Directing Youth with Kerry Hishon

Directing Youth

Youth Director Kerry Hishon talks about the process from auditions to rehearsal to performance and shares her hints, tips, and tricks.  If you’re auditioning for Oklahoma what type of song should you definitely NOT choose? How do you build ensemble? How do you plan a rehearsal schedule? Bonus: Listen in to find out how Kerry directed Peter Pan without the wires.

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

This is Episode 102 and you can find any show notes for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode102.

So, it is a very unique skill to be able to direct youth well. And, as a drama teacher or educator or even if you’re a student director, learning how to direct well is a continual process. So, let’s keep learning.

Today, I’m going to talk to youth director, Kerry Hishon, and bonus! Make sure you pay attention. In the middle of this, she’s going to talk about how she directed Peter Pan without the wires. I love it.

Lindsay: All right. Hello, everybody! Welcome to the podcast!

I am very happy to be talking to Kerry Hishon. Hello, Kerry!

Kerry: Hello!

Lindsay: Hi! Okay. So, first off, where are you in the world?

Kerry: I live in London, Ontario, Canada.

Lindsay: Awesome. You guys are practically just down the road from us, you know, give or take a few hours. So, Kerry, you have a really interesting background. You do a little bit of everything.

Kerry: Yeah, I do, actually. I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I’m primarily a youth theatre director, I’m also an actor, I do a little bit of playwriting, I am a stage combatant, and I also work at Original Kids Theatre Company.

Lindsay: Awesome. All right. Well, we’ll come around to talk about all of that, but let’s talk first about how you got into this. What was the first thing that really drew you to theatre?

Kerry: Oh, gosh. Well, I grew up in Stratford, Ontario, so it’s kind part of the culture there. You learn iambic pentameter before you learn to multiply in school and being around the Stratford Festival, you get to see shows and you don’t really realize that it’s actually a luxury for so many other people and we’d go with our schools every single year and see multiple shows and you’d think it’s no big deal, “Oh, yeah, I’m just going to go to the Stratford Festival today,” and you don’t realize that other schools, like, save up and this is their big end-of-the-year trip, and for me, I was just used to it.

Lindsay: Or that other people don’t live in towns that have this amazing theatre resource, like, right around the corner.

Kerry: Yeah, you don’t even think about it. You just think, “Oh, yes, of course we have a world-renowned theatre here, doesn’t everyone?”

Lindsay: So, it’s kind of like it’s part of your life always. So then, how does that translate into trying to pursue it?

Kerry: Yeah. I’ve always enjoyed it. I loved doing theatre during public school and high school and I then pursued it in university. I went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and I majored in Stage and Screen Studies, and I just really enjoyed it. I loved every aspect of it and the wonderful thing about that program is that you get to do all sorts of different disciplines. I took acting classes and directing and playwriting and screenwriting and theatre and film history and even design which was terrifying for me because I am so not an artist. I have mad respect for all those designers out there because I could not do that – that’s why I get people to do that for me.

Lindsay: But I think it’s important, too. Like, I think that what aids my playwriting is that I have acted and I have directed, and you sort of get that all-encompassing, right?

Kerry: I agree there. I think having that background and having had your hands in a little bit of everything is really helpful. It really develops your skills and gives you an appreciation for all the hard work that goes into creating a theatrical production. It really is such a team effort. You can’t do it by yourself.

Lindsay: I think, as an actor, the last time you mishandle your props is when you become the prop person.

Kerry: It’s so true. It’s so true.

Lindsay: Aside from acting, you do a lot of youth directing. So, what does that mean?

Kerry: Yes. Well, I work in Original Kids Theatre Company which is a company here in London, Ontario, which has a membership of over 300 young actors between the ages of eight and eighteen. I work there in the office, but I started there as a youth theatre director and Original Kids hires independent theatre artists to direct and music direct and choreograph shows. We produce over 20 shows a year.

Lindsay: That is insane. The logistics alone just boggles my mind.

Kerry: It is pretty crazy. On top of that, we also run a kidlets program for young actors, five to eight, and a summer camp program, too.

Lindsay: Oh, well, that’s amazing and also wonderful that that’s there, that they can do that.

Kerry: It’s a fantastic program. We’ve been around now for 23 years in the London area and it’s just fantastic. It’s such a fun place to be and I just absolutely love the kids and the people that I work with on a daily basis. It’s like a family.

Lindsay: What’s special about directing for youth?

Kerry: I really like working with young actors because they’re not afraid to try new things. They’re really eager to get in there and explore characters and have fun and play and be silly and they don’t have the sort of questions and the reservations I find that working with adults have. They’re so open and willing to try new things.

Lindsay: I think that, too. I think they’re a pretty unique group – energy for days and always willing to try new things.

Kerry: You’re not kidding when it comes to energy for days. I’ll go into rehearsal and, even if I’m feeling bummed out or tired, you’re in there for three minutes and their energy just fills you up and it’s just absolutely wonderful and you go home and you’re sweaty and excited and you just had a fantastic day, and even if it’s not a great rehearsal, you’re like, “You know what? We’ve accomplished something.” It doesn’t even matter if we got, like, one page blocked – that’s a step in the right direction. So, that’s always a good thing.

Lindsay: So, let’s go through some of the steps from your side of the table. When you hold auditions, what are some of the big no-no’s that seem to happen time and time again from young actors when they step into your audition room?

Kerry: I think one of the big things is not being prepared and, luckily, we don’t have to deal with that too much. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of kids who’ve come through and they’re like, “Yep, they’re taking it seriously. They know what to do.”

But I occasionally have some young actors that they are either not really committed and they’re not prepared and they haven’t really taken the steps to find a good monologue that works well for them or they haven’t picked a song that’s a good choice for the show. Like, if you’re auditioning for a show like Oklahoma, you’re not going to come in and sing a Katy Perry song. It just doesn’t work that way, you know? It doesn’t show off your vocals. It doesn’t show off the style that you’re supposed to be portraying.

So, being unprepared or making poor choices is really tough and, as a director, you want so badly for your actors to do well. You know, you’re gunning for them and I hope that’s something that young actors really take from this is that your directors, they want you to do well – they’re sitting there hoping, “Oh, my goodness, I hope these actors are going to give me everything they’ve got and make my job so much easier by giving me a good audition.”

So, I’d say, first and foremost, being ill-prepared.

The second is nervousness and that’s really just something I think that has to be practiced. You really can practice auditions, you know? Rehearse your stuff at home. Work with your friends or your parents and just rehearse your stuff till you know it forwards, backwards, on your head, and that way, the nerves still might be there, but you’ll know how to cope with them and you know how to push them aside and just focus on what you need to do. You just need to do the job which is, you know, perform as best as you can.

Lindsay: What a great piece of advice – practice. Practice with your friends. You know, I think sometimes that, particularly with young actors who haven’t done it a lot, it totally escapes them that they could actually maybe run through their audition piece more than once or twice.

Kerry: I agree. I agree. I really feel that auditioning is a skill that can be practiced, especially if you happen to be a member of a company like Original Kids and you have that resource. There’s directors there that you’ve worked with or staff that you’ve worked with and they’re generally happy to listen to you practice or even give you some pointers, if you want that. Like, never be afraid to ask for help and ask your friends to listen to you. Ask your family members to watch you and give you some feedback.

One other tip that I’ve found really useful was actually, in this age of laptops with videos in them and your iPhones with video feedback, you know, film yourself and watch yourself and you can see, “Oh, okay, I always lean to the left,” or, “My arms are kind of flapping,” or, “I keep touching my hair.”

Film yourself and watch yourself. It’s kind of embarrassing at first and you pick yourself apart, but that way you can see, “This is what I do. This is what I look like. Okay. This is what I need to work on.”

