Another year has come and gone. I was thinking of writing about the passing of time, the hope each new year brings, and . . . actually, I wasn’t. I knew what post I wanted to write: I wanted to make a simple list that allows itself to be defined by the reader (you!) without imposing my own meaning on each item.
So this post, as you can see by the title, is about 33 things that I hope you will embrace this year. It’s merely my opinion, of course, and in no way should be seen as either factual or instructive. So please interpret and use these however you see fit, and I hope that the coming year is full of whatever you wish it to be. Well, as long as it makes you and the world better.
I love Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and if I reviewed it like I do other Christmas specials, I would only gush about how great it is – so instead, I’ll talk about . . . casting decisions.
In the original opening, Mickey explains that he and his friends performed a version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. (This intro is often left out on TV now.) It was a much shorter version – some script cuts were necessary (made by Mickey, who also served as director) – but still manages to hit the high points. The question is: Did Mickey get the casting correct? Let’s take a look.
Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge
Obvious choice, with his name being what it is. Did I feel like Scrooge merely plays himself? At times (though his happy skipping near the end and the line “I’m going to make you my partner” feel authentic). The major impact of this casting decisions is that Mickey Mouse is not the lead. Did he do it to put the show first or did he really have no choice (because of the name thing)? I don’t know because he declined my many requests for comment. It did, however, have ramifications for another well-loved mouse. More on that soon . . .
Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit
Mickey pretty much plays Mickey in this movie, kind of like a mouse version of Kevin Costner. But I really like his version of the ever cheerful but put-upon Bob Cratchit. It has a level of depth that is not normally associated with Mickey. His tear in the final scene while putting Tiny Tim’s tiny cane on his grave . . . wow. Just wow.
Donald Duck as Fred
Okay, I get it. Donald had to be Fred once his uncle was cast in the role of . . . his uncle. To me, Donald has always been ill-tempered, destined to be that old drunk duck at the bar talking of days gone by when he was a success. Only no one would understand him – and not because he’s drunk, but because he’s hasn’t learned how to speak clearly. How does he have a career? I mean, explain to me how his uncle and Daisy can speak perfect English but Donald’s speech is still duck-like? Is there no voice training at Disney? The only line I can clearly understand is “I will! I will!” They even had to cut Fred’s famous monologue – and no, it wasn’t a time issue. It was a Donald issue.
Goofy as Jacob Marley
I’ve always appreciated Goofy’s work for what it is. He’s limited but likeable. That being said, he was horribly miscast as Marley. There is no way that Scrooge would have worked with someone as inept as Goofy’s version of Marley. Even if he had, Scrooge and Marley would’ve been out of business in days. Who should have been Marley, you ask? Pete, who would have been awesome in that role. But more on Pete later.
(P.S. Why isn’t Goofy called Goofy Dog? I mean, you have Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Jiminy Cricket and countless others with a last name of their species. Is it perhaps because we don’t want the audience making the connection that Goofy and Pluto are actually the same animal, but one gets to speak and wear pants, while one gets to live in a dog house and be the pet of a giant mouse?
Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Jiminy, who was more popular in Disney’s classic era, was probably hoping that this performance would lead to a career resurgence, a la Betty White’s role in Lake Placid, but alas – it did not happen. But he’s made a nice career of playing the wise cricket nonetheless.
Daisy Duck as Belle
Much like Donald, this was the only role she could be cast in. Unlike Donald, she nailed this role. She plays the early Belle, before Scrooge finds another love, with a sense of childlike innocence and hope, and then manages to bring some anger when Scrooge chooses money over her.
(By the way, can we talk about the lack of roles for women in this production? There are only two females in it, and only one of them has a speaking part. Why didn’t Minnie say something to Mickey about this? Or wait, maybe she did. That would explain what happened to Mrs. Cratchit’s lines.)
Morty Fieldmouse as Tiny Tim
Super cute. The Michelle Tanner of the cast, and it works. He’s my second favorite Tiny Tim. After Robin Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol, of course.
Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future
Pete is amazing in this role. Hands down, the best GoCF ever to don those robes, which doesn’t actually say much when you consider that none of the others talk. That being said, he was still the best. However, I do feel that this classically trained actor gets typecast too often in villainous type roles, which means he’s seldom used to the fullest extent of his talent. Yes, he has carved out a nice little niche career as the foil to everyone – but clearly he wants more. And I want more for him. Unfortunately, as long as Mickey’s in charge, he will be stuck in these types of roles. At least he nailed the best line in the story . . . “Why yours, Ebenezer. The richest man in the cemetery!” He, my friend, is destined for the bright lights of Broadway once he breaks free of the shackles of the great mouse. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
Minnie Mouse as Mrs. Cratchit
Is Mrs. Cratchit a mute in Dickens’s novel? No, she is not. But in this production, she is. Zero lines. None whatsoever. Minnie’s talents, and the character of Mrs. Cratchit, have never been so underutilized as they are here. She’s nothing more than scenery, much like Mr. Toad, who plays Fezziwig. So Mrs. Cratchit comes off as docilely accepting of her fate instead of that spunky woman who exclaims “Founder of the feast, indeed!” when Bob gives thanks to Scrooge. And Minnie would’ve have nailed that line. Perhaps Mickey and Minnie were having relationship issues at the time. Maybe about Mickey’s lack of casting females.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, based on the much-loved Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts, came on TV last night and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Many people view it as a classic Christmas tale, and I support their right to that opinion. I, however, am not really a fan because I find Charlie rather self-absorbed and really into this whole martyr thing. If you focused less on Charlie, and more on the rehearsals and production of what will clearly be a disappointing retelling of the Nativity, that would be fantastic. Like a Peanuts version of Noises Off. Anyway, I decided to revisit Charlie and his non-pals to see if perhaps I was missing the magic and the meaning that so many other people found in this tale. So without further ado . . . 12 Observations on . . . . A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Observation 1: As a lead, I find Charlie Brown depressing.
His first grimace occurs before the show even starts and then pretty much doesn’t leave his face for the rest of the show. And he complains. A lot. About everything. But never asks what he can do for someone else. Good grief, indeed.
Observation 2: What’s my motivation? I have no clue, Charlie Brown.
Is he trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, or he is lashing out about the commercialism of Christmas? It alternates throughout. If his motivation is to make Christmas less commercial, then one would think he already knows what Christmas is all about. But he says he doesn’t. Or does he? I have no idea.
Observation 3: Never mock someone who doesn’t give you a Christmas card.
Early on in this tragic tale, Charlie walks to his mailbox, opens it, and it’s empty. He then talks about how he doesn’t need a reminder that no one likes him. (Somewhere, his loyal and saintlike friend Linus is crying into his blue blanket.) Anyway, he sees Violet and thanks her for the Christmas card she sent him. She scoffs at him by saying she didn’t send him one, and he mocks her for not understanding sarcasm. My question for you, Chuck, is . . . how many Christmas cards did you send?
Observation 4: This entire group knows nothing about putting on a play.
It’s clearly just a few days before Christmas, which means that the play should have already happened – but since it hasn’t, surely they’re ready to perform. No, they are not. They don’t even have a director, until Lucy, trying to help Charlie (sounds like a friend thing to do), names him director of the Christmas play.
What? How do you not have a director yet? Why haven’t you been rehearsing? Why don’t the actors have their parts or scripts yet? Why does Lucy have unilateral director-designating powers? Why did they cast someone as the “shepherd’s wife?” Where’s Franklin?
Observation 5: Charlie Brown . . . sexist?
As soon he becomes director, Charlie begins demeaning Lucy by calling her “script girl.” So . . . you’re calling the one who has the power to name you director and is currently the only one in town running her own business . . . “script girl?” For shame, Chuckles.
Observation 6: The first rehearsal goes poorly.
Shocking. But Charlie Brown does exactly what any good director in his shoes would do: He goes to buy a Christmas tree. Wait, that’s not what a good director would do. A good director would, I don’t know, rehearse the actual play.
Observation 7: Charlie really needs to appreciate what he has more.
If the message of this fable is that we need to stop wanting for what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have, then that’s a good message. Charlie has the best friend that anyone could ever ask for (no, not you, Snoopy. You’re kind of the opposite of man’s best friend) in Linus and all he thinks about is the people that don’t like him. I hope he at least sent Linus a Christmas card.
Observation 7: It’s “Christmas tree,” not “Christmas branch.”
You had one job: To get a Christmas tree. A good one. Sure, you were bothered that the other kids wanted an “aluminum tree” – but let’s face facts, you said you would get a tree. A Christmas tree. And you did not. Despite Linus’s warning, you got . . . a Christmas branch. And then you’re shocked – SHOCKED – when your friends bash your branch tree. Sorry, Charlie, consider that bashing deserved
Observation 9: Did anyone read the script of this play?
After his choice of trees is ridiculed, Charlie laments that he doesn’t know what Christmas is about. So Saint Linus calls for the lights (Who’s running the lights? Woodstock, perhaps? Or is that where Franklin’s hiding?) and begins to recite the story of the nativity. And that allows Chuck to understand Christmas. But wait: Aren’t they doing the nativity play? Shouldn’t he already have read this story in the script that he’s directing? Shouldn’t everyone in the play have been able to tell him? Amateurs.
