At the beginning of every acting class that I teach, we have something called a check-in. We sit in a circle and the students are allowed to share . . . well, whatever they want, really. They might share something funny that happened to them, something they’re looking forward to, something that’s bothering them, or something completely random and bizarre. And I share too. And mine fit into all of those categories at different times.
I started doing check-ins when I began teaching at a summer camp in Wisconsin many summers ago, as a way to gauge what kind of mind frame the students were in before we started class. At the end, we would do check-outs to see what they got out of the class and what they learned. Over time, the check-ins continued to evolve, and I eventually began doing them at the studio where I teach in Mt. Horeb. I recently started including my youngest classes (7-9 year olds), and that has worked amazingly well.
The check-ins, depending on the size of the class and their stories, may take anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes. It has become one of the students’ favorite things that we do in a class. They can often be heard talking and planning what they are going to share during their check-ins before class. And I happen to think it’s one of the most important things we do.
Why? Because I feel that one of the most important aspects of theatre is the ability to create a group that can operate not as a bunch of individuals, but as one. To realize that everyone matters and that we must all do our parts, or play our roles, is vital in theatre because we either succeed or fail together. In order to create that, everyone must know and trust each other. And I’ve found that checking in is one way to do that.
Here are the benefits that I’ve seen from doing check-ins:
And here are our basic rules:
I consider check-ins one of the most important things that we do in class. In an indirect way, it shapes everything we do or accomplish in class or on the stage. For a play to be successful and for actors to create characters that are believable and real, they need to feel safe. Safe to let loose and play. And sometimes that begins by simply sitting in a circle and sharing something with your fellow actors. No matter how ridiculous it may be.
Hansel and Gretel and . . . Sadie is published by Lazy Bee Scripts. Click here to be taken to their website to get more information on it and to pick up your very own copy.
Synopsis of Hansel and Gretel and . . . Sadie
(3 M, 3 F, 2 M/F, 30 mins)
Sadie’s parents were lost at sea, and unfortunately she's been taken in by the parents of Hansel and Gretel, who make no attempt to mask their disgust at her and her love of reading. When all three children are abandoned in the woods, they meet a mysterious woman with a delicious house. Sadie knows better than to lick a stranger's house - but will she be able to convince Hansel and Gretel? Will their parents have a change of heart? And why is there a pirate in this story? All of these questions, along with seven other ones, will be answered in “Hansel and Gretel...and Sadie,” a wonderfully farcical adaptation of the Grimm Brothers classic that's oddly insistent on the importance of literacy.
The scene below takes place after the kindly old woman, or the Witch, has captured Hansel and Gretel, leaving Sadie outside the house alone.
Setting: The woods, very close to the Witch's house.
Narrator: Sadie didn’t know what to do. Although Hansel and Gretel were always mean to her, she couldn’t let them be eaten. Maybe she could run back home and get Mother and Father. Surely they wouldn’t want their kids to be eaten. So Sadie turned to run home, but as soon as she did she saw Mother and Father.
Sadie: You came back for us.
Mother: Durn tootin’. We got worried and decided we didn’t like leaving y’all out in the woods.
Father: And we definitely mean that. We ain’t lyin’.
Narrator: They were lying. A pirate had come to their door looking for crew and said he would pay big money to anyone who would sell him their children. He didn’t have many takers. As a matter of fact, he only had two: Mother and Father, who agreed to sell Hansel, Gretel, and Sadie.
Mother: Where’s Hansel and Gretel? We do miss them so.
Sadie: They’ve been captured by a witch who’s gonna eat them.
Father: Not if I have anything to say about it. No witch is gonna keep us from our money.
Mother: He meant our loving children.
Narrator: So Sadie led them to the house. Mother and Father were amazed at what they saw.
Mother: Is that candy? (The kindly old woman steps out of her house.)
Witch: Why, yes it is.
Father: Where are our children?
Witch: They’re inside getting turned into a delicious meal.
Mother: } (Together)
Father: } What?
Witch: They’re eating a delicious meal.
Mother: They are?
Witch: Oh, yes. Tell you what. Why don’t you treat yourself to some of my house while I go and set a place for you? After that, you and your children can walk back home.
Mother: That would be nice.
