Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Brad

I've got to take a break from the Octo-Mom mini-series. Though writing those events out is slowing clearing them from my pockets. Today I will write about someone that has made my life easier.

In the Shelton family there were only two reasons for holding a "family council." 1) the kids were not pulling their weight around the house. 2) there was another baby on the way. So when I was 17 years old, a senior in high school and my parents announced a "family council" I was prepared to get a chewing on about the state of my room. There were already seven of us... and from my perspective, my mom was a pioneer woman, so it wouldn't be that. But THAT'S what it was. That they were expecting baby number E.I.G.H.T.

I was pissed. (I was going to write "mad" but it doesn't tell the real story) Steaming mad. In my selfishness, I raged around with my opinion on the matter. But nobody cared. What could be done about it. Nothing. I was trying to get into college. I already felt that I was "out there on my own." Adding another human to the family seemed to bump my dreams down to the bottom of the priority pile. I was not quiet about my disappointment.

I was a complete idiot.

Brad was born a couple of months before I graduated from high school and when he was 5 months old, I moved away to college. Ugly teenager out...cute baby in. So I didn't get to know this sibling very well and he didn't get a chance to know me. We never lived together when he was growing up. I was the sister he saw at holidays and that was about it.

Forward 13 years. When he was about to enter junior high, the hand of God intervened as usual. My parents were very unhappy with the state of the junior high that Brad was assigned to. I was teaching in the same district, at a junior high about 5 miles north. Brad would ride to school with me, then wait for me to take him home at the end of the day.

Brad had been in a few plays I had directed, but was more serious about the drums, soccer and making videos of break dancing. He was 14 and I was 32. Those conversations on the way to and from school were probably hilarious. I don't remember.

The new school was well-equipped with a principal that did film acting on the side. He was in our court, which is pretty rare. He allowed us to do a musical and a play each year. We did big shows like Fiddler on the Roof with a cast of thousands (about 75), The Music Man and Hello Dolly with a 13 year-old Dolly Levi. She had sparkly eyes and a fun sassy attitude. I haven't seen a better Dolly since. Anyway... our shows were renowned around the district. People came to see the miracle.

Let me wander a second....

When you go to see a play on Broadway, or at a regional professional theatre, you sometimes pay well over a $100 to see these shows. When there is an actor that isn't "up to snuff" you complain vehemently because you have certain expectations about what $100 ticket ought to buy. You want to see all that the modern theatre affords...that YOU afforded. It should always be a well-oiled machine that is conducted by a professional stage manager that makes all the professional magic happen. The magic is long lost on me because I'm a director, that makes me to worst kind of critic. But if I'm at a Broadway play that means I've traveled 2500 miles, I'm usually with a bunch of other people's kids who I am babysitting for the week, and I earned the money by doing school fundraisers all year. For a hundred bucks I want the bells and whistles, a gorgeous leading man who can act and a leading lady that can SING. S.I.N.G.

When you attend a junior high play, you almost have a leading man that is covered in acne and wildly, secretly in love with his leading lady and they could both be singing soprano at this point. You hope he hits the pitch most of the time. You better pray his voice doesn't change mid-production or you might have to pay someone lots of money to have your music dropped into another key. You almost always have to remind that young man to shower before he comes to the show...and does he know what deodorant is yet?

You almost always have a leading lady with a mouth full of metal. She's a foot taller than the leading man and every costume that you rented has to be "stuffed" if you know what I mean. You might also have 4 girls in the play to every 1 boy (which makes choreography tricky to say the least). Throughout the rehearsal process, you will deal with the rumor mill, the bullying (98% of the time it's girls) and the crying. If I had a nickle for every tear that was shed in the name of a broken shoe buckle, zipper or first stage kiss, I would be R.I.C.H.

I should be given a medal for helping junior high-aged leading players through their first kiss. Not me personally, I mean, I'm not 8 years from retirement because I liked kissing my 14 year-old boys.... though sadly, some drama teachers are into that...but if there was a stage kiss that needed to be included in the plot, I coached those kids through it, (This was Utah after all...highest virgin population in the least, that's what I have told myself...). Watching junior high kids kiss each other for the first time is like a medieval torture chamber. Most of the time, I tell my young, terrified leads to "steal" my keys and lock themselves in the light booth, practice until it's not "weird" anymore and then come and find me and we'll go from there. If I could only find a way to use this blackmail to my benefit now.....

The actors are only part of the picture. In the junior high technical theatre world, if you've had a day where a bandaid wasn't needed, you are lucky. If you make it through the play and some set piece doesn't come crashing down, you've had a good show. Bloody noses, crutches, wheelchairs. If a paint fight has been avoided and your light board still works at the end of the day, you are a miracle worker.

