Monday, August 30, 2010

I Have Confidence

I'm giving internet dating another chance.

I've tried it before, and although I got a good bad-first-date story out of it, I also came away with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Which is why it took 2.5 years for me to give it another shot.

Even though I was the one who turned down the suggestion for a second date, the whole experience with online dating did absolutely nothing for my self-confidence, especially when it comes to meeting new people.

However, I've been playing with a new idea this summer, and in the process decided it was high time to test it out in scarier circumstances.

See, one of the many reasons I enjoy teaching is that I feel attractive when I'm teaching. Not all the time, mind you - teenagers make sure of that. But most of the time, especially those times when I take a risk on a Sudden Brilliant Idea and it does, in fact, turn out to be brilliant. And when I'm there with the kids and it's a good lesson and they're into it and into me, I feel fantastic.

It's about confidence. I've long been aware of how far being confident can get you in life. (A lot farther, in fact, than being right will get you.) I can be confident about a lot of things, and yet, for some reason, I am horribly not confident about myself. In particular, people's early impressions of me.

Okay, do you remember what it's like to stand in a crowded cafeteria with your lunch tray with no friends in sight and yet an immediate need to find somewhere to sit?

That. That situation right there. That reaction I have of "I don't know anyone; therefore, I have nowhere to sit because no one wants me to sit with them." That certainty of rejection before there's even a question. That's my instinct, my assumption, my belief.

I have all kinds of guesses for where it comes from for me, but I am surprised to find that my thinking at 30 hasn't changed all that much from my thinking at 10.

Sometime this summer, though, I started to quietly fight back. It wasn't a sudden realization like "Blam! I'm awesome!" Nope. Instead, it's like a new outfit I keep trying on in my closet secretly.

I'm practicing being confident.

Not just in those easy times, like when I'm teaching or I'm with friends who already make me feel awesome. No, I'm taking risks that must seem microscopic to others but are actually leaps across huge chasms for me:

- I meet someone new and as we do the preliminary small talk I practice saying to myself, "Of course they want to know you! Why wouldn't they want to know you? You're awesome!"

- I walk in late to Sunday School yesterday and find that the seats are all taken. The friends that I can spot are all up against walls or in the middle of rows. I fight the instinct to turn around and wait out the class in the foyer. Instead, I walk to the stack of chairs in the back and carry one over to the end of the back row, next to one of the more popular guys in the ward. He does not, as my instincts tell me he will, recoil in annoyance that I sat next to him. He smiles at me and mouths, "Welcome back," before turning back to the teacher.

- I wear a giant hat with a freakin' bird on it to my brother's wedding. And I rock that hat.

- I see an actor I recognize from the play I saw the night before walking in my direction. I don't pull out my cell phone or find a sign to be interested in while not breaking stride. I make eye contact and smile with all the power of "I'm an award-winning playwright, I meditate with monks in Thailand, and I'm wearing heels with bluejeans." He smiles, does that quick down-up look-over that guys do, and he says, "Hi," as his smile becomes a real one. "Hey," I say, all casual-like.

- I put on a kinda-scary dress (Rachel calls it a "va-va-voom dress") and go out to the theater in Cedar City.

When I get invited to go to a Cabaret show afterwards, I don't retreat to my hotel room. I say yes.

When I get there and discover that my hosts have saved front row seats in this crowded coffee-house club, I don't find an excuse for us to put a few safety-rows between me and the performers.

And when a performer looks right at me sitting there in the front row and smiles, I smile right back at him, looking all va-va-voom-y.

- When I saw a guy on the dating site who seemed kind of interesting, I don't decide to wait and see if he contacts me first. I double-check the spelling in my profile message and send one of those pre-written messages.

And when he writes back "Thanks, but I looked at your profile and I don't think we'd click," I actually find myself thinking, "You're right - you probably can't handle my awesomeness."

It might be unhealthy, channeling Barney Stintson like that. But then I just cross that guy off my list and send a message to another one who catches my eye.

Happiness is...

Between my last blog entry and a recent inquiry Miranda posted on her blog, I feel like I should type two entries tonight to provide some balance and avoid too much heavy writing. First off, a list of happy things I've been meaning to share:

1. Michael Bahr emailed me Friday after the show-that-I-had-to-miss. He said it was a fantastic performance and the audience responded enthusiastically and positively. While sorry I had to miss it, I was really glad to hear it was so well received.
2. Chuck emailed me this morning with a similar assessment of the audience.
3. I get to go back this weekend to see the last performance.
4. My parents are coming with me, so I get to hang out with them, too!
5. My mom got me plane tickets to get to and from their house to cut down on the drive time. After the 2-hour traffic jam I hit the last time I drove from GJ to Denver, I'm quite glad to avoid that road.

6. I had a lovely time going to my ward yesterday for the first time in weeks. I didn't recognize half the people there, but it was nice to catch up with friends.

7. I just finished reading Mockingjay. I put off reading it a little because Friday night I decided I wanted to reread the first two books before ending the series.
8. Thus, it was a weekend of reading.
9. It also means I'm in that post-book-devouring mood that's particularly edgy since a) I was thoroughly engrossed and b) it was not all together happy.

