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!

Woot.

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 7...you 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.)

No.

But would they if the competition didn’t exist?

NO.

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 Adams...now 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!


***************


A FEW MORE PICS DOWN MEMORY LANE!

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
form!

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!
2015 HERE WE COME!

IF YOU HAVE ANY PICTURES YOU THINK I MIGHT LIKE,  I WOULD BE INDEBTED FOR A COPY! JANHUNSAKER23@GMAIL.COM











































Saturday, January 3, 2015

That's "Celibate" not Celebrate.


Spoiler alert: I just came back from seeing the historical thriller, The Imagination Game. Instead of being moved by this man that invented the first computer during World War II, consequently cracking the enigma code and saving 14 million lives, I was sobbing because of the way this war hero had been treated in 1945 after he had obviously helped the allies win the war. At the end of the film, they flashed the information that this brilliant scientist had committed suicide; undoubtedly, it was implied, because in Britain at the time homosexuality was against the law and he had been convicted of gross indecency for it and sentenced to prison. However, he opted for chemical castration rather than imprisonment. While suffering this indignity, he could not think, could not focus on his cutting-edge computer science work and consequently died just a year into his sentence – at his own hand.

I guess I’m writing today to the 76+ countries in the world where homosexuality is still against their laws. I guess I’m also writing to the people I was standing behind on our way out of the movie that I overheard say “it was such a good movie, except why did they have to put in all that crap about him being gay?” I wondered why the postlude at the end of the movie didn’t make you cry too.

I obviously belong to a religion that struggles with these “modern sensibilities” (a phrase I have been using lately.) I was asked by one of my beloved children (a student) one day “Do you hate me because I’m gay? To which I responded “Do you hate me because I’m Mormon?” He helped me understand that he would always be gay, and I helped him understand that I would always be Mormon. We both decided we loved each other and maintain a priceless relationship to this day.

So here goes…






One of the hardest things about being single in the Mormon church is that we are asked to be celibate until we're married.  

That's right. Celibate. I said. Not Celebrate. Contrary to what some people think about us we celebrate everything. This is c.e.l.i.b.a.t.e. until we are married legally. 

Usually the word celibate is connected to Catholic priests and nuns and followed by "those poor men and women...what a sacrifice they make, their whole lives." And there is some kind of revered holiness surrounding that decision that we feel for them. Some kind of pedestal. Right?

Except when I think of Catholic nuns I think of the Nunsense series of musicals by Dan Goggin and I instantly crave donning my habit to "sing out Louise!" I've got the best memories of playing “Sister Robert Anne” about four or five times, I've forgotten. All those feather boas, the tap shoes, the Bingo games with the audience and the CTR ring prizes (Catholics Totally Rule). Obviously it was musical theatre for me and not a convent.

But from age 18 to age 41 it felt like it none the less. 

It was lonely. Some crying...no...a lot of crying. Usually at night and anytime the bed felt larger or colder than it was. I got into a habit of falling asleep in my Laz-y-boy in front of the T.V. at night to avoid the vacant bed. That way, if I staggered to the bed later I wouldn’t have time to think about how empty it was before I had collapsed into my coma. If I got into the bed too soon the loneliness would wrap its creepy, cold arms around me and shake me all night keeping me awake with questions...wondering what was going to happen to me if I didn't find someone to share my life with? Who was going to help me out in my old age? Should I put more money into my retirement so I could afford to hire someone to take care of me? Should I build a house with just one bedroom or three, why three, maybe just one big one…okay two, I should have hope at least. Should I have my eggs frozen now? (Just kidding, I never thought that. BECAUSE I WAS D.U.M.B. and should have thought that but I was an idiot. I SOOO wish I had thought about that then. I digress.) The dialogue I had with myself never stopped.

When you are single you don’t have anyone to talk to on a regular basis and as you ask yourself all these questions all the time, the REALLY big question started to haunt me: what will happen when I started talking back out loud to the voices in my head? Will someone commit me to a psychiatric hospital? Should I just do that now to prevent the inevitable and at the very least save my family from having to do it?

Here’s my really big idea.

God did not intend for us to be alone.

Okay. It’s not a really big idea, nor is it even new or innovative in any way.

In His wisdom He said “celibacy sucks.” It sure does. Why not make two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together, give them the desire to seek out that union and from that union, we’ll surprise them with children. Surprise! Or in Andy’s and my case, just someone to talk to, go to movies with and prevent my being checked into a rubber room.