Lindsay: Well, it’s amazing how many unconscious ticks young actors have that they just don’t realize how many times they touch their hair or they shuffle their feet from side to side.

Kerry: The shuffling – oh, my gosh, it’s funny because it’s like they’re doing a little dance and they don’t realize they’re doing it.

Lindsay: And it’s completely actor-driven. It has nothing to do with the character and it’s like, “If I believe this was character-driven, then I would love it, but it’s not.”

Okay. What about overdone? If you had to give some advice to young actors out there, what monologues or music pieces do you never want to see again?

Kerry: One of the things that I also do on top my directing is I write a blog and this is actually one of my blog posts, “Overdone Monologues and Songs.”

I never ever want to hear the Tuna Fish monologue from Christopher Durang. I’ve heard that one 10,000 times. Neverland 911 is one that I hear all the time. Really, anything that, if you Google “monologues for young actors,” just avoid those ones like the plague.

Lindsay: Don’t use any of those!

Kerry: Don’t use any of those because everybody else does it.

Ones that I’ve found recently I’ve heard a lot of is Anne of Green Gables, the “Oh, Mrs. Lynde, I have red hair!” and et cetera, et cetera. I hear that one a lot. And “Falling Down the Rabbit Hole” – Alice in Wonderland – I hear that all the time. Dorothy waking up in Wizard of Oz, that’s one I hear a lot, too.

In terms of songs, I hear Castle on a Cloud all the time – all the time – and My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. I had one show that I had, I must have had five kids sing that song in a row and, by the end of it, I was just thinking, “I can tell that raindrops on roses and brown paper packages are not your favorite things, and you’re not convincing me that those are your favorite things.”

Lindsay: Awesome. Absolutely. Okay.

So, once you get them, you’ve cast them and you’ve got them into rehearsals, how do you go about building ensemble between your group? Because you have a lot of musicals and a lot of chorus work. What do you do to get your kids to really work together?

Kerry: I think, right off the bat, it’s important to have the kids get to know each other and really have the team – the artistic staff – get to know them as well.

So, at the beginning of rehearsals, we do a lot of name games and that’s something that’s just so, so important. Learn the kids’ names. I’ve worked with teams – artistic teams – where you get to the final process and you get to the final dress rehearsal and, if you don’t know the kids’ names, it’s just embarrassing. So, it really makes them feel important so that’s first and foremost – learn their names – name games, talking to them, really.

At the beginning and end of every rehearsal, I like to get the kids together, we sit in a circle and we talk about what happened that day. Take five minutes just to ask the kids about their day. Then, we can set that aside and we can set aside regular life and we can get into our theatre life and we can really focus on the play and the work at hand and, at the end, we can kind of have, again, a sit down and just talk about what we accomplished today, what we want to work on next time, and just really get to know the kids on a personal level. Find out what they like to do when they’re not at Original Kids or at rehearsal.

Really, just treat them with respect and like people because that’s what they want. They’re used to being in school all day where they’re having to sit and be quiet and they come to the theatre and they can be themselves and they can really play and have fun. That’s why we do theatre. If it’s not fun, there’s no point of doing it.

So, first and foremost, really get to know them and get to know them as people.

In terms of ensemble building, there’s obviously tons of theatre games you can do. I really like having the kids create backstories for their characters. I’ll have them write down some character traits about their character. You know, “What is my character like? If I’m doing Peter Pan and I’m doing Pirate #6.”

Lindsay: Yeah.

Kerry: “First, my name is not Pirate #6. My name is Pegleg Pete and I am 30 years old and I love rum and I got onto the ship three years ago,” or something. You know, come up with bits about your character so you know that you’re not just Pirate #6. Maybe you have a relationship with another pirate on the ship. Maybe there’s someone you really like and someone you don’t like. Get together with your cast and figure that out.

Lindsay: I think that’s awesome, particularly when you’re doing those big musicals where there are so many characters who are just sort of there for the singing and not necessarily there for the story and yet they’re so important. That’s hard to convey, I think, sometimes, to young performers.

Kerry: Yeah. I just want to make sure that everyone feels important and knows they’re there. And, yes, you know, you can always say that there’s no small roles, just small actors, and that’s not entirely true. Yes, there are some roles that are smaller – not everyone can be Peter Pan, not everyone can be Wendy Darling – but everyone is there because they’re in the play. They’re important so it’s important to make sure that they know that.

Lindsay: What are some of the challenges you find with rehearsing a large cast with lots of young performers?

Kerry: First, the chattiness because they get to know each other so well and they get to become friends and then they just want to talk, talk, talk, talk all the time. So, it’s important to make sure to establish that, when you come to the theatre, we will have a break time and that’s when you can talk, that’s when you can socialize, but we need to focus on the play, on the work at hand. Now, it’s Kerry time. It’s play time – play time as in theatre time, not play time as in muck around on the stage.

It’s important to establish that you can be friends with the kids and you can have a fun time, but there’s a line between being their friend and being a pushover. You still have to establish yourself as the director and to have that strong sense of leadership there. I think I went off-topic there.

Lindsay: Yeah. Well, especially when you have a play with so many moving parts.

Kerry: Exactly, yeah.

Lindsay: And so many things to learn and so many elements.

How long do you rehearse?

Kerry: For my most recent production which was, again, Peter Pan – I actually did Disney’s Peter Pan – we started rehearsing in January, the first week back to school, and we performed over March break. We rehearsed three times a week for five hours during the week. So, two and a half hours on Mondays, two and a half hours on Thursdays, and three hours on Sundays. So, I guess, do the math there – eight hours a week for ten weeks.

Lindsay: No math, no math.

Kerry: There you go. So, I think it’s really important to be organized. Just plan your time wisely. Get together before rehearsals. Even start with your team. Map out what you’re going to do at each rehearsal. You know, “Today, we are going to do casting. Then, the next day, we’re going to do a read-through. And, the next three days, we’re going to learn this song and then this sing.” And then, just really plan ahead, use your time effectively.

The worst thing you can do is come into a rehearsal and say, “Oh, I don’t know what we need to rehearse today.” No, when you have a limited amount of time and you have a huge group of kids to work with, you need to plan exactly what you’re going to do.

Of course, leave a little bit of wiggle room because there’s always going to be things happen. You know, you get to rehearsal one day and, “Oh, guess what? Wendy Darling’s not here today.” “Well, I guess we can’t rehearse that scene.”

So, be flexible. Have a back-up plan but have a plan to begin with – that’s the most important thing.

Lindsay: So, I wanted to do a little segue since you’re talking about Peter Pan and I know that a lot of our customers, a lot of our listeners have either done Peter Pan or it’s a very popular play. So, let’s talk about two things – one, the flying; and, two, the combat aspect.

So, how do you handle something that is a very technical element – like flying – with young performers?

Kerry: Well, if I had tons and tons of money and the ability to do so, I would have loved to do wires. Of course, you can’t do that in our small theatre. So, our flying was actually two different things. First thing is we are very fortunate at the Spriet Family Theatre in London to have a balcony on our stage. So, part of the flying was the Darling children and Peter Pan and the fairies tip-toeing up to the balcony and flying on their tip-toes with their arms to the sides. We also have a hazer so we used some stage fog and some haze to make it seem kind of atmospheric and we had some of our ensemble bring cardboard clouds on-stage as well to make them look like they were flying around the clouds.

Lindsay: Hey, you know what though? I think that’s exactly what it should be in some cases because I’ve just heard so many horror stories about rigging and wires going horribly wrong with the show.

Kerry: Well, especially when you’re working with young actors, for Peter Pan, our actors, they were in grade two to grade nine and it would be very dangerous to do that, I think, with actors that young. So, there’s always creative ways to go around it.