10. My classes, while starting to come out of the honeymoon phase, are still remarkably good. For example:
11. I came across a description of a new improv game - it's essentially "Duck, Duck, Goose", except the person who's it lists different animals as they go around. When they call "Goose!" the person tagged still chases the "it" person, except they both have to run like the previous animal named.
I filed the game away in my brain as something to possibly play at the end of the semester, once the class is thoroughly comfortable with each other.
Then, on Friday, one student jokingly asked if we could play "Duck, Duck, Goose". I was about to say no when I thought of how connected they had been that day - helpful, listening to each other, and every genuinely participating without a fight, even when we sang "The Belly Button Song" (one of my early tests to see who's most reluctant to loosen up and be silly).
Instead I said, "Sure, but it's going to have a twist!"
We sat on the floor in a circle (yes, I am, in fact, Mr. G.) as Matt instantly shot his hand in the air, volunteering to go first. I explained the new rules, and he didn't back down. In fact, he went around the circle, "Horse, alien, slug, dog, tiger, goose!" Then dropped to his knees, yelled "I'm a tiger! Rar!" and took off around the circle on all fours as the girl he had tagged followed suit, roaring at him between giggles.
They. Loved. It. They're ninth and tenth graders, and they absolutely loved it.

Like I said, I have really good classes.

12. My Advanced Drama class has 11 kids in it, just enough to put it in the safe zone. It's also just right for us to do "The Importance of Being Earnest" this quarter. One kid wants to stage manage and I'll have to create a maid role for another (which she'll be perfect for, the way I'm picturing it). I researched some other 9 or 10-role plays, but kept coming back to Earnest. I love the show, they'll have fun doing it, and I really want to push that class towards more reputable, academic theater.

13. This was a while ago, but I've wanted to mention it: Rachel stocked my fridge with basics foods and a few meals right before I got home from Thailand this summer. Do I have an awesome sister or what?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Needs Sleep?

Tonight's reason for a late bedtime?

A reporter from The Mormon Times (apparently a magazine supplement to The Deseret News) emailed me a list of questions for a feature story she's writing about me.

On one hand, yay! That's great we're getting more publicity for the play.

On the other hand, it's a little... I don't know... strange? weird? frustrating? disheartening? ... to me that they're only writing about me/my play and not the other two in the festival because I'm LDS and the others aren't.

But it is The Mormon Times, after all; and, knowing that, I shouldn't have been surprised or miffed at the questions she sent me.

Here's the list:
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have children?
  • Is this your first play?
  • How did you come to write it? Is it based on life experience?
  • Who or what most influenced you along the way?
  • What are your hopes for the play? Where do you want to see it performed?
  • You're LDS, how much does your faith influence what you write?
  • (Since this is for The Mormon Times, could you tell me what ward and stake you live in and what calling you have?)
The second question, I imagine, is in the hopes for an introduction along the lines of "[Chitarita], 30 and mother of 5, is the author of..."

I wonder if that question would still be on the list if I were male.

The second-to-last question is what took me a while to write. On one hand, my faith doesn't really influence my writing. I'm writing about what it means to be a teacher and I'm going for universality and honesty, not missionary work. On the other hand, of course it does! Being LDS has influenced every aspect of my life - I wouldn't be the same person at all if I weren't Mormon.


And so I wrestled with the question a while, wrote an answer, and I'm curiously waiting to see if any part of what I wrote is used.

Also? The last question? I was good and wrote the truth - "I am in calling-limbo, having just been released as Relief Society President". I did not explain that the reason I was released is because I left the ward for the summer to live and work in a Buddhist monastery. But, oh, I was tempted to add that part ("[Chitarita], 30 and teacher at a pagan MTC, is the author of...").

She also requested a "face photo" of me. Hmm. Most of the pictures of me lately are from my travels, which means I'm a) sweaty, b) wind-blown, c) next to exotic wildlife, or d) all of the above.

I thought about this one

But the mounds of flowers are distracting and Rachel pointed out that it's "a little too Mary and Rhoda".

She then suggested this one:

or, her favorite of me,

The first one's a little too casual (sunglasses, shirt askew). But the second one! The second one has an awesome air of inspiration about it, doesn't it? The Sacred Grove-like trees, the glow on my face.... (Not a pregnancy glow, no. It's the glow of a Muse of Fire! Oh, wait. Shakespeare's not LDS. It must be a glow from the Spirit.)

Then again, if I want to go for a classic look, there's always

Hmm. I guess it's back to Flickr. My chance to get 8 hours of sleep tonight is already shot.

P.S. "[Chitarita], 30, was struck by lightning inside her apartment last night. A recent blog entry pointed to a cynical and blasphemous nature, which authorities feel explains the phenomenon of a single lightning bolt striking on an otherwise stormless night...."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

Option 1: Write the highly personal self-revelatory-exploration blog entry I've been writing in my head for two days.

Option 2: Write the detailed description of my new classes and the good days at school so far I've been writing in my head for two days.

Option 3: Go to bed, since I'm already 40 minutes past the be-asleep-NOW-to-get-8-hours mark and I haven't slept more than 5 or 6 hours a night for a few weeks and I fell asleep on the way to work yesterday and it's a lucky thing I'm carpooling right now and John was driving at the time.

You'll have to wait, Op-1 and Op-2. Maybe this weekend.

