been moved by No One Is Alone. Except in the film. To borrow from another musical, I felt nothing.

Some might feel that it is to Disney and director Rob Marshall’s credit that they didn’t Disneyfy the look of the film. I see it as a missed opportunity to enhance the story. I really would have appreciated seeing some of the beauty and opulence of the castle, for example. Instead, it was dark and drab, as was the brief wedding imagery.

In adapting for the film, the writers chose to edit and whitewash the deeper, meaningful moments of the story. Combining that with the lack of passion, it left very little to get emotionally involved in.

Without Rapunzel’s demise, we lose the witch’s profound grief that propels her into a frenzied Last Midnight. Without a larger presence of the Baker’s Father (Mysterious Man, or not) and the cut song No More, we lose what is the cathartic moment that leads to the Baker’s return to his new family. As a result, the intensity and the pure, desperate passion is lost from characters’ motivations.

One of the early moments in the film set the tone for me. Jack’s Mother, played by the incredible Tracey Ullman, was directed to be purely a serviceable character on screen. (In the stage version, she is a warm, witty and lovable character.) I believe this was done to lessen the audiences’ attachment and thus, later in the film: the reaction to her death; which also seemed somewhat muddled. Jack didn’t seem terribly upset when he found out his mother was gone, nor did Little Red over her Granny. (And did it bother anyone else that Little Red suddenly looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz for the remainder of the picture?)

Cast of Disney's film, Into the Woods.

Cast of Disney’s film, Into the Woods.

The character of the Witch and Meryl Streep’s performance have to be looked at separately. First, I didn’t feel like the other characters really feared the Witch and her power as much as they saw her as a means to get what they wanted, or as an obstacle in doing so. Second, since the film chose to let Rapunzel ride off with the Prince, future unknown– instead of becoming a victim of the giant; it lessened the Witch’s loss. These two points affect the whole dynamic of the Witch’s antagonistic role in the story, as well as her motivations.

Meryl Streep, easily the greatest American actress of our time, fully embodied what the film set out to portray. Though I hoped for a much more powerful performance, Streep filled the bill the way the story has been adapted, perfectly. One thing I noticed, having listened to the soundtrack since; you don’t really grasp the incredible technique and emotion Streep brought to the character– vocally, in one viewing in a theater. Meryl Streep doesn’t just sing musical roles– her vocalization is a well-crafted extension of her character’s development and expression. Every word, phrase and guttural sound is perfection.

I liked the introduction of the blue moon to the story, opposed to just the passing midnights of the stage version. I thought it gave a clearer understanding of why the spell had to be broken now.

For me, the best and only perfect moment in the film was Agony. It was beautifully acted and staged. If the entire film had this energy and attention to detail, it could have been the best stage musical-to-film ever made.

Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

I remember thinking about two-thirds of the way through: Where is all the music? A substantial amount was cut and occasionally reduced to underscoring. This is composer Stephen Sondheim’s baby. Though he and original book writer James Lapine were actively involved in the film, I feel they caved in to the studio pressures, too much, just to get this film made.

From all that I read leading up to the film’s release, Disney was concerned about the original version being too dark (plot-wise), too many main character deaths and wanted to make it more family-friendly. The result is a watered down story that still, in my opinion, is not a family movie.

Into the Woods, on screen, felt like it was too long. This is ironic since it was 20 minutes shorter than the stage version, not including an intermission. It was more than a little slow and disjointed at times.

I’m sure people completely unfamiliar with ITW will have a completely different reaction to the film. And that’s okay. I just hope it’s a positive experience. The very best thing that could come out of the film is that it might encourage a new audience for the stage version. The film versions of other more recent movie musicals have done a great service to building and keeping audience interest in live theatre.

I can only hope that this film will contribute to that trend.



