Thursday, April 16, 2015


Let me first begin by excusing my husband from anything I am writing. These are not his opinions or thoughts, they are mine. It's my blog and I don't let him near it. He has taken a beating over his choice for the Spring play at our school, by a group of ultraconservative women in the community that do not have children in his Spring play "Almost Maine." One of the women's son was cast in the play, but when she found out that he had to kiss a girl in his scene, she pulled him out. Her compatriot went further and decided to raise an army on Facebook. One of the posts in the thread actually said "I'm secretly hoping he changes the play." Wow. Secrecy means something entirely different to me. 

But this isn't about me in any way, nor is it really my business; I'm not even able to respond to the thread because this Facebooker isn't on my list of friends (nor will she ever be) but I'm just shocked that this mentality still exists among the women of the world. I always expect more from women I guess. ;-) And if I need to keep waving the flag of tolerance I will do it until my arms fall off. I'm a teacher, it's what I do. I PRAY with all my heart that this blog reaches the people that need to read it. If you know someone that needs to read it, please send it on! Otherwise, I'm just writing so I can sleep at night...and that's okay too. 

Frankly, the whole things makes me weary. Considering the amount of CRAP that is out there in libraries full of ugly theatre literature, Almost Maine is one of the tamest, loveliest, funniest plays available. It's a humorous look at love and relationships. It contains little if any swears, no violence, no sex at all, not an ounce of nudity and by all accounts, it would probably be rated PG in the movies theatres for mild innuendo. Its very funny and it will make you say "ahhhhhh!" and drop a tear or two. This is why it has become the NUMBER ONE produced play in high schools around the nation. (Educational Theatre Association Survey)

But it's the same old story. It seems that no matter where you go, someone has appointed themselves the town's morality police and they expect you to conform or they will take it personally. But Les Mis, sells out in minutes around here. (MIND BOGGLING)

I'm still driving the bandwagon of tolerance I guess. Education will always make us a more tolerant people. Tolerance will increase civility and civility will increase love. It always comes back to love, doesn't it? We should do a play about love....oh...wait....


Blood everywhere. Brain matter on the windshield. A small stray arm lay in the middle of the road still clutching My Little Pony. A car, folded up like an accordion spitting glass, steam and blood, is being pulled off the road. 30 teenagers scream and groan as they watch the firemen crack open an upside down truck to release the once drunk driver...who is not recognizable as a human anymore.
The teacher stands at the back of the classroom smiling wryly. He thinks this does the trick. He hopes the picture of this horrific accident will be tattooed in their brains every time they pick up a drink and then try to drive. 1981. Drivers education class. The best police training tapes they could get on reel to reel. I remember that we couldn't wait for that week in the semester when we got to see the notorious scare tactic films.

Scare tactics are powerful.

They're meant to sear a memory on you brain that pops up at opportune times in your life when you need to remember the consequences of bad behavior BEFORE you commit to it yourself.

We use scare tactics all the time. Adults do it to kids on a daily basis. It masks itself as education, or wisdom or good sound advice. The gorier the better. The more dramatic the consequences the better. Our aim is usually not to scare kids but to keep them safe. Once my 5 year old niece got lost at Disneyland and we couldn't find her for ten minutes. When my sister finally found her looking through the fence and clapping at the teacups the new mom cried out (in a panic of course): "do you want some stranger to steal you away from us and cut you into chunks and throw you in the river?! Is that what you want?!" Of course not. We all laughed but our hearts rates didn't slow down for a few hours.

My scare tactics usually begin with, "...where is your homework...why didn't you do your homework...why are you late? And then the punch to the gut: Are you willfully choosing to work for minimum wage the rest of your life? Or you could use Andy's favorite, "I hope you like playing Nintendo in your parents basement forever."

There's even a reality TV show called "Scare Tactics." My favorite is the one that takes kids that are on the edge of prison into a locked down facility to see what it's like and hear it first hand from the prisoners themselves. It's called "Scared Straight." If that doesn't scare a kid into shaping up I don't know what will.

However, we assume if we tell them not to drink and drive that they won't. We assume that if the health teacher shows them a video of a woman having a baby, or that vile STD PowerPoint, that they won't have unprotected sex. Uh, huh. We want to believe that they perceive jail as an undesirable place to live...but it might just be better and safer than where they live now. Or they might just want to avoid the constant stream of advice they're getting. If they think the rules are tough at home or in the classroom...ha!

Unfortunately, most kids either choose to learn the hard way, or choose to learn it for themselves because they lack trust or they just wanna have "fun." (I'm speaking of course, about my own childhood. I never landed in jail, but there was that time we went swimming out at Saratoga in the middle of the night and just barely managed to escape the police after the alarms went off...that scared me straight enough. I ran so fast I was almost dry by the time my friends caught up with me.)

What is the punishment for chaining your kid to the bed or locking them in the attic until they are 25? I'm sure that's literally against the law, but figuratively we do it all the time. At what point do you "teach them the way they should go" and then l.e.t. t.h.e.m. g.o.?

Andy and I have made an annual pilgrimage to the National Theatre Festival and a bi-annual trek out to New York to see the new plays and musicals. We consider it research for work, because believe it or not, I don't enjoy the theatre that much. My greatest joy is in seeing kids grow in ways that only the theatre can teach. We want to make sure that we are choosing shows that stretch kids for a maximum educational opportunity. We want to get them hooked so they choose that as their drug of choice. Truthfully, we're just underpaid drug dealers at heart.

What has got me riled up this week is a Facebook post that I described above. In the thread several women post their opinions and I'm all for that. God forbid we ever lose the freedom to say how we feel. Well, this is how I feel. I have copied several portions of the thread and pasted them here in case you missed it.

(The yellow print is what I have quoted from the thread on Facebook:)

Post Writer: The [        ] High School play this Spring is "Almost, Maine." It's a series of vignettes about falling in love including this one. Do you think this is appropriate for our high school and for our community. I don't but the director does. What are your thoughts?