Witch: Well, you two go and enjoy yourselves. I’ll be inside preparing your children. (Mother, Father, and Sadie look at her.) To welcome their loving parents. (She exits into the house as Mother and Father shrug and began eating the house. Sadie runs over to them.)
Sadie: Look, the witch is lying to you. She’ll eat both of you if you go into that house.
Father: She never said that.
Sadie: Actually, she kind of did.
Mother: You’re just lying so you can have all the food for yourself.
Sadie: That’s . . . wait . . . come over here. Let me show you.
Narrator: Sadie walked Mother and Father over to the sign, but before they could read it the witch opened the door.
Witch: I was just about to come for you. Welcome . . .
Sadie: Hold on. They need to read the sign on your front door.
Witch: Be my guest. But I think one of you two should read it because this little one seems to want all the food.
Mother: I knew it. (To Father)
Mother: Read it.
Narrator: Now Father could read about as well as a sleeping squirrel. But he didn’t want anyone else to know.
Father: It says . . . says . . . eggs for sale.
Mother: Well, are they cow eggs? (The Witch looks at her, slightly confused.)
Witch: Indeed they are.
Mother: We do love cow eggs and we would buy some if we had any money.
Witch: Why, I’ll just give you some on the house.
Mother: I would rather have them in a basket.
Sadie: It doesn’t say that. It says that she’s gonna eat you if you go in.
Father: No, it doesn’t. I read it and it says “Eggs for Sale.”
Sadie: You can’t read.
Witch: Hush up, girl! Now, the food’s getting cold so . . .
Mother: So let’s eat.
Father: Finally. (They walk in. The witch, before shutting the door, looks back to Sadie.)
Witch: At least you tried to save them, which is more than they would have done for you. Now . . . I feast.
Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney, is a book that has been read and enjoyed by many families, including ours. The story is about Little Nutbrown Hare, who asks Big Nutbrown Hare a simple and sweet question: “Guess how much I love you.” Clearly, this question is asked not to get an answer from Big Nutbrown Hare, but simply to give Little Nutbrown Hare a chance to explain the depths of his feelings. He stretches out his arms as far as he can, saying “This much.”
Big Nutbrown Hare responds by saying “That is a lot” – and he could have stopped there, giving Little Nutbrown Hare credit for expressing his love. But he doesn’t. He stretches out his own arms, which clearly stretch further because . . . he’s bigger, and says, “But I love you this much.”
If only he had used the word “and” instead of “but!” Then they would simply have made joint declarations of love. Using the word “but,” however, turned it into a competition. A competition that Little Nutbrown was destined to lose. For the rest of the book, Little Nutbrown continues trying to demonstrate how much he loves Big Nutbrown. He does handstands, hops, and even uses geography, but every time, Big Nutbrown unmercifully one-ups him. Finally, tired from the emotional beatdown he’s been dealt, he lies down. He makes one more quiet attempt as he falls asleep, saying “I love you right up to the moon.” He closes his eyes, and Big Nutbrown Hare kisses him good night – then whispers, “I love you right up to the moon . . . and back.”
So the story concludes with Big Nutbrown Hare “winning” against Little Nutbrown Hare, who never really knew the game. Good for you, Big Nutbrown. But why? Would it have hurt to let him have a little victory? Why did Big Nutbrown feel the need to one-up a child, perhaps his child, at every chance he got? Here are two possible reasons:
1. He has a severe inferiority complex and looks for other hares he can “beat” to make himself feel better.
2. He wants to show Little Nutbrown Hare that no matter how big his love is, it will never measure up – because Big Nutbrown Hare will always love him more. In fact, no matter how hard he works, or hops, it will never be good enough. He’ll always come up just a little short.
No matter the reason, Little Nutbrown Hare isn’t damaged beyond repair. Unless the next morning went something like this:
Big Nutbrown Hare woke up and stretched out his aching limbs, feeling mighty pleased with himself after winning the game of “Who Loves Who More” with Little Nutbrown Hare. He hopped out of his burrow to see Little Nutbrown Hare waiting for him. Little Nutbrown smiled when he saw him: “Look, I made us breakfast.”
Big Nutbrown Hare smiled. “That’s nice. But before going to bed last night, I called to have our breakfast catered by the best breakfast place in the world.”
Little Nutbrown Hare looked down sadly. Then he remembered. He pulled out a picture he had painted. He showed it to Big Nutbrown Hare. “I painted you a picture! It’s of the two of us.”