1496091_626614290728365_1030686577_oContact: Billy Surges

Box Office: 773-614-7846

Cell: 630-337-9432

Email: billy@surgingfilms.com




Naperville, IL — Surging Films & Theatrics and Introspect Theatre jointly present the Award-Winning Broadway musical Spring Awakening, January 31- February 2, 2014 at the Center Stage Theater, 1665 Quincy Avenue #131, Naperville, Illinois 60540.

Excitement is building in the Chicagoland area as Surging Films & Theatrics and Introspect Theatre gear up for their joint production of the controversial and award winning hit musical, SPRING AWAKENING, with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater.

Winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, SPRING AWAKENING is a rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 expressionist play. Set in the rigid and repressive late 19th century Germany, SPRING AWAKENING follows a group of students navigating their way through the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and coming-of-age anxiety in a powerful celebration of youth and rebellion. Alternative rock ignites the stage as part of the folk-infused score that fuels the inner angst of the capricious teens.  SPRING AWAKENING is rated R for language, violence, and sexual content.

Artistic Directors Jeff Linamen and Billy Surges have assembled a phenomenal cast for SPRING AWAKENING, featuring outstanding talent from all over the Chicagoland area. Surges leads the cast in the role of Melchior Gabor, a smart, headstrong boy who refuses to bow down to society’s rules. He is best friend to Moritz Stiefel (Billy Chengary), a troubled and uncertain boy, unable to handle the pressures he receives from his parents and peers to succeed. Rounding out the trio is Katie Meyers as Wendla Bergmann, an innocent young girl, exploring her blossoming curiosity to tragic results.

The large cast features Amara Brady (Martha), Taylor Bright (Thea), Tyler Clayton (Otto), Becca Heitz, Noelle Humbert (Ilse), Marc James, Mark Johnson (Adult Man), Gabi Knoepfle, Alex Knoll (Ernst), Chris Knudsen, Jennifer Lenius, Brandon Piper, Jordan Piper (Anna), Katie Long Piper (Adult Woman), Brandon Pisano (Hanschen), Vince Tolentino (Georg) and Aiyanna Wade.

Following its conception in the late 1990s, SPRING AWAKENING received further development leading to its Off-Broadway debut in May 2006.  The original Broadway production of SPRING AWAKENING opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on December 10, 2006. Its cast included Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele and John Gallagher, Jr. with a creative team led by director Michael Mayer and choreographer Bill T. Jones. The original Broadway production won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor (Gallagher). The production also garnered 4 Drama Desk Awards and a Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Album.

The success of the Broadway production has spawned numerous productions worldwide, including a production in London’s West End that won 4 Laurence Olivier Awards including Best Musical.

Surging Films & Theatrics and Introspect Theatre are presenting the full, uncut version of SPRING AWAKENING, January 31 at 7:30pm, February 1st at 2pm and 7:30pm, and February 2ndat 2pm at Center Stage Theater, 1665 Quincy Ave., #131, Naperville, IL 60540. For ticket information, visit www.surgingfilms.com or call 773-614-7846.

SPRING AWAKENING contains strong language, sexual situations and mature themes and may not be appropriate for younger or sensitive audiences. Recommended for ages 15 and up.



Presented by Surging Films & Theatrics and Introspect Theatre

January 31, 2014 at 7:30 PM

February 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM

February 2, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Center Stage Theater, 1665 Quincy Ave., #131, Naperville, IL 60540

BOX OFFICE: 773-614-7846


Directors Jeff Linamen & Billy Surges

Music Director Seth Durbin

Choreographer Billy Surges



Billy Surges, Surging Films & Theatrics

Cell: 630-337-9432

Jeff Linamen, Introspect Theatre

Cell: 630-240-1229




May I Return To The Beginning?

It’s three in the morning. The birds are chirping like crazy, there’s the sound of a train in the distance and across the street the meter man is ticketing cars parked on the wrong side of the street. I guess it’s just some of the benefits of sitting on my front porch and living in my little acre “forest in the city” I’ve created. Mostly tranquil, it’s a great place to relax and reflect.