Lindsay: Yeah!

Kerry: So, like I said, we had some ensemble members come on and they were clouds and we also had some come on with flashlights and they were stars. That way, you could include more of your ensembles, there’s more dancing opportunities, and the kids just had so much fun.

Also, how I staged that is, the kids who were clouds were already wearing their pirate costumes and then the stars were the Lost Boys. So, it kind of established sort of dream-like sense because the premise was that, “Was it all a dream? Did the Darlings just dream this?” and they’re getting a little taste of what Neverland is. So, it just worked out well that way.

Also, I wanted them originally in rehearsal blacks but the quick change was too fast so, in that case, you just have to come up with a better idea and that one worked out well.

Lindsay: Ah, just solve your problems, right? Actually, when you were talking about it, that’s the first thing that came to my head; what a great way to transition.

Kerry: Yeah, it was a great transition!

Lindsay: Yeah, and you meant it every step of the way. That was totally your intention from the very beginning. No, I adore theatrical solutions to sticky problems. You know, I just think, instead of the thing, “Oh, we’re going to fly them,” “Oh, we can’t.” So, instead of not doing the way, what can you do? And I just think that’s fantastic. You gave the perfect answer.

Kerry: Thank you! It involves the kids more and they take a real ownership in involving themselves in the scene changes. They really like that because it gives them more to do and just more stage time and, like I said, a sense of ownership rather than having a stage crew come on and do all the changes for them. They can be involved in that and create the scene and it’s fun for the audience to see, “Oh, look, there’s a pirate and, oh, gosh, there’s a fairy,” and it’s just a lot of fun, too.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now, let’s move on because there is a lot of fighting in Peter Pan. So, with your very young actors, how do you plan stage fights? How do you do them safely? What do you do?

Kerry: Well, the first thing is you have to prepare your script and know exactly what sort of combat was in it. In the Disney version of Peter Pan JR., there is only one sword fight and it is between Peter and Hook. We kept it very, very simple. They had wooden swords and their fight only consisted of about four moves. What we did was we demonstrated it between myself and my choreographer who is also a very talented stage combatant.

We created four very simple moves that looked really good on-stage that they could perform easily. We performed it for the actors, we filmed it so they could watch it at home, and then we broke it down step by step for them to learn it. Then, every day before we did the show, they would have to do a fight call and they would have to perform the fight twice – once at half-speed to get the moves back into their body and then once at performance speed – and that’s really, really important when you’re doing combat with young actors is that practice it, practice it over and over and over again until it’s in their body.

It’s like learning a dance – it really is. You wouldn’t have them do a move that they couldn’t do on-stage. Like, if they can’t do a triple pirouette, you’re not going to make them do it. If they can’t safely hold a weapon or use it correctly, you’re not going to do it.

So, if we had found that that movement didn’t work for them or they couldn’t learn that choreography, we would have altered it to perhaps something simpler – maybe a knife fight instead with rubber knives. But we also had to work on some other combat moves such as tying up the pirates and it’s just going really slow at first, showing the actors exactly where they need to be, and walking it through first until you bring it up to performance speed. It’s always safety first, safety last, safety always.

Lindsay: I think that’s the only way to do it. That sounds great. I really like the idea of videotaping it too so that they can constantly have it in their heads.

Kerry: It’s really useful and, actually, I do that with all my stage combat now, no matter who I’m working with, whether it’s youth or adults. It’s so easy to film it on your iPhone or your iPod and pop it up on YouTube. If you don’t want anyone to see you, you can make it private and keep it just for the rehearsal. But it’s so useful to be able to see that, especially me because I’m a very visual learner. I can’t just hear a direction; I need to be able to see what it looks like. That way, you can review it and it’s that resource there to use over and over again if you need it.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Kerry: And then, you can use it as a demo reel too in the future.

Lindsay: Always thinking!

Now, as you come up to performance, you must have to deal with – not deal with but have students be respectful of students, young performers who perhaps this is their first time on stage.

Kerry: Definitely.

Lindsay: How do you deal with that? Because it’s a way different experience; “Oh, I’m just in rehearsal” to “Oh, there’s going to be an audience.” How do you deal with stage fright of your performers?

Kerry: For the most part, we work on that actually throughout the process. One of the techniques that I’ve found really useful is to do a little preview. So, for example, if you’re doing a small scene – for example, if I was doing – in Peter Pan, there was a scene with mermaids and they would work with the choreographer and the musical director to work on their part while I was working with other kids and we would do a little showcase.

So, the rest of the cast members would sit in the audience and the mermaids would perform what they’d done and then sometimes we would invite parents at the end of rehearsal to come in and watch a scene we’d worked on and then just kind of build up the audience from there.

You know, the more they have an opportunity to perform in front of other people – whether it be other cast mates, their friends and family who just happened to be around to pick them up – that’s always useful and just really reviewing as much as possible, like, allowing yourself that time in the rehearsal schedule to do full runs of the show, to work on problem scenes.

If you’re finding that a certain scene is always an issue, you want to leave yourself a little bit of time to practice a little bit more and give good feedback and get them to a place where they feel comfortable and that you can kind of pre-emptively work on the stage fright rather than have to get to the point where “Oh, I’m on-stage.”

Lindsay: It’s an overwhelming wave.

Kerry: Yeah, just kind of pre-emptively is the most important thing, I think. Getting them to the point where they are super comfortable. Like I said, if you’ve people in the hallway waiting to pick your kids up, “Come on in and see what we’ve been working on today!” and really celebrate their achievements.

Even if the scene is a little rough, you can just be like, “We just learned this today! Oh, my gosh, can you believe all the work they’ve done?” and that just makes the actors feel really good and the parents really like to see that because they’re like, “Oh, wow! I didn’t know my kid could do this!”

Lindsay: Well, isn’t that always the way, too? It’s like, sometimes, parents don’t know what theatre is and what’s happening. I think it’s a bit different if they’re going to an after-school program, but there’s still that, well, I’m sure that you must have to deal with parents saying, you know, “You should have cast my kid as Wendy Darling,” and, “Why didn’t you?” and to have them see what’s going on in the process maybe smooths some waters, maybe.

Kerry: It does, and we do have to deal with new parents who are new to theatre because, even if they are part of the theatre company, you know, it’s so easy to understand a sport whereas theatre has such a process that not everyone truly understands.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Well, because, you know, sports are rules and theatre is – which is not exactly the right thing to say because there are rules of theatre – like, you do have to have some structure and some guidance.

Kerry: But it’s a process. It’s a different process that not everybody understands.

Lindsay: Okay. My last question to you, this is very interesting because I talk to people a lot about this, particularly when we’re dealing with young performers. For them, do you believe the process is more important or the product?

Kerry: Oh, I think it’s definitely the process. I really feel that, you know, because they spend so much more time in rehearsal than they do actually performing. I think it’s really important. They could have a fantastic show but, if they’ve hated their lives doing it, then you really haven’t accomplished anything.

So, I really think it’s the process that’s really, really important. You want to make sure that they’re growing as performers. You want to make sure that they’re learning something. You want to make sure that they’re moving ahead and you’ll have different actors of different abilities, of course, and some will move ahead in leaps and bounds, and some of them will just move a few inches. But the fact that they’re moved in that forward direction is really, really important, and it’s not just, “Oh, we had an amazing show,” but, “Oh, these actors grew as people and they’ve increased their skills and they’ve learned new things and made new friends and that’s what’s just going to help them in the long run.”

Lindsay: Yup, I agree – 100 percent.

Thank you so much, Kerry! It’s been really great talking to you!

Kerry: Thank you so much for having me! This has been so much fun. I’m really honored to be able to talk to you and be on this podcast so thank you so much for this.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Thank you, Kerry!