“That’s very nice,” Big Nutbrown Hare said. “Though I’m not sure I really look like that. Did you know that when I was your age, I was called the Monet of Hares?”
Little Nutbrown Hare grew sadder. “I didn’t know that.” He sat down but then remembered he had one more thing for Big Nutbrown Hare. And Big Nutbrown would appreciate this one, instead of continuing to crush his self-esteem. He reached into his bag and pulled out a pot holder. “Look, I crocheted a pot holder for you. I know it’s not that good, but I got up at 2 in the morning and taught myself so that I could make it for you.”
Big Nutbrown Hare took the potholder and held it. “This is really good.” Big Nutbrown Hare paused for a moment and Little Nutbrown Hare thought he had finally done it. But no: “Let me show you what I crocheted for you last night after I saw you working on crocheting something for me.” Little Nutbrown Hare’s shoulders slumped as he followed Big Nutbrown Hare into the burrow. “Now, close your eyes.” He did. “You can open them now.”
Little Nutbrown opened his eyes and stared in shock.
“I crocheted you an entire room!”
Little Nutbrown Hare collapsed and began crying. Big Nutbrown Hare looked down at him, thought for a moment about what was happening, and then sat down beside him.
“You think those tears are impressive? Watch this!”
And naturally, his tears were far more impressive. Big Nutbrown Hare had won again.
In conclusion: If the epilogue I imagined had actually happened. Little Nutbrown Hare clearly would have run away and entered a terrible life, getting high on parsley and living on the mean hare streets.
And if that did happen, Big Nutbrown Hare could always say, “At least I loved him more.”
This is a scene from my new two-act comedy thriller, Ashland Falls, which is available here on Theatrefolk.
Aidan and Gavin are rehearsing a scene involving their two characters, Dalton and Wynter. In the scene, Wynter is trying to convince Dalton not propose to Ashley. Unfortunately, Gavin has been getting some advice from a fellow actor, which leads him to question his character’s motivations. Laura, the director, and Aidan try to answer his questions so they can just get on with the scene.
GAVIN: (about to start, then turns out to LAURA) I might have a few questions. Ava’s been helping me with some character things and I need to make sure I’m clear on it.
AIDAN: God. I told you not to talk to her.
LAURA: It’s fine. I’ll help where I can. (AIDAN and GAVIN take a moment, and then the scene begins.)
GAVIN: I can’t believe you’re going to go through with this.
AIDAN: What reason would I have not to?
GAVIN: I can think of many.
AIDAN: (turns to him) Really?
GAVIN: Listen, I’m your friend and I’ve always had your best interests at heart.
AIDAN: When have you ever had my best interests at heart?
GAVIN: When it benefited me, of course. Like now. (AIDAN/DALTON laughs) Listen, Dalton, I know she’s beautiful and also quite charming but her looks will fade, and probably her charm as well, and then you’ll be left with nothing but a charmless, homely, penniless woman.
AIDAN: My looks will fade as well, and I already lack charm.
GAVIN: But you are not penniless. At least not yet. (laughs and sits down) Besides that, why tie yourself down to one woman when you can have them all? (GAVIN looks out to LAURA) Did my dad cheat on my mom?
LAURA: I don’t know that much about you, Gavin.
GAVIN: No, not my dad. Wynter’s dad. Do you think he messed around a lot?
LAURA: I don’t know. Why?
GAVIN: Well, if he did, that might be why Wynter doesn’t respect women. To be like his dad.
LAURA: Then yes.
GAVIN: Okay. That was simple. (Turns back to AIDAN/DALTON. Then looks back out to LAURA.) But it could’ve had the opposite effect too. Like if his dad did mess around, maybe he would be more protective of women, because clearly he would be a mama’s boy. So which is it?
LAURA: Whichever gets you to keep going.
GAVIN: But I--
AIDAN: You know what… your mom cheated on your dad, left you guys, and now you don’t respect women because you think they’re going to abandon you.
GAVIN: (stares at AIDAN, then looks out to LAURA) That works. I’m ready.
LAURA: Good. Nice job, Aidan.
AIDAN: Thanks. (gets back into character and turns to GAVIN/WYNTER) What you desire, Wynter, is not what I desire. You care for only three things in a woman: looks, money, and the fact that there should always be more than one.
