Sunday, February 9, 2014

For the Love!

This is for Johnny and Nicole. I hope it lightens the week a little.

 “I guess I got an entertaining bug, from my grandfather, Hyme Progaut, who was very very big in the Yiddish theater back in New York. He was in the, the sardonically ireverant, 'Dibik Shmibik, I Said more Ham'. And that review, I believe was nineteen thriteen and that review, is what made him famous. Incidentally, the song, 'Bubby Made a Kishka' came from that review.” Waiting for Guffman

“This bulging river this God and Devil in one. There aint a THING can be done. The River's in our blood. This deep and bulging river's in our bloood. Corky- BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.” WFG


So there he was....dead. The King was floating away safely in a boat, but his daughter was groaning over the dead servant boy's body, sobbing with grief. He had sacrificed himself for their people...merely because she had turned to say goodbye to the man she loved.

The servant boy lead her to a secret boat containing her escaped father, the King. But her lover, a warrior captain, discovered them before she could get into the boat and float away to safety. So she turned and raced toward her lover to say one last goodbye and THAT was their undoing.

She had to say goodbye. She couldn't just get in the dang boat. She couldn't yell "I love you, but I have to save my nation!" from the water? She had to feel his embrace. She had to get one last kiss.

Then the King yelled out "daughter!" and the captain was confused. She was a Princess? Had she lied to him? Was it all a lie? No! She had to explain it all to him, but it was too late...HIS evil father was now on the scene commanding him to kill the errant King. But it became very clear to the captain now...She was a princess and she was trying to save her people and he LOVED HER. He KNEW her (and when I say "knew..." you know what I mean, right?) So... much to the dismay of his own father, he thwacked at the rope holding the boat to the shore and the King floated away.

Angered by this, the captain's father attempted to kill the princess but the servant boy flung himself in the sword's path and now...he's dead. And it's all her fault.

And there beneath the full July moon, Princess Aida cries over her friend as Radames realizes that his love is no longer a secret and it will mean his treasonous death.

Surely they will all die. And yep.

They do.

In a stone box below the sands of Egypt...errr....American Fork, Utah. But I'm ahead of myself. And I start to cry. Because I already know the ending but I always wish I could change it.

And I can't stop crying! I have directed in this theatre before. A couple of times. And it's not Egypt. And I have been bitten by about a hundred ants during the course of the show because it's a stone amphitheater cut out of the side of a hill and needs to be sprayed. But I am still bawling. And my back is killing me because there is no back rest - just a stone seat. Still...yes...bawling. And it's July. Sweltering heat. Bawling. And I know half the cast, in fact I taught a few of them when they were in junior high, which, I think made me bawl even harder. Night after night, I've listened to the director of the show (I know him because it's my husband Andy) tell me how difficult it has been to put the show together (all community theatre is!) and still it's an absolutely beautiful show, what was he worried about? Bawling.


“HOW HIGH A RIDGE I COULD NOT TELL, FOR THE SUN HAD SET AND DARKNESS FELL BEFORE I REACHED ITS PINNA-CUL.” WFG


Then the scene comes to a close and the servant boy is lying on the stage, dead, the lights go out. He lets a decent moment go by, and then he pops up and exits the stage and there is a little laugh from the audience because he's alive! Too bad about that gorgeous full moon "blue out." And I start crying again. If I was indoors that effect would take me hours to put together but in this amphitheater the sitting moon lends it's hand without another thought as if it’s just another audience member swinging in to see the show. "You're welcome" it says. Still, wish you could put a dimmer on it just for a second for the dead servants exeunt.

But we quickly forget about the undead servant when Aida and Radames are banished to the tomb together...and I am crying again. A big plywood tomb. Not sandstone at all. And it's on wheels. Two amateur actors. One of them graduated from BYU that very day, in business, I think. Both of them are married to other people. Amazing singing voices. But the commitment to the roles... I think that's what has me crying.

And is occurs to me that we are at the end of a year full of theatre that has filled our lives once again with people like us that love theatre and do theatre for the love of it. We are back in the arms of what we love. Community theatre. We are back where we began.

Literally.


“My first show was Barefoot in the Park, which was an absolute smash, but my production on the stage of Backdraft was what really got them excited. This whole idea of 'In Your Face' theatre really affected them. The conceptualization, the whole abstraction, the obtuseness of this production to me was what was interesting. I wanted the audience to feel the heat from the fire, the fear, because people don't like fire, poked, poked in their noses, you know when you get a cinder from a barbeque right on the end of your nose and you kind of make that face, you know, that's not a good thing, and I wanted them to have the sense memory of that. So during the show I had someone burn newspapers and send it through the vents in the theatre. And well, they freaked out, and 'course the fire Marshall came over and they shut us down for a couple of days.” Corky St. Clair, Waiting for Guffman


The day we decided to send out wedding announcements we knew just where to begin. My mom had taken all my "show shirts" - you know, the souvenir t-shirt you get with the cast list printed on the back - and cut them up. She sewed the squares together and made a quilt out of them. We called it the "Show Quilt" and it is precious indeed. We laid it out on the living room floor and started making a list of all the people we wanted to send an announcement to. Because those are the people you gather into your heart. Old roommates, old neighbors, old ward members...sure...but how much time do you spend with a show cast in comparison?! THOSE are the people that would want to know that you are getting married. Those people share an experience with you that cannot be replicated. This quilt represented all the time you came together after a long day at work to bind yourself to a group of people that may have never put on a pair of tap shoes in their life...and you see them sweating bullets over Stephen Schwartz’s Russian Klezmer harmonies in the bathrooms, backstage wrestling with Sondheim in the halls, panicking that I have just asked them to wear nothing but a towel in the shower scene of Damn Yankees...that hard swallow, followed by "Suuuure...my wife is going to have a heart attack." OH HOW I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE!!!