(At this point in her post, the writer inserts a YouTube video of another high school's production in doing a scene from the play Almost Maine by John Cariani. This is the scene between two best friends that find out they would rather spend time with each other than anyone else. Yes, these are two boys, and yes, the innuendo is there in a humorous way, but could be taken in a myriad of ways.)

Post by High School Student: Andy (our director) edited it and it's another boy-girl scene now. He changed it because he knew this would be the reaction in this community.

Post Writer: It's a controversial topic and I appreciate your opinions. Thanks for your update, [High School Student]. Any other thoughts? Do you think this play would help or hurt? (emphasis added).

Help or hurt.



Let the flood gates open...a.g.a.i.n.

(I quote the thread again - and all it's syntax errors)

I see this play as "not a good fit for our community" for several reasons.

Okay I already have to stop. WHO SPEAKS FOR AN ENTIRE TOWN? Is she the mayor? Is she protesting a nuclear waste dump next to an elementary school? I was so hopeful that our new town was filled with the kind of diversity that helps everyone learn to love each other. Still there are some ultraconservatives out there that are continue to "piously wave their self-made rules above all our heads." There's no escaping them. HOLY HERRIMAN! This Facebook thread makes me feel afraid that if I express my political stance, I will get a shunning. Dang it. I REALLY LIKE THIS TOWN! (I know they aren't all like her. In fact, when I directed several local people to the thread, they assured me that she is the micro-minority as I suspected.)

I have already digressed. Let's keep going...

I see this play as "not a good fit for our community" for several reasons.

One - I agree with [ ] and others that this is too mature for 15 and 16 yr olds to be performing. She did a great job explaining why so I won't say anything more.

I have to stop again because you should know that she is basing her opinions on another director's production that was posted on YouTube. Not my husband's choices for his kids. She is assuming that we are all bound to "color" the page with the same 8 crayons. Yes - we don't cut the script down without permission, BUT, just so you know... 

Stage directions are most likely written by a stage manager and I am not obligated to use them for my production. I am only obligated to use the text as written. So when I read the thread on Facebook about how disgustingly inappropriate the play is for high school students, the author of the post quoted one particular scene to give her argument credibility. In this scene, the characters systematically take off their clothes. Inappropriate on stage for high school kids? YES! Of course yes. But because it’s in the stage direction, Andy will just ignore it or tone it down with his kids and take it in a different direction. He will use the same text – but a different context. We directors have a thousand choices. I am not obligated to use the choices that the first director used. It’s just there as a record of what the first cast did. So saying that a play is inappropriate based of the stage direction is a claim made by ignorant readers.

We high school teachers have to be really creative sometimes…but we are. For example, I hate the ending of Grease - where Sandy dons the leather pants and "comes down" to Danny's social level to get her man. So instead of changing the text, I simple had Danny wear a goofy plaid shirt and letter sweater. No need for the text change - the costume choice changed the tone. (and we made $20,000 which allowed us to go to Scotland).


Two - I'm concerned that homosexuality is becoming a trend in our plays. "The drowsy chaperone" had references to it and now this play. I'm not okay with this. Even though the homosexuality is edited out it is opening the door through familiarity to make it easier to include it in future works. There are thousands of plays to choose from. Couldn't we have something more edifying and fitting with our values? Three - by purchasing this play our community has put a stamp of approval on the national movement to accept homosexuality and gay marriage. It doesn't matter that it was edited out. No outsider will know that. However, they will be able to use our town as a statistic showing that even the small towns in conservative Utah are teaching their kids that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice. Other towns may look at us and think "Well if it was okay for conservative [name of town] It would be okay for us." It is one thing to have a group of judges force the state's hand to accept gay marriage. It is quite another to actively choose (or condone through our silence) to have our children acting out a play known to support homosexuality.

I don't even know where to start here. Maybe I could just go dig her a hole in the sand that she can put her head into until this whole "homosexual thing" blows over. I know a bunch of homosexuals, maybe we should tell them - ON AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA SITE - that we hate them and they aren't welcome in our town. ....BLUSTERING-HEAD-SHAKING-RASPBERRIES-OF DISBELIEF!!

I C.A.N.T.E.V.E.N!

You can't catch homosexuality. It's not contagious. There. I've said it. WHEW! I hope she reads this just so she can get that straight before all the gays move into our newly tolerant town and her kids get the disease! She'll sleep better tonight. The problem is, later in the thread the writer says she knows several homosexual men that would rather not be homosexual. Then she says, "homosexuality is a temptation and can be overcome." It was painfully obvious to me (and two of my gay Mormon friends that read the thread) that no one has ever told her the truth. Even the LDS church has backed down from that stance. Didn't she get the memo? Homosexuality IS ONE OF the sexualities. We shouldn't need to "protect" our children from it. That's insane. That in itself bears an inherent judgement already. What if your child was gay? Would you want people to protect themselves against him? I'm sick of even thinking about this anymore. It just saddens me.

You are telling the entire world (via Facebook) that you disdain homosexuality and you are speaking for everyone in the town. That's not fair. Think of how you made our gay brothers and sisters feel with your statement. I know you don't think you're doing Satan's work...but OH how you have fallen naively into his trap.

Andy is not editing the BFF scene out of the play. We didn't have enough boys audition (as usual) and since he knew this is how you would react, he opted to change the scene to a boy and a girl. None of the text will be cut without permission from the author or his agent. We have to put girls in boys roles all the time, there are so many more of them in this art. (BECAUSE GIRLS ROCK!) AND ALSO, AGAIN - it's about tone.

Okay...back to the post before my eyes pop out of my head.

"when [the writer of the post] asked if this will help or hurt, I think it will hurt at least [our town's} family attendance, because it's not meant in any way for the whole family, younger siblings, it's in my opinion, something you would go to in college, or on adult date, where the context can be understood."