But at least Charlie gets the message of what Christmas is about. Oh wait, he doesn’t. He makes it about proving that he was right to buy a branch for a tree? Am I missing something? Wait, is this branch a metaphor for baby Jesus? Well, this story is way deeper than I thought. Though now I keep envisioning a branch wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, which is weird. Anyway, Chuck takes his branch home and all of the kids follow him. Am I the only one that cares about the need to rehearse? I hope you’re not charging for this “play” because it will be terrible. Terrible, I say.
Observation 10: Branches are not meant to hold ornaments.
Charlie gets home and notices that Snoopy won the decorating contest. Is he happy for his dog? Of course not. He then proceeds to take an ornament off Snoopy’s house and put it on his branch, and the branch topples. Charlie says that he broke it. Well, actually you just bent it, and if you took the ornament off . . . never mind.
Observation 11: His friends are magic.
The friends arrive and see that the “tree” is bent over. Seriously, guys, you can just take the ornament off. Linus wraps his blanket around the branch and says that he always thought it was a good tree. (Actually, you didn’t. You’re reasonable.) Then the gang steals all of Snoopy’s ornaments and turns Charlie’s branch into . . . a full-grown Christmas tree. See? Magic.
Observation 12: We finally have a nice moment.
Charlie comes out, sees the tree and is shocked. I am too, Charlie. Then the others wish Charlie a merry Christmas and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Finally, a sweet moment. And their rendition of the song is flawless. Clearly, they rehearsed this song. Unlike the play.
Well, those are my observations. And after pondering it more . . . I’m still not much of a fan, though I will continue to watch it every Christmas. Why? Perhaps it’s because I first watched it as a kid while eating Christmas cookies from Revco. And that right there is reason enough.
Oh, and also I keep hoping that this time, Linus will finally appreciate what he has in Sally.
Today, my oldest daughter started 5th grade. Back when she started 3rd grade, I gave her a list of “Do’s.” I didn’t give her a list last year, and her 4th-grade year was awful. Just awful. (I’m kidding. She had a great year.) But I decided to update my list anyway, to make sure that her 5th grade year is all that it can be.
I hope you’ll find that this list of “do’s” doesn’t just apply to Chloe: It applies to all kids, whatever their age.
My new play, Helga, had its world premiere July 9th in front of a sold-out audience in the Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison, Wisconsin. It's an uproariously dark comedy that follows Hamlet's storyline with some bizarre twists along the way. Good news . . . everyone still dies. Well, almost everyone.
Below is a short scene that happens near the beginning of the play. Helga's best friend Helena has recently seen the ghost of Helga's dead mother, Queen Helga, along with a servant named Balder. Here, Helena is about to relay the news to Helga, who enters wearing a grief mask.
Helga: How now, Helena? Balder told me - - (Helena turns and sees Helga.)
Helena: Nice mask. Note the sarcasm, of course.
Helga: Noted. It is my mother’s face. With an “X” through it. Because she’s dead.
Helena: I see. It’s a terrible likeness of her.
Helga: It’s a grief mask. Family custom.
Helena: Well, it’s awful. And your customs are odd. Speaking of your dead mother, I have news of her.
Helga: She’s alive?
Helena: No, she’s dead. How would she - -
Balder: We saw her ghost! (Helga turns to Balder.)
Helena: (To Balder.) I was supposed to tell her!
Balder: I thought - -
Helena: You thought incorrectly. Now leave us.
Balder: But - -
Helga: Leave us, Balder.
Balder: Yes, my lady. (Balder exits. Helga turns to Helena.)
Helga: What’s this now? Of my mother?
Helena: I’ve seen her, Helga. Her spirit was standing here mere moments ago.
Helga: Why did she depart?
Helena: I think I scared her.
Helena: I was going to throw a rock through her.
Helga: You were going to throw a rock through my dead mother?
Helena: Well, the ghost of your dead mother, and . . . yes. (Helga crosses away, pondering for the first of many times. She turns back to Helena.)
Helga: Do you think it would have gone through her?
Helena: I guess we’ll never know. She fled like a coward.
Helga: I don’t feel that calling her a “coward” is appropriate. She thought you were going to assault her with a rock.
Helena: It probably would’ve - -
Helga: Why is she here?
Helena: I don’t know. She will speak only to you.
Helga: I shall find her restless spirit then. Perhaps alone, though.
Helena: Because of the rock?
Helga: Yes. But wait for me. I might need your company afterwards.
Helena: How long will you be?
Helga: I don’t know. How long does talking to the ghost of one’s dead mother normally take?
Helena: Don’t have a basis for an estimate.
Helga: Nor I.
Helena: I will wait regardless. But don’t take too long.