I love my yard, loosely landscaped– some parts manicured, others untamed. It’s a lot of work to maintain but I love working outside and getting my hands dirty. It gives me time to reflect on life and dream of the future as my mind unwinds all the knotted and pent up thoughts stored away from the stressful activities of everyday life.

This is a year of milestones. I turned 50 in December, Michael and I celebrate our 20th anniversary in September and my career is taking an unexpected turn that has yet to be determined.

At school, the colleagues I’d worked with for fourteen years all retired. Together, we’d built a musical program that I’m extremely proud of. For the past year though, it was hard to watch this beautiful thing come to an end. I just didn’t know how final it was for me. Now, all of us are gone and the future of the program is completely unknown. It’s a bittersweet ending to a very stressful but extremely rewarding chapter in my life.

Over the years, the musicals have taken us from back alleys to exotic lands. We conjured up hope and laughter, tears and sorrow– celebrating the joys of life and the difficult challenges of the human condition. Live theatre is like nothing else.

There were some years we knew exactly what musical we wanted to do next but more times than naught, it was an organic process that just felt right. This year, we did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — and perhaps not so coincidentally, it was the 30th anniversary (for me), directing it as my very first show in 1983.

From my 1983 production of Joseph.

From my 1983 production of Joseph.

The final number in the show, Any Dream Will Do, asks the question, “May I return to the beginning?” I got it– a milestone and the end of a collaboration. It was a time for reflection and of celebration.

This the 7th time I’d directed the show– each one, somewhat unique. I’ve never tried to duplicate a previous production but it has always been important to me that one element remain: the magic.

That 1983 production was magical. Nearly every person involved in that show went on to have, or had a career in the visual and performing arts. The right group of people brought together at the right time, in the right place can make magic and somehow we did. We were all novices then– unseasoned thespians full of passion and youth.

That was my beginning.

Joseph 1995

Joseph 1995

In 1995, I directed a production that was inspired by the Donny Osmond version that had become wildly popular. Every kid out there knew about Joseph, had seen it or been in it. This year was totally different. None of the students knew the show or were necessarily excited about doing it, so it was my challenge to bring that excitement to life.

After so many productions, you’d have thought this one would be easy. Yet, time and time again I found myself second guessing my choices and vision and tried to keep the overall focus, while allowing elements of the show to evolve naturally as rehearsals progressed. It was a true collaboration of thoughts and ideas that really made the show work for me. Being such an ensemble show, it was fun seeing the cast’s excitement build and all their hard work and determination pay off in the end.

Joseph 2013

Joseph 2013

Then it was over.

The show, a fourteen year collaboration of an amazing creative team –and as it turned out, the end of my time at Bartlett High School.

All bittersweet.

May I return to the beginning?

I’ve learned a lot over the years about the importance of reflection. Though I don’t feel like I live in the past or want to actually re-live the past, the lessons learned only move us forward. I’ve had the privilege to work with, and learn from, many wonderful people. Teachers, parents and most of all– the students, have inspired me and taught me in so many different ways.

Do I actually want to return to the beginning? No. It was a marvelous, wild ride while it lasted. I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Now it’s time to move on.

I think it’s a huge mistake to live in the past, yet there is so much to be learned from it. It’s nice to look back from time to time at where I’ve been. It often helps put today in perspective and helps guide my tomorrow.

I’m on my second pot of coffee now, the sun is coming up and sounds of distant trains and chirping birds is slowly being over taken by that of garbage trucks beeping and other people starting their day.

A new beginning.

Don’t Forget Me

I couldn’t feel more humbled or honored than I do right now from all the love and support that has been expressed in the few short hours since my announced departure from Bartlett High School. Reading all the wonderful words of support, the song Don’t Forget Me from the TV series SMASH is stuck in my head… Not because I’m afraid of being forgotten or have a selfish need to feel appreciated but because there is something to learn here.