P.S. Even though Mockingjay was automatically downloaded to my Kindle yesterday, I'm being very good. I'm waiting until Friday after school to read it, since I know I'll be sucked in and read it all in one sitting, like I did with the other two books.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy as a Life

I think I'd like to miss the first week of school every year.

Today was, well, easy. Aside from my late discovery that my classroom clock is 3 minutes slow, it couldn't have been smoother. The kids are eager and settled in. The first week of school is never very fun - too many unknowns and rules and policies and such to work through. I walked into school today and, aside from not knowing their names, it felt like I was walking into the middle of October.

I forwarded my principal the SLTib article as part of a thank-you note. He sent it on to the rest of the school, which led to many kind congratulations. Very nice, but it was still strange to constantly hear people call me a playwright.

I need to work on my ego. With any luck, I'll soon have a dinner conversation like this:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

My friends, I have driven 1,420 miles in the last ten days.

Which might explain why I'm so reluctant to go back to work tomorrow. It's not the kids or the psychological clean-up of three days of substitute or even tackling a new school year. It's the drive I'm dreading. 1.5 hours of driving up and down, up and down. In short, je suis fatigue.

My heart was aching when I left Cedar City Friday. My mom asked me earlier in the week if I had found my Hogwarts. (Jason coined that phrase to describe how it feels to go from being totally different than everyone else to a place where everyone is just like you.) I can't say I did - I don't want to live in Cedar City, and I don't think I could fit into their community as anyone other than a guest.

Still, it reminded me of leaving Camp Shakespeare and other places where I was doing work that I loved with people that I loved who loved the work just as much as I did. Things, life, was just easier that week. I was still busy - very much so, actually. I had planned on having a lot of free time, but instead found myself working through meals and staying up until 2:00 then dragging myself up again at 7. I was busy, but I loved what I was doing and it was so easy to do.

And so my heart ached when I drove away.

The show went really well. It was kind of hilarious - our first audience Thursday was about 65 people - most were quite elderly, but there were also a few special-needs (including a very sweet man with very limited motor skills), a group of young kids, and even a Spanish-speaking family. Which made the whole cranes section very interesting (it took 40 minutes!), and which made me mentally cackle in glee because, "Behold! Here's what it's like to teach in a typical class! Good luck, actors!"

But the audience was very nice. I was bracing myself, based on my own experiences and on Michael and Chuck's warnings, for a thorough lashing of me/my script. The main complaint was about the format of the script. Which, yeah, it's different. It's a living-newspaper script, following in the steps of other politically-charged plays like "Vagina Monologues" and "Laramie Project" and "Embedded." I got complaints about the format after both shows, but there were also people who jumped in to its defense, too.

The crane piece was also a source of much contention in the audience. Some loved it, some hated it. The ones who hated it tended to be the people who struggled the most with the project. They weren't good at it, so their discomfort at being asked to be something more than a passive viewer was magnified.

Feedback like this just fascinates me. It tells me a lot about the audience and about the show. Most of the information I'm getting is not surprising to me, it's expected. But it's still so interesting to listen to people react to those elements that I knew would be, well, reactionary.

I did meet some interesting people - the founder of SLAC, the old drama teacher at Skyline (when he told me who is was, I immediately exclaimed that many of my good friends from college went there and were involved with his shows). There was a man at the first show who needed to show off how smart he was in his commentary and, in the process, accused me of being a Communist. It's not the first time I've been accused of such, so I think he was disappointed in my lack of a reaction. There was a woman at the second show who came up to me to belligerently tell me what parts of teaching I had missed. Which really meant that she had her own story to tell, and I invited her to do so.

Chuck seemed surprised at the content talk-back sessions - the focus not on criticisms of the play, but on people's "testimonials" (as Michael termed them). I wasn't. I've discovered that this play makes people want to tell me about their own teachers and their experiences as teachers. Excellent, since that is, in fact, one of our objectives. It also means that part of my role as the caretaker of the words is that it's my job to listen to people's stories. They need to share them, I get that. I needed to share my stories, too. So I'm not surprised that after every show people stand there at the edge of the stage, waiting to tell me about teaching.

I can't be there for the show this week, but I will be there for the final show the Friday before Labor Day weekend. The actors were quite happy when Michael told them that, just as I was sad to hear that Michael had to miss that show. There are really, really great people in that community down there, and I miss not just them, but the opportunity I might have had to know them better.

But I left Friday after an interview with the college paper and a good-if-brief wrap-up-ish conversation with Michael. Happily, I had a family event to look forward to. Not so much the event itself, but the fact that Rachel, Ben, Jack, Andy, and Jenn all came to GJ Friday night as well. We got to hang out as a family, if ever so briefly and busily. We worked hard all day Saturday and all became thoroughly dehydrated to get ready for Andy and Jenn's second wedding reception Saturday night. We scooper gelato, cleaned the house, hung lanterns, arranged flowers, decorated tables, and all sorts of beautifying things like that, then enjoyed the party Saturday night.