“I got off that boat with nothing but my dancers belt and a tube of CHAPSTICK!” WFG


And at this point as the cast of Aida has brought back a flood of precious memories, I pull out a notepad from my purse and start writing this blog through my tears. I forget about the ants and it just spills out onto the tiny notepad - all my love for every person that I have ever been in a show with or directed that never got paid to do a show, but just came out to do it FOR THE LOVE. You know who I'm talking about. And you know why you do it.

And you are why I do it. And you are why I was crying my eyes out that night in July.

I was an emotional wreck anyway because I was "sluffing" my own show (Thoroughly Modern Millie) that night to see Andy's show. But I had my Stage Manager on speed dial and we had already been sending texts back and forth all night.


Jan: How's it going?

Jamie: Taylor broke her leg today. Stop texting me. (Taylor was the girl that played Millie)

Jan: I'm not used to missing a show.

Jamie: You are useless now. Enjoy Aida. We got this.

Jan: I know, but...

Jamie: Stop texting me. I need to go do your show and you shouldn't have your phone on anyway. Geeeeeeez.

Jan: Yes ma'am.


“I was shopping for my wife Bonnie. I buy most of her clothes and Mrs Pearl was in the same shop! And it just was an accident you know, we started talking... about panty hose, she was saying... whatever that's not the point of the story but what the point is is that through this accidental meeting... it's like a Hitchcock movie you know where you're thrown into a rubber bag and put in the trunk of a car, you find people. You find them. Something, is is it karma? Maybe. But we found him, that's the important thing. And I got Bonnie a wonderful pantsuit.” WFG


The first show we got to do when we moved home was You Can’t Take it With You which Andy directed and I got to play my favorite role in the world – Penny Sycamore. I admit that I am completely type cast in this role, but I don’t care. I love her wackiness. The older I get, the more I see myself in her. And I loved this cast because it was all our “old” friends from Lehi High and Lehi Arts past and present. Jean and Jerry Hatch have kept the Lehi Arts Council going strong after all these years. And Chad… it’s so good to be home around Chad again…what an incredible group of people we worked with. It was like a comfort food buffet every night.


“Now everybody knew that Corky could direct, but who knew that he could act and sing and DANCE, and there's only one other person in the world who can do that and that's Barbara Streisand.” WFG


You Can't Take It With You the play that wraps its arms around you every single time...all five times I’ve had the privilege of opening its pages...and that's why we keep going back to it. The very theme of the show typifies those of us that spend our free time doing theatre…..What will we take with us into the next life? All the money we’ve made doing community theatre? HAHAHAHA! No! Might as well audition for a community theatre piece, make new friends, love on old friends and have the time of your life. Memories, people! It’s all about making memories. You can’t take it with you!


“If there's an empty space, just fill it with a line, that's what I like to do. Even if it's from another show.” WFG


I'm certain that the opportunity to do Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Sandy Amphitheater this summer (2013) was a gift from my Heavenly Father for the eight years I went without directing community theatre. What a relief that the cast we found was brilliant and talented and passionate and ready to RUMBLE...in tap shoes.

Everyone in Millie was a brand new friend, with two exceptions. I got to reconnect with our dear friend Kate who absolutely put the shine on the show with her magnificent chocolaty voice. Why isn't she on Broadway? And the lighting designer was my former high school student and lighting virtuoso Cole Adams (remember that early blog I wrote about Scmecky and Schmole? He's Schmole.) He also, should be on Broadway. Everyone knows it. Right?

Here's the thing...at casting, I was the NEWBIE. I didn’t know anybody except Kate. I would be casting blind, which is always scary. However, this was not my first rodeo and I set about to find passionate players that would come to the bar. And the bar was pretty high. There are four or five monster tap numbers in Millie, non-stop choreography, 16 set changes which usually means 16 costume changes, wigs…this isn’t your mamma’s South Pacific Jr. Still, we had more than a hundred people show up for auditions and I was flanked by choreographer Marilyn Montgomery and music director Eric Richards who were geniuses and knew everyone and could teach anybody anything (which, to my glee, I would learn later.)

The auditioners were all pretty great, but they were moms, and students, granddads and business men, a few community theatre Ron and Sheila’s with headshots that were taken in their backyard, etc… Some of them had taken drama classes in high school and a couple of them were actually theatre students on the university level, but most of them were there for the love and all of them were extremely talented. This was good.

We had an opportunity to cast some real veterans of the Hale Center stages but we would have had to work a miracle around their schedules because they were already in a show there. Still, when I listened to them sing and read their endless resumes I thought long and hard about making it work. They were real shiny types if you know what I mean. Their headshots were done in a studio and they had been asked to come and audition. They didn’t just show up for the love. It wasn’t sitting well with me and I know it’s because deep in the pit of my stomach, I pursue directing contracts on the community level for the teaching opportunity as much as anything else. (Heaven knows it isn’t for the money!) Would they be directable, could I get what I wanted from them? I’m so judging them right now and I have no reason to…except the air that followed them into the room and the non-verbal communication that was flying around the room from everyone else…screaming out “The Hale Center has just arrived, make way!!!” Hmmm…I would have to make a lot of way to use them – one of them was even an Equity actor that told us he was willing to lie to Equity to be in the show. Too bad I’m married to an Equity actor and know how completely unethical it is to put a theatre company like Sandy Arts in that kind of trouble. (And besides that, if you’re an Equity actor why are you even available for my little community show? Gah! I hope Equity catches that guy…)

I digress.

