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Don’t BLOG about it!

Aside from my last post, I realize I haven’t written many blog posts lately. I could give the standard, I’m so busy– don’t have time line but the real reason is that most of what I have been passionate about is probably best left unwritten. You see, my intention really isn’t to offend or alienate anyone but I know it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

After a previous post, my boss gave me some friendly advice… Be careful what you put out there, people respect and value what you have to say. Then I think to myself, But if I have no opinions or interesting comments… what’s to value or respect? I did get the intent of that message though and I definitely realize that publishing my opinions do have an effect on the way I am perceived. That said, I can’t always be motivating and inspiring and I also don’t want my blog to be a constant rant about what’s wrong in the world I live in. I hope to bring a balance or a comfortable blend to my writing. I’m definitely open for topics to consider. Shoot me an email or comment here if you have suggestions.

I actually have about a dozen half-written posts waiting for me to complete. Sometimes its difficult when other things are weighing on my mind to write coherent posts. It might seem from the brevity of most of my posts, that they wouldn’t take long to write but they do take several hours at least. Some ideas mull around in my head for days (months even) before I actually attempt to verbalize them.

As the school year comes to a close, a lot of memories have flooded my mind of when I was in school. I have a lot of good memories and remember that most of my elementary and high school years were pleasant overall– but those aren’t the ones that stick prominently in my brain. It’s the difficult times I remember most– being bullied, coming to terms with who I was and often feeling alone and afraid.

Those experiences helped bring me to where I am today… I try to be a go-to person for students needing an ear– a safe place where it’s okay to be an outcast. I just wish everyone knew it’s okay to be different and express yourself. It’s so difficult to watch people fight who they really are, to be accepted for what they are not. I understand because I was there, I lived that once.

I’m hoping to share some of those experiences in future posts.

The biggest problem with writing a blog about your life experiences is that it’s not just your life. Aside from the differences in our perceptions of how and what actually happened, you have to take other people’s feelings into account. It’s difficult but I think there are lessons to be learned and I’m up for the challenge.

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.

Snubbed Again…. Fine Arts Students Vs. Athletes

Have you ever attended a football or basketball game where music was not present?

In a few hours, my school is throwing together an assembly to send off our girls basketball team to state competition. A great accomplishment, to be sure! In doing so, it was decided to honor our other successful winter sports teams… because to honor one and not the other would not be fair. Our students that recently competed in state speech competition will also be recognized. Notably absent: two students that represented our school by making the All-State Choir and a third student that auditioned and made the All-State Play which was performed for thousands of high school students at the annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival in January.

To honor one and not the other would not be fair.

Seriously? Are we supposed to believe that statement? The excuse being given is that sports (and speech) are part of the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) and music is sponsored by the IMEA (Illinois Music Educators Association), theatre is sponsored by the ITA (Illinois Theatre Association). All are recognized, if not sponsored, by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Apparently, IHSA is all that matters at our school.

I find it particularly interesting that the IHSA website (http://ihsa.org/default.aspx) header states: The IHSA governs the equitable participation in interscholastic athletics and activities that enrich the educational experience. Then scrolling down the page, one of the top stories is about a band director receiving a national award. I should note that there are no music related associations under the IHSA but by the Mission Statement and Beliefs (of the IHSA), all educational activities are important and deserve equal recognition.

Beliefs of the IHSA that I find particularly relevant are: 1) …each individual is important; 2) IHSA believes in respect, appreciation and acceptance of diversity; 3) …equality and fairness must always be safe-guarded; and 4) IHSA believes in the pursuit of excellence. (http://ihsa.org/AbouttheIHSA/MissionStatementBeliefs.aspx)

By our school’s definition, music and theatre, in which we offer academic classes– are somehow unimportant and do not fit those guidelines.

Does the student body know or care about the IHSA? When valuable class time is given up to hold an assembly to honor the best, is it equitable and fair to ignore students that have worked just as hard in their curricular and extra curricular areas of study as others being honored?

I say, NO! This is a travesty and is completely unfair and unequal.

Honor ALL outstanding achievement or honor none.

Is it no wonder that there is an ongoing battle between the importance of athletics and arts or scholastic achievement and recognition? This is not meant to just blast our school’s decision… this happens at schools across the country. Some students are athletes, some are musicians, some are leaders and some are brilliant scholastically. All students need to be applauded for their accomplishments.

The kicker is that in this case, the All State Choir students were asked to sing the national anthem at the assembly… but would not be acknowledged for their accomplishments.