I’ve never been a fan of curtain calls. I used to say that that it was because I wanted to “maintain the truth of the world we created onstage,” which sounded sort of cool in my head. But then I realized that I really just didn’t want to go back out there because I thought my smile would be weird.
Another thing that troubled me about curtain calls (besides my potentially weird smile) was that no matter how the performance went, we would always get applause. Sometimes we’d even get a standing ovation, whether or not the performance actually deserved one.
Now I include a talk about curtain calls early on in all my acting classes. I tell my actors that no matter how good or bad the performance is, their audience (usually parents, relatives, or friends) will applaud for them. But then I tell them not to be satisfied with something they’re guaranteed to get. I want them to know that they deserve the curtain call. So after that talk, my job becomes putting them in a position to “deserve the applause” – while at the same time, taking the focus off the applause.
So how do we accomplish this apparent contradiction? By stressing certain key points that I believe are vital for young actors. Or really, for any actors. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order.
4. Come through. Your fellow actors must be able to trust you, to know that you will do everything you can to come through for them, for yourself, and for the play. That means doing the work before rehearsals, doing the work while at rehearsals, and doing the work after rehearsals. It doesn’t mean never making a mistake. It means setting up yourself and your other actors to have the best chance of success. That’s the only way that you can truly take an audience on a journey through the world and events of your play. What people sometimes don’t realize at first is that the majority of that trust is developed offstage, even (especially) when you’re not at rehearsal. In class, in the hall, wherever you see each other, you are always creating either a community of trust or one of distrust. And only one of those creates success.
5. When you’re onstage, don’t act. It’s one of the worst things you can do. When I first tell my actors this, they often stare at me with confused looks and then one will say “But aren’t we actors?” Then I explain that sure, you’re actors. Off the stage. When you’re doing the work, learning the basic tools that will allow you to interact with the audience during the show. That’s the performance aspect. And if you develop those skills, they should be an afterthought during the show, because you will just automatically do those things – they should become as automatic as locking the door without actually remembering doing it.
But onstage, you are your character and you must respond as such. You listen. You respond. You work for your character’s goals and wants. You forget what’s going to happen, because this is the first time any of this has happened. You can’t plan how you’re going to say something or how you’re going to respond or listen only for your cues, because the moment you do any of that, it becomes a performance and the truth of the moment, the show, evaporates. Maybe not for your audience, but for you and your character.
Those are just a few of the things that my actors and I discuss. Are they difficult to accomplish? Absolutely. But my goal isn’t for them to actually accomplish them. If they do, awesome. But really, it’s all about being aware of them, working to accomplish them, and getting better at them each time. To me, it’s not about the end result. Or even the performance. It’s about the process. And if you focus on the process and work hard, the performance will always take care itself.
And the actors will know that they deserve that curtain call.
I’m excited to announce a new recurring feature on my blog: “7½ Questions with…”
Debb Adams has graciously agreed to be my first interview. Debb teaches drama at White Knoll Middle School in Lexington, SC and switched to teaching drama last year after 13 years of teaching English. Her passion for theater started in elementary school and has continued throughout her life.
Debb and I first met onstage when we were actors at Newberry College, and she’s one of the nicest, most caring and talented people that I’ve ever met. And it is no surprise that she’s also one of the most outstanding teachers in her district. She’s a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Office and attempts to work allusions to both into her everyday life. She is also hugely into young adult literature and “all kinds of geeky nerdy weirdness and have been celebrating that quietly most of my life, vociferously the past 10 years or so.”
This year, Debb has decided to bring my play, Awaiting Wonderland, to the White Knoll stage. (And I am very appreciative.) This play presents a different spin on Alice in Wonderland and is often funny, at times sad, sometimes ridiculous and confusing, and perhaps meaningful. Which I suppose is like life.
Below, Debb opens up about herself, teaching and directing theatre, and Awaiting Wonderland.