I made an executive decision, that if the community had come out to audition, the community would be cast. And I thanked the shiny-types for their presence, said a prayer over our rag tag but passionate crew of theatre lovers and posted the list. (I also bought tickets to the Hale show and it was fabulous!) But you know what?!

I was right.

I would put any one of my backyard headshots up against a studio hooty tooty any day. They were brilliant. They were zealous and grounded and available and they sang and danced until that show “shined like the top of the Chrysler Building.”


“I's a hankering as a young feller to be an actor but I went inta taxidermy instead.” WFG


The role of Millie was played by a sweet mom that used the role as motivation to lose 50 pounds before the audition! I had no idea! What an amazing example she was to me. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard. She listened to me like it was her last day on earth. I loved her for that! But then she turned around and made bold awesome choices and lead the way. She was stunning to watch on stage. They all were. I cried every night and Millie is not a tear jerker. I just cried because I knew how hard they had worked and how much they listened to me and ran with it. BIG. On closing night they gave me a reel-to-reel version of TMM (Julie Andrews!), which is what I had grown up watching when I was a kid! How did they find that?! I just don’t know how to thank them for reminding me how much I love this stuff. This little blog will have to do. For the record, I would work for any of them again, anytime.

On top of having a brilliant cast, Sandy City also offers a support staff that is a shining example all community theatres everywhere. They are organized and ready to give you the world as a director. Of course, Cole came in at the end and lit it up until it was beyond the vision of what I had in my head.


“Of course Broadway is great and...there'll be other offers, keepin' our fingers crossed, but, and I think you know what I'm thinkin', the ultimate dream, Hollywood...Ever since I was a kid doin' my impressions..'Here's lookin' at you BABE' and 'yyyou don' cccare about aanybody but yyyerself'...who's that, who am I doin'...” WFG


I should take one more paragraph to pay tribute here to another community theatre that I owe my very life to. The Scera Theatre in Orem let me direct two of my all-time favorite experiences. First, Children of Eden, which is the mother of all my memories for some reason. It combined the warm summer nights with what I believe to be the greatest cast of all time and the greatest story of all time. Cole lit it, Becky stage managed it, Robert Bowden cracked the whip over the music direction and it brought me the dearest friends…all willing to wear sand colored overalls and be trees and animals on command.


“I'm walking on air... you know... this is a sensation which is... forget it. When I became a dentist, I thought I was happy, but THIS...” WFG


I must pay tribute to the show that brought me my eternal companion. Damn Yankees – also at the Scera. Andy and I were just “hanging out” every night that summer because I had cast him as Applegate (the devil). One night Chad, our BFF, leaked that Andy might have deeper feelings for me and I better be ready to deal with that if came up…”Just a warning…” he peeped out, “I know how you feel about younger men, don’t shoot the messenger.” The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. “Poor Andy,” I thought. I will never date a younger man again as long as I live.” But D’OH! He was an incredible Applegate! And I am a sucker for talented men on stage. Neither of us broached the topic for another year. But I sure thought about it. Every single day. Thanks Scera. Thanks Chad (who I met in Titanic – also at the Scera, BTW). See what I mean?!?!? I owe everything to community theatre!

Incidentally, some of you do to! Because I’ve never, NEVER, NEVER done a community theatre show without it introducing at least two young couples to each other who ended up getting married after the show! You’re welcome Johnny and Nicole, Stewart and Sarah, Jacob and Ashley…and I could go on and on and on...there is a list exactly as long as I have on my resume. (Okay, I’m not counting Nunsense or Steel Mags).

If that’s not reason enough to do a show… I don’t know what is! Those odds beat Match.com any day! Get out there and volunteer!!

So how to end my love note to community theatre peeps that have crossed my path? I owe community theatre my life. I can never repay it for what it has given me because it gets ahead. I am indebted for the blessings and so grateful for this particular gift I’ve been given because it gives back 100 fold. If your community doesn’t have a theatre, there’s no time like the present to start one up.


“So what I'm understanding here, correct me if I'm wrong, is that you're not givin' me any money, so now I'm left basically with nothing, I'm left with zero, in which, what can I DO with zero, you know, what can I--I can't do anything with it!..this is my life here we're talkin' about, we're not just talkin' about, you know, something else, we're talkin' about my life, you know!” WFG

So raise your plastic prop glasses to the community theatres that are still making it work despite the world’s insistence that money makes the world go around – I completely disagree – we’ve done some great theatre on a dime, some borrowed lights and a trunk full of love.


“You have to go where the love is.” WFG

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

WHEN...it's about time.

Well -
Back in the day, I was watching the Tony Awards (shocker!) and that particular year Susan Stroman won two Tony's: one for Best Director and one for Best Choreographer. I was really jealous that one tiny person could have that much talent. And she was a woman to boot! Woot!

In her acceptance speech(es), both of them, she thanked a lot of people, but she didn't thank anyone in her family, a spouse, or parents for example. I have my Tony Award acceptance speech already written out and it includes (in this order):
  • God (from whence all blessing flow)
  • Parents (who never thought it was strange that in my childhood I took the bed sheets off my bed to make costumes out of them for my front porch version of Snow White and the Three Dwarves, and still PAID to see the show every time.)
  • Andy (my muse)
  • My high school drama teacher, otherwise known as "my dealer." (because that would be hypocritical if I didn't mention that he put up with my shenanigans while I was certifiably insane. And let me say, I'm not sure I was insane, but I do KNOW that after decades of doing the same thing he did, all the brilliant ones are definitely insane...so...)
  • Everybody who worked on the play
  • My agent
Anyway - Susan Stroman thanked all the BIG people. Both times. I wondered why she didn't at least throw a bone to her parents. Most people have parents. Or to her mom at least. AND THEN IT HIT ME.