In our lifetime, we meet so many people. The impact they have on us may be immediate or may take years to realize. We are who we are because of the people and experiences that make up our lives.

I sometimes feel like I have the gift of being able to see into people’s souls. I look in to the eyes of students and I see their potential for greatness. I know some will think I just mean talent but it’s much more than that. There’s nothing more exciting than talking to a student and then thinking, “This is our future. This person could change the world.” That’s what I see. Some may only see a stupid action or a mistake but I see heart, passion and hope. Sometimes I see frustration and the struggle to fit in. No one likes to see that– but then that’s where I have had the chance to try and make a difference. I’ve always thought, maybe by reaching out to them, their whole world will change. In the long run? I have been given back more than I have given, tenfold.

Watching students move on through their high school years and beyond, I sometimes feel like the Bette Midler character in the movie Stella— when she’s standing alone in the rain, watching the daughter she gave up, get married (through the window at Tavern on the Green. ) There’s a moment of sadness but then her face brightens with a brilliant smile knowing she did the right thing.

I have watched so many go on to start amazing lives. I rejoice in their successes and my heart breaks when they feel defeated. In both cases, I am now, the observer and I feel great joy that if even for a brief moment, our paths have crossed.

One of the most amazing experiences in life has been the realization that you can never predict where your source of inspiration or support will come from. I couldn’t have gotten through the past year as easily, had it not been for two high school friends that were there to cheer me on via the magic of Facebook. One, was really more of an acquaintance in school but has turned out to be a wonderful friend today. The other was someone who played a huge part in my discovery of who I was but we lost touch and only recently found each other again. In both cases, I never would have thought (back then) that their real purpose in my life was to be blossom into an amazing support network today. Both are beautiful strong women.

We are trained to be an emotionless society– especially in Education. We are told, Don’t get close to students and You can’t save them all, so don’t get involved. I say this is exactly the time TO get involved. I always felt I was at Bartlett, not so much for my creativity, as my chance to make a difference. I was able to do that. Maybe I didn’t impact the masses but I know I was able to help a few.

What did I do at Bartlett High School? I worked. More importantly, I helped students to not drop out of school by making them feel they belonged. I encouraged them to think outside the box and look outside themselves for answers. I recently had a former student tell me they were suicidal in school and that having a safe place to go and talking to me every day helped them to get through. That is what I did at Bartlett High School.

So when I say, don’t forget me… what I’m really saying is: I won’t forget you. I won’t stop caring and hoping and wishing that you find the perfect place for you to belong. I won’t stop praying for your dreams to come true or your lives to be filled with love and light.

When you land that big job, find love or have your first child… I’ll be there– Perhaps standing on the outside looking in. But I’ll be smiling.

You are loved. We are loved. Remember that. Don’t forget me.


Goodbye, Bartlett High!

Last Exit.

Last Exit.

Today was my last day as AV Director & Auditorium Manager after thirteen years and ten months of service. I just found out late last week and have only told a couple people until now.

This was not my choice, the district stated that BHS wanted to move in a different direction with the present position. As a non-union employee, I always knew this could be a possibility.

That said, I’ll blog all about it at some future point in time. Let’s just say, the past five to six months have been utter hell for me. At least now I can move on.

I’ll miss working with the students and watching them grow and discover themselves most of all. I’ve made many friendships that I hope with continue to grow as time goes by.

For now, I wanted to share a few parting images that will forever remind me of BHS. Odd, little things that most people wouldn’t even notice.

Last look at the tech booth, stripped of all personality.

Last look at the tech booth, stripped of all personality.

This was written on the wall years ago. Not sure why but it always makes me smile.

This has been on the wall forever. Not sure why but it always makes me smile.

A lock someone attached to an auditorium seat years ago. I don't know how many times I thought about cutting it off.

A lock someone attached to an auditorium seat years ago. I don’t know how many times I thought about cutting it off.

For my 'boys' in the shop. You made my job on the musical easy the past couple of years.