1. Why did you go into teaching drama?
Beginning in elementary school, acting has been a passion of mine. I absolutely love it. I have high standards, and I want my middle school students to grow with high standards of craft and performance. In addition, there are so many real world math, reading, and writing skills that are woven into theatre/drama instruction. This helps my students in their core classes, but also helps give more meaning to their schooling as a whole. Finally, there is not enough play and laughter during the school day. I want my classroom to be one place where there is just that—very serious play and laughter.
2. What is some advice that you would give to the beginning teacher diving into the world of working with young actors?
The best advice I can give is to keep your standards high. The students will rise to meet them. Do not underestimate the value of play. Teach the students the value of reflection, and have them begin critiquing each other from day one. This will help on so many levels. Finally, do NOT be afraid to scrap a lesson if it’s sinking, falling on deaf ears, or even if you’re just not up to it that particular day. Teaching drama is an incredibly personal, exhausting, wonderful calling—do not forget why you answered it!
3. Describe your process in selecting a play for your actors to perform.
Gosh, so much of what I do is from my gut. I am constantly reading scripts. Thank goodness for the companies with on-line samples. I also have students always reading, too. But when I sit down to really get serious about choosing a play, I think about the talent pool, the purpose, our season. (We do one social justice play each year.) Then gut kicks in. It’s got to be something that grabs my attention, makes me excited, evokes visions, and won’t let me sleep.
4. Why did you decide to have your actors perform Awaiting Wonderland, and what are some of the delightfully challenging challenges that you have encountered?
Alice in Wonderland has never been one of my favorite works. I initially looked at it because I wanted to do a play that Steven wrote. I just thought it would be cool to say, “I know the playwright.” I was right, it is! Even before I decided to stage it, I had a copy of the script, and the students saw it, and immediately were intrigued, and after reading almost militant about doing the play. Still, it was the darkness of this adaptation of Alice that made me want to jump in. No offense to Lewis Carroll, but this script is better than the original.
The biggest delightful challenge I’ve had is forcing the pop culture images out of the students’ minds. Trying to get “Cheshy” to get beyond the pink and purple from the Disney cartoon, and the Hatter to get beyond Johnny Depp’s (my husband) Hatter was a huge challenge. Also getting the cast to understand on all levels the intricacies of this play has been challenging. I don’t want to give anything away, but even 4 weeks into rehearsal, the cast is still fleshing out implications of each character’s actions on the ending and feelings about it, and repercussions for Wonderland of it.
5. Of all the characters in Awaiting Wonderland, whom would you choose to spend a day with and why?
Three days before spring break, my initial answer is Dormouse because we could just sleep. I think it would be fabulous to spend the day with the Mad Hatter because he (and he is a he in our production) knows so much of what goes on in Wonderland and manages to stay upbeat and have fun in spite of it. I love the Mouse, too. She is a loving, caring oracle. If I needed a calm day, I’d spend it with her.
6. What’s your best memory of being on the stage?
I’m not just saying this because it is Steven’s blog, but my best memory is playing Vladimir opposite Steven’s Estragon in Waiting for Godot in college. Godot has always been one of my favorite plays, so I was ecstatic that I was cast. But the physical humor that Steven and I were able to infuse into the play made it a blast to do. It was so much fun playing with radishes (we had to use turnips) and doing hat bits. One of my biggest joys on the stage!!
7. What would be your ideal entrance theme to play every time you entered a room?
This year it is “Applause” by Lady GaGa. I actually sing it sometimes as I enter. In my head, depending on my mood, sometimes I hear “Hail to the Chief,” sometimes I hear “Send in the Clowns.”
7 ½. If you could . . . (You finish the question here and then answer.)
If you could live in any work of literature, where would you live?
Definitely in the world of Harry Potter. Those books changed my life and brought me to teaching. More than that, I love the characters. I’d definitely be in The Order of the Phoenix. I’d be a guest teacher at Hogwarts, not a full-time teacher because I’d want to make mischief as well.