See Newsflash #1.

She goes on to say that Andy "asked my son to kiss a girl in the play."

This social contract of auditioning is optional in every land I've ever worked in and unless you tell the teacher in advance what your parameters are, the teacher will assign you to the role she thinks is appropriate for you, kissing or not. Auditions infer that you WANT to be in the play. The director puts you in a role that is right for your child and right for the overall concept of the play. I want you to read the scripts of the plays your children are auditioning for BEFORE you let them audition. Be that involved. Don't be a bully about your particular standards. Teach your children that if the play content does not reflect your standards, then they should simply choose to do something else without piousness (and Facebook). 

Matthew 6: 2 - 6.

Andy had 20 COPIES of the play available for you to check out and read in advance. You have every right to complain about the content of a play BEFORE auditions happen. But unless you bring more than half of the community with you that believe the same thing, don't cover yourself with the "community standard" blanket. There isn't one. Once a play is up and running...back off! Let learning happen. If you go to the play and find out that "OH NO! My child says some swears! Or my child has to kiss someone in his scene, I'm going straight to the media about this," that ship has sailed! It's too late! Your ignorance does not give you the right to complain anymore. Whatever negativity you bring to the experience only punishes the entire cast at that point and the overworked teacher who must now re-cast the role somehow. That's not your right.

Kids know so much more than you think. What kills me about this mentality is that they don't want their children to delve into these characters because they might "learn too much." If that's the problem, you better stop sending them to public school. This is THEIR world - not ours anymore. They already know SO MUCH MORE than we do.

We are now sending our boys and girls out on missions the second they graduate high school. Then when they get back we are telling them to get married as soon as they can. Where's the scare tactic film for that scenario? Here's the GRAND CONUNDRUM: if you aren't married by 20 in this state, you have failed in your mission to fulfill the measure of your creation. No one ever wants you to take your time finding out who you are or let you develop your agency outside of your parents umbrella before they are tapping their foot and telling your boyfriend to "fish or cut bait."  (You know that wasn't the version of that cliche I was going to use but Andy said I had to "be nice.") So wouldn't you take an opportunity to let your child learn about relationships in high school under the watchful eye of an adult who is in control of the play (and the amount of kissing) step by step? Oh...right...this Facebooker, doesn't think the play is appropriate for anyone nor should kids be taking on roles as adults. There goes Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Mis..... Even in the play You Can’t Take It With You, the house is filled with a family that doesn't work, refuses to pay taxes and the maid's boyfriend spends the night. Its a well known classical fact that Oedipus had children with his mother and in Arsenic and Old Lace two old ladies that KILL people and bury them in their basement.

Years ago I used to direct musicals with junior high aged kids. These were kids ages 12 - 14. They were so awesome. It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest era's of my life. One to the first plays we did was Fiddler on the Roof. We watch sweet Motel and Tzeitel profess their love to each other and then eventually, once Tevye works his magic, they get married. Do you have them kiss at the end of that beautiful wedding scene? Yep. I did. Everybody is waiting for it. It's the denouement of that story line. Sort of like watching the past two seasons of 19 Kids and Counting. But do the drama teachers in UTAH have a 14 year-old kiss another 14 year-old, when most of the young people here are advised not to even date until they are 16? Well, first you should know that might be a possibility if your child auditions because you've read the play or asked the director.

Kissing serves many purposes and NOT ONE of them is to give your child the opportunity to kiss another child. Two characters in the play will kiss each other as a sign of the relationship progressing, or the finale of a wedding ceremony as a generally accepted sign of mutual agreement, or whatever. I won't be parading a bunch of junior high-aged kids through a kissing festival. It's just stupid and awkward anyway unless you control it in rehearsal. I know when enough is enough. However, she doesn't know me. She doesn't know that I'm not going to add gratuitous kissing on stage. I get that. But she didn't ask until AFTER the child had been cast in a role that required kissing and THEN she called Andy. Andy explained all that but still she pulled her kid out of the show. And she gets to do that because she is the parent. I get it. I just wish she would have let him do something in the show because he is about the sweetest most awesome kid in the world and I love working with him.

I. d.i.g.r.e.s.s!

To the credit of the owner of the thread, she deleted it and replaced it with an apology about a week after it began to roll forth. But it wasn't until there were about 40 opinions posted and lots of offended readers. Obviously, this post started many vehement conversations on both sides, and this blog. I was so impressed that there were many that were in favor of respecting the choices of the teacher and principal who have been given the right to choose the material based on their knowledge of the content area and the needs of the kids.

Of course you know what side I am going to take, every time and I am going to side with Brigham Young EVERY SINGLE TIME. I've posted this time and again, but can it be said too much? People were mad at Brigham Young for finishing the playhouse before he finished the temple. In fact, the theatre was the first building to be finished in the state. In response to this he states:

"Upon the stages of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy result and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, and also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 243)

Brigham Young wanted the early citizens of Utah to use the theatre as an "aid to the pulpit." Did binge watching Breaking Bad make me want to do meth? NO! Every meth dealer in the show got his due in the end or ran from it is as scared as I am. I don't even eat blue lifesavers anymore.

And that's the key maybe. What Brother Brigham was saying, essentially, is that the theatre can be used as a scare tactic. Why not? Why is it okay in schools to show the vile STD PowerPoint or the crash videos and not let kids re-enact adult roles "...impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life and also a proper horror of the enormity of sin ... and how to shun it?"

It's 2015. If your kids made it through junior high, they've already seen it all.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Size 12 Foot, Size 7 Shoe

So I am preparing my students to take the SAGE test which is a standardized test that all high school kids take. It will determine my salary at some point - though I don't know which point but I will proceed I guess. What choice do I have? Scary to entrust a high school teacher's salary on a student's knowledge bank over 10 - 12 years. I had a tenth grader ask me last week what a semicolon looked like. Has he never used a winky face emoticon?