Maybe she and her mother don't like each other...

...maybe she and her mother don't speak...

...maybe she hasn't spoken to her mother for years..

...and years...

....and she grew up on a potato farm in Idaho...so she's embarrassed about her past and all the rotten things she said to her mom as a teenager....the things that drove them apart...

...on the spud farm...

...And now she has become a BIG TIME director, with a Tony Award or two and her mom is still in Idaho, directing little plays at the local high school....

...because she loves kids...she just didn't know how to love her daughter because they were so much alike...

...and now she has Alzheimer's disease and needs her daughter to go home and take care of her while she's dying...even though...she won't even remember her who her daughter is anymore...

...and that's both the tragedy and the blessing...she won't remember WHY they hated each other, but she won't remember who she is either....

...because she waited too long to go home and make it right....

G.O. H.O.M.E. .S.U.S.A.N!!!  G.O. H.O.M.E!!! Tell your mother you love her while it counts!!

And that, my dear friends is how a play idea comes to be. At least for me. You can see that my imagination is still on overload and has been since age 9 when I started taking the sheets off my bed.

THUS - after I got my graduate degree and had written a pretty successful play called "Breathless," I thought I was unstoppable. And then, thanks to Susan, I had this idea floating around my head that wouldn't go away. So I ran with it. I was single after all, so was Susan, and I was a director, so was she and I knew something about the collision of those two comets and how...after a while...you don't have any people in your life at all because you live at the theatre. I felt AT ONE with Susan. I could make up her life story. Sure.

So I did. But it's nothing to do with her. Just a freaky little linear cause and effect idea that I came up with on my sofa, by myself...back in the days before blogging.

Well - we produced the play I wrote in 2011(10?) with a cast from Tuacahn High School - here's the proof:


Oh my beloved cast! At their curtain call, closing night, they all wore purple ribbons for Alzheimer's awareness! Can you believe that!!!! I cried until I had a good headache - worth it! Those kids also raised about $2000 for Alzheimer's and that's pretty hard to do when you are also in rehearsal all the time. Those kids know WHY we do theatre for real. The experience always changes us for the better, and in it's purest form, it helps others too.

Last year SUU approached me to produce WHEN...and they did...but I couldn't see it because I was also doing a show at the same time (another shocker!) I hear they did a fine job but only did an hour of it. That's too bad.

Anyway...it's time now to unleash it's power on other unsuspecting high school groups, or just groups in general....drum roll please...

I have posted it to my TeachersPayTeacher site! This is a site where teachers post their work so other teachers can go in and buy stuff they need and don't want to create themselves! (Thanks Natalie Kay for telling me about it!)

For a while I only had one thing posted - a lovely, rare Shakespeare monologue I cut for a competition. I fully intend of posting the rest of my Shakespeare cuttings, including a 90-minute Midsummer and a 75- minute Taming - so look out for those. I get asked to cut pieces, find pieces, all the time for people and hopefully all that time spent, all those hours and hours of work might pay off.

I digress...

But truthfully, I need to find a way to raise about $25,000 for a...thing...and I know my measly cuttings won't do it, but if I post my life's work - lesson plans, plays, original scenes and monologues, etc...it's better than having them sit in binders rotting on a shelf now that I'm out of the classroom.

*

Need to deal with that last phrase for a second.

*

I'm back.

SO HERE I GO. Trying to create a little savings for an (adoption? maybe?) Don't get your knickers in a twist...we're just putting the idea out there.

But if we don't at least try...well, you know the rest.

So in case someone is looking for a play full of amazing girl roles, very little sets and modern costuming...(All the things you know I know you need) its at this link:

THIS IS THE LINK:  The Teachers Pay Teachers page for WHEN

Take a gander but know this for sure: I am officially okay about letting other people take the work. It's an important piece, written by an amateur...but gosh I love it so.

I'm not telling you this so you'll buy the file! You dont' have to buy the file!! But if you truly want to spend a couple of hours reading it, email me and I'll send you the file for free. I'm charging $15 for a download on Teacher Pay Teacher and that's kind of a lot, but I figured if people wanted to make copies of it after that, they can.

WHEW. I did it. I didn't think I would. Somethings take me a while.

From Act 1 Scene 2..for all my theatre teacher friends out there...

BLITHE
When did we decide to wear wings, Miss Cassie?

CASSIE
My mom made them - she thought they might be cool. I like them. She said she’d make everyone a pair. She will.

BLITHE
Being a dream fairy in this version of the Bard’s comedy does not include the wearing of wings made out of pantyhose. It’s about physicality. We talked about this on the first rehearsal. This is not the first rehearsal, this is a dress rehearsal. Without wings.

RACHEL
I am not wearing a pair of wings covered in glitter - it might get in my contacts and I hear glitter can cut your eyeball.
(We hear in the background Young Audrey yell, "Everybody on stage for warm-ups!" and Cassie eiits immediately)

DANNI
You can see the elastic.

CASSIE
It is a play - it’s not . . .we have masks, what’s the difference?