Okay. Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

Since we talked about directing youth today, I’d like to point you to the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode102 – and a blog series we did on student directing. Do you have a student director’s project in your program? Do you have students who want to direct your one-act? Give them some guidance! There’s topics on choosing a play, auditions, and – I think this one is the most important one of all – directing your peers. How, as a student director, do you get your fellow classmates to do what you want?

You can get links to the student directing series in the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode102.

Finally, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube at YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Search on the word “Theatrefolk” and you will find us.

Okay. That’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Episode 101: Movement and the Student Actor Replay

Episode-101

La Tasha Do’zia-Earley used our play Emotional Baggage with her students as an introduction to the Laban movement  technique. How does she encourage her students to move? How did Emotional Baggage lead to her students creating an hour long wordless piece? Catch the replay of this great episode to find out.

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Okay, folks! Here we are at Episode 101. But it is not Room 101. I promise there are no rats – no rats in boxes here; just lovely theatre news.

Okay. Do you know sometimes you sit down and you start talking and then something comes out and you’re like, “Ah, this is why I should take notes.”

Speaking of notes, you can find any show notes for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode101.

So, it’s summer time. It’s summer time! Are you taking it easy? Are you charging ahead? Are you changing things up for the upcoming school year? I know, I know. Is it too early to talk about next year? Are you maybe thinking about teaching something new? How does that make you feel? Excited or nervous? Maybe a bit of both?

So, Craig and I are working on a big, big Theatrefolk project this month which I think classifies fully as charging ahead and, really, it’s the biggest project we’ve ever done. It’s definitely new territory – both for us and for Theatrefolk – and it’s safe to say we’re really, really excited and we’re really, really nervous. What if it doesn’t work? What if you don’t like it? But that’s not enough, right? You have to try, right? We have to work on something and do our best and then take the plunge.

Really, we can’t wait until we can talk about it. It’s coming soon. Keep your ears peeled. Trust me when I say you’ll know when it’s out.

So, this week, we’re taking it just a little easy here with a replay. But, fear not, the summer is all about giving you great resources and this is a great episode. And, I also want to mention, at the end of the episode, we have a new THEATREFOLK FOLKS where I’m going to talk about a new play, Cobweb Dreams, which has been out recently – a spin-off from the Midsummer Night’s Dream Story.

So, today, we’re playing a great episode with La Tasha Do’zia-Earley. We’re going to get into movement and the student actor. Specific expressive movement is so hard for student actors to grasp so how does La Tasha do it? Let’s find out.

Lindsay:  Hello everybody! Welcome to the podcast!

I am very happy that I have with us today La Tasha Do’zia-Earley.

Hello, La Tasha!

La Tasha: Hello! How are you?

Lindsay:  I am great! Thank you very much for spending some of your Saturday with me.

So, first, tell everybody where you are in the world.

La Tasha: I am in Winchester, Virginia.

Lindsay:  Awesome. Were you spared in this winter weather we’ve been having?

La Tasha: No, we’ve got about 18 inches here.

Lindsay:  All I can say is, I’m like, I’m glad I’m not in Atlanta where the ice just brought the entire place to a standstill.

La Tasha: Yes.

Lindsay:  I don’t like winter, but at least I’m in a place that can handle it.

La Tasha: Right.

Lindsay:  So, the reason that I wanted to have La Tasha on the podcast is that she sent us a Facebook message just a little while ago. And, La Tasha, do you remember why you sent us a message?

La Tasha: I sent you the message because we had just used – we being my company – just used Emotional Baggage – one of your wordless pieces – basically as our whole session getting my kids used to movement without words, and it was a great introduction to Laban movement which is what we’ve been studying all of February.

Lindsay:  And I just think that’s so fascinating because Laban is a movement-based technique, correct?

La Tasha: Yes.

Lindsay:  Tell everybody, before we just get into specifics just give a little sort of Cole’s notes about what Laban is.

La Tasha: Laban was basically a theory.

Lindsay:  He was a gentleman, correct?

La Tasha: Yes, yes, he was a dancer and choreographer, Rudolph Laban, and he strongly believed that we, as a people, have lost the language, the communication language of using our bodies – that how we communicate as a people is entirely based on body movement, including how we speak as they saw an internal body movement. So, he created this great analysis and theory that both dancers, choreographers, and actors use.

Lindsay:  Can you think of a really simple example of an exercise?

La Tasha: Sure! There is a simple exercise that I always start off with, even with my younger eight-year-old kids, which is about space – being aware of space, the space that you’re walking in. So, I have them walk around the room and I have them walk around the room in every inch. I tell them, “Fill up every inch with your feet and with your hands. Make sure every inch of the space is filled up with your body as a group,” and where we go from that is, essentially, we become different characters – whether it’s an animal or a particular person – and, from there, we learn about indirect and direct movement. So, for example, if I’m a Walmart cashier and I’m late checking in, you know, to start my shift, how would she move across the room? So, yeah, being completely aware of space.

Lindsay:  What is so fascinating about all of this is that, when I think of a group of people who have such a defined body language, it’s youth – it’s children and teenagers. You know, they say so much with how they hold their bodies and how they are holding their bodies and when they say something – and yet, when you are working with student actors, one of the hardest things to do is to get them to physically express.

La Tasha: Right. It’s very, very difficult for them because they are just becoming their own person, basically. You’re starting to separate yourself from your mom and your dad and your family, and starting to become more and more of who you hang out with, what your interests are, and so on. So, it’s really hard for them to get out of that frame of mind. A lot of people would think that senior citizens would be harder because they’re stuck in their ways. But, actually, teenagers in particular tend to be more stuck in their ways.

Lindsay:  Isn’t that funny? What a great way of explaining it – that they’re just sort of getting used to their bodies, in a sense. And is that why you think it’s so hard for them to create other characters?

La Tasha: I think it is, and I think, as a director or as a Drama teacher, if you take the time to really focus on the movement and the body movement of a character as far as developing your character, that’s an essential piece. I judge competitions all throughout the year and one of the biggest notes or critiques that I give to directors is really spend time, really dive into the character as far how their physicality are. A lot of these high schoolers, they play older people, they play older characters – people who are experienced in life – and you could tell that a teenager is playing a role. “Oh, this is just a teenager pretending to be an adult,” as opposed to, ‘This is an actor who did a very great job of being an adult.”

Lindsay:  I recently judged… well, when I judge individual events, all the time, I need a little stamp that says, you know, “Character-driven movement, character-driven movement. Stomp, stomp. Stop shuffling your feet. Stand your ground and make a choice.”

La Tasha: Move with purpose.

Lindsay:  Yes.

La Tasha: Even indirect movement – indirect meaning, even if your character aimlessly walking around – have a purpose behind that. Each movement should have a purpose. My mentor, Bodde, she would always say, “Don’t move unless you have an intent,” and she could tell and, you know, that would be part of our production notes. “Why did you move here?” and you’d be like, “What are you talking about?” But she would be able to pick up on that because that one shred of movement that is out of your character and more of you as an actor can really destroy the character as a whole.

Lindsay:  So, how long have you been really sort of focused on teaching students movement like this?

La Tasha: I’ve been teaching for eight years and it started from when I was twenty-one, and Bodde as I mentioned before, is my mentor. I had a really, really tough time with a particular character that I was playing in college and I could not get connected to this character at all, and it was very frustrating. And the way that Bodde introduced us into digging deeper into our characters, at that point in time, was through movement.

“Don’t say anything. Just do. What is the weight? What is the burden of your character? What is she thinking as she’s walking across the stage? And, if she’s thinking something that’s a burden, is it heavy? Or, if she’s thinking of something that’s happy, is she light?” You know, “What is the timing of her movement? Does she walk fast? And, if she does, why? Is she always in a hurry? Is she always late? Does she walk slow? Is she depressed?”