Utah's education needs are a like a size 12 foot crammed into a size 7 shoe. It is during this time every year that I say a special prayer for the legislators that will be buying this year's shoes for education. Can we at least buy a size 8...wide width? Year after year we have been asked, as teachers, to do what we can with what we have. "Keep cramming your foot into that shoe!" For many years it has felt as if the shoe gets smaller and smaller because the foot is getting bigger; this I know for sure. Yet, rather than decrease the size of Utah's classes or build more schools or give us more technology in the classroom, they keep changing the testing requirements; I was just getting used to the CRT's and now we're doing the SAGE. What happened to the UBSCT? They keep asking me to write to my legislators and I DO - every single year - and I'm now on so many mailing lists for politicians I'm looking for some size 12 shoes to throw at politicians.

I wish they would just spend a week in my classroom. In fact, I wish they would just spend the 7-minute passing time in my classroom between classes. "Jan, I need...Jan, you marked me absent...Jan, why do I have an F...Jan, are you going to be here after school...Jan, I wasn't here for the semicolon quiz...Jan...jan...jan..jaaa...a...n

And that's just the easy stuff.

According to the most recent educational census, Utah ranks third in highest student to teacher ratio. 48th Place.

Thanks California and Oregon.

The good news is the average teacher salary is no longer on the bottom! Based on the cost of living, we have elevated our teachers salaries up from last place to fourth from the bottom in the last ten years. 47th Place!


The U.S. average per student expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in 2013 was $10,938. Vermont is highest and spends almost twice that - $19, 752! Their teacher to student ratio is also 9:1. New York is close behind, spending $19, 523 per student. Utah? $7, 223. Only one state spends less than we do...

...Thanks Arizona.

49th place.

Update - 2014-2015 - Utah is now in last place.

It's embarrassing. Who wants to take 49th out of 50? I guess it doesn't bother anyone holding the purse strings. I wonder what would happen if there was a trophy involved? Maybe we should take the example of the high school debaters, basketball players and wrestlers that clearly understand the concept of competition. You work hard, you get creative, you learn the moves of the opposing player, you fix your weaknesses and you get a trophy. There is personal pride involved.  We have been educating kids for eons and I feel like we don't learn very quickly from our mistakes. Or we keep changing our minds about what is good for kids. Somebody comes along with the snake oil of the day and and we pledge our allegiance to it faster than you can say "standardized testing." We seem to constantly try a new data gathering system without landing on it for a while in order to develop enough data to disaggregate it over time. I'm in favor of trophies. It works for me.

We are constantly saying that we need to study the data and plan curriculum around the data. They give us a CORE set of standards and objectives from which we are supposed to teach the masses and the masses are human beings. Not machines. Case in point: Today during the state standardized SAGE test I had two kids slide into whopping panic attacks right in front of me. I felt so bad. They didn't type a single word and will probably FAIL miserably. Where is the disclaimer where I get to write "don't dock my pay for that score - the kid had a panic attack and had to be taken out." There were two sluffers that got put in detention and will have to take the test later (which will take them out of class again). Then there were three kids that finished in about 20 minutes...the entire test. They were no Doogy Housers. They just "didn't understand the question."

There was only one question.

They just didn't want to write the essay. I can't fight that. I gave it a go and I don't like to fail anything - but I did... miserably. You can lead a horse to water....

I believe we Utah teachers have endured our 49th Place trophies (for decades) because we are a conscientious culture in general. We are hard workers. The symbols of the state is after all, the worker bee. We are, naturally, a people that rolls our sleeves up and perseveres. Most of us come from a line of people that walked across the United States to get here. We have a reputation to uphold. Why then, I wonder, in a state where the majority of its people believe that education is the only thing you will take with you in the next life, don't they roll up their sleeves and figure out how to get more money to its teachers and their classrooms?

I also think it comes from that old "teaching is a calling" cliche and how dare we say no to a calling, right? I knew I was going to be a teacher when I was old enough to set up "school" in my mom's basement. I think I was about 7. I have always been addicted to "turning the light on" in a kid. So, as any self-respecting addict does, they find any way they can to feed their addiction, even if the shoe is only a size just keep cramming you foot into it again, and again, and again...until your toes bleed. But you don't care because this is your "calling."

One more excuse: I complained about a job once to a charter board of directors. I was told to shut up and "be grateful you have a job. You chose this profession, so shut up and live with it." First of all, I work in Utah. There will always be children in Utah. I'm a certified teacher with 24 years experience building schools. I will always be willing to work for the kids because I like kids and truly its the only thing I know how to do well. Secondly - I chose to teach, but I can also choose to fight for change when I think things are unfair. I am an American and we are allowed to fight for equity in these United States.

My first year teaching in Utah, my take home pay was just over $900 a month. My sister and I shared a tiny apartment in North Salt Lake next to an oil refinery. It was the high life, let me tell you. I taught debate at Davis High for two years and spent nearly every weekend of the year schlepping angry cats to debate tournaments and then crying every night when I had to make 6 different lesson plans before I could sleep. O! (Ecphonesis) Those were such bad years but I didn't quit; I took up the Spring play, the student council and everything else I could get my hands on to be able to support myself.

Its been 23 years since those lean, back-breaking days in North Salt Lake. I've gone from school to school looking for a bigger shoe. Since then, the State of Utah has allowed groups of disgruntled people to try building shoes on their own. Millions of dollars each year is given out to parent groups, like Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts and business groups like Tuacahn, to think outside of the box and educate kids outside the traditional paradigms of the district schools. The problem is, when you give millions of tax-payer dollars to a group of non-educators, it works only part of the time. We drive by an abandoned charter school each morning on our way to school and I am reminded of how hard it is to attract (and keep) students to a "school of choice."