BLITHE
Masks are from our great Greek heritage - this play is set in Athens, GREECE. It is part of the total concept. Look, it’s just not going to happen.
 (She takes a deep breath and starts moving wildly around room)

Girls, it’s about physicality. It’s about moving like a woodland fairy - thinking like a woodland fairy. BEING a woodland fairy from your center - from your psyche. . .

CASSIE
Did we cover this in rehearsal?

DANNI
C’mon, warmups!

RACHEL
Has anyone seen my inhaler? If I lose my inhaler I’ll never make it to the fifth act.

CASSIE
What about just for the dance scene? We could wear them in the dance . . . my mother . . .

BLITHE
Has anyone seen my keys?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Holy Herriman!

Note: This one is so long...Sorry! But I am BUGGED to ranting.
Pardon the attitude and piousness that I espouse to loathe. It's my blog. Take it or leave it. 

Sucks to be Herriman, Utah, right now. Or just Utah in general.


We're looking stupid. I want you to know that not all the Eagle Forum members are Mormon. It wasn't started by Mormon Gayle Ruzicka, she just runs the Utah Chapter. It was started back in St. Louis by a lady named Phyllis Shafly who was Catholic. Phyllis fought against ERA in the 60s which I think is the ultimate irony. Nevertheless, the Eagle Forum is something that exists in many states, but for some reason, in Utah, they really make some major stinkers sometimes. There are some nutsy people out there that piously wave their self-made rules above all our heads. Careful you don't stand up too tall, they'll put your eye out.


I gave a tour through our school to a mom and her son last week. They were from Herriman. I asked her why she was thinking about sending her child all the way out here to the East bench in Salt Lake to school every day and she said "you haven't seen the news?"

I did wonder (silently, when I first shook hands with her) if she was going to inspect my production season before she registered her kid. Would she complain about Legally Blonde...I was waiting for it. But instead, she was thrilled to hear that we still had free open enrollment.

Shame one bad apple could label a town overnight.

And to be fair, the label belongs to a group of people that hold an imaginary key to all the worlds morals and ethics. I wish I had that key, I'd toss it in the JORDAN river.

Because I didn't post this blog two weeks ago when the issue was hot and bothered, I should review:

Months ago a teacher in the Jordan School District (here in the Southern end of the Salt Lake Valley) did the play Dead Man Walking. This play opens the debate about the death penalty. There was a disgruntled parent, whose child was in the play, and AFTER the play was over, complained to the Jordan School District flanked by The Eagle Forum, a political group hell-bent on getting the entire population to see things through their rose-colored glasses.

Of course the Eagle Forum has the media on speed dial, so within minutes it was public knowledge that a teacher in the Jordan School District was actually using the theatre as a forum to make her kids think.

Only kidding.

That's just what I wish had happened.

Instead, Jordan School District decided to create a "play selection policy and THE LIST." CLICK ME TO READ THE ACTUAL POLICY. This created a board of people that would decide what was appropriate to produce on the high school level and what was not. They also created a list of plays that teachers could choose from. 

In Utah we have a teacher advocacy group called the Utah Advisory Council for Theatre Teachers. Several of the UACTT leaders went to the meeting when the policy was discussed. They actually encouraged the JSD to avoid any policy that takes the selection process out of the hands of the Principal and their drama teacher, arguing that they were the ones that were best able to judge what kinds of plays would best serve the education of their students at their school. Jordan didn't listen. Remember, The Eagle Forum was breathing down their necks. School districts don't like attention unless it's the good kind. There was a big stink, the play was already over when the complaint was made, the teacher kept her job and the policy was ratified.

Forward a few months.

There was (is) a drama teacher that decided she wanted to produced All Shook Up, the Joe DiPietro musical which is owned by Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW). She happens to teach in Jordan School District.

After she cast the show, which in itself is a horrible task, they started rehearsing. And then it happened. ONE parent came in (flanked by an attorney) and voiced a complaint to the Principal that the play violated "community standards." She demanded that one of the songs in the show be cut (A Little Less Conversation) and the line in the show indicating that the town was full of "unsatisfied women," if you know what I mean. DO YOU? I am unsatisfied when I have to work 15 hours a day. I am unsatisfied when we run out of ice cream. It was very clear that this parent went straight to the ghetto train of thought and climbed aboard. All aboard!! Oh wait...no one else is on the train except your paid lawyer? Let's cancel the play anyway. Okay!

Lawyers scare school districts.

***

This is where is gets really fuzzy for me. Was this parent the appointed voice of the community en masse? Was there a petition of disgust signed by more than half of the community en masse? No. But this one parent s.h.u.t. the learning d.o.w.n. And the media descended on the ludicrous claims...again. The media was satisfied and then some.

Since I know (because I am one) that NO administrator would EVER call in the media to report on this ridiculousness, this must have been a very powerful parent. Dun dun duhhhhhn.

And so well connected to the media, too. Hmmmm...

And so good at keeping their name a secret too.

If you are going to complain about something...OWN IT. Sign your name! Participate in the solutions to the problem. Only masked terrorists drop a bomb and run.

(Right here is where I digressed so far I actually copied it into its own blog...Hehehehe...coming later)

Let's get back on track. I'm not sure how far into the rehearsal process they were at Herriman, but they were standing in front of set pieces on the news, so I'm assuming it was far enough to give that brand new, first-year teacher a mighty anxiety attack or two. I feel so bad for her. She had the play approved BEFORE the new Jordan District policy had been put into place. She should have been okay to trust her Principal to know the community when she might not because she is brand new. 

She did what most teachers do.