So, we did a lot of walking – a lot of walking!

Lindsay:  Well, that’s the thing you want to do when you’ve paid your money and you’re twenty-one, right? And you want to walk.

La Tasha: Right! So, we did a lot of walking and we also did a lot of flocking as a group.

Lindsay:  Oh, what’s that?

La Tasha: Flocking is basically just as it sounds – like a bird flock. You have one person that starts as the point and the rest of us file as a triangle of a flock. And we start with movements and, as we move, as you move, the flock turns, you know, according to the person that’s leading it, and then, a new leader is up front. So, as the flocking and the movement is happening, each person will eventually be pushed to the front and be able to direct the group. Well, it’s a great bonding point for ensemble members because you sort of have to get out of that diva, or divo, frame of mind and you have to follow even, you know, the smallest character that’s in your ensemble at some point in time.

Lindsay:  Each person has to be the leader and each person has be the follow which is basically in the essence of what an ensemble is, right?

La Tasha: Yeah.

Lindsay:  You must always work together, yeah.

So, how difficult is it to teach students Laban?

La Tasha: I wouldn’t say it’s really difficult. It’s definitely challenging and I know, a lot of the times, my teenagers get very upset with me, or frustrated with me, which is fine.

Lindsay:  How come?

La Tasha: Because they do not know yet how to develop a character for self-gratification as opposed to doing what they think will satisfy me, and the more I push, and the more that I coach, the more they feel that I am not satisfied which is not the case at all. It’s literally me pushing them further and deeper into what they can go. If you can go deeper, I’m going to push you to go deeper. So, it’s not so much about satisfying the teacher. This is not school where, you know, you have to write exactly what your English teacher wants you to in order to get that A. It’s not like that at all. It’s about taking risk and eventually being happy with yourself as an actor. So, that can be a very challenging quite for my kiddos.

Lindsay:  Is there a point where they sort of the light of connection sort of hits them and they get?

La Tasha: Yeah, and when that happens, it’s breath-taking as a teacher because you’re like, “By George, they got it!” and, most of the times, I do not think that they themselves even know what has happened. Usually, it strikes some kind of reaction out of me.

For example, we were working on a wordless skit ourselves – they were inspired by Emotional Baggage to create a wordless skit – and there was one particular girl of mine that’s just like, “I just don’t know what to do!” and I said, “You have to observe. Observe outside of, you know, your parents and your family. Go to Walmart, and just sit in the middle of Walmart, and find somebody, and follow them, and just follow their every movement, and just take that, and then bring it here and then play with it.” And she brought a lot to the table just a couple of weeks ago and I was completely floored because I was just like, “Oh, my gosh! What did you do?” She said, “I did what you told me to do. I found somebody and I thought that my character was connected to how they were moving and I just watched them. I observed and I brought it here,” and I was like, “Yes!”

Lindsay:  And that’s the point where you jump up and down and you do the little dance – it’s the dance of joy – and then the teenagers look at you and go, “What are you doing?”

Okay. So, let’s get into Emotional Baggage. Why did it work for you?

La Tasha: It worked because it took us an hour to get through and how we did it was I read out the direction of movement for them and they had to create the movement. So, the only person speaking was me.

Lindsay:  And I should also just – sorry – I’m just going to interrupt and say that Emotional Baggage is a play without words – for those listening who don’t know – and it is just completely stage directions and actions. It’s eight people in a train station who carry emotional baggage as if it is physical baggage, and then there’s someone who is completely free who comes in.

La Tasha: Right.

Lindsay:  Okay. So…

La Tasha: They had to rely on what I was telling them and they had to rely on their own imagination and thought process as far as, you know, interpreting what I was saying to them. So, I was the only one speaking. For teenagers, as you know, it can be very difficult for them not to giggle and sniggle and not to talk for a whole hour, but they did, and they did a very good job. At the end, they were exhausted which was why it was such a big success for me because I was like, “Yes!” because they actually had to use their bodies and their minds. And so, it was two things working at one time and they were very frustrated. But they were also enlightened and wanted to do more.

Lindsay:  What do you think made them get it? What made them be frustrated and then work through as opposed to frustrated and give up?

La Tasha: I think they were starting to see how the story was unravelling. You know, I basically, it was like a cold reading for me and for them to interpret. So, they had no idea what the plot was and, at first, it was a little bit frustrating. It’s a lot of repetitive movement for each character because that’s a great way to distinguish each individual character without words. And so, they were like, the Janitor, the one who played the Janitor was like, “Why am I still doing this picking up the trash and putting it in my pouch and picking up trash?” But, as the story evolved, you saw the little light bulbs above each of their heads by the time we introduced the carefree character and they were like, “Oh, we get it,” and so they kept persevering on.

Lindsay:  And so, this sort of led them to now you are working on a wordless play of their own.

La Tasha: Right.

Lindsay:  What’s the topic?

La Tasha: The topic is basically abandonment.

Lindsay:  Oh, wow!

La Tasha: It is about a mother. It starts off very happy – and we’re doing ours in phrases – and it starts off as a very happy moment, a happy family with an older sister, younger sibling, and a middle sibling. And, eventually, what happens is the mother leaves. She can’t take raising three children anymore and the three children are escorted off to foster care.

Lindsay:  How did you use Laban to evolve the story into something physical that was communicable?

La Tasha: We broke down and talked about each of our characters. I left that completely free to them. These are the characters I’m going to head off. We actually started with a poem – and I can’t recall which poem we actually started off with – and I asked them what they received from the poem and they said, “Well, it sounds like a mom abandoning their kid,” and I said, “Okay, let’s go with that. Let’s create characters.” And so, they each picked what kind of role they wanted to ply. And then, we talked about, “Okay. Well, what is the purpose of them in this scene, in this moment, and at this time?”

For example, the middle sister is constantly watching mom. In each phrase, mom changes, all the way up until she leaves. And her one thing is that she’s constantly looking for mom’s approval, constantly looking for mom’s connection, constantly looking for, you know, mom to be there. Even when mom leaves and the chair is empty, she’s still looking at that chair. So, she took that as her purpose – as that’s what being a middle kid is. You know, you have the older sibling and the younger sibling, and the middle sibling is left to do what? Look at mom. Watch mom. Be with mom. Everything is “mom.” That’s basically how we broke down each character and then we just put them together in phrases.

Lindsay:  When did they perform it?

La Tasha: No, we haven’t performed it yet. I actually want to take them out into the community and do a little bit of invisible theatre.

Lindsay:  What does that mean?

La Tasha: Invisible theatre is an Augusto Boal method. Basically, invisible theatre is where actors go out into the public, they perform a skit or a scene, and the audience is whoever’s around. The object is that the audience does not know that they are an audience. So, it’s about exposing my kids and also exposing the community as well.

Lindsay:  And what do you hope that the students will learn from this?

La Tasha: One, I hope they would get over their fear of performing. Two, I hope that they will internalize it and not perform. So, the key is to make it as authentic as possible so that, when we are out in public, people will begin to watch and be taken in immediately because of how real it is as opposed to, “Oh, they’re just jerking us on. They’re not for real.”

Lindsay:  You have a lot of technique in your background. It’s very clear. What does theatre mean to you?

La Tasha: Theatre is a great medium. I think theatre is not often used to the full extent of what it could be used for – for example, social justice, or awareness. You know, I have a few kids that are depressed. I have a few kids that are ADHD. I have autistic students, Asperger’s students that don’t have any other activity in the community and so they come and they socialize and, you know, fellowship with us. And so, we form basically this community of outcasts, and in-casts as well, I guess, and become a natural cast of characters of the world. And, I think, if we were able to use theatre in that sense for everyday situations – everyday problem-solving skills, communication skills, what-have-you – that is really the hardcore. I mean, really, if you think about it, the depression, even when people went to the Nickelodeon’s and they went to see the films, they did that to escape – they did that to escape their reality which makes sense – but I think, a lot of the times, we need to bring people back to reality so that they can see what is happening right here in the community and how they can create conversation and awareness and change.