For my ‘boys’ in the shop. You made my job on the musical easy the past few years.

This I won't miss. The ignorant vandalism of a few heartless students.

This I won’t miss… The ignorant vandalism of a few heartless students.

Keys no more. Carried this wad of keys for far too long.

Keys no more. I carried this wad of keys for far too long.

Every work day for nearly 14 years, this was the first and last image of BHS.

Every work day for nearly 14 years, this was the first and last image of BHS.

There’s No ‘I’ In Teamwork… Or Is There?

How many times have you heard the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team“? The sentiment is certainly effective but is it, or should it be the case?

As one of those obsessive people that fully commits to a project, I’ve realized that I still have to set perimeters. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt used or taken advantage of in the end. I tend to give too much physically, emotionally and sometimes financially. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Was it really worth it?”

The last thing you want to hear when you join a team or project is: “It’s only _____ (a game, a concert, a school dance)”… meaning that whatever it is, doesn’t require a strong commitment or dedicated effort. I have never understood why anyone would commit to do anything, if not to do it the best they can in that situation.

I’ve found students especially guilty of this, over committing themselves either to feel self important or out of the feeling of obligation. I still live by the adage, If it’s worth doing… it’s worth doing well (or right). Why commit to something you know you aren’t passionate about, or have no intentions of fully supporting?

This afternoon we will have our first production meeting for the 2013 Spring Musical at Bartlett High School. I’m excited to be stage directing for the second year in a row and extremely proud and honored to be a part of such and amazing, passionate team of professionals. It is bittersweet because this will be the last year we will be working together. This is the our fourteenth year together for three of us… the last year for my two partners in crime.

Over the years our team and program have grown and evolved. One original member retired several years ago and we gained a very talented younger member of our team four years ago. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, laughter and tears and beyond everything else, we’ve become a family. So, seeing them go on to new endeavors as the curtain falls on the final show this coming April will no doubt be an emotional time.

I could probably write a whole book about what I’ve learned and experienced through this collaborative experience but the most important thing I’ve learned, is this: Sometimes there must be an ‘I’ in team. I know this somewhat contradicts the very definition but when a team of individuals is strong and in tune with one another, it is possible to put yourself first, when you have to and still have all the pieces come together flawlessly.

Teamwork can take many forms. Individuals can have their own responsibilities that are pooled together in the end for the final result or it can be completely collaborative from the beginning. Usually, its a combination of the two. Teamwork doesn’t rely solely on the efforts of one individual but instead takes the combined knowledge and experience of all the members to successfully reach its goal. Two people can have two different visions going in to a project and together they can create a third new, entirely different one.

A solid team is built on trust and understanding. In the case of our musical team, we can usually predict how the others will react in a specific circumstance because we know each other so well. Sometimes we surprise each other but in most cases we know where our buttons and triggers are.

Here’s where the ‘I’ comes in. Sometimes you have to know when to step up or step back. You have to be able and willing to say, “I can’t…” or “I don’t have it to give…” and know that it will be okay. A good team is intuitive and can often anticipate when they may need to step up and help another team member succeed. You can’t forget that everyone has a life beyond whatever project it is you are trying to create. Sometimes your focus needs to be elsewhere… and a good team can compensate for that.

I think that one of the biggest issues in team building and probably the biggest struggle in establishing roles is trust. Young teams take time to build that trust and to understand everyone’s process. Without that knowledge, the ‘I’ can come across as selfish and uncaring, when in reality it’s nothing more than self preservation. You have to be empathic to everyone’s needs.

In the past few years, there have been more than one occasion when our team has needed to adjust our roles to help each other out. We have been able to do this successfully, not only because of the trust we’ve built but also the knowledge that we all give selflessly. Sometimes the person needing to say ‘I’, doesn’t. If you are intuitive enough, you may have to do it for them.