It's a little like reality T.V. sometimes. You pay say $7 for a ticket to a big train wreck, and you can't keep your eyes off of it. You also stand up at the end because you can't believe YOUR KID just did that. The kid with the trashy room and the massive phone bill just sang "Sunrise, Sunset" and you bawled like a baby. And 20 years later you will still be crying just thinking about it. That was YOUR KID. Best $7 you will ever spend. So, when you have a sold out crowd every night to see a 15 year-old, skinny-as-a-rail-Tevye (I'm talking about you Sam) you know they didn't come for the bells and whistles, they came for the miracle. I sell the miracle.

A junior high teacher should take pride in knowing, that for 95% of the cast and crew, this play experience is the FIRST time they have ever done anything like it. And if you do it right, they find out how much fun it is and they keep coming back. If they get bitten by the theatre bug when they are young, when they are a rich lawyer 20 years down the road, you pin your hopes on the fact that they will send you money, or cure your cancer, get you into Disneyland for free, or at the very least, mention you when they win their Oscar. So you perservere through the drama of the drama department with that in mind.

Brad wasn't into the drama of it all. For him, it was "fun" and the kid had an amazing voice, but he wasn't comfortable playing the leads (until much later ;-) He was six feet tall in 9th grade and could grow a Grizzly Adams beard in 24 hours, but he stayed on the fringe of it all. Because I was his ride home, during nightly rehearsals, Brad would sit at the back of the auditorium after school and do his homework while we rehearsed. It wasn't long before he discovered that if he picked up a saw, wrench, drill, etc... and helped out, that we could go home a lot faster. So that's what he did.

I really wanted a little "water well" for Fiddler on the Roof, but time was running out. I drew a little picture on a piece of lined school paper, and gave it to Brad who took those terrible instructions and buried himself in his "project." I've always been able to see his mind at work. And I know what's going on iin there, because it goes on in me too! You plagerize the vision in your head. You aren't sure how it got there, but it's there. For Brad, there is a lot of silence, a lot of visualizing...there's not a lot of time for the drama.

His "little" well weighed about 400 lbs in the end. 15 junior high kids couldn't move it, so it stayed on stage the entire show. (Everyone in our Anatevka had a well in their yard). But in Motel's song "Wonder of Wonders" the actor jumped up on it, as choreographed, and it held him up! That sucker was solid! It was a miracle of miracles.

From that point on, Brad taught himself how to build sets and set pieces for plays. When I asked him if he wanted to play Harold Hill in Music Man, he said no way. He wanted to be in the quartet, because "then he could concentrate on building the set, too." I had created a monster. One that would serve me the rest of his days and still does.

At the end of his junior high experience, my awesome principal was being moved to Lehi High School and I asked him if I could go with him. Coincidentally, Brad was about to enter Lehi High School too, so we were able to go together. The sibling that I thought I would never know, became a smaller version of ME. I was his drama teacher for 5 years, watched him become a skilled Shakespearean actor, a skilled singer and dancer and I watched a lot of soccer games too. I have, ironically, thanked God every day of my life for his existence.

But tall boys that can sing don't have a chance around me. Eventually, he started taking leading roles and using his other skills on stage as well as backstage. After he left me and started at Weber State, he was a musical theatre major, when he came home, he had a technical theatre degree. He got wise to life and figured out that techies suffer less than actors.

When I first started teaching at Tuacahn where I am now, I happened to be in a meeting where they were commenting that they needed more people in the shop. Brad was at Weber and was looking for a summer job. I told them about him and they said "how fast can he be here?" My mom drove him half way south, and I drove north the other half of the way, and within four hours, he was working for Tuacahn. That was six years ago. He started out building sets and props and eventually started designing for them.  2012 - He's designing the sets for Titanic and Hairspray. He even met his awesome wife here. It never fails me - the hand of God.

Brad is now in his last semester at Cal State Fullerton getting a masters degree in Technical Direction and Set Design. He recently went to work for Disneyland. He is the one of the technicians that runs Disney's World of Color show. I couldn't be prouder. When he sends us pictures of Disneyland behind the scenes, I can only look back at the journey and remember the 400-pound well.

So 30 years ago, a genius technician was born. He's not my kid, but very nearly mine. My mom let's me think I helped raise him. I appreciate that. I'm indebted to my parents for bringing him here in the first place. I know it was a sacrifice. it's because of her bravery, that I continued to try to have babies myself after I was 40. I was such a brat when he was born and God reached in played the irony card by giving me the ultimate helper, a much better version of myself. Maybe he knew I would be single for such a long time and I needed Brad's gifts....who am I kidding? I am still benefiting from his gifts.

If the 47 year-old Jan could talk to the 17 year-old Jan...she'd say, "Calm down. God always knows what he's doing. He always knows what you need more than you do."

Always. Happy Birthday Brad. And thank you.