Just for the education of those non-drama types that read this blog, this is how it's usually done: months in advance the teacher gave her play choices to her Principal and he/she approved it. After all, All Shook Up had been produced in Utah nine times before Herriman paid to rent the script. After she got permission from the Principal to go forward, she applied to the company that owns the script and they cashed her very big check (probably around $2000), and sent her the scripts. 

You can't just pick a musical or play and do it. Someone wrote that script, music and orchestration. You have to PAY all those people to use their work. Big licensing companies manage those contracts, advertise it, distribute it... they fight for your business. I have the upper hand, I am the customer. Every playwright wants people to pay to use their script. Except Neil Simon...but that's another blog.

Not all musicals are "up for grabs." I LOVE it when people say "I think you should do WICKED! I saw it four times at the Capitol Theatre and you should do that next!" To simplify this explanation let me just say, new shows, blockbusters (Wicked, Lion King...) that are still selling out on Broadway years and years into a run, are "restricted" to Broadway only until they start to lose money and then they are opened up to us amateurs. So if you see a high school producing a full-length version of Wicked, that teacher is on her way to the big doll house, if you know what I mean.

So when you get a script, you aren't apt to violate copyright, though it does cost the the state more to keep you in jail than you take home in salary...just sayin'. And they will do your laundry for you in jail...and make sure you eat three times a day...ah, the luxury! But then you wouldn't be able to work 15 hours a day getting your show up. You might just have to read all day. Or think. Or sleep. Or write a blog...

(Mind wandering...lost my train of thought....oh yeah)

More than the opportunity to have the taxpayers take care of you for a while, you're giving yourself permission to think you are a better playwright than the actual playwright, and more than that, you are just as bad as a parent that wants the "swears" taken out.

So don't just cut the "bad stuff" on your own.

The way to get around all those "swears" is to write a list of what you want to cut, need to cut, and mail it in BEFORE you have paid your licensing. Talk to your licensing rep who will then talk to the playwright and get permission to make those cuts. THEN...once they have come half-way with you, make sure that you say the following before the show stars (or print it in the program) "Any changes that were made in the original script of tonight's show were made possible through Theatrical Rights Worldwide" (or (Music Theatre International or whoever owns the script). We thank them for acknowledging the role of educational theatre in the lives of our young people as they learn about life and all its trials and tribulations before they have to actually go through it themselves. Okay that last part's a bit preachy...

Jim Hoare said it best. Jim is our friend at the licensing company of Theatrical Rights Worldwide in New York City. They own All Shook Up. Jim came out to see our production of it in St. George. We've stayed friends since then and so when the Herriman debacle went national, he picked up the phone and told Andy he really didn't want the good name of TRW and All Shook Up dragged through the mud nationwide. What could he do? Andy said "if Joe DiPietro (the author) is okay with it, let them cut the "offending song." Joe said "has the check been cashed? Let them do whatever."

Then Jim did the smartest thing ever. He sent Andy this text from the PRESIDENT OF TRW and asked him to read it to the teachers out here: (This is copied and pasted from Andy's phone)


Subject: Just Ask

Dear TRW theatre family,

The majority of the musicals in our catalogue were written for the Broadway stage, to be performed by professional actors in front of audiences expecting and accepting of a heightened level of language, nuance, subject matter and presentation. In essence, the Broadway production is a “destination experience” for those who attend.

Your school, community or regional theatre production is a “foundation experience,” and, no two foundations are built the same when factors including the age of the performers, the region of the country or the demography of the audience are considered. No successful theatre program can be built or survive without a solid foundation. We understand this and support it.

So how does the destination experience of the Broadway musical assimilate to the foundation experience at your theatre?

Our License says you cannot change, delete or add to the music, lyrics or dialogue or anything to the musical as provided. We expect that upon your selection of a certain title, you plan to perform it exactly as written. But, our License goes on to say that any proposed change, addition, omission, interpolation, or alteration in the music, lyrics, or book shall first be submitted in writing to TRW. In accordance with copyright only the authors can change the show, and if they approve, we will come back to you with their edits.

For many of our titles, we have already modified the script and/or lyrics to have the Broadway language alongside a school/community revision. In addition, we have several titles with youth or school editions now available or soon to be released.   

So when we see you at conferences, or meet at your theatre, or talk to you by phone or correspond via email, we want you to know that you can ask us about making changes. At times you will be told no-you must present the musical as written. At times you will be told yes-with all or a few changes allowed.

We want you to ask, because TRW is a part of your theatre family.

Sincerely,

Steve Spiegel 
Isn't that awesome! BOO on Neil Simon and you're welcome for the vacation house in Italy. Your piousness is no longer in fashion. Your holiness to the written F word has suddenly dipped on the stock market....big.

Oh... so good to get that off my chest.


Sooooo.... I hope that gives you more power as you choose your seasons. Don't be afraid to choose new material or even material with controversial themes. This is why the theatre exists...to make us critical thinkers... OH and never forget my favorite quote by Brigham Young: 

"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 minds of a community an enlightened send 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)

Would the Eagle Forum argue with Brigham Young? I don't know...I only know that I taught drama to some of Gayle Ruzicka's kids in junior high and they were awesome. I'm not sure why she's on a holy war against the theatre...maybe she didn't get the role she wanted in junior high...those scars run deep if you aren't allowed to learn how to deal with them.


The picture to the left is not Gayle Ruzicka, but the lady that started the Eagle Forum. She looks like she didn't get the roles she wanted either. Or she wasn't allowed to be in plays at all. Shame. I've seen plays change lives. I wrote about it at 


That's My Olympics


She needs to be in a play. There's a great role for her in The Wizard of Oz. 