Let me say this before I go on, this is something I truly believe:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

So many of my spiritual brothers and sisters are struggling to live in the Mormon church as single celibate Latter-day Saints. My single friends that are holding to the iron rod of the gospel come in several categories. (All of them, future Gods and Goddesses.) I speak from my life experiences only! The celibate singles in MY life are: women out of their twenties who have never married and are still actively (or not) seeking a partner, divorced women who have lost their loyal husbands to adultery in various forms and finally, gay men. You heard me. I haven’t had a single male friend that is straight, that hasn’t endured his celibacy for longer than a year or two after a difficult divorce. I’ve known female friends (and acquaintances) divorce their husbands because they themselves have left the church, or they’ve had affairs themselves but their ex-husbands have been married within one or two years after the divorce. The same is true for the men I’ve known that leave their wives or get thrown out of their houses…I see their wedding invitations in the mail less than a year later. Always. We got one today! I don’t renounce their opportunity to be in a loving relationship, but I gotta wonder… is celibacy really harder on men or are women just more cautious learners? ;-)

See, I can name two dozen female Facebook friends over 30, and a hundred more over 20, off the top of my head that are living celibate lives as they believe to be commanded by God to do so. The only celibate male friends I have are gay Mormons “fighting the fight” as we straight Mormons like to say. Heaven bless them. I pray for them every day because I remember how hard it was for me all those years and YET… I used to be SOOOO BUGGED that we always tended to have more empathy for them than we do for the single sisters in our church that are celibate as well and have been for decades and decades (ode to a beloved Mormon friend who has played Mother Superior to my Robert Anne many times and is ten years my senior and still not married. We’ve had this conversation many times). I just couldn’t figure out why we felt so badly for the gays and kept telling the single ladies “in due time…in due time.”

I used to say “I’m celibate too! I’ve been celibate for 40 years and I’m probably going to be celibate for 40 more and they’re not the only ones that have been asked to be lonely!!” Have you ever said that? Yeah, I used to say that and only that. It used to seem like that was the answer. Don’t stop reading the blog now…there is a moment of enlightenment coming up.

In my mind, the issue of whether or not the Mormon church would allow gay Latter-day Saints in its doors has never been an issue for me. Half the men that sang at my mission farewell were gay returned missionaries. I know a few openly gay men that still go to church, still paid their tithing, still prayed for the answers like we all do. Before my enlightenment, the issue was only about celibacy.

And patience.

Isn’t it always about patience and waiting for further light and knowledge from the Lord?

I have a few gay male friends that are living celibate lives. I have a few thousand female friends that are living celibate lives. I exaggerate…for effect…but not much. I now realize that their search for happiness is certainly different and that’s what all the hullaballoo is about. And that is my newest really big idea:

          My female friends search with hope which increases faith and my male friends just…w.a.i.t. for further light and knowledge. The single, female Latter-day Saint uses her hope to be sealed in the temple and have children one day. But the single, gay, male latter-day saint must wait for…for Christ to come? The gay Latter-day Saint certainly doesn’t wait for his/her homosexual feelings to go away as some LDS people still think is possible. I’m pretty sure that that isn’t possible in this life. I’m not sure about the next one. (I’m waiting patiently and praying for further light and knowledge.) Searching and waiting…two very different things.

Can you see why there are tears of a different kind, patience to a different extent, sorrow on a different level, and the need for faith of a different magnitude? Can you see why the numbers of faithful single gay men in the church are so small?

Can you see why they need our love and support more than ever and not our shunning and banishment? They aren’t building faith on the same level as the rest of us. We are asking them to be a.l.o.n.e. for the rest of their lives in order to demonstrate their obedience. I laud them for their strength of heart and conviction.

Though I have been friends and have taught dozens of amazing men that struggle with their decision to come out, I still have no idea the depth of that loneliness.

As a faithful Latter-day Saint who lives and works in a world populated heavily with homosexual men, I have been asked to write this blog more than once. I have always said apathetically “it’s none of my business.” How could I do it without offending my beloved gay friends or broaching my own testimony of the living prophets who have said that homosexuality is a trial and a temptation that must be endured and not acted upon?  

What would Jesus do?

Because that’s what I should do.

In one of Thomas S. Monson’s April Conference talks entitled “Love-the Essence of the Gospel,” he says:

My beloved brothers and sisters, when our Savior ministered among men, He was asked by the inquiring lawyer, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Matthew records that Jesus responded:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Mark concludes the account with the Savior’s statement: “There is none other commandment greater than these.”

We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. The Apostle John tells us, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.

I would hope that we would strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle. Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.


Forgiveness should go hand in hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals." [end quote]

My brothers (and sisters) that feel isolated from the church you love…I’m sorry that is your experience and you have obviously been treated badly by bad Mormons. Stupid Mormons. They act in a way not organically born of the gospel principles because they obviously don’t embrace the gospel principles. They aren’t listening to President Monson. I don’t know where they get their information. Case in point, my mother-in-law is from Australia and she converted when she was 19. She married a Mormon boy and his very Mormon mother told her that she (Andy’s mom) would never have the opportunity to reach the highest degree of heaven because that was only reserved for those that grew up in Utah. WHAAAT?!?! I nearly died when I first heard that. In my naiveté I guess I thought everyone in the church was on the same track. I hope someone is teaching her the truth right now, God rest her soul.