Helga: Of course. (Helena starts to exit and then turns back.)
Helena: (Holding out the rock.) Do you want this? (Helga considers it.)
Helga: I don’t think I should. (Reconsiders.) But you know what, on second thought, I’ll take it, you know, just in case it comes up.
Helena: Of course. (Helga takes the rock and Helena exits. Helga watches her go and then turns and sees . . .)
"As I look back on my life, it has been a life full of experiences-some good some not so good, all of which have made me who I am."
Taken from What a Life?, a book about his life that he was working on.
My dad, Claude Stack, died on June 4th.
He had cancer. He made a valiant effort, but in the end, he moved on.
But while he was here, he didn’t let the cancer rule his life. He and my stepmom made the most out of every day, including a trip where he got to see his youngest granddaughter for the first time. Through it all, they never gave up hope. And he didn’t lose to cancer. Cancer didn’t win. Because in the end, we all age and we all die. Of something. My dad lived life until he couldn’t live it anymore, and that’s all you can ask for.
He was a good man. He was funny, creative, and caring. He was in the Navy and got to see the world. He was a wonderful dad, husband, grandfather, and friend. And yes, he was also flawed like all of us.
He and my mom divorced when I was 3. He remarried. My mom remarried. I picked up a great second dad without losing the first, and my dad got a wonderful wife and two awesome kids, who became my brother’s and my new brother and sister.
It was different. But it became the new normal. A good normal. Going over to their house and spending a few hours or the whole day. Going on trips. And at the end of our visits, we always went back home. I remember as a kid watching him drive off, never quite understanding but accepting what it meant.
But this isn’t about that. This is about Claude Stack, a dad I loved, who I knew but not as much I wish I did. A man whose story here has ended. My life with him was full of a lot of memories, ones that comfort and haunt me all the same.
Like how in a crowd, he liked to play the clown. Perhaps he was more comfortable in that role, or he just liked seeing people laugh. Or maybe it was a mixture of both. In any case, he knew how to bring laughter to a room, even if it was a “pull my finger” joke. Which, to be honest, was his go-to more than once.
I'll remember the truck rides when he took me and my brother home. He would tell us stories of when he was a kid and the adventures he and his friends had. Even though some of those stories have faded over time, that image of being a little boy sitting beside him is still strong. Guess I’ll never stop being that little boy.
I’ll always remember the fantastic beach trips we took, filled with so many moments. Moments that I will always look back fondly on, even that time where Dad pulled me aside to give me a talk about the birds and the bees after a certain incident. I remember that when he started, my first response was “Are we seriously having this conversation??”
I’ll remember the schoolboy giddiness that he had for whatever book he’d just read, or a new toy that he had gotten. How excitedly he talked about them. I saw that giddiness in October 2014, when he got to meet his favorite writer, Alex Bledsoe, one of my friends. It was like Dad became 12 again. He had a rough year and it was great to see that, for a moment, his cancer was forgotten.
I'll remember when he thought I hated him because of the divorce. It was the first serious talk I ever remember having. I remember that it was both uncomfortable and wonderful. For the first time in my life, I felt like my dad had pulled back the curtain and let me get to know him. And I never did hate him. Life happens, and to hold a grudge against someone for something they can’t change isn’t fair. It was a turning point in our relationship.
I’ll remember seeing him cry when I handed him his copy of my new script that just come out – the script that’s dedicated to him. That was also one of the last times I saw him. I always knew he loved me, but I really felt it in that moment. And then I was the little boy in the truck again, and I’d made my dad proud.
I'll remember one of the last times I talked to him. We talked about taking a family beach trip this summer, just like old times. Though he and I probably knew on some level that the trip probably wasn’t going to happen, it didn’t take away our enjoyment of talking about what we were going to do. The longer we talked, the more we hoped that maybe – just maybe – it would happen. My stepmom even told me that after we got off the phone, he had started looking for beach houses.
Hope’s a weird thing. Especially when logic tells you otherwise. But sometimes logic is overrated. This was one of those times. He was so happy talking about that beach trip. I was too.
I’ll also remember the last time we talked on the phone. It was several weeks after our last talk, and after the doctor had told him that they were stopping chemo. The medication he was on had made him pretty out of it. He did most of the talking and told me a story that was really hard to follow. It covered many decades, but the through line was about being in a play and wishing I was there. He then talked about a message that I never left. He asked what the message said. I told him it was just to tell him I loved him.
We never talked again.
I’ll remember a lot of other things, too. Too many to mention here because life is full of moments. Some that seem unimportant until someone isn’t around anymore. But when I’m missing him or wishing that we’d had more moments, I’ll remember most of all the joy he had for life and how he shared that joy. He kept so many things to himself, but that joy . . . it was something he shared freely. Though some other memories might fade, that one never will.