Lindsay:  When did you know that teaching was the path to really work on this creation of community and to use this medium?

La Tasha: I worked with a lot of – people say “disadvantaged,” I say “different advantaged” children – children who either don’t have access to the arts, or children who have never been exposed to the arts. And I started with a volunteer job at our local boys and girls club here in town and I just started playing around with these kids and realized either how hard their lives were or how much they could not verbally or physically express what their internal feelings were or what was happening at home, and I fell in love with that sense of being able to spark something in any kind of kid. I also was a preschool director for five years and, to be able to use the teachers as actors to, you know, further our objective for the week or for the month, and for kids to click and understand, I was like, “This is what I want to do! This is what I want to do!”

Lindsay:  Because we’ve talked before and I know that you were at a performing arts high school so you must have had a different path when you first started out.

La Tasha: Yes. I was very talkative and very fidgety and smart-mouthed and smart. And my mom said, “You know what? This drama needs to go somewhere,” so she threw me into acting classes and a lot of scholarships with people helping me to get me exposed to a lot of culture as far as performing arts goes. When I went to my performance arts high school, we were a different type of kid. I found kids who were just like me – who were smart but couldn’t sit down for more than five seconds. So, I lived in this world of acceptance and culture and creativity.

Lindsay:  It must have been amazing. Did you want to perform when you were young?

La Tasha: I did. I actually wanted to go to Broadway and my mom said, “Hmm. I’m not so sure about you going to New York right after high school so why not stop and go to college?” and so I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll go.” Went to college and then the whole teaching experienced popped into my life and I decided, “Yeah, performing is great, but it’s not everything.”

Lindsay:  Yeah, there’s a different way, isn’t there?

La Tasha: Yes.

Lindsay:  There’s a different way to use theatre and that it’s not just performing out. It’s a corny thing to say but I think, particularly at the student level who we work with, it can change their life.

La Tasha: Phylicia Rashad has a quote that I think really reflects my thought as a theatre teacher and director, and the quote is, “Theatre is a discipline. Theatre is about the discipline of having your entire instrument available in every moment. Theatre is about the discipline of recreating anew what you did the day before. Theatre is about people coming together, interacting – audience, performers, crew and production – as community. That is why theatre lives and that is why theatre works.”

Lindsay:  As we end up here, let’s bring it back to the students that you’re working with. How do you think a month of working with Laban has changed them?

La Tasha: It’s changed them as far as, even now which is just a little bit of adding that we’re doing, has made them more aware as an actor as opposed to themselves. So, they are more aware of what they need to bring to the table for each character at each moment at each time as opposed to their own limits. Does that make sense?

Lindsay:  I think so. It’s sort of about stepping outside your self – being able to get out of the teenager skin which is the hardest thing for them.

Do you find that, as you continue to work with students, that being in theatre, particularly when they have so much trouble expressing themselves, that they are able to outlet?

La Tasha: Yes, and then they’re also able to create new relationships that they haven’t been able to create before or they thought they would never be able to have created before. So, it does help them release and get out of their own skin. And so, they find a new level of a comfort as opposed to this tiny little box that you usually get when they first walk in through the door.

Lindsay:  And where do you see yourself? What’s your ideal? Where do you want to take this? Where do you want to be in five years? What do you want to do with theatre?

La Tasha: In five years, whoa! I don’t know. I would hope to have reached a huge population of advantaged and different advantaged students. Whether it’s regional or national, teaching is my calling, it’s my key, so hopefully that is the goal – to just reach and teach as many people and educate people about the importance of theatre and the arts in general.

Lindsay:  I love that – reaching and teaching, right? That’s all we do is just keep hammering at home that this is not about, you know, jazz hands and shiny stars. This is about how we can use theatre to communicate and to express and to do all those wonderful things.

La Tasha: It’s important, especially in this age of technology. I think a lot of students start to lose their sense of empathy and sympathy. And so, if we can create a safe environment for them to be able to empathize with each other and be able to empathize with the human race in general, as a whole, I think it goes beyond being able to perform on a stage. It goes into being a human and being a respecter of the human race.

Lindsay:  Wow! I can’t think of anything better – awesome!

Thank you so much, La Tasha! It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

La Tasha: Same here.

Thank you, La Tasha. I think, you know, this kind of material is stuff that we can listen to over and over again – really get it into our brains to figure out how do we get those students moving.

Any links that were mentioned in the interview, you can find them at theatrefolk.com/episode101.

So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

And, today, I’m talking about Cobweb Dreams by moi, Lindsay Price.

The Cobweb in the story is the fairy Cobweb from Titania’s train of fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play deals with themes of appearance and friendship and what happens when everyone around you looks and acts one way and you feel like you just don’t fit in. That’s how Cobweb feels.

She is a scruffy, trickster fairy whose wings are always crooked and how could she possibly fit in with those beautiful floaty fairies all around her? And it gets to the point where she wants to cross the brook and join Oberon’s train. But that’s easier said than done.

Oberon and Titania are fighting over a changling boy and, one day, a mortal with a donkey’s head wanders into the grove.

Will this midsummer night never end?

So, the best thing about Cobweb Dreams – I think – is that it is uber-flexible. There’s a one-act version. There’s a full-length version. You can get crazy creative with the sets and the costumes. Or, you know, just have the fairies in t-shirts and tool. It’s a magical forest, after all. You decide and I think that’s the beauty of playing with non-human characters; you make them how you see them. And, besides, at the heart of this play. It’s really about the story and the characters; you don’t need crazy costumes to have great characters.

And I’ve always loved writing what-if plays. This one was so much fun to write. So, this one is what if you took a tiny character from a play and created a life for them?

Cobweb has maybe four lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and now she’s the focus. So, you can read sample pages over at theatrefolk.com and check the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode101 for the link and you can dive into fairyland.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes – search on the word “Theatrefolk.” You will find us.

Okay. That’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Writing plays for youths with Lindsay Price

Episode-100

It’s episode 100 of The Theatrefolk Podcast. Today we turn the tables and put Lindsay Price in the hot seat. What’s it like writing exclusively for young performers?

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Craig Mason; I’m the publisher here at Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

I’ve always wanted to say that! This is Episode 100 of the Theatrefolk Podcast and you can catch the links for this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode100.

If you’re a regular listener to the podcast, you’re probably asking yourself, “What happened to Lindsay this week?” Well, maybe you’re not because you probably heard her laughing and being disruptive over the intro but, at any rate, fear not, my friend. She’s sitting right here beside me and she’ll be back with her regular hosting duties next week.

Today, as I said before, it’s the 100th episode of the Theatrefolk Podcast. And so, we thought we’d turn the tables and we’ve put Lindsay Price in the hot seat for once. So, today, I’m going to be the host, Lindsay is the guest. So, let’s just get this show on the road.

Lindsay: You have got a very nice hosting voice, Craig Mason.

Craig: Thank you very much.

Lindsay: That’s lovely.

Craig: Well, hello. Welcome.

Lindsay: Hi. How are you?

Craig: Good. Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living?

Lindsay: Well, I write plays. I have little skits that are out in the world and get produced all over Canada and the US and overseas as well which is the most awesome thing I think you could ever say. We were just in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we met students from Saipan who have done my scripts.

Craig: Yes, and they told you that you were famous in Saipan.

Lindsay: I’m famous in Saipan. I’ll take it, I’ll take it.