We just got home from a family trip to St Lucia (hence no blog post last week.) It was a phenomenal trip full of family fun time, exploring, meeting fabulous people, eating and drinking, and relaxing – we’ll have memories to reminisce about for the rest of our lives. So this blog is dedicated to that trip (I didn’t have any other ideas) – but I didn’t want to just write about it. I went through our pictures and picked out a few. Not necessarily the best ones, but the ones that I thought would be the most fun to write about. Enjoy…
OUR TRIP TO ST LUCIA
Zoe met this baby in the pool. She loved pulling her around in her floatie. Moments after this picture was taken, she decided to turn the baby around. By her head.
What is this, you ask? Bat Crack!!! It’s a picture of a crack in a mountain that leads to a cave. And when I took this picture, the bats inside that crack were making all kinds of noise. It was cool, but does bat noise make this a cool picture? No. Without sound, it’s just a picture of a crack. Though I did center it really well.
One of Chloe’s goals was to make a lot of friends. She used her mom’s tried-and true-method: Go up to someone, introduce yourself, and then ask them their name. She did this time and time again and made approximately 1.8 billion friends. It was pretty amazing to watch. She was the little friend collector.
This a picture of a flower that I took at the Botanical Gardens. I don’t know what kind of flower it is, only that it’s pretty and I took a nice picture of it. This picture is important because it was taken when Chloe and I lagged behind the rest of the group to take “super-secret plant pictures” off the path, which may be breaking international law.
This is Zoe crying. Is it because she has sunburn? No. Is it because a coconut fell on her head? Is it because we wouldn’t let her continue holding our camera and taking pictures of random things like her leg? No . . . wait, yes it was. This scene played out many times during our trip. Many, many times.
Every Tuesday and Saturday, local St. Lucians would come to the resort to sell various crafts. I became obsessed with a certain mask made by Ivan, who had a mustache and sang. I planned to buy the mask, but because of a mistake at the ATM, I was short on US dollars (I had none) and the Eastern Caribbean dollars I had weren’t enough to buy the mask and a few gifts for others. So I settled for a cool wooden machete instead. But when I paid Ivan for the machete, he gave me the mask pictured here, with its reverse tear drop pattern. It wasn’t the mask that I’d been planning to buy, but it was better. Because it was a gift.
This is after we mudded ourselves all up using mud from a volcano. It’s supposed to take 10 years off your age or something. We had a blast doing it, and it was the highlight of our awesome excursion. Though I feel that if aliens had been watching us do this, they would’ve have questioned whether we were worth invading. Speaking of questions, how did I miss that much of the left side of my neck and shoulders? Now, when I look in the mirror, that spot clearly looks 10 years older than the rest of me.
This is a donkey, one of five who lived out in the field behind our hotel. They gleefully served as our wakeup call every morning at 3:30, 4:15, and 5:30. I tried to take a selfie with this one but failed rather miserably. I did get a lick on the hand and a nuzzle, though, so I consider that a win.
This was our excursion group. Together, we went snorkeling, mud bathing, and seeing the sights of St. Lucia. None of us knew each other before, but after the tour, we became fast friends and spent time together the rest of the trip. This is a rare occurrence for me because I’m not one to go out of my way to meet new people. Why was this time different? I learned by watching the example of our eight-year-old daughter.
I took this picture as I was working on my new pirate play outside. Why? Because on my list of things to do on this trip, I had written “Write while watching the sun rise and take a picture of it.” Done.
This is our first family selfie. We were all drinking out of the same coconut. You say you can’t see the coconut? That may be true, but I assure you it’s there. You may also note that Zoe’s straw is not in her mouth. That’s really okay, though, because she tends to backwash.
So there they are. 11 pictures from our trip to St. Lucia. There are many more but some hard decisions had to be made about which ones to include and which ones to cut. The hardest cut? Zoe's montage of pictures that she took without us knowing. What were they pictures of? Her leg. 11 pictures. Of her leg. The right one.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.