Alex Bledsoe, who once hailed from a small town in Tennessee and now resides in a village overrun by trolls in Wisconsin, is a father, husband, friend, and writer. For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the writer aspect of the man called “Prentiss” by those who call him by his middle name.
The creator of the sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse, the mystical Tufa people, a certain witch, and a rather menacing group of vampires, Alex has written 12 books and over 200 short stories. His latest book,Long Black Curl, came out May 26th and continues the much beloved saga of the Tufas. I was fortunate to read an early copy of it. I can honestly say that it’s my favorite Tufa novel, and I’ve liked them all.
Alex was gracious enough to sit down with me recently and answer some questions. Okay, actually I sent him the questions by email and he sent them back to me. Answered. We do have coffee on Tuesdays at Sjolinds Chocolate House, but we’re much too busy discussing our families, bad movies, and Kevin Sorbo to do any interviewing.
So let’s get to it. And after you’re done reading the interview, rush out and pick up a copy of Long Black Curl and read it. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done in your life. Or at least top 5, depending on how awesome your life.
1. You have a new book out, Long Black Curl, which continues to expand the world of the Tufas. When you started exploring this world, did you have a long term goal of where you wanted to go, or are you discovering it as you write?
In the case of these books, there’s not really an overarching story. There are recurring characters, and they change and evolve, but each book is meant to be a self-contained story.
2. In our conversations, you have stressed how you wanted each book to be a standalone story. Why is that important to you?
Because as a reader, I’ve been frustrated too many times by picking up a book that looks interesting, only to discover that it’s book 3 in a series and absolutely indecipherable unless you’ve read the preceding novels. I want to make it easy for readers to get into my books, not harder.
3. As a creator of several different worlds, do you ever see a when where certain characters might come into contact with each other? I only ask because I think it would be awesome to see a certain vampire enter the world of the Tufas . . .
Ha! Well, I wouldn’t say, “never,” but each world seems more powerful to me if it exists on its own. There are plenty of authors who disagree and populate their worlds with all sorts of supernatural beings, but to me, it weakens the power of the story.
4. As a writer and a teacher of writing, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer of any age?
Write every day. Just like an athlete practices every day to be ready for the big game, a writer has to practice every day to be ready for the big idea.
5. You once told me that you don’t believe in writer’s block, which has helped me immensely as a writer because it removed an out for me. Could you talk about writer’s block and your feelings on it?
Well, when writing is your job--and I firmly believe you should approach it as a job--you don’t have time for blocks. Do electricians get electrician’s block? Do mechanics? Sure, some days will be easier than others, but the point is, you go to work every day no matter how you may feel about it. Same thing with writing: you do it every day, even when you don’t feel like it.
6. What surprises can your readers expect from Long Black Curl?
It’s the longest book I’ve written so far, so you get more words.
1. Favorite writer when you were a child: Edgar Rice Burroughs
2. Best line from a story other than yours: “Next time, why don’t you just mail me your guns?” That line is hysterical in context.
3. Favorite line that you have written: “If a rattlesnake bites you, you don’t blame the rattlesnake.”
4. Favorite flavor of Pop-tarts: Blueberry
5. Are you fan of grits? I won’t change the channel if they’re on.
6. If you were any superhero, who would you be? Batman.
7. If you could be any character from your books, who would it be? Jane Argo.
8. Favorite member of the Bee Gees? Maurice.
9. If you lived in the world of cartoons, what type of character would you be and what would your name be? I’d be the guy who finds Michigan J. Frog. Poor bastard never got a name.
10. Of all of your uncles, who has the best name? Nuell.
Now that you're done reading this interview, be sure to pick up a copy of Long Black Curl. It's available everywhere books are sold and in all formats. And if you can pick up a copy at a local bookstore . . . all the better.
You can find out more information about Alex and his books at his website alexbledsoe.com.
Sadie wants nothing more than to chase her dream of opening up a little theatre in the woods where her plays can be performed.
But she can't. Because although her dream is to be the Dread Playwright Sadie, right now she's the Dread Pirate Sadie, the most feared pirate in the land . . . only she's not. She's actually quite a terrible pirate. But no one knows this. And no matter how much she wishes to leave the swashbuckling life behind, she can't. Her sister Anne, the true toughest pirate in the land, refuses to take her rightful place as captain of the ship due to a childhood incident.
The Dread Pirate Sadie is an original swashbuckling fantasy comedy (40-45 mins, 8 F, 1 M, 1 M/F) full of twists, sword fights, treasure, family issues, betrayals, lots and lots of pirate speak, fish, and two awesome ships (well, actually one- dinghies aren't all that awesome if you're a pirate.)