Craig: Yes, they first came up to the table and said they were talking about what they were doing and one of the pieces was yours and I said that I was your husband and they were like, they almost wanted to kiss my ring. They were so amazed that anyone who was even remotely close to you was there.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Craig: So, how did you get into playwriting?

Lindsay: Oh, okay. Oh, we’re going to go way back.

Craig: Actually, you know what? Let’s go even further back. What was the first play that you saw? Do you remember?

Lindsay: The first play that I ever saw must have been The Nutcracker. I’m almost certain it was The Nutcracker. I must have been in plays from kindergarten on because the school that I was at before I moved towns, they did that, and I know I have a very, very vivid memory of me being Mary in the Nativity play – must have been grade three though – but I wore a black dress because that’s the dress that I had and I had a green towel – my mom gave me a green towel.

Craig: So, it was a very traditional production, the Virgin Mary in the black dress and green towel.

Lindsay: Yes! Oh, gosh, I’m trying to think because I can see myself; it must have been another Christmas show. We must have done Christmas shows every year. But I think that The Nutcracker at the O’Keefe Centre – which is no longer called the O’Keefe Centre – it’s not the Hummingbird anymore either.

Craig: I don’t even think it’s called the Hummingbird anymore.

Lindsay: Oh, man. But then, I think that the biggest memory I have as opposed to the smallest memory I have is I went and saw Annie and I’m going to call that the very first play that I saw.

Craig: Was it a professional production?

Lindsay: I think it was probably a touring production. It was also at the O’Keefe Centre which is no longer called the O’Keefe Centre. So, I’m going to bet that it was – it had to have been about the exact same time – not the exact same time but very recently after – it was on Broadway because it was the late 70s that it was on Broadway, right?

Craig: Yeah.

Lindsay: So, it would have been the first.

Craig: Probably the first Broadway touring production.

Lindsay: The first Broadway touring production.

Craig: Wow! Do you remember anything about the show?

Lindsay: I don’t remember any of the songs but I totally remember the orphans and I remember it was either that show or The Nutcracker – I’m sure they were around the same time but – I remember us driving around the corner, driving away, and seeing actors at the stage door and being completely taken with at that very young age like, “Oh! Oh, that’s where they are! That’s where I want to be!”

Craig: Oh, really? So, even back then, you thought that you wanted to be part of theatre?

Lindsay: Yeah, I think so.

Craig: Oh, wow!

Lindsay: What a ridiculous thing for me.

Craig: Did you do anything at that point to make that happen?

Lindsay: No.

Craig: Did you try to do more plays?

Lindsay: Nope.

Craig: Did you ask to see more plays?

Lindsay: No, I don’t think so. No.

Craig: You were just a kid and it’s magically going to happen.

Lindsay: I was just a kid and it was magically going to happen. I listened to a lot. My parents who are not, as you know, who are not necessarily theatrically inclined or musically inclined had a lot of musical records in the house.

We had West Side Story, we had Jesus Christ Superstar, and we had You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – the album cover of which is currently hanging in our bathroom because that, as I remember, was my very, very, very first musical I ever listened to – and others. I’m sure there was South Pacific. We had this collection of musical records because I’m old, we had records! And I listened to those a lot.

And then, as I got older, I started buying my own. When I was seventeen years old, I believe I wore the tape out of Les Miz. And then, when I saw that show for the first time, being really quite irate that it was way longer and there was a lot of repetition. I remember seeing that show for the first time going, “Wait. I heard this song already. I heard this tune already,” because that’s not what happens when it’s on the tape.

Craig: Well, the seventies were kind of the end of that time. There was a time, especially in the fifties and the sixties, where a Broadway cast recording was considered pop music. Like, you’d hear Broadway music on the radio. It would all be one and the same. Now, they’re completely separated; what you hear on the radio and what you hear on Broadway is completely different.

Lindsay: Well, Send in the Clowns I believe was a hit and I’m pretty sure Jesus Christ Superstar was a hit, too.

Craig: Oh, yeah. No, Jesus Christ Superstar was like a rock record before it was even a musical, I think.

Lindsay: So, it was pretty funny because I think I had this notion that I wanted to do it and very little access. I never asked; I never asked to be in plays! And then, I went to schools – we moved when I was eight so I believe I was in a Christmas play when I lived in Markham and then we moved and I spent two years in a school where we – and I’m sure it was illegal but – we would put on play versions of TV shows and I’m pretty sure we made up a whole story of the Charlie Brown – we were Charlie Brown and we were going camping and I don’t remember why or where for.

Craig: So, you think it might have been an illegal production.

Lindsay: I think it might have been an illegal production. But I don’t remember a teacher. Like, I remember us in grade five doing it ourselves.

Craig: How interesting.

Lindsay: I know!

Craig: So, when you said you thought about being part of it, was it writing then?

Lindsay: No, not at all – acting.

Craig: Acting, everyone wants to be an actor.

Lindsay: Everyone wants to be an actor. And then, in that particular school, we did whole school productions. Like, we did Pinocchio and there was only 100 kids in the school. The school closed pretty soon after that. But, like, I was the blue fairy and I had, like, five fairies underneath me. Like, all of the kindergarten class were the puppets – the puppets in whoever that guy was.

Craig: Geppetto?

Lindsay: Not Geppetto. Oh, no, maybe it was Geppetto. No, they were puppets. They were Geppetto puppets. I was thinking the guy who was going to turn Pinocchio into a donkey.

Craig: I don’t know; the Pleasure Island guy.

Lindsay: The Pleasure Island guy, but no, I think they were Geppetto’s puppets and then, like, the whole stage was taken up with, like, the whale. It was just, I imagine, it was the most remarkable thing to have, like, a hundred kids involved in the show. And then, I remember some others. It’s just insidious into me wanting to be into this because I remember we did some show when I was in grade four that required me to wear this beautiful pink dress and I had my hair done.

Craig: What? You wore a pink dress?

Lindsay: I know. I had my hair done and it was all curls and all everything. There’s a picture of me somewhere in my little shorts and my little t-shirt and curly, curly, curly, curly, curly, curly hair.

Craig: So, where does the writing come in? Was that high school? When you were in high school, were you still trying to pursue being in theatre?

Lindsay: Yeah, but failing and not even pursuing it. I cannot say that I ever pursued it, to think of it as a career. I think that it was mostly because you just didn’t. Like, no one in my school was ever going to pursue a career as an actor and it just wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t going to happen to anybody which is hilarious because I also balanced that with being stubborn and I had a Drama teacher who I didn’t quite get along with and I think at least half of my drive was when I got into the real world to make a living as a theatre artist had to do with proving him wrong.

Craig: Okay. So, you went to university, but you didn’t go into a theatre program?

Lindsay: No! I had an English degree because you were supposed to. I don’t think it was a viable career. It was never seen of or thought of as a viable career. I never thought that I was… but I did! Like, I can’t even explain it as I’m sitting here, trying to figure it out for myself. I never thought that it was a viable career but I never saw anything else for me.

Craig: But what was the goal with your English degree? What were you going to do with that?

Lindsay: Not a clue. I have no idea. You were supposed to get a degree. I was supposed to get a degree and I liked English. It’s so funny because, when I was in school in high school, we looked very much down upon the kids who went to college to the point where we mocked them and, really, the joke was on me. I should have gone to college. University – aside from a background in some English and some classic literature – did nothing for me. I never really use my degree and, quite frankly, I should have gone to college and I should have applied practical aspects because college is much more practical whereas university is much more theoretical.