I've now done 14 years in the traditional districts and 10 years in charter schools and you know what? It's all the same gig. Especially in the arts. The kids that want to take your classes, will, and you can create a little family of artists no matter where you go. That's been an eye-opener for Andy, who is spending his first year at a traditional school and loving it. He thought the fantastic kids would go away and guess what? There are fantastic kids everywhere!

We used to tout at our charters that the classes were small, but that went away. We have smaller classes here. We used to say that all the teachers had masters degrees and were "professionals in their field," but that was a stretch. We all did community gigs and taught classes outside of our charter school jobs, because we had to. Contrary to popular belief, charter school teachers and administrators are the lowest paid in the state. Granted, many of them teach at much smaller schools, but they still lack the support of the "people at the district." They have no district. They ARE their district, which makes the charter school business back-breaking as well. Most people in traditional schools these days carry Masters Degrees because that is an excellent way to earn more money. Most charter schools do not have a career ladder pay schedule and you aren't rewarded with a yearly pay raise if you stay at that school longer. This is definitely a bonus in the traditional districts. So when asked what the difference is between charter and traditional, I always say: Not much. We are all doing everything we can with what we've got. Charter schools have to spend a great deal of money on marketing and traditional school don't. That's really about it.

It isn't all bad news though.

Having spent the last ten years in charter schools, I have now gone back to teach at an amazing traditional district school that is constantly thinking "outside the shoe."  We have a "5 X 5" schedule, which means that the kids go to five classes on "A" day and 5 different classes on "B" day. The classes are about an hour and 15 minutes long. This allows the kids to take more electives which I think is great because they find out what they love to do and most often that turns into career choices and a college path. It also allows the general education classes to be smaller. My classes average about 20 kids. And this is NOT a charter school, folks. The attendance policy is unique and makes kids come to school. The technology is VAST and accessible. I would say this is a big difference between charters and traditional. I've never seen so many resources for students and teachers alike. Andy has a giant 1100-seat theatre at his disposal, a black box, a classroom complete with an I-pad for each student, real dressing rooms, storage rooms and a huge costume shop (well that's for me actually.) I feel like Andy and I are reaping all the benefits of a big traditional district with charter school-sized classes.

A.T. L.A.S.T. Somebody thought outside the shoe.

My kids are finishing up their test. They were asked to read a long passage of information, annotate it, then write a three to five paragraph essay about what they read. Times have changed since the bubble sheets and #2 pencils were sharpened 30 years ago...but worry not! The multiple choice part of the test in coming up in April. They will just take it on an I-pad and it will float away to some cloud to be corrected, and then I will study the results and see where I failed. We have to prove that we're worth getting some bigger shoes I guess.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My All the World!

I was asked by our beloved BFF Joshua Stavros, to write this blog for the Utah Shakespeare Festival (USF). I've had a blast doing it - thanks for asking Josh, it was a privilege!

I was born and raised as an actor/teacher/director at SUU/USF and this is the least I could do. I'm indebted to the careful training that I received at Southern Utah University under the tutelage of Doug Baker, Scott Phillips, Gary MacIntyre and Fred Adams. It was Gary Mac that actually said the words "you are a gifted director," to my face and I never turned back. (The power of a teacher!!!! I'll never forget it. )Those were the Golden Years for sure! SUU is still blessed with an amazing theatre department. I love that place so much. 

There was another student there with me at the time and he continues to create and produce the largest high school Shakespeare competition in the nation. 

Michael Bahr doing what he does best - giving
away scholarships!

This is for you Michael Bahr. 


I am following a bus to Cedar City today. I’m riding behind in my car because the bus is full. Full of “classically trained actors” they will tell you, though more than half of them have only been speaking Shakespeare for about a month. But if you looked at the rehearsal calendar you might bestow that title on them…they have worked as hard on these competition pieces as they have on a full-length musical.

Because there is a casket, two columns, 8 acting blocks and 45 pieces of luggage under the bus, my car is full of costumes. 45 Greek himations, 80 fibulae, 40 tunics and dresses. When we are fully dressed we look like were about to go to a toga party but really we’re about to go to a funeral for Julius Caesar. We didn’t get permission from the district to put weapons on the bus. So I have one broadsword, one rapier, two daggers, a quart of fake blood and a glue gun (just in case someone ask) in a box behind me somewhere. I’m totally prepared in case I get car-jacked along the way. Not only could I defend myself in a Medieval kind of way, I could really make it look good post fight. The police would be so confused.

I am recording this blog into the memo app on my phone as I drive. There are R.V.’s passing us. A billboard announcing the fall season at Tuacahn. Las Vegas shows we could go and see. Instead, what are we doing? We are chaperoning 55 kids at a Shakespeare competition. Who does that? I mean, who gives up a prime fall weekend to go watch teenagers do some 500 year-old Shakespeare and why is it my favorite weekend of the year? I need to get out more.

How did this madness begin?

Back in 2001, I had the rare opportunity to take a group of Lehi High School students to Edinburgh, Scotland to perform a play. We chose to do Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors set in our home town circa 1840: the Wild West. The American High School Theatre Festival (the company that had given us the honor of performing at the Fringe Festival) wasn’t quite sure a bunch of American high school kids should be bringing Shakespeare “back to the motherland.”

“The American kids usually do musicals,” they told me, “or devised pieces. We’ve seen some brilliant original pieces.” But didn’t we have to bring in an audience, I asked? I was pretty sure, that a Shakespearean Shootout on the Royal Mile would be more diverse than the overload of mimes and more entertaining than the musical version of The Crucible I had seen the summer before.

We carried on with our plan: A Wild west Comedy of Errors – every word of it beautifully delivered Shakespeare (without mics), complete with non-sensical saloon girls, 100+ Hanna- Barberra cartoon sound effects, and a hang man’s platform and noose that one of our dad’s concocted to fit in a piece of luggage made of a 4 X 4 and hinges. That was a heavy piece of luggage. We paid extra for that.