We also all got up relatively early this morning to see Ben bless Jack at church. More than a week of too little sleep does not a good teacher make of me, but I'm glad for what I gave the sleep up. It also made today's drive back riskier than usual, compounded by the traffic jam from Silverthorne to Idaho Springs which added an additional 1.5 hours onto the trip. Boo! Poor Nash was desperate to get out of her carrier and spent the last 30 minutes meowing, scrabbling at the holes in the sides, and pressing her head to the roof to try to get out and get to her litter box. Poor kitty.

Now that I'm 8 hours away from having to meet my carpool group, I'm going to post this entry, figure out what to wear tomorrow, and go to bed. And maybe, just maybe, fantasize about going to Paris for New Year's, as Jason's email this morning suggested we do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, My.

I'm in the Tribune!

Some thoughts:
1) They took dozens of pictures of the actors in various scenes from the play, and maybe three pictures of me and Michael "talking". And that's what they pick to run?

2) "...Then after hours she launched an independent creative-writing workshop for teachers at the Salt Lake Main Library. She led the group..." is not true. Heidi, Katharine, and I did meet at the library and write every day for a month, but I didn't launch it, it wasn't a formal workshop, and I certainly didn't lead the group.

3) I am (surprisingly) embarrassed and (kinda) proud of this. And I'm very glad it's a nice article.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some Things You Can't Control...

There's a lot of great things about this opportunity in Cedar City, but one that tops the list is going to see the productions here. I've been lucky in that I get to see all six (I guess the other playwrights have had schedule conflicts or the shows have been sold out).

I already talked about the non-Shakespeare ones (Pride and Prejudice, The 39 Steps, and Great Expectations) (on that last one, I wanted to add that I'm tired of musicals that spell out character motivations in song. And I know that's pretty much every musical, but it really irked me to have to listen to Miss Havisham sing about her grudge and her plans for the children in an overly long demented song), so let me talk a bit about the Shakespeare ones.

Macbeth was Tuesday and Much Ado About Nothing was last night. Tonight I'll wrap it up with The Merchant of Venice (I'm surprised they're not doing Midsummer this fall, since they've gone with an M theme for the season).

This production of Macbeth was not my favorite. It was bloody and creepy and played up the horror movie aspect of the story (with an excellent soundtrack!). Chuck has complained about how young the Macbeth and Lady M are, but that didn't bother me. I've always preferred them to be young, hot-blooded, and, well, sexy. This production wasn't a play about ambition or greed or sexual politics or even predestination. This was a play about crazy people. Which, to me, is a cop-out. It lets the actors and the audience both off the hook, and I was disappointed. I think they chose style over substance, made it very cinematic (the blood is startling, and I liked how they handled the final fight scene), and I was sad to see so many of the issues disappear in the sound and fury.

I've never seen a production of Macbeth that I've loved. I hope for one still, especially since every time I visit the play I discover again how many fantastic lines and phrases live in it.

Oh, also? I didn't like the Lady M. She was, in short, not believable. She was very much acting. I think the direction contributed to that, but I also think there are other actresses here this season who would have been better at the part.

I'm not saying you shouldn't see this production - I do think it's worthwhile, especially if you haven't seen Macbeth before. However, I would encourage you to go into this one knowing that you're going to see a horror story.

Much Ado, on the other hand, was really fun (in a good way). It helps that it's one of my favorites, but it was also a solid production. There are some fun sight gags (and, if you see it, you'll catch my pun there), the relationships between the characters are strong, and the audience had a lot of fun watching it. Which really was remarkable, given the weather.

During the pre-show greenshow, the wind picked up and blew in ominous-looking clouds. The audience seemed nervous, especially as lightening and thunder kicked in along with a sudden drop in temperature. The Shakespeare productions here are performed on an excellent replica of the Globe Theatre which includes an open roof. Everyone was waiting for the announcement move us to the nearby Auditorium Theater (where my play is being performed and where they move rained-out performances), but the show went on outdoors.

I was pleased to discover that my seat was under the balcony, so I was protected from the rain when it did start to fall. The storms tend to be brief here, so they continued with the show and the first rain stopped after about 10 minutes. The wind had finally died down, which made it not quite so cold (I was eyeing and envying the long leather coat Don John was wearing!). The actors slipped a little on the wet stage, but started moving a little more cautiously. Still, the thunder and lightening kept up, and everyone was a little wary that the rain would start again.

And it did, but first there was one of the perfect moments of theater that made me so happy I was there that night:

In the scene following the upset wedding, Beatrice and Benedick have that lovely scene where they talk of their own feelings. As Beatrice sat on the edge downstage, Benedick stood on the other side and said, "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?"

And right then, with impeccable timing, thunder rumbled across the sky.

The audience cracked up. Benedick, barely missing a beat, then raised his hands in a "Heaven, amen!" gesture to the sky. The audience burst out in a second round of laughter, and Beatrice lost it herself, hiding her face upstage until she and the audience got control of themselves.

The rain came back again twice more, and they stopped the show for about fifteen minutes right before the last act so the audience and the actors could wait until the eaves for the shower to pass. Some people left, but those who stayed were so enamored of the show and the experience. The stagehands came out to squeegee off the boards for the actors, and the audience gave them a hearty cheer. When the funeral scene began and a sound effect of rain came up with the lights, the audience cracked up again. I don't think the audience would have been so kind if this had happened during Macbeth the night before. I was glad to be there, I enjoyed the show, and I was really glad my seat had shelter.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Just checked my school email before going to bed and discovered that one of the counselors has been telling students that they have to pay the $125 activity fee to be in my speech class.