Of course, some people are just incapable of being part of a team because they are unwilling to try. In most cases though, with a little time and experience, people can learn to work together with great results. What everyone has to remember is that where there is negativity or resistance… there is a reason for it. It might not be obvious either. A good team will work through any issue and realize the importance of ‘I’ only makes them stronger as a whole.

Back To School… Back To Class

Back to School

The 2012-13 school year is well underway and as usual, there’s always something new to make things interesting. I have a new boss– my seventh since I’ve been at the school and I’m starting my fourteenth year– which is pretty hard to believe. Three of the teachers I work with the most are retiring at the end of the school year, making this year bitter-sweet in many ways.

Auditorium Before

Over the summer I started painting the auditorium. It was looking pretty drab and I’ve been wanting to paint the proscenium walls since I started working there. The original fifteen-plus year old paint was really looking dingy and outdated, plus it reflected a lot of the stage light. The new grey actually ties all the colors together and has a more modern feel.

Our fall play has been pushed out of its normal time slot in October, to the weekend before Thanksgiving– by an outside organization in a disappointing and unprecedented move by the school and district. Reportedly, the group is going to ‘make a donation’ and this was the reasoning behind allowing this to happen. I think it is a

… and after

dangerous move to start giving priority to non-school-related events over student activities in order to make a buck. Especially when all of August and September were wide open. Once again, the arts get pushed aside.

Back to Class

I’ve decided to take more classes online to further my education. It has been a year since I finished my Masters and I’ve found I really miss class. Currently, I’m taking two classes, with a third starting next week. We’ll see if I can keep up with all the work. The structure is slightly different from my past studies but so far all is going well.

I’m taking the classes for FREE through Coursera.org. It’s a great opportunity to take a wide variety of courses from major institution around the world.

Imagine taking a course with over 26,000 students from around the world! That’s the enrollment in my Introduction to Sustainability class offered by the University of Illinois through Coursera. One of the drawbacks of this type of learning opportunity is that its hard to get to know any of your classmates. One of the pros is that you get unique perspectives from students of all ages from all over the world.

I’m also taking a course in Securing Digital Democracy offered by the University of Michigan, and Monday I start Networked Life offered by the University of Pennsylvania.

Many, but not all, result in a certificate of completion form the institution offering the class. Grading can be different from course to course and most classes provide all the study materials needed with optional texts that can be purchased from major online retailers. Many different courses are offered year round, though they do have specific timetables for starting and completion. They also can range from a few weeks to a full semester in length.

If you are looking to expand your knowledge or perhaps a career change, you might want to check it out.



Hold On To Your Vision

Just another rehearsal.

After working twenty nine days straight, I finally had a day off yesterday to recuperate. By recuperate, I mean a day doing laundry and cleaning. Now it’s on to the final month of school: concerts, meetings and award programs. It will most likely take me several months to feel like my self again.

Six months of planning and rehearsing resulted in an epic production of Ragtime that I hope will have a lasting impact on the cast and audience that got a chance to see it. When you begin the process, you never quite know how it will turn out. For me, three days before we opened I was a little more than fearful we had missed the mark. Each day brought us closer and the cast, orchestra and tech became a cohesive unit, resulting in a fine production.

How do you get there? How do you take the known challenges, combined with many unforeseen factors and reach the end result? Vision. You have to have vision and trust and belief in yourself to make it a reality.

The trust and support of those around you are crucial as well. When it’s not there, it doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your vision –but it’s definitely easier when you have it.

Ragtime was our choir director’s bucket list show. She spent years building enough interest in our small African American population at school to bring it to fruition. BHS has an African American population of less than 120 students and she was somehow able to get 30 to participate. It was no small feat. For those not familiar with the show, Ragtime must have three equally-sized groups to stage the opening number: New Rochelle (white, upper-middle class), African American, and Immigrants. There are individual stories that come from within those three groups that build the overall framework for the musical.

The cast of Bartlett High School’s production of the musical Ragtime.