It cost us $4000 per kid/adult to go on this trip and raising that money was tough. But putting the show together might have been tougher. We rehearsed at six o’clock every morning in the summer so that the kids could go to work after rehearsal to earn money. Once the show was ready we toured it to earn more money.
The highlight of the entire trip for me came on the very first day. We were on a river cruise down the Thames in London. We had each been given a set of headphones and a box lunch. I could not keep my eyes open. I had not slept in months. As we cruised down the Thames the voice in the headphones was enlightening us about the magnificent city of London, which to me, looked a lot like New York, a giant canyon of concrete with its financial fury and business hubbub. Our heads would turn simultaneously left, then right, wherever the voice directed our attention. We had been traveling for about 16 hours and we were facing a soggy, gray cruise ride with an egg salad sandwich when what we really needed was a bed.

Then, the voice said “To your right you will see the famed Shakespearean Globe Theatre…” and I don’t know what else it said after that. We all turned our heads to the right and nobody turned left after that until it was out of sight. Nearly all of us started crying “straightaway” as the Brits would say. I sobbed long and hard. It was the first time in months that I felt fully awake. 

The Globe Theatre from the Thames, 2001
Because the tour company was afraid that a little high school from the American West had stubbornly brought Shakespeare back to his people, we had been “given the opportunity” to perform a few pieces of our show for some of the actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company the next day at the Globe itself. (I think it was a last ditch effort to save us in case we were horrible. I cried when we walked into the building. Then shaking their hands…then watching my kids perform, I was still crying.) These RSC actors were astonished at the talent. They couldn’t believe it. They sent us off with a laugh. “You sound like seasoned professionals,” they said. “How is it done at such an early age, and with Americans?” they asked me.

“Well,” I said confidently, “there’s this annual competition...”

Each October, more than a 100 keen drama teachers from several states make a pilgrimage to Cedar City, Utah to participate in The Utah Shakespeare Festival / Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition. It has been happening since 1977, just 15 years into the Festival itself, when Provo High School’s drama teacher at the time, Ray Jones, convinced USF founder Fred Adams to hold a Shakespeare competition. At least that’s how I remember the story as it was told to me.

I am writing this blog as a tribute to the Festival for what it has done for me and my student these past 30 (ah, hem!) plus years that I have participated in this unique experience first as a high school student myself, then helping to run it as a college student and finally 23 times as a coach.

For the past 30 years I have watched the last of the vacationing R.V.’s race past us toward the majestic canyons of Southern Utah as our team wobbles South down Interstate 15 in an old familiar “yellow dog” full of 12 to 18 year-olds repeating pieces of Shakespeare in preparation for this, their “favorite weekend of the year.” My husband and I are not spending the last warm weekend in Utah vacationing! Bah! We can vacation anytime. This weekend we have the honor of watching thousands of kids grab hold of Shakespeare to spend the rest of their lives seeking him out. We get the privilege of witnessing the finale of the grand transformation – from Shakespearean scaredy cats to Kings and Queens of the Canon. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Hey, is that Lewis from King John drinking a
Coke in the Sharwan Smith Center?
Nope...just Matt Nott between rounds.

It’s an expensive, time intensive and all-consuming event. But I would not be anywhere else. In fact, in 2011, I had emergency retina surgery the day before we performed on the Adams stage and was under strict doctor’s orders not to lift my head for more than 15 minutes a day. The next day, I bribed my in-laws to drive me to Cedar City and I used my fifteen minutes to watch our scene compete. If you have been involved in this competition for any number of years you know why I did it. I’ve gone from bringing 20 students a year to well over 100. For actors, technicians, dancers and musicians, it’s a magical weekend (and somehow they don’t even know how much they are learning.)

Richard III, the living and the dead, Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, 2013

Mistress Quickly with a mouth full of braces!
Turned out to be a very successful coach of her own
teams years later.

Some of my dearest friends are tournament officials that I have loved 30 years since I was a student there myself. I get the opportunity to throw my arms around Fred Adams and Scott Phillips who brought me up in the theatre and are still there and are now throwing their arms around my students. I’m like a homing pigeon to this place. They will be too someday.

I get to see my theatre teacher colleagues. They are some of my closest friends. I understand exactly what they are going through. We chose this profession but we still do it! Some of the people I respect most in the world are teachers and artists from other schools who also follow

Mindy Young and I (2005?)
their kids around with a bag of safety pins in their pocket (pretty sure it's required.) I know their spouses; I've been to their children's weddings. We've commiserated and communed as coaches behind the Adams Shakespearean Theatre now for more than 20 years. This weekend in October is all hallowed and marks the beginning of the theatre school year for us. We wouldn’t think of doing anything else. I love these people so much. I feel somehow that Shakespeare himself wanders around back here and knows us and is proud of us for teaching. (“Wish he was teaching a master class…” I often say to myself.)
For me the love of all things Shakespeare started when I was a Senior in high school in 1982 when I first attended the competition as Lady Macbeth. My mom made me and my scene partner long matching green capes. I still have them (of course I do.) They had arm holes so I could thrust my arms out and call upon the dark and scream “Come thick night! And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell…” Words I hardly understood then. Words I have coached a dozen times since. 

Jan as Lady M and
Gary Wilson as Macbeth, 1983!!!
I love that we had our name tags on
in this picture.

I instantly fell in love with SUU that year though I had been on its campus many times for debate competitions, it was the “magic” of the Shakespeare Competition that brought me to my knees pleading to God to help me find scholarship money at “SUSC” (and not have to debate at BYU!)

What is the magic, exactly? I mean it isn’t Disneyland but there’s something about this experience that has 3000 students and teachers cracking open a 500 year-old collection of plays and traveling to remote Cedar City, eating fast food for three days and getting boys to wear tights year after year. I believe we keep doing it for several reasons.