Which is not true at all.

And which explains the low enrollment for that class.

My post title up there? That's the sound of me hitting my forehead on the desk.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

There's Always a Bloody Ghost

Seeing Macbeth + reading The Godfather at intermission should make for interesting dreams tonight.

The Third Rehearsal and an Interview

We tackled the biggies today - "Lorenzo," "F-ing B" (title edited for your young ears), and "Paper Cranes". They're working. They're beasts, but they're working. Thank goodness!

There was a moment today when Michael was giving directions about the fight scene in "F-ing B" and he explained it by saying, "It's the Scottish play, you know? Where the McDuff family is killed... (he waved his hand towards the wings) over there."

And I loved (LOVED) the fact that I was in a place where explanations are Shakespeare references. Meg, you're going to have to get your company to do my play so I can keep living this dream. I know it's not at all their cup of tea, but oh, it would be fun!

Matt is by far the best actor in the group. He's got the new piece, the one about the school shooting, and when we reached it today he and Michael just talked about how they wanted it, and then skipped to the end to move on. Of course he didn't need to run it, and of course we're majorly pressed for time, but oh, I wanted to see him do it!

He also found a way to make "The Ford Twins" a funny piece, which, as soon as he did it, made me slap my figurative forehead and say, "Of course it's a funny piece!" Except I have no idea how to translate what he did into stage directions that will work for future productions. Jenny, the youngest actor, also found some really good fun to have with the "Alex" piece that takes away some of the whiney maudlin stuff that I had worried had overtaken it. Michael saw what the real (and funny) conflict was for the teacher in the piece and he knew what directions to give her so she could play up the awkward humor of the story.

I had to write a new section for a piece last night to give it more context. It was a bit stressful for me to have Michael hand out the new page to everybody today with this, this, trust in me and my writing. Like what I came up with in a few hours would be good enough for them, for this. Everything else in the show has been tried and proven and most of it we've lived with for several years, so something so brand spankin' new was scary. But it was fine, it worked, and it got some laughs. So, yay me.

We also reached the voice piece today, which is my baby as much as "Lorenzo" is. I have more faith in "Lorenzo" because the story can carry that monologue. The voice piece, though, is not so much a story - it relies on the actor and, more importantly, on her ability to deliver it well. Jenny performed it today, but it was just a performance - precise, grounded, and, well, stiff. It was a fine piece of elocution, but she didn't show any of the soul and the fire that the speech needs to have to work.

I was worried about it, since there's only one rehearsal left and that speech carries the play to its ending. After rehearsal, though, I stopped Jenny to give her a quick word pronunciation note and she had a few questions for me about "Alex", and then Michael crouched next to us and we were suddenly talking about the voice piece and Jenny said, "I don't know if you know what you're doing to me, giving this piece to me." She went on to talk about how terribly, terribly personal that piece was for her, how it has her voice some of her own fears and hangups. She told us her story, getting passionate and tearful, and Michael just beamed at her and said, "That's it. That's the story you tell when you say this piece, and you'll be fine." I nodded in total agreement. It's a piece she needs to do.

Do you get how strange that is, though? How it feels to write something that connects with someone on that level, that makes them say, "Yes. Yes! That's me, I get it, yes."?

After rehearsal I grabbed a bite to eat and then went to the adminstration offices for the USF for a phone interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. The reporter, oddly, sounded nervous. She asked me and I told her all about the play - how it came to be, what it's about, who it's for, what we hope it'll do. She seemed interested, and also asked for photos to go along with the article, "Of you, or of the actors." Balking at the idea of my picture being the one there, I quickly said we should be able to take some pictures at tomorrow's rehearsal.

I then went to a matinee of the musical Great Expectations. It was pretty meh. So far, I'd rank the shows in the order I saw them in - Pride and Prejudice was the best of the bunch, then 39 Steps (which I saw yesterday. It got a lot of laughs, but it was almost a copy of the New York/London production. Which is fine, but a lot of the gags were just enough clumsy that they didn't quite work so the audience was laughing more out of their love for the company actors than the gags itself (There was a good bit that I don't recall from the original where the clowns spit repeatedly on the hero/heroine to simulate a bog. Mom? Dad? Was that in the original?). Great Expectations was clunky, but I chalk that up to the script/libretto more than the original. And I know it's a stage show, but I was really hoping to see Miss Havisham go up in flames, not just scream while they flickered red lights on her then faded to darkness. It's really a great image from the book, and I kept thinking that the Tiger Lillies would have burned her nicely.

I'm off to see Macbeth now. I've never seen a full production of it before, so I've got high hopes.

I will say, though, that every time I step inside a theater here I get that little shiver of pure delight at seeing the stage and knowing I'm about to see a play. Man, I'm lucky to be here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Second Rehearsal (a.k.a. Zeus Should Strike Me Down for my Hubris Anytime Now)

After a relaxing Sunday (slept in, went to Sacrament meeting in a cool old church, went to a movie, worked out for a while) (and in working out, I invented a new type of exercise - Hot Elliptical. The fitness room at the hotel doesn't have air conditioning, fans, or windows. I was a dripping mess after an hour, but I was cheered on by memories of friends who have been stupid brave enough to do Hot Yoga), I was at the theater ready to go at 8:30 this morning for rehearsal #2 of 4.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I want to reiterate it here - it's so incredibly nice to be working with a group of theater professionals.