I digress...

So as we were watching the news and the reporter said Jordan School District had intervened and stopped the production of All Shook Up at Herriman, we gasped with laughter! A.L.L. S.H.O.O.K. U.P.? The Elvis/Shakespeare love child? WHAAAAAAAT? We had a blast with our 2010 cast of about 75 kids at Tuacahn High School. We racked our brains for something we had cut. Nothing.

We knew it would sell well in our retirement community, so we actually rented a bigger theatre and sold E.V.E.R.Y. S.E.A.T. In addition to putting so much money back into education, it changed lives!  It's an upbeat compilation of Elvis music tied together (fairly loosely) with the plot of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Well, now that I'm dissecting it,  I realize that right there you've already spelled trouble. You've got Elvis, America's hip-swiveling gift to Rock 'n Roll circa 1950, and Shakespeare, Britain's foremost expert on all things sexual, circa 1590. Did Joe think about that when combining the two phenoms? I think he did. Because the resulting musical reminds me of the first time I ate cotton candy, or held a cuddly puppy, or got a surprise check in the mail. It isn't Les Miserables, lets face it. You don't always have enough voices to do Les Mis. And sometimes the audience doesn't want to spend three hours watching a bunch of French students die. (Les Mis is my favorite musical by the way... don't judge.)

The All Shook Up cast was one of the best combinations of roles and kids we've ever had. They just "fit" the roles so well and they took the message of the play very seriously as most kid do that attend a performing arts high school. We had two kids at the helm, Chris and Phoebe. I saw it challenge and stretch them as performers, and leaders, before my eyes! We stylized the acting by incorporating the feeling of a 1950's B horror movie into the townsfolk. Sort of Urinetown meets Little Shop of Horrors. (Incidentally, that ensemble won "Best Ensemble" at the Utah Musical Theatre Awards later that year. Those kids were rock stars!)

One of the first big numbers is (Heartbreak Hotel) which happens in a 1950's diner and I could have gone that way, all poodle skirts and bobby socks...but in All Shook Up, the town needs a tune-up.  Everything is worn out, the diner, the auto shop, there's even a dilapidated fair grounds where everyone goes to make out. I would. Even the museum has gotten a new curator.

The lead is an Elvis type character that has just been released from jail for getting the women "all shook up" in a nearby town. Chad's motorcycle breaks down in another worn out town that just happens to need his magical services too. The leading girl, a motherless mechanic at the repair shop, falls instantly in love with Chad and the rest of the musical is about that journey.

Yes...she does kiss him. And yes...she is dressed up as a boy when she does it... (sigh...) Chad thinks she's a boy. The only person that complained about that in St. George, was another local drama teacher. "How did you get away with that?" she wondered. Well, we reminded her, the audience is well aware that the character is actually a woman...dressed up, as a man...remember that whole Shakespearean device? The kiss ends and both characters have a moment of "what just happened?" I chose NOT to have Chad run from the kiss in horror. The tone of the direction was probably not the tone of the community standards as a whole...it was neutral. N.E.U.T.R.A.L. 

And that's how you get around a lot of things! TONE. When you present things in high school, encourage your actors to find the neutrality in a reaction and let people think for themselves. If you were in a regional theatre or Off-Broadway in a "destination" experience, then neutrality be damned, you get to do what you want. Do the all nude version of All Shook Up. But think about the word "shake" and all that nudity... just sayin' you might want to think about that. 

What to do... what to do....


ADVICE TO THE PARENTS:
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. Matthew 6: 2 - 6. 

You have every right to complain about the content of a play BEFORE it's produced. 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 the hell off! Let learning happen. If you go to the play and find out that "OH NO! My child says some swears! 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. 

TO THE MEDIA:
The story about the mom that wanted the teacher to censor a play AFTER the play was already in rehearsal isn't a story about censorship, the Eagle Forum or even a wayward school district. At that point, it was a story about a dumb parent that didn't do her homework. You looked dumb because you covered it. 

TO THE JORDAN SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Unless you love all this negative media attention, get rid of the list and give the power back to your Principals..

PRINCIPALS: 
I hear you talking in the halls about the football games as if you have bet your life savings on the team. You know every detail of your star quarterback's life including how much money BYU is paying to get him next year. Have you honestly READ the play you just approved? I pity the Principal that would rather die than read a play. I know you are exhausted!!!! I was at the school 74 hours last week and I don't even teach this year! Read the list you are given. I feel that the Herriman Principal jumped to a conclusion and didn't know the rules and regulations of script copyright before they had already cancelled the show. Know the rules. 

DRAMA TEACHERS:
The rest of this is for you, take it or leave it. Provide copies of the plays to be read that can be checked out of your library by anyone that wants to read them - well in advance! Provide a copy for the Principal. Provide a list of the changes you intend on making. If you don't want to have parents in your office, the Principal can pre-empt that but ONLY if they know what you are doing about it. I love what my friend Stewart does. He gives each auditioner a "swear chart." So they know the content before they audition. He makes the parents sign off on the content before they audition. 