The works of Wm. Shakespeare have become so important to the
teachers of Utah, that the year USF didn't hold the competition
the teachers pooled their free time to organize it
and Tuacahn graciously hosted. The boy on the far right is
Joshua Long, who has since coached many
award-winning teams of his own. The girl with the gold
vest has a Shakespeare degree and lives in London!

First and foremost, it happens at the top of the year and an overnight trip binds the kids together in a team. And this is not a team for sissies. NO! There is no Neil Simon spoken here. “You must learn to elongate your vowels, throw your voice to the balcony, develop your belly muscles for breathing, remember your word endings, open your throat, your eyes, your brain and your body all at the same time while understanding ancient vocabulary and in a completely new order. Sometimes. But it means the same thing so just talk to us.” Yeah, right.

So I changed my mind. First and foremost, great Shakespeare training changes our kids into conquerors of the English language and authorities over the text, masters over their body and disciples of the stage. And they do it ON A TEAM. All for one. After the Shakespeare experience, they are mine, and he is theirs. The rest of the year is easy.

So apart from teaching a kid how to conquer and analyze the Shakespearean text…the next thing I love is that it teaches a kid how to work hard at the beginning of the year. It sets a standard early on. That means so much to me as a teacher!!! They go to greater lengths to choose a piece with a greater level of difficulty, read the entire play and dig for character and motivations, they project the levels and layers of the character very carefully, all of those things paint a picture of a student that goes above and beyond what they would do in class work. Let’s be real! I don’t get that kind of work on a monologue in class…ever! I never get that pay off in class, not even for region or state competitions! BUT, I do for the Shakespeare competition and then I have a reference point by which they can judge their work ethic for the rest of the year.

Robert Axson as Gobbo - 9th grade!
He took First Place. Now he works for
Senator Mike Lee.
I also love this competition because it’s the best judging the kids will hear all year. I still remember the words of actress Liisa Ivary who was my judge in the Thorley Recital Hall all those years ago. She said “When you have two identical words back to back, you have to make each of them sound differently.” Those two words were “Hold, hold!” I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, but I can remember what the brilliant Liisa Ivary said to me in 1982. I’ve used that piece of advice on my own students ever since.

Hold, HOLD! I firmly believe it was because of that Shakespeare competition in 1982 that I returned to campus and got my degree in theatre there. I believe that’s why the trophies have so much value…AND YET…we haven’t always won…still I feel every year we return victorious. It’s the magic! Does that mean we return with the plastic trophies on our bus? NO. No, no, nhho. noooo..nope….no! (I’m trying to vary them, as I type.)


But would they if the competition didn’t exist?


Every year my kids have conquered a thing otherwise unconquerable without the platform of the competition to push and challenge them. They return with an admiration of the Bard I cannot explain. They come home wearing his face on their 
There's even a contest for the techies! (2002)
clothing, his words in their heart. They have somehow given him a “high five” across the perpetuities. They are no longer afraid of his words, they are peer and patrician. They have participated in the time honored ritual that brings them into the brotherhood of the highest of all Shakespeare fraternities. Whether or not they have a trophy in hand, there are never tears, and this the strangest thing of all…because there are never losers at this competition (I’m not sure how they do it but I think it has to do with the fact that it so darn difficult!) but every kid leaves having had the time of their life and trying to figure out what monologue they are going to do for auditions next year so they can come back. 
Cole a lighting professor and professional designer

Next year!!! Ah! I must remember to reserve my hotel rooms for next year!

I digress…

I guess I can say that the last things I love about the competition is that they offer a great number of scholarships to actors and technicians. I have personally witnessed my students shaking their way back up the stairs, grinning from ear to ear as their dream of going to SUU has become a reality.

I love that the Shakespeare Festival honors one of their former actors, Larry Lott, by giving a scholarship to an exceptional high school student actor. My favorite memory of all Shakespeare Competitions happened in 1996 and again in 1999. My own brother, Brad, won the Larry Lott award first as a 9th Grader when we were at Mt. Ridge Jr. High together and then as Henry V at Lehi High School after I was transferred there. It was hard to cast Brad politically, but he was a very capable and gifted classical actor; he just got it (and he could grow a full beard in about three minutes.)

This is my ALL TIME favorite picture, even though it is blurry and pixilated. THIS IS THE MOMENT! Gloucester (Brad) getting stabbed by Clifford (Davy)! These boys became best of friends through this process. Between them they have at least 8 children - I'm not sure who is standing behind Davy, was it Patrick?
When they called his name for the award I almost passed out. Both times. When he came back up to the crowd he came straight to me and hugged me and thanked me for making him work so hard. He treated me like his respected teacher and not his sister. Brad didn’t end up studying classical acting, but Brad will tell you that the first weekend of October is STILL his favorite weekend of the year and he wishes with all his heart that he could still compete even though, Brad actually works at Disneyland! They can’t even compete with the magic of Cedar City.
1999.  Waiting for the awards ceremony to begin.
Brad Shelton, (left) builds Disneyland at Disneyland,
Beth Sharon (center) now a full-time mom
Dr. Nathan Miller (right) a medical doctor in the U.S. Navy

When recently polled, my former students agreed without 

hesitation, that “Shakepeare Weekend” changed their lives. No matter what they ended up doing with their lives, they have an unfailing love for Shakespeare to this day because of their connection to this event.

When trying to bring Shakespeare to the masses, change
it upa bit, I always say! You knew there were three diner
waitresses in Coriolanus, didn't you?
(Wendy is center)

Another significant human contribution that came to the competition through one of my teams was Wendy Milam Penrod. Wendy now runs one of the largest Improvisation Festivals during the Shakespeare weekend in the nation for high school kids. Wendy was “one of mine.” Uh huh. Really though, she is one of Shakespeare’s. I take no credit, it’s the magic.