This scene takes place at Pugly's Pub as Sadie has her crew rehearsing a new play she's written, instead of . . . I don't know . . . finding the most valuable treasure in the world that they just happen to have a map for.
More information about the play can be found by clicking on the title above or the picture below the scene. Enjoy!
Dagger: (As a beautiful butterfly in search of a mate.) Oh, if only I could find another butterfly! One to face this dark and cold world with. (Anne enters uncomfortably as a fairy. Dagger sees her and flies over to her.) Dear little fairy, do you know where I might find what I’m looking for?
Anne: (Rather angrily and with a scowl.) To find what you’re looking for - -
Sadie: Stop! You’re helping her, Anne. Not threatening her death. Now, again, but this time less . . . you.
Anne: (Anne smiles awkwardly and delivers her line again, this time less threateningly.) You must find a tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery, for there you will find what you are looking for. (Begins to leave and Sadie mouths “Float away.” Anne floats away. Sal enters as a tree. Sadie points Finnegan to one of Sal’s “branches.” Finnegan does so but begrudgingly. Dagger notices the tree. )
Dagger: There it is! A tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery. Are you the one that has what I desire? (Sal enters and the “play space” and stands like a tree-like shrubbery that is neither a tree nor a shrubbery.)
Sal: (In a tree-like voice.) I am. Look to my branch. (Dagger looks to a branch.) Not that one. (Dagger looks at the other “branch.”) See it. It is a cocoon. A place of rebirth. Soon something of beauty will emerge.
Dagger: From a simple cocoon?
Sal: Yes, yes, indeed. As you emerged from one, so will it. Watch and bear witness. (Dagger watches in anticipation as Finnegan stands there.)
Sadie: It’s your turn, Finnegan. Begin emerging.
Finnegan: This is bloody stupid! I don’t know how to emerge!
Sadie: Just do something. And don’t insult my work! (Finnegan does something that is ridiculous and nothing like emerging.)
Sadie: That was the worst emerging I’ve ever seen. We’ll have to work on that. Go, Dagger.
Dagger: It’s like looking in a mirror. A mirror that doesn’t show the same image, yet something similar. Speak to me, oh new found eternal friend.
Finnegan: (Delivered poorly.) I’ve waited so long inside this . . .
Sadie: Again! This time with feeling. (Finnegan shakes head but does it again. This time it’s even worse.)
Finnegan: (Still awful.) I’ve waited so long inside this - -
Sadie: Blast it! Do it again like you’re not dead inside!
Finnegan: Don’t want to! Why can’t we just drink?
Sadie: You will get a drink when you get this line right. Now, again. (Finnegan looks at Sadie angrily. Anne touches her sword to threaten her. Finnegan looks back at her script.)
Finnegan: I’ve waited . . . so . . . long . ..
Sadie: Stop! You’re terrible. And sound nothing like a butterfly who’s just emerged from a cocoon!
Finnegan: Butterflies emerging from a cocoon don’t sound like nothin’.
Sal: I disagree. I’ve witnessed many caterpillars beginning their second life and they do make a sound. It’s a rustling sound. Very relaxing. (Dagger turns to Sal.)
Dagger: I agree. That sounds always put me to sleep as a baby. That’s why me mother made me sleep in cocoons.
Finnegan: Well, butterflies don’t talk!
Sadie: It’s called theatre, Finnegan. Where anything happens. So this butterfly, you, speaks. You must find, Finnegan, your motivation for speaking. What do you want most of all?
Finnegan: I want a blasted drink.
Sadie: Not you as you. But you as the butterfly.
Finnegan: I don’t know.
Sadie: Give me something! (There is silence and then, finally, Finnegan speaks.)
Finnegan: A shot at a new beginning. Where I am free to spread me wings and experience something me have never known. (Sadie stares at Finnegan, as if thinking deeply, and then a big smile crosses her face.)
Sadie: My god. That’s brilliant! A true breakthrough, Finnegan. I think - -
Anne: Cap’n, now that Finnegan’s had a . . . breakthrough, don’t you think it’s about time we have a drink and be on our way?
Sadie: Avast ye, matey!!! It is. We shall rehearse again on the ship. This time in costume. (Dagger Tooth and Sal celebrate.) I know, Dagger Tooth and Sal, it is quite exciting. But now it be . . . time to find Serranto’s Treasure! (The other pirates cheer.)