Teachers, instead of changing the scripts, choose scripts that you know don't need to be changed for your audience and do that show perfectly! Do you feel less of an artist when you aren't doing the Laramie Project, Rent, or Jet of Blood? You should teach on the university level. Would you get fired if you did the full nudity in Metamorphosis, but you LOVE that show and want to direct it with the nudity soooooo badly? After all, it says right in the script that the character is naked. CHOOSE ANOTHER SCRIPT. Not sure if you know this, but all private parts should be covered on the high school level. Even cleavage steals focus from a storyline. This is high school for crying out loud! They are 15 - 18 years old! Let them learn about that stuff after they have decided who they are. It's okay to learn Absurdism by doing a scene from Brecht's Mother Courage... instead of Artaud's Jet of Blood

If that's not enough for you as an artist yourself, STOP TEACHING. Go back to school and get your MFA or your PHD and do what you want with people that already set their standards and are strong enough emotionally, mentally and spiritually to handle content like that. You are a high school teacher. Your emphasis should be your kids. Not your resume. (Though I don't ever direct anything I don't want to direct. The money on the high school level is WAY TOO BAD for that. Do you know how many plays and musicals are out there? Don't fall back on what you know...read, read,  read more!!! See shows!! Be in shows!!!) 

Spend some time with your script. Don't assume it's perfect because you remember doing it in high school yourself. Time spent will help you decide how to change things by altering the TONE rather than the script.


Wanna do Godspell? You should! Afraid? No need. Stephen Schwartz will answer your email. I asked to drop the character names and just use the actor names instead. Audience favorite! 

Pippin? Don't do the suicide at the end. Make it a magic trick. Put a disappearing box up on stage. Pippin has an opportunity to disappear forever... eh??? Same exact thing! Different directing choice. 

Trouble with "Oh My God" in Legally Blonde? Put a cell phone in every girls hand and make it OMG which means exactly the same thing and actually makes it very current. 

Grease is a huge money maker!? Hate the demoralizing ending? Put Danny Zuko in a student council sweater and add some glasses and a backpack. Ta da! No changes to the script are necessary. Everyone does things to "win" over the person they love. YOU, the director, have made a choice that changes the tone only.

Love Seven Brides? Think about that kidnapping thing. Assault too. Wish it wasn't so embedded in the plot. Pretty sure there was some premarital sex going on. They even use Witch Hazel on all their wounds. They were witches. And Oklahoma has the "rape ballet," a pogrom in Fiddler on the Roof, an abortion recipe in Quilters, a wharf full of prostitutes in Les Mis...(don't even get me started about all the profanity in Les Mis, yet is sells out in Utah in five minutes wherever its produced. Explain that to me). Little Shop has a man-eating plant, The Little Mermaid has that shell costume, Once on This Island has an intended murder, pre-marital sex, West Side Story has gang violence, Annie Get Your Gun = women's liberation, guns... Urinetown...hmmm...nothing to cut in Urinetown except it has that terrible title.... ;-) And how do you advertise Damn Yankees with that big swear on the poster? (That was real phone call I took one day).

Wanna do Midsummer? Good luck with that...every other line is filled with sexual references, but according to the Educational Theatre Association, it is still the most produced play in high school's around the nation for the billionth year in a row. Ignorance is bliss I guess.

"But I might see Cupid's fiery shaft, quenched in the chaste beams of a watery moon..."
                                            - A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2 Scene 1
Sheer porn. 

By the way, you can cut Shakespeare's plays at will. He's dead. He won't sue you. His children won't sue you. Once a playwright has been dead 75 years+, most times those plays become public domain. Except for Neil Simon, I'm sure he's already got his lawyers working on how to prevent that.


FOR EVERYONE THAT GOES TO PLAYS:

It seems to me that far and wide a people will be base and uncivil if they aren't educated. They will appear pious and self-righteous if they complain about something and don't tell us who they are. They will have power because they know how to shake that piousness over a little Elvis music and call it "indecent" and shake the entire theatre world... but for good. It took the Herriman event to get us talking. 

Holiness to the written word, mothers, fathers and apple pie but PLEASE remember respect for the sheer amount of work it is to be a drama teacher. Can you help them take the drama out of drama?

They are a producer, contract specialist, artistic director, team manager, casting director, concept designer, dramaturg, certified acting teacher, people mover and arranger... a music director, accompanist, voice teacher...a choreographer, stage combat designer...a costume designer, fabric buyer, cutter, stitcher, milliner, finisher...a set designer, builder, lumber buyer, hardware expert, painter, mover, safety controller...a sound designer, i-tunes specialist, sound board mixer, microphone repairer, cable runner, battery changer...a lighting designer, buyer, colorist, special effects creator, light board operator, mood maker, electrician, circuitry mathematician, follow spot expert...a props master, pyrotechnician, historical decor professional, craft innovator, spray painter, glue gun queen...a public relations diva, graphic designer, press release writer, professional photographer, advertising mogul, poster printing expert, post master, radio ad maker, poster hanger, ticket seller, house manager....an accountant, a nurse, psychiatrist, custodian, mediator, psychic, wailing wall...and don't forget...THEY ARE EDUCATORS! And they work for pennies because they love it and they believe in what it does for kids. 


And finally, drama teachers are the lantern by which we lead our kids through the darkness of their teenage years. Teachers need to stand up and speak out. We have a right to choose because we know the literature! We like our work, we like our clientele. We are professionals! We will protect your child. We will get them on stage! We will teach them to work in a group, to meet a deadline, to communicate, to love the art inside of them. The research is there...put a gun in a teenagers hands and you have given them the ability to create death. Put a script in someones hand and you have given them the ability to create LIFE! (I know that might sound over simplified to you, but it makes perfect sense to me.)


DRAMA GROWS GOOD KIDS. And you don't believe that you can come in and say it to my face. We'll be civilized as I throw you down and call you ...I digress...and so often do. Excuse me now I need to go back to rehearsal...where I make a difference and not a stink.