I sit in the audience taking notes in my script, answering questions as they come up but mostly keeping my mouth shut; and the whole time I'm marveling at how simple it is, how smooth it is. Brian, the stage manager, sits in the row behind me taking copious notes on various notebooks, consulting his stopwatch, and telling Michael when it's time for breaks. Steve and Diane patiently watch from the back of the house, ready to run for anything anyone needs or might want, anticipating the requests like Radar. Michael bounces around the house, literally skipping down the aisles when a good idea hits him. He's a good director, trusts and loves his actors, and he really respects the script. The actors are so good, though they have a range of experience. They're all right there all the time, fully present, taking notes, offering ideas, and are so quick to start back up again after hearing what Michael tells them. Acting is instinctual for them - Michael doesn't have to tell them to be louder or gesture or experiment here or try something new this time - they just do it. And they're good at it.

They're all professionals, in other words.

I love my job, I do. I love being the one who introduces students to what theater is, who helps people begin to love or at least appreciate what it means to be on stage, telling a story. But the difference between the plays I direct and this rehearsal process here is the difference between swimming upstream and swimming with the current. This, this is easy. It's natural. And I miss it, even though I've never done it before.

I made a bunch of cuts after the first rehearsal Saturday, tightening up four of the pieces in the play and changing one piece around completely. Since I'm here as the only writer, I'm letting any personal inhibitions go and I'm cutting as the writer, not as a friend. I don't know how that'll go over, but I do know that the pieces are working better.

The "No Child Left Behind" piece is a struggle. I did cut it down a little on Chuck and Michael's suggestion, and I have a second tier of cuts ready if we need them. Michael discovered some really cool character things within it, and he's using them to stage it so one teacher is under attack during the piece. On one hand, I love the layers and the concept. However, I've seen the piece done twice - once was dry, quick, and without any frills whatsoever. And it killed - it got some of the biggest laughs of the entire show, and this show needs more laughs. The other time I saw it, they filled it with choreography and movement. And it bombed. It was tedious to watch and didn't make any sense.

In our post-rehearsal talk, I was frank, telling Michael about those two productions and telling him that I was worried the blocking they're doing in it will not work. He listened, but I don't know if he believed me. It's a hard thing for a director to do - to trust a script to work when all you have are words. No images, no characters, just words. I get his instinct to block it, and I encouraged him to fight against it. I don't know if he will change what he's got. If not, it'll be a good chance for me to hear and see again what works and what doesn't in that beastly bit of text that needs to be in there.

Michael is finding, though, the subtleties and throughlines I buried in the script. Ages ago, when Heidi and I had a good-sized stack of pieces from a variety of people, Teresa met us on East High School's stage (yes, that East High School) and we read through them all, making Yes, No, and Maybe piles. Then we started trying to figure out how to put the whole thing together. Teresa had to go, eventually, and then as I started laying the papers out across the stage and I stopped talking because I was thinking too fast to articulate it, Heidi just got out of my way. Have you musicians ever learned a piece of music that was tricky enough that you just have to shut off your brain and let yourself go to get through it? That's what it felt like. I couldn't explain what I was doing; I couldn't involve Heidi in the process. I shifted into a higher thinking gear and wordlessly sorted the pieces, finding connections and characters and a flow.

And it works. There's nuances in it that I couldn't articulate but Michael's discovering them and bringing them to light. He's taking the script seriously, reading it as literature, and he's discovering what I found and made and wove in years ago.

And I'm so glad I get to be here to see it and to be the playwright right now. Heidi is so very, very good at holding the vision for the play. She's always been the one with the goals in sight, and she's so very good at the political side of things - selling the play, making connections, and such. None of this would have happened without her or the pieces she wrote that are the heart of the play. My job, I think, has been the caretaker of the words. I know theater, I writing, and I can see what works. But because it's been a shared process, I couldn't fully do the job that needed to be done.

I'm alone down here now. That means taking on Heidi's role - I have a phone interview with a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune tomorrow and a radio interview on Wednesday. And I'm kinda terrified. I'm not nearly as good at talking about the play as Heidi is, and I certainly don't know as much about teaching as she does. A part of being here without her means I have to be the one who talks, the one who promotes. On the other hand, I get full responsibility of the script. I get to be the writer. And that is a role I can do.

P.S. Interesting point: One concern that keeps coming up is the language in the play. Not the F-words of the B-words of the girl-fight piece, but the "GD" (as the actors keep saying it) of Taylor Mali's poem. Chuck is worried people will walk out. Michael's not sure what they'll do. For now, we're keeping it. But I'm curious to see what this older, conservative audience thinks. The question did prompt the actors to start talking, though, about how the language should be in there simply because those are all words you hear at school and parents/grandparents need to know that. Which is exactly why we kept it in the first place, so go us!
P.P.S. Can I brag just a little more (as if this entry hasn't been egotistical enough!) and say that there are some moments in pieces I wrote that I can't believe I actually wrote them? And that I still get chills at a lot of moments in the play?
P.P.P.S. I am worried about my "Celebrity" piece, though. The girl reading it is the least experienced actor in the bunch, and she's just not letting go and having fun with it. It's too serious and I'm sitting in the audience thinking, "Good grief, let go and get some laughs! This play desperately needs more laughs and you're making one of the few funny pieces totally serious!"
P.P.P.P.S. I'm being good, though, and keeping my non-director mouth shut.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The First Rehearsal and Such

It's late and I'm sleepy, but I'm afraid if I go more than 24 hours without blogging my Cedar City record will fall to the same fate as my much-delayed Thai Massage post (I've decided to let that one reach a mystical AND mythical status before finishing it, apparently).