In spite of all its challenges, the success of the production laid in the hands of the directors, volunteers and support staff that so willingly gave countless hours of dedicated labor to make it all happen. Without all the wonderful support, I’m not sure how I could have successfully survived my double duty as stage director and tech director.

The Vision

Little Girl, Tateh and Emma Goldman in a scene from Ragtime.

In visualizing our production, I had to take into account the large size of the cast (116), the layout of the stage and how best to use it to tell the story and elements that would make our production unique. After spending many hours with the script and score, I returned to E. L. Doctorow’s novel for guidance to connect the dots.

When it came to staging the show, I added in bits of business that reflected on the novel but were not present in the musical script. For instance, in the novel, Evelyn Nesbit was obsessed with Tateh’s Little Girl and she returned time and time again to have silhouettes done. In the musical there is no interaction between them at all. So in a scene where Tateh was working and confronted by Emma Goldman, I had him producing a silhouette of Evelyn and had her sneak out when they were distracted to avoid having her identity discovered by Goldman.

In another instance towards the end of the show, when Mother finds out Father is returning to New York, I had Tateh and Little Girl enter with her and Little Boy to establish their growing relationship. Again, reflecting on the text of the novel.

Houdini and Evelyn, “Atlantic City” from the musical RAGTIME.

One of my favorite staged moments in the show was Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit’s Atlantic City routine. Instead of separating the two as it appears to have been written, our choreographer and I made them a team and created a beautifully executed vaudeville number.

In the Henry Ford number, as opposed to having Coalhouse’s car simply driven onstage at the end, I envisioned a giant ‘puzzle car’ being assembled on stage with the pieces being held by the workers in the scene. At one point, I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to make it work but it came together quite well.

The Show Curtain.

From the outset, I pictured an Act Curtain (Show Drop) that was a giant quilt with RAGTIME in large letters. I thought I might have to build it myself, but we were fortunate to find a wonderful woman that, after some begging and pleading, was convinced to create the 20 foot by 36 foot finished product… and it only took her five days! I wanted the quilt because it represented the piecing, or coming together of smaller units to create a whole, much like the melting pot of people that represent America.

Wheels of a Dream from RAGTIME the Musical.

The Challenges

There were many challenges associated with the production, as there are with most productions. One challenge was getting the cast to understand the historical significance of the material with an even bigger challenge being the way the show is written. Ragtime has many small vignette scenes that intertwine making it difficult for the young actors to develop and understand their characters. A lot of time had to be spent filling in the blanks– another way the novel was helpful.

The biggest challenge was the size of the cast. Normally a high school production has somewhere between 40 and 60 performers but in recent years, BHS has cast 100 to a record 150 performers in last year’s Hairspray. This year’s cast featured 116 performers and along with the size of the cast came the issues of synchronization, rehearsal attendance and eligibility. Most of our leads were active in other school activities such as sports, clubs and competitive academic teams, requiring many changes to the schedule to accommodate productive rehearsals. Combine that with the added expenses of a large cast and a very tight budget and it is a wonder we were able to do what we did.

Mary DeWitt as Mother singing Back to Before in RAGTIME.

Hold On To Your Vision

I have to say there were a number of times I wanted to throw up my hands and give up on certain aspects of the production. Exhaustion and frustration begin to cloud your vision and make you question your original goals.

About a week before the show, after a series of frustrating rehearsals, the choir director and choreographer approached me with solemn looks on their faces. I said, “Oh no, now what?” And they simply told me, “Don’t let go of your vision.” I hadn’t, and I didn’t– but a partly due to their never-ending support for my vision.

You have to visualize and set your goals. You have to believe in your vision. Even though it may be a rough road with lots of bumps and curves, you can make it a reality. You must have faith… trust… and believe in yourself and the abilities of the others around you in order to succeed.

Realize your vision.

Make it happen.

Closing Night Curtain Call of Bartlett High School’s production of RAGTIME.