“I believe that what you get out of something equals what you put into it…most of the time.” Marin Johnson
Marin Johnson, who co-owns Forte Studios with her husband Wes, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She took her first dance class when she was 11 and was instantly hooked. That passion, along with her talent, has taken her all over the United States – and the world – as a performer. Today, she lives in Wisconsin with Wes and their 3 charming children, and focuses both on teaching students her profession and on running a successful performing arts studio. She was gracious enough to take time away from her busy schedule to answer some of my questions. We talked about her career as a dancer, instructor, mom, and business owner, and Marin also took some time to give tips to younger dancers and dance teachers.
1. Tell us about your career as a dancer.
I have always been very physically active and after discovering my passion for dance at 11, I knew it was something that I wanted to do for my career. Throughout high school, I danced for about 10 hours per week studying Ballet, Jazz, Tap and Pointe with former Radio City Music Hall dancer, Jean Kettell.
While working toward my BA in Dance at Point Park University, I took a break to start my performance career at Opryland USA in Nashville, TN. I will never forget how excited I was on the first day of rehearsal and also on opening day of the show! Opryland was an amazing training ground for young performers and musicians. I loved being there so much that I returned after earning my degree. I worked there for a total of 5 seasons. That is also where I met my husband of 20 years. :-)
So many opportunities came my way as a result of working for Opryland. I have been able to dance in music videos, large theatre productions, corporate events and more. Some of the highlights of my dance career have been performing for and meeting President George Bush Sr., and performing with so many great artists such as Brenda Lee, Lee Greenwood, and all three of The Judds. Anthony Thomas, choreographer of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation videos, was one of my favorite people to work with.
Eventually, I started being offered choreography jobs. I have had the opportunity to choreograph for cruise ships, main stage theatre productions, and many large corporate events. Some of my most memorable moments as a choreographer have been for Celebrity Cruise Lines, Country Tonight’s Theatre in Pigeon Forge, TN, and for Tribute Theater in Myrtle Beach, SC. I also enjoyed working with the Miss USA Regional Pageants as their choreographer.
2. When and why did you go into teaching and running a company?
I have always loved teaching. I taught my first class at age 17. Throughout my dance career I would sub for teachers at local studios. I also enjoyed teaching for dance conventions when I could fit it into my schedule.
In 2005, I was pregnant with my 2nd child and my first child was preparing to start school. I really wanted to be closer to family, so we moved to Wisconsin to be near my sister. The transition was difficult because I had worked very hard to make so many connections in the entertainment business in the south. I didn’t have any connections in Wisconsin and I was coming to the end of my career as a performer which is one of the best ways to start making connections. Honestly, even if I had been younger, there aren’t many opportunities for live entertainment in this area of the country. At least not like there are in Nashville or one of the other larger cities known for entertainment. For a brief time, my husband and I almost moved back to Nashville, but as I said earlier, my family has always come first. I wanted my children to have extended family and I didn’t like only seeing my sister and parents two or three times per year. Once we made the decision to open a performing arts school in Mt. Horeb, everything just fell right into place. That was a great sign to me that we made the right decision… even though I do still miss some of the job opportunities I had in TN and the many friends we have there.
3. How do you balance the demands of running a business, teaching, and family?
This is my biggest challenge! Often, I don’t feel like I am balancing everything. There are certain times during the year (getting ready for a big student performance, registering families for a new season, etc.) when I feel very overwhelmed. I try to just take a breath and do the best I can, but I don’t want anything to suffer. I always have a to-do list. If something isn’t on the list, it likely will not happen. This interview was on the list! I am also getting better at delegating and realizing that while some things may not be done exactly the way I would do them, often times it is still just fine. I need to let go of some things. I also love my crock pot and use it all the time so that my family can still eat healthy even though I don’t have time to stand over the stove! While there is definitely a limit to the messiness, I try not to get caught up with always having a clean house. I’d rather spend time with my kids. When they are grown, hopefully they will remember spending time with me and will not remember or care that the house was messy.
4. What do you think are the keys for students to improve as dancers?
I think I could go on and on for this just because there are so many different personality types and I see so many kids sabotaging their efforts. Here are some things I would tell them:
*Don’t be lazy. Work hard every time! Then work harder!
*Learn to love the barre. Or at least appreciate the technique that comes from barre exercises.
*You MUST only speak to yourself with positive phrases. Example: Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m not going to fall out of this turn” which only makes you focus on falling, say,”I’m going to have perfect balance for this turn” which makes you focus on balancing. May not work every time, but it gears you in the right direction.
*Stop worrying about the level of the class you are in or who else is in there. Concentrate on you and your skill and how you can perform the steps better each time. If you think a dance is too easy, maybe it is because you aren’t doing it right.
*You look sillier when you only halfway go for it, than when you really go for it and fall or stumble. You will also never find out what you are capable of if you only half way try because you are worried about what other people will say or think.