I arrived in Cedar City last night, checked into the hotel, and met the sweet older couple who are my "hosts" for the week, Steve and Diane. They live in CC in the summer to help out at the Shakespeare Festival in anyway they can. Which also includes welcoming, giving tours for, and providing company for the playwrights from the New American Playwrights Project.

Just as I finished joking with my parents about heading out to enjoy the Cedar City nightlight (to clarify for those of you not familiar, Cedar City is very much a small town), Steve and Diane invited me to a concert at 11:00 PM. The concert, it turns out, was a fundraiser set up by the USF company. The major equity actors each sang favorite Broadway songs. The place was packed, the audience was absolutely in love with all of the actors, and everyone had fun, which was fun for me to see.

I fell asleep sometime between 1:30 and 2:00, both nervous and excited for the first rehearsal.

I found Steve and Diane setting up tables on stage at the Auditorium Theater at 8:30 the next morning. Chuck, the producer of the program; Michael, the director (who I'm so fond of and admiring of that I'm going to steal Meg's device and write the exclamation marks I hear in my head when I think of him); Brian, the stage manager; and the four actors (Matt, Chelsey, Jennifer, and Barbara, I believe).

I loved it. It was so nice to be surrounded by theater people. Professional theater people. To be where we needed to be with this piece - away from teachers (except for Michael (!!!) and me, that is) with people who know theater.

On one hand, I was pleased to find there are less changes than I thought I would need to make. By no means does that mean there are no changes - Chuck and Michael gave me a list afterward of pieces that were too long, had too much exposition, and I spent part of the day today making rewrites and cutting.

It's good, though, and I'm excited to see where else it goes. The actors are all young, but they're into it and good. The group, and Chuck in particular, were quite concerned about the Cranes piece. Michael (!!!) anticipated this, and took the role of the teacher and walked the entire group through making cranes, including a very-reluctant Chuck. And, just as it always mysteriously does, it worked! Everyone made a crane!

They've got some really good ideas. I love hearing what they're wrestling with or concerned about, and I love forcing myself to not offer solutions or justifications. I am being a fly-on-the-wall here. I'll talk things over with Michael (!!!) and probably Chuck after each rehearsal, but I need to see how this script does "out there."

One interesting criticism Chuck gave was that the play was only for teachers. He kept asking me who my intended audience was (A: Teachers yes, but also anyone who's been taught) and kept insisting that the play was going to alienate the non-teachers.

I thought over that question for a while, knowing that we've performed the piece for many, many non-teachers and they've always connected with it. So, I carefully framed how I wanted to talk to Chuck about his concern.

In the post-talk with Michael (!!!) and Chuck as I went over my questions for them, I said, "I go see plays all about royalty or murderers or people from places I've never been, and I am totally engaged, I connect with the characters even though I'm not a king or a murderer. So, what I'm wondering, is how do those plays do that? What's missing in mine that makes that not happen? And, what can I change so that it works?"

Chuck, literally, said, "Huh," quite thoughtfully. Michael (!!!), who totally got what I was doing and I'm pretty sure disagreed with Chuck's earlier statements, commented that it's about the humanity, and the power of storytelling.

I wondered if I was too confident in the piece, if Chuck was right. That is, until I went to lunch with Steve and Diane after that rehearsal and they spent the entire lunch telling me about their teachers, their grandchildren's teachers, and their teaching experiences (even though neither of them were officially teachers).

So, I'm really looking forward to this week. In addition to the fun of working on the play, I also get to see all six of their current productions. I just got back from seeing Pride and Prejudice, actually. It was good. Nothing new, of course - I don't think it's possible for that story to be told in a fresh way (nor should it, given the numerous reworkings of it). But the Mr. Darcy, the Mrs. Bennett, and the Mr. Collins were all very good, and I very much enjoyed being in a theater watching a well-done play.

Although, to be honest, it was a bit annoying to be watching a story so very much about achieving marriage. While arranging for my tickets Diane asked me if anyone was here with me or coming later this week. I told her I was here alone (a bit surprised, actually, since they never mentioned the option of bringing a plus one) and that look flashed over her face that I keep getting when people discover I'm by myself - a quick succession of surprise, pity, and "there-there" reassurances.

Maybe the other plays will be ressuringly less marriage-centered... Much Ado? Hmm. Not much better than Pride. Merchant of Venice? Eh, some lovies. Macbeth? There we go! Nice and bloody with evil spouses to boot.

Bed now. Tomorrow's a day off for me to do rewrites/sightsee, although I think I'll skip the sightseeing and instead hunt down a sacrament meeting, then celebrate my last free day before the school year by going to a movie.