GAVIN: What else is there? (he laughs) And money should have come first.
AIDAN: Of course.
GAVIN: (takes a moment, looking at AIDAN/DALTON) But in this case, there’s something else.
GAVIN: Listen, you always think with your heart and I’ve always been the one--
AIDAN: Without one?
GAVIN: (takes a moment and looks at AIDAN/DALTON) You’re very witty tonight. And perhaps you’re right, but I do know this. You don’t just marry the girl. You marry her family, and in Ashley’s case, they’re an embarrassment. If you marry her, they will bring that embarrassment to your name. To your family name, and your father has been quite clear--
AIDAN: She’s a wonderful girl, Wynter.
GAVIN: This is not about her, Dalton. (breaks character and walks downstage to talk to LAURA) See, I don’t get that. It’s obviously about her, but he says it’s not. What gives?
LAURA: What he means by that is that if it were just Ashley… he’d be okay with it. But her family issues cause more trouble.
GAVIN: I don’t get it.
AIDAN: Wynter’s saying that Dalton can’t marry her because her family is basically trash.
GAVIN: I get that, but I don’t get why he would say it’s not about her when it clearly is.
AIDAN: It’s about her family at that point in the conversation.
GAVIN: But then it is about her.
LAURA: No, it’s about her family.
GAVIN: But her family is her, and her is… her family. (AIDAN and LAURA look at him.)
GAVIN: Sorry, I got confused. So what’s my motivation?
LAURA: Your only motivation is to prevent Dalton from marrying her.
GAVIN: Why? Why am I so anti-Ashley? What has she ever done to me? (gets an idea) Do I have a thing for Dalton? I mean, we are pretty close. (looks AIDAN over) And he’s a good-looking guy, so… I guess I could play that, but--
LAURA: No, you don’t have a thing for Dalton.
GAVIN: Then why am I so anti-Ashley?
AIDAN: Because that’s the way the playwright wrote it.
GAVIN: But what the playwright wrote doesn’t make any sense.
AIDAN: Maybe he was drunk when he wrote it.
GAVIN: You think?
LAURA: No. Listen. I don’t normally do this, but we’ve been here a long time and we’re on page three of the script, so… the reason that you are against Dalton marrying Ashley really has nothing to do with him, or her, or her family.
LAURA: That’s right. It’s all about you, Wynter. You want to protect what you have. A friend to go out drinking and picking up women with so you can continue lying to yourself that you won’t, at some point, be the lonely old guy at the bar.
GAVIN: Ouch. (silence) I think I understand now. (Scene continues . . .)
5. My Skillet
Cast iron. Seasoned closer to perfection with each use. Discovered while watching Unwrapped. I’m talking about Lodge’s skillet, which I received for a Christmas two years back. Ever since that day, I have used it to cook almost everything I’ve made. From veggies, to tofu, to burgers, to various forms of Nelly Frittatas, and it has proven adept at all that it was challenged to cook. So what’s next for me and my skillet? A cake. Will it work? Yes. Will it taste amazing? Of course. Why? Because my skillet is magical.
4. Smarties Mega Lollies
These things are ridiculous. They are so “mega” that they are almost impossible to eat. But you try and you enjoy that trying. Because they’re worth it.
Don’t trust them at all, but I admire them and find them both entertaining and somewhat frightening. Yes, they have beady eyes that seem to pierce your soul when you come upon one staring at you from a tree. And yes, they are quite indecisive when crossing or not crossing a street. And there was that one time that one of them made a nest in my car and bit through a wire that ended up leaving me stranded at a doctor’s office. But with all that being said, I am thankful for them. It’s safer that way. Because they are vindictive little creatures.
2. My moment of passion with a carnival worker
It was our family’s first time at the Mt. Horeb Summer Frolic, and Chloe had won an inflatable Dora the Explorer doll. When we got home that night, Chloe, age five, begged to sleep with Dora. We let her.
In the middle of the night, I was awakened by Chloe crying. I say “I” because Maggie, sleeping the sleep of the dead, was undisturbed. I got out of bed, thinking that Chloe had fallen out of bed or had a nightmare, but it turned out to be something much worse. Her Dora had deflated. Completely. I told her I would take care of it in the morning, but apparently 5-year-olds can’t be reasoned with in the middle of the night, or ever. I, needing to go back to sleep, agreed to blow it back up.