You see, when you hear the stories of families that are kicking their gay children out of the house, or stories of people that won’t take the sacrament from certain young priesthood holders…that stuff isn’t right. 

It's just not right.


But I hear and read Facebook posts all the time from bitter former members of the church that are absolutely vitriolic about the LDS Church’s stance on…whatever it is…homosexuality, women holding the Priesthood, etc… Both camps that are waving the flags of these issues must remember LOVE. Love is the very essence of Godliness.


Please know that we aren’t all like that. Please know that we don’t all live in that little bubble. Also know, from my point of view, you won’t convince the LDS church to change its policies with your badgering or your civil disobedience and negative posts on Facebook. The people reading your Facebook posts already love you. We just wonder why you would try to offend us, when we are trying so hard to love you? (I speak only to a few of you – just as there are a few ridiculous Mormons out there too.) I get really tired of the posts that begin “Mormon church..blah, blah, blah… hates the gays….hates women…blah, blah, blah…

Can’t we all just be like Jesus? And if you aren’t a Christian anymore, you can still be like Jesus. He was a good guy. Ethics exist even if they aren’t religiously based. Right? That’s what you always tell me.

So let’s review what Jesus would do…are you with me?!

1. Don’t judge.

We all have but one “judge in Israel.” If we open our hearts to someone different than ourselves, we will begin to feel the kind of Christ-like love the Savior has for us. He doesn’t choose who to love. We must strive to remember the mote in our own eyes.

We are in no position to say who has God-like potential and who doesn’t. We all do. By shutting off our superiority complex we can be a force for good. We do the opposite and all we’re doing is shattering the first and second great commandments.

2. Be sincerely understanding. Open your heart.

I’ve heard a few of us say “If I was that kid’s parent…” We don’t know that those parents aren’t trying to keep that kid from harming himself/herself every day. We all choose our battles.

I read an article on Facebook about a member of a congregation that would not take the sacrament from a teenage boy that professed to be gay. Wow. If I was that boy, I would run so far and so fast. The fact that he is in church at all should be what we are celebrating.

3. Be patient. Time will tell.

The longer we are patient the more our understanding will increase. Take a deep breath and leave this hard stuff to God. Quit worrying about it out loud (I’m talking to you, lady at the theatre) and use your energy to serve, love and learn. I’ve no doubt that one day the windows of heaven will open and we will all know the great and glorious plan of God in its entirety.

4. Stopping trying to change to each other.
I have heard all of the following things more than once:

a. “I’ll bet if they married a woman (or man if they are a Lesbian), they would eventually learn to love her/him.” And eventually destroy their spouses life. Yep. I’ve seen that scenario so many times that it hurts.

b. “Isn’t there some kind of therapy that will take the gay away?” No. I’m betting the Church and all those countries in which homosexuality is still illegal, have tried every degrading, inhumane therapy there is to “solve” the problem.

c. “They don’t know what they’re missing!” GAH! They would probably say the same thing to us.

d. “If they pray hard and long enough, their temptations will go away.” Sexuality itself isn’t a temptation. It’s part of your hormonal makeup. What I have learned from my students is that they didn’t learn it or contract it. It was always there. Case in point – I once had a student that was cast as a leading man in a musical I was directing. He was distraught and pulled me into my office to ask me if I could re-block the kiss somehow. He was having such anxiety about kissing a woman in public. He asked me simply, “what if I asked you to kiss a woman on stage?” I couldn’t deny I would be fraught with anxiety as well. But his plight made it real for me. I answered him with a question in return “why did you audition if you knew what was ahead?” He said he hoped he could talk me out of it when it was too late to re-cast it. Stupid kid. We both learned a lot that day.

5. Love anyway. We all know better!


1 John 4: 18 – 21; The Holy Bible

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

19 We love him, because he first loved us.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

But I am willing to bet my life that Heavenly Father will soon bring us a multitude of answers and exquisite blessings as a reward of our patience.

I survived my celibacy because I knew my relationship with God was more important. I knew I had made promises to Him and I wanted to honor those covenants. Could I do that my whole life? Let’s pretend I didn’t marry the world’s greatest man. I’m sure I could. I have many examples to follow and I’m very competitive with myself. I would want to meet that challenge considering the things I have been promised that lie ahead of me if I can endure to the end. I love a big trophy, after all. 

Addendum...
For those sweet sisters out there that also have same-sex attraction...I have read your comments and I understand you are wondering why I haven't addressed you specifically. I apologize...my blog is about my life and experiences in the church and that's it. Its a very small perspective, and I'm no expert. Ever. I write about what I know. Because of the nature of my life and my job, I have had an overwhelming opportunity to get to know and love the male gay community. I can assume that your trials are equally difficult. I'm sorry and I pray every day that we as a nation, and a religion will honor your challenge with love and understanding.