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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 SCHOOL!

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.

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.

Day Seven: Last Full Day In New York

Thursday was a huge day for us, to say the least. It’s hard to believe how fast the week has gone and I can’t say I was looking forward to returning home.

The South Tower Pool at the 9/11 Memorial.

I’d gotten our passes for the 9/11 Memorial prior to our trip and we were the first group of the day. You have to go through all the same security procedures as you do when you fly, so the process takes a little while and you can not enter the site without passes.

Having had my play, September’s Heroes produced by Bartlett High School last Fall, this visit held a special importance to me. I will be forever emotionally tied to the tragic events of more than ten years ago and needed to pay my respects and hoped it would help my ongoing grieving process.

Currently the memorial is surrounded by construction on all sides. The new World Trade Center is quickly climbing into the sky adjoining the memorial and the 9/11 Museum which is set to open later this year. Right now, you can visit the two mammoth pools that mark the footprint of the original North and South Towers of the original World Trade Center. Surrounding both pools are all the names of those that lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, including those at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Cosgrove perished in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

The moment that hit me hardest was finding the name of Kevin Cosgrove, who’s devastatingly powerful 911 call from the South Tower, up to the moment it fell, was the inspiration behind one of the segments of my play. Seeing his name brought back all the memories. I walked around both pools, trying to read all the names, never wanting to forget that moment. It will always be a part of me.

When we left the memorial, we headed down to Battery Park and decided to take the ferry to Ellis Island. I hadn’t realized that Michael had never been to the park. The damaged Sphere from the World Trade Center Plaza is displayed there and you have a great view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

Lady Liberty

We got tickets and went through security (again) and boarded the ferry. The Statue of Liberty is closed for renovations at the base level, so we opted to stay on the boat (you can still walk around Liberty Island) and just go to Ellis Island. I’d been to the statue before, walked up to the crown, in fact, but in all my trips to New York, I’d never visited Ellis Island.

I believe most of the buildings surrounding the main building are being renovated. The main building houses Registry Hall where new immigrants to America waited for processing. There are a lot of exhibits in rooms surrounding the great hall, full of pictures and information about the many years when Ellis Island was a working, entry point into the United States. As far as I’ve been able to research over the years, none of my ancestors came through here. There are many ways you can search, by computer or with assistance (and an appointment) for records of those that arrived.

Ellis Island

One of the reasons I chose to visit on this trip, is my work on the production of RAGTIME at school. I hoped visiting would give me some additional knowledge I could bring back to the students of Bartlett High.

There is a scene in the show that depicts the immigrants arrival and I found a lot of good information about how the immigrants lived once they had been processed and struggled to survive in their new world.

A funny side note– while we were waiting for the ferry back to Manhattan, one of our New York friends sent Michael a text asking him if we were ready to slit our wrist yet… knowing we’d seen two heavy plays the day before, and then visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Ellis Island (maybe you had to be there).

Jesus Christ Superstar

We had enough time to stop at our hotel and freshen up before our final show, number twelve… the Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar.

This was not a good choice to end our trip.

The best way I can describe the show is a huge mish-mash of costumes, time periods and effects… or a big conglomerate mess. From hip hop and Glee to time lords (or Star Wars) and leather…. it didn’t appear anyone could make up their minds what to do with this production. I felt that with all the technology they were using, this was the worst lighting of any show we’d seen. They didn’t even use their CNN-style scrolling ticker effectively. Just a mess. I won’t even get in to the casting or the switching of who sings what… Just an emotionless mess. I’d wished we’d seen Godspell instead.

As is our tradition, we stopped on the way back to the hotel and picked up a pizza from Famous Famiglia in Times Square and called it a night.

The new World Trade Center under construction.

Friday Night With the Guys

What could be more American and apple pie than Friday night with the guys? Blowing off steam at the end of week, joking and talking about family, work, politics, home improvement, Broadway musicals….. WAIT! What was that last one?

That’s how I spent last night and how I’ll be spending my Saturday…. building sets for Bartlett High School’s upcoming production of RAGTIME… working with a great bunch of guys.

Probably one of the biggest benefits of my job is that it gives me a chance to meet and work with a whole different group of people. It’s my male-bonding time. Not an exclusive club, women are always more than welcome to participate but every year it seems that a great group of guys come together to form a tight-knit group with one goal in mind: building a great set for the students. The socializing is just one of the benefits.

This year, I think we have six guys returning for anywhere between their second to thirteenth year. (There’s actually one guy that has helped out, in some capacity, with every musical we’ve produced at BHS.) Over the years, volunteers come and go but some stay beyond their kid’s graduation. Why? I think the main reasons are that in addition to building a great set, it gives guys a chance to be creative, use there hands, be a little experimental and just be themselves. It’s a wholesome, laid-back atmosphere… and a great way to learn some new skills without the pressures of producing a perfect end product.

In theatre, you frequently hear about the 30 foot rule. (The average distance of the audience from the stage.) So the work doesn’t always have to be perfect, it just has to appear to be perfect from a distance. AND it has to be safe.

This year, as I’m sitting in the director’s chair for the first time at BHS, it’s great to have been able to turn over the reigns of set construction to one of our very talented and skilled Dads. I’m still overseeing the project as part of my job but I feel some of the pressure is off with the greatly appreciated help.

Last night we built bleachers, prepped to build a stage extension and gutted an old piano. Good times.

So far this year, I think we’ve had three or four new volunteers join the club. As we start to pick up steam, I’m hoping we get more new people involved.

If you’ve never volunteered before, I highly recommend it. What you learn and the friendships you develop can last a lifetime.

Bartlett High School Auditorium. For the next two months, I'll see this view, far more than my own home.

Defending My “Hate” Blog Post

I just thought I should take a moment to defend my previous post about an incident that happened at school last week. Apparently, the title alone was offensive to some (well, at least one). When I went in for my monthly meeting with my supervisor, he had a copy of it on his desk. So someone must have sent it to him. His only real concern was the title, “Hate Is Alive and Well in Bartlett, Illinois”, because it suggests Bartlett is racist. I could have just as easily substituted any other city, state or country… but the fact is, the post was about a specific event in a specific place. Racism IS alive and well in every community… we can pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.

Whether spray painting the N-word was ‘just a prank’, a joke, done out of stupidity, ignorance or actual hate doesn’t matter. It symbolizes hate. It has the potential to cause fear and anger in those that are faced with it.

Did I suggest that all of Bartlett or Bartlett High School is racist? Absolutely not. But does hate exist? Does bullying exist? Most definitely. I felt I needed to post the incident because too often our rose colored glasses allow us to ignore problems that continue to exist. My blog is about my life, my experiences and my opinions and I think I have the right to share.

One of the main reasons I felt the original post was so relevant, was a discussion I had with a former student recently. He made a comment that nobody wanted or needed to hear about hate. He said everybody knows about it and it doesn’t need to be talked about anymore. I completely disagree and thought this was a good example of why we need to continue to educate about the need for sensitivity and acceptance.

The majority of responses I got were from alumni, appalled that this happened. Some shocked that this happened at their Alma Mater. Others were not surprised at all.

The school’s reaction has been positive, increasing security efforts to assure this doesn’t happen again.

 

Today’s Pic of the Day: CENSORED

https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/