With the first breath, I realized that I had made a horrible mistake. Because I inhaled . . . cigarette smoke. Yes. A carnival worker, after finishing his cigarette, was the first to blow Dora up. With his mouth. I always thought they had a machine for this. I was mistaken. And because of that mistake, I shared a moment of passion with a stranger. No dinner. No movie. Just his breath. In my mouth. It haunts me to this day. Why I am thankful for it? Because it makes a great and disgusting story.
1. That I accepted a part in Workshop Theatre’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that time so many years ago.
Yes, it was one of the most stressful rehearsal processes ever (second only to when I did Waiting for Godot in college), but if I hadn’t taken the part of Nick, I would never have met Maggie. And if I had never met Maggie, we would have never gotten married because it’s difficult to marry people you’ve never met. And if I would have never married Maggie, then . . . let’s just say that I’m really thankful I took that part. Really, really thankful. :)
To celebrate Thanksgiving, I wrote this post about things I wasn’t thankful for. To celebrate . . . nothing really, I’ve decided to write about things I am thankful for.
Before you read it, there are 3 things you should know. One, I won’t be mentioning my family or any truly special moments. I’m thankful every day for all that I have, but those things aren’t that funny. Two, this blog is no way meaningful. It won’t guide you to eternal happiness or change your life in any way. (Unless it guides you to eternal happiness – but that means that there is probably something seriously wrong with you.) Three, I really am thankful for all these things. Don’t think that I made these up just to be funny (note: this might not be an issue for you anyway) because I didn’t. That being said, if you do find anything funny, feel free to laugh. But in a reflective way, as if to ask yourself, “Why am I laughing at what someone is thankful for?”
10. Marcie from Peanuts
There’s something about good old Marcie that I really identify with. Maybe it’s the fact that she wears glasses for her non-existent eyes. Or maybe it’s that she stays loyal to Peppermint Patty and calls her “sir” in a clearly one-sided relationship. Actually, those aren’t the reasons because a) I have eyes and b) I never had a Peppermint Patty in my life that I can remember, nor do I call any of my female friends “sir.” I like her because she’s unlike every other character in the Peanuts series. She’s not mean (like most of the female characters), she’s not needy (like most of the male characters that actually matter), she’s not selfish (like Snoopy), and she appears to be smart (unlike pretty much everyone but Linus, Lucy, and Snoopy. And maybe Schroeder).
She’s just . . . Marcie. Eyeless wonder that she is.
From the fluffy hair on top of their heads, to their ridiculously large teeth, to the fact that every llama I’ve ever encountered has been rather ornery, I am very thankful for llamas. But you know what I’m most thankful for? The fact that their name starts with two “l’s.” On a related note, you might think that I would want one as a pet. You would be mistaken though. I would want a yak.
8. OCP in the fridge
An Oatmeal Creme Pie that has been chilling in the fridge for several hours is one of the tastiest things that you could ever eat. And one of the most dangerous. One time, I put a brand-new box of a dozen OCPs in the fridge, and somehow we were down to three by the end of the day. Yep, you did the math right. I ate 9. In a DAY.
7. That one time that I was really trying to avoid someone when I went to pick Chloe up and that person happened to be in the one place that I knew they wouldn’t be and it was just the two of us because no one else was down there.
I think the title really explains that one. But why am I thankful it happened? Because the long version makes a great and awkward story.
6. Tiny socks
I don’t like long socks. I’ve always felt that they were slowly creeping up my leg to do . . . whatever long socks that creep up your legs do. Medium socks have always been annoying because they don’t always stay up. So I’m constantly pulling them up. And if they haven’t fallen down, I feel like they will be falling shortly, so I can’t relax. Then we have ankle socks, and I feel like they just didn’t work hard enough to become the best type of sock ever: tiny socks (the official term is “no-show” socks). They have only two jobs: to cover your feet and to not be seen, both of which they do very well. I wear them all year round, even on the coldest days of our Wisconsin winters. Why? Because they transcend weather. They transcend everything. And yes, my ankles do get cold – but it’s not the tiny socks’ fault. It’s the temperature.
Well, that’s Part 1. Coming next week: Things I’m Thankful For, Part 2.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.