*While the shows are exciting and fun, the shows are not the pay off. The pay off is being able to dance everyday. You will spend many many more hours in the studio than you ever will on stage. If all you are focused on is the stage, then you will likely not put in the work necessary to actually get there.
*Amazing technique is always impressive, but when you can bring someone to tears with your emotion, you will have the gift of leaving a lasting impression on your audience. With that said, you still must work to perfect your technique.
*Be open to new ideas, new techniques, new styles, and new ways of doing old steps.
*Improvise whenever you can. It may be uncomfortable at first, but will eventually help you find your own style. Most auditions include improvisation.
5. What advice would you give to all first year dance teachers or dance teachers of any level of experience?
*Being a great dancer does not equal being a great teacher. You have to connect with your students and make them understand what may come naturally to you at this point.
*Constantly observe them. While dancing with them is beneficial for everyone, don’t do it all the time or you will not see mistakes they are making.
*Don’t get caught up in getting through your whole lesson plan. If you only get through half of it, but the students really understand the concepts, then the class was a success!
*If you are only there to collect a pay check, it’s probably not the right job for you.
*Be honest with the students. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t make one up. Tell them you will research it and get back to them. Then follow through.
*STOP telling them “Good Job” when it is clearly terrible! Do what you can to build them up, but be truthful or you will end up with a group of kids who stop trying because they already think they are great.
*Stop students in the middle of a dance combination if you have to in order to fix mistakes as early on as possible. Once muscle memory has set in, mistakes are SO hard to fix.
*Give all of your students, no matter the skill level, an opportunity to improvise and think on their own.
"Dance from your heart and say something!"
Visit fortestudios.biz for more information on Marin and her amazing studio.
Actually, that title, besides being really long, is also a lie. I don’t wish I’d known these things. If I had, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I’m pretty happy where I am now. But for the sake of this blog, here are some random things I wish I had known.
1. There’s enough success in the world.
If I had known this, I would have been happier for my friends when they succeeded instead of asking, “What about me?”
2. Excuses are for losers.
Sure, they make you feel better in the short term. But in the end, all you’re left with is the fact that you didn’t come through and didn’t own up to it.
3. Fresh spinach is amazing.
Knowing this would’ve kept me from wasting so much of my life eating iceberg lettuce, which is dumb, as discussed last week on this blog here.
4. Everyone, at one point, was a little baby whom someone loved and had dreams for.
It’s hard to remember this when you run into people who act like jerks, but we all started off the same way. Then life, and choices made by us or for us, took control.
5. Surround yourself with people that challenge you.
Sure, being a big fish in a small pond feels good. But you won’t grow until there are bigger fish than you that push you to be better.
6. Not everything is about you.
For the longest time, I thought the world cared about everything I said or did. Until I realized that everyone else thought the same thing. Doing the math, something didn’t add up.
7. When you’re 12, the way to a girl’s heart is probably not adult contemporary music sung by Dan Hill.
Especially when the first line of the song is “Can I touch you? I can’t believe that you are real.” My bad, Missy.
8. It’s never really about winning.
It’s about working hard enough to put yourself in a position to win. To have a chance. Let the results fall where they may.
9. Be the person you wish everyone else would be.
If you can’t, why would you expect anyone else to?
10. Buy thousands of boxes of Christmas Fruity Pebbles.
That cereal was awesome.
11. And while I’m at it, let’s buy a thousand boxes of Lemon Coolers, made by the Sunshine brand.
The perfect beach cookie.
12. Keep perspective.
Nothing is the end of the world. Except the end of the world. And when that happens, no one will be around to say it anyway.
13. Always do work you’re proud of.
If you’re not proud of it, do it again. And do it better.
14. No one knows exactly how you feel, and you don’t know exactly how anyone else feels.
You can’t. There are too many variables. Knowing this makes empathy a lot easier.
15. Learn everything you can about others and the world.
The world is full of awesome things. Experience them. Learn about them. Other people, with all of their interesting quirks and backstories, are amazing – if you take the time to get know them.
16. There are a lot of talented people in the world.
And most of the time, it comes down to who works the hardest. Make it you.
17. Never forget how to believe in the impossible.
It was easy when you were three. It’s harder now. But not impossible – if you remember what it was like to be three.
18. Remember that everyone grows old and dies.
19. Laugh at yourself.
We all do awkward things sometimes. Laugh at yourself, forgive yourself, and then move on.
20. Be nice to yourself.
You’re going to have bad moments, like at least 18 of them. You’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes. You’re going to fail to come through sometimes. It’s okay. Do better next time.
21. There is no 21.
I just didn’t want to end at 20.
22. You don’t always have to have a concluding paragraph.
And now we end at 22.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.