Andy Hunsaker now hosts our annual
department fundraiser "Feaste!" to showcase
the Shakespeare pieces, songs and dances
that will travel to compete. 
I should also mention my husband, Andy Hunsaker, who competed at the Shakespeare Festival when he was a Senior at American Fork High School and immediately fell in love with SUU. He performed a monologue from Merchant of Venice: “…Hath not a Jew eyes, hands…?” Andy went on to go to school at SUU, he spent six summers as an actor with the Shakespeare Festival and they eventually grandfathered him into the Actors Equity Association. He now teaches high school where he coaches award-winning Shakespeare teams and sends his best students back to SUU by the DOZEN. It’s only right. 

Fortune telling at a party hosted by Steve Wynn in Vegas.
The creator was Doug Baker (standing next to me, second from
left. I had forgotten that the Queen was there too. ;-)

I stole the Feaste idea from Doug Baker who is a beloved friend and was my acting professor at SUU. He used to create these huge Feastes for Las Vegas casino high rollers parties. The money was used for scholarships. I wish they still did this! (They need to give out more scholarships!) Andy also played Henry VIII at USF and between the two of us, we combined our past knowledge of the two and created something that can easily be done with a high school Shakespeare company. I'm writing the script and instructions for my TeachersPayTeachers website right now at Jan's Store - Get Your Shakespeare Cuttings Here . Should be up and running shortly.

So, I’ve just about said it all. Except that one last thing; that ONE all-encompassing thing that I will never be able to repay the Utah Shakespeare Festival for all it has done for my students. I want them to know this one simple story before I close. This is the reason I will never be able to stop bringing kids to the USF/SUU Shakespeare Competition and this is why they can never stop holding it. (I’ve had to change the names for privacy purposes.)

Matthew was a student of ours (Andy and I) that had pretty severe autism. His mom warned us when he came in as a Ninth grader that he wanted to be in drama so badly but his contribution would be small. “Not to worry,” she said, “you are making a difference, but you might never know it. It will be hard. Please persevere.” Of course we did.

Well, we always cast a kid if he has the grades to compete. So Matthew always got cast. Besides that, he was a boy. A TALL boy. His mom said he would never be able to memorize anything and his Freshman audition was the definition of tragedy. He read every word off the paper. Still, we didn’t understand a word of it. He cried when it was over and we hugged him until he stopped. Drama One. Two. Passed every class with flying colors. Because he was a tall boy, he got some kind of role in every play and he started memorizing out of necessity, after all he was at a school where the boy to girl ratio was 5:1. Late in Matthew’s junior year we needed him to take a big role. He wanted it so badly. When he wasn’t working on stage with Andy he would be sent backstage to me. His mother and sister worked with him day and night. He paced backstage with his sister and his script every performance and one day it just…clicked. She walked away and said “he doesn’t need me back there anymore.” Over the summer between his junior and senior year, he worked to prepare his Shakespeare audition. On the third day of school he walked into that audition and took the stage but there was no paper in his hands, no shaking, no apologies. It was breath-taking.

          “I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
          The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
          To hear a night-shriek…
          …out, out, brief candle!
          Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
          That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
          And then is heard no more; it is a tale
          Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
          Signifying nothing.

I burst into tears. I was instantly swept back into the memory of Matthew’s journey. I cried all night. Matt now studies acting at SUU and will one day teach drama to individuals with learning challenges. Preparing kids to do well at the annual Shakespeare Competition is a joy and they will all tell you that it changed their lives. It brought bonded them together and set the tone for their high school experience.

Coaching is my only real skill. It’s the only thing I have 100% confidence in, passion for. I give that to my kids I think. They in turn use that their whole lives and pass it on in turn. The time I spend working out the vowels, consonants and motivations, the meaning of the text, breaking vocal habits, breaking down walls...I would not have discovered this if it wasn’t for the Shakespeare Competition every October. That time I spend with kids is my joy, my work, "my all the world."

It's purely selfish...I really just do it for the hugs!
Well, I’m about to pull into Cedar City. I just passed a billboard that said the casinos in Mesquite are open for business and that I can still get tickets for the musicals at Tuacahn where it is still 90 degrees and wouldn’t that be fun? Not as fun as watching my kids kill a Shakespeare scene. Not as fun as that!



My first team as a coach. The girl holding the placard is Christie Gardner who played Charity Barnum for me last summer! Every face has a thousand memories connected to it!! I LOVED this team. I love them all! I dream of going back to a junior high program. After 24 years I can truly say, "that was my bliss."

This is my brother Brad as Henry or
Gloucester - I forget - but we always
costume the kids full out because I
believe the costume really pushes them
to know who the characters are. Kids need the
costume. And I want to thank MAMA KAY
(to the right of this pic) for the YEARS of
sewing she has done to put the kids in top

My mom (MAMA KAY!) sitting (and freezing in the
Adams Theatre) next to Stewart Shelley before he became an
award-winning coach himself and was just chaperoning for me.
I have asked my parents to chaperone more times that they
actually wanted to.
PAPA JOE! (My dad) I think he may have loved the trophy more than
I did. Because he chaperoned so much, he knows how much
work it is.

Becky! Bless her heart she was the only one
that volunteered to learn how to tie knots
for tech Olympics. This girl saved my
life for four years. Now she's a famous
stage manager in NYC!
Lacy and Ben - two of the best high school actors that I have
ever known. Literally. This is the Merry Wives scene we
did one month after we got home from Scotland! (First Place!)
We were very tired of Shakespeare needless to say. 

Winters Tale! Lehi High, HyeSoo and Caleb. I will never be able to repeat that combination. It was perfect!
Ammon and Emilie from Othello. Scarrrrrrry and perfect.
Look at the intensity on those two faces! First Place!
THANKS KYLE COOK for the throne in the background!
Emilie is now a coach herself!
One look at Crystal's face (chaperone front right corner) and I can tell this is the bus ride HOME.
Is that 14 year-old Josh Long on that bus?

WAY TO GO - SHAKES TEAMS 1992 - 2014!