P.S. Also? We went around the table to introduce ourselves and our roles in the company. It was very strange to say my name and declare, "I'm a playwright."

Actually, it's still strange to type that. "I'm a playwright." Huh.

P.P.S. When I pulled into the festival Friday, my first thought was, "I miss Meg." I've been living the Shakespeare festival lifestyle and dramas through her blog for so long that I was really sad that I was at one, but didn't get to see her (or Falcon). Le sigh.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Next Adventure

I'm off to my next and last summer adventure: the Utah Shakespeare Festival!

I embrace my geekiness with aplomb. Behold!

Shakespeare Shirt

Thanks to my dad and to Ben, both of whom ordered this shirt for me when they saw it on Woot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Safety in Numbers

I spent most of my morning sending emails.

I've been watching my class rosters, and right now they break down like this:

Period 1 - Advanced Drama - 5 kids
Period 3 - Drama 1 - 16 kids
Period 4 - Speech - 17 kids

I keep thinking that it's me, that they hate me. I know I shouldn't take it personally, that it's ridiculous to take it personally, but that's still where I go first.

What's odd is that my drama classes 2nd semester are all in the mid-20s, a fine number for this school. I don't know why the fall would be so much lower. I talked to the counseling secretary. She wasn't sure what was going on, either, but she did say that the school's numbers are down overall.

Because I know a lot of my fellow-teacher-friends will get a kick out of these numbers, the senior class this year is 134 students. The other three grades range from 87-95 kids each.

Crazy, huh?

Naturally, everyone's class sizes are down. It still doesn't explain why that drama class is so dang small, and if I don't get a lot more kids to sign up for 1st period they're going to drop the class.

Oh, also? I'm going out of town all of next week. So if they do change the class, it would happen while a sub is managing my classes. Which makes writing sub plans interesting.

So I sent out a lot of emails this morning.

I went through my rolls from last year, looked up a lot of email addresses, and wrote to the Drama 1 kids from last year who should be in that class. I told them the truth - that I enjoyed having them in class and that I would like it if they were in my class again.

I wonder how it would have felt when I was in high school if I had gotten an email from a teacher telling me that he/she wanted me, me personally, to be in a class. Then again, my graduating class was just under 800 students. Things go a little bit differently at a school the size of MTHS.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

I'm Still Here

In a metaphorical sense that is. My physical presence has been quite transitory this summer.

When last we left, I was doing some work in my classroom. Want to see my new view?

My Classroom View

There are indeed advantages to a 45-minute commute.

I've put in four days so far in preparation for the time I have to miss in the next two weeks. I've got my classroom mostly put together (as in, I moved everything over from the old room, arranged the desks, and went through the files from last year). I have several boxes of books on my floor with nowhere to put them yet. I also did some of the computing work, but there's still more to be done.

I'll be at school for three days this week before I leave for the Shakespeare Festival adventure. I'm not that thrilled with the logo they came up with:

but I am excited to figure out how that's all going to go and to work with Michael Bahr again. He's their educational guru and the director for our play. I met him at a workshop there a few years ago and we hit it off. He's perfect to direct and I'll enjoy watching him work.

I'm in Grand Junction at the moment. I came down with Rachel and Jack last Wednesday to hang out with the folks for a few days. Our friends and former-Denverites Miranda, Nate and their daughter Zaley came down from Idaho to visit, and Brian and Ben joined us for the weekend. We had a day in the tradition of our Thanksgivings - we swam, played games, and snacked all in good company. I'm heading back to Denver tomorrow for work, as I noted above, but it's been a delight to take a mini-break here.

Last weekend I went to Salt Lake for my brother's wedding. It all went beautifully, and Rachel took terrific photos which I will now proceed to mooch off of:

Les Parents:

My Waterhouse cousins, whom I don't see nearly enough of:

The men in my family working the bowtie awesomess:

My sisters, old and new (yet both younger than me):

And, finally:

Seriously. How awesome is that picture? Andy and Jenn's invitations stated that "creative attire was encouraged," so I took it upon myself to find and make a fabulous huge hat. And pearls, of course. What you can't see is the black roses and netting on top of the hat and the white glittery dove that my Aunt Sylvie dubbed (in a Jewish accent) "Moitle" nestled among the foliage. I looked fabulous, and this picture of sisterhood couldn't make me happier.

After the wedding festivities I stuck around in Salt Lake for a little longer than the rest of the family. Rachel, Ben, Jack, and I met Miranda, Nate, and Zaley for lunch at Oasis Cafe on Sunday. Teresa and I shared a delicious breakfast of jule kakke French toast at Finn's on Monday; and Ben, Kelley, and I met at our favorite West Valley curry place for lunch so we could catch up on the news of DPJH before I went back to the airport. (I miss knowing good places to eat like my favorites in Salt Lake!)

It's been a fun summer o' travel. I suppose, since I go back to work full-time on Tuesday, it is drawing to a close; but I won't feel like it's DONE done until after the Cedar City thing.

Oh, and by the way, I have finally uploaded and mostly sorted all of my Thailand pictures to Flickr. Whew! At some point, probably during my tenure in CC, I'll post some favorites here. In the meanwhile, I suggest you just keep looking at this:

I know I will.