Craig: And, just to clarify for those listening probably in the US who are wondering why you’re slagging college, there’s the distinction here in, I guess all of Canada, certainly in Ontario where we live, is that university is the four-year higher thinking where you get your bachelors of arts, bachelors of science. College is more of a certificate-type thing where it’s generally more practical training. It’s actually probably the really good stuff where you learn how to become a plumber or a radio DJ or what else do they have at college? All sorts of the practical type of things whereas university is more thinking type of things.

Lindsay: Theoretical.

Craig: Yeah. So, that’s why we kind of always had that put-down of the college kids were the ones who couldn’t think well. It’s completely wrong.

Lindsay: And ridiculous.

Craig: I agree, it’s better to go to college than to university. But, nonetheless, that’s how those two are divided.

Lindsay: And it’s so funny because I have a very clear memory of my Drama teacher in university saying, “The only reason to get a university degree – unless you’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer or something – is to teach university,” and having that clear memory of, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” And so, how bizarre as I sort of just sit here and verbalize this that I never considered any other job because I wasn’t really good at anything else.

I also have a very clear memory because I worked in the parks department every summer. I was a summer program leader for a number of years and then I was a leader of a group of program leaders which I was really quite horrible at. But, on one day on that, when I was the coordinator, I had to sit in the office in the Brampton Parks and Recreation offices and complete a report and I knew then, at eighteen years old, where I spent one day in an office that I never ever wanted to be in an office. That’s as far as I could get about what career I was going to have was not an office job.

Craig: So, university though, you’re still thinking acting, right?

Lindsay: Yes, but still not really pursuing it. Like, I’m at a university that has a Drama minor and so I did quite a lot of plays – as much as I could for my Drama minor – and I did some community theatre stuff and I started writing there as part of a class project. And then, I actually, just because I had written something for a class project, I actually got a summer job writing a play. You know, every university, I’m sure, in college has a sex ed program that they do for the incoming students and I got that project for my university.

Craig: What was the first play? What was the one before that? Do you remember?

Lindsay: I think that was the first one, really. Oh, I wrote a play called Walls. Walls is my very first play which is in our ten-minute play collection.

Craig: Yes, it is in our ten-minute play collection.

Lindsay: Which I wrote for class. I wrote that for a class project. That’s got me the sex ed play. And then, after that, I wrote Among Friends and Clutter.

Craig: Why do you say Among Friends and Clutter is your first play? Is it the first one that was really produced?

Lindsay: Because it’s the first one, like, Walls is like five minutes long.

Craig: And the sex ed is like a commission type.

Lindsay: And, also, it’s not really, you know, we work with high school students and middle school students and it’s just a little bit weird to say thirty seconds for sex is your first play and I think that, when I think about where my career – and it was just, again, it was a scramble – when I think about where my career started, it’s Among Friends and Clutter. And, also, I have a very clear memory of sitting in the audience for Among Friends and Clutter and having that experience and listening to the audience in December in the middle of a snowstorm in 1991 and hearing people just laugh and react and be quiet and that’s where I knew that writing, I would say that that’s the play where I knew that writing was perhaps the avenue that I should attempt to take.

Craig: You still acted for a bit after that, though?

Lindsay: Yup!

Craig: So, when did you decide you weren’t going to act anymore?

Lindsay: So, you and I, let’s see. I got out of university and then I, again, fumbled around some more for another year. I had friends who worked at the university and I was able to get a couple of pick-up jobs through them and then we started dating and you went away. I stayed in Waterloo – oh, the construct of our lives!

And then, we started a company and we acted together in shows and I also toured Fringe Festivals. I toured in Canada. You can almost go from coast to coast and tour festivals during the summer months and I got hired to do one of those tours and it just so happened that I went and I gave a really good audition and I was actually second – I wasn’t first choice for a part – and the woman who was first choice couldn’t do it and so I got the job and I went on tour and acted in a play for four months which led to us touring also Fringe Festivals for five years.

One of those years, I did a one-woman show and it was just me and it was called Flashbacks and I wasn’t even in front of the audience. It was a shadow play. Like, the whole thing was behind a screen and just with using shadows in a variety of ways. I just couldn’t care less about the acting and what I was saying as it was coming out of my mouth. What I wanted was to be in the audience and to get that experience about having somebody saying my words and, like, what was that like? And I knew at that moment – I was in Winnipeg, I knew exactly where I was – that I couldn’t do it anymore and that I had to just let that go.

Craig: That’s really cool because, see, we just came back from Lincoln and I think all those kids there thought that maybe they have a really clear idea of what it is they want to do with their lives, where they want to go, what types of theatre they want to do, and you want to just grab them and say, “You know, it’s going to be years before you really finally know what it is that you’re going to do, you know? Don’t get so wrapped up in getting into this school and getting into this play because all these things change.”

Lindsay: And not only that, what happens if you get into that school and you hate it? What happens if you get into this line of work and it turns out that it’s not for you? Or what happens if that door never opens for you? I think it is a bit of a myth that the cream always rises to the top in our field. I think that the people who work hard have just as good a chance and people who never give up. Like, now we’re both in our mid-forties and, you know, there’s not a lot of people who are still acting that you know when you started, are there?

Craig: No, very few – very few. There’s a couple but there’s very few.

So, then you decided to become a writer and you were writing for adults, right? You were writing, like, regular plays. So, at what point did you start to more focus on writing for youth? Because it’s pretty much all you do now, yeah?

Lindsay: Yup! That’s all I do.

Well, let me tell you about my complete and utter failure as writing for adults – and I say that with total love because it was such a necessary journey. It was kind of a journey about what we were just talking about and I think this is really important too for students who are just starting out and looking at their own careers is that there’s a difference between going into something because it’s what everyone else is doing and you think that is going to fulfill you and actually honing in and figuring out exactly what it is about the craft of theatre or the art of theatre or any aspect of it that fulfills you and makes you a happy satisfied human being.

When I started out as a playwright, we moved to Toronto and I started to embark on the career that I thought I was supposed to have as a traditional playwright – getting workshops, getting produced at the bigger city theatres in Toronto, getting into playwriting groups, writing certain types of plays because those were the plays that were being produced – and literally every step of the way was a complete and utter mistake because I was trying to fit into a mold – quite literally a round peg into a square hole.

The types of theatre that I was seeing in Toronto, I didn’t like at all and I didn’t write like that and I was miserable trying to write like how everyone wanted me to write or trying to write like how someone would like me and like my work and produce my work and it was a never-ending struggle of trying to fit into a mold that wasn’t me and trying to open a door that not only wasn’t going to open, I actually didn’t want to open.

And seeing other people around me succeeding in this career in the way that I thought I was supposed to and quite literally getting to thirty years old and just feeling like a complete and utter failure, like, with nothing – like, with no path and no future – and realizing and just sort of sitting myself down and going, “Okay. What exactly is it that I want here? What do I want from my writing? What do I want to do?” and all through this time, I had opportunities to write for youth and I had opportunities to grow with Theatrefolk. We had started doing some high school stuff and I resisted it every step of the way because high school is amateur; it doesn’t go anywhere. High school doesn’t make any money, you know? What would I want to be associated with that for?

When I sat down and went, “Okay. What is it that I really want?” What I really wanted, I wanted to make a living as a writer. That’s what I wanted. I wanted this to be a career. I wanted to write plays that I was proud of and that I could stand behind – that was really important – and write plays that have some impact – that was also kind of important to me, too. I have no issues with any of the fluffy wonderful comedic plays that I have when I can balance them off with things that have just a little more depth to them, and sometimes that’s with a different form – like, writing plays in a strange form that I’m not used to, writing musical lyrics when I’m not comfortable doing that, or attacking an issue.

When I put those three things down on the table, the first thing that came to my mind was, “I can achieve all of this writing for youth. I can write plays with impact. I have the opportunity to reach an audience. I can make a living doing this. And I can write work that I’m proud of.” So, what was I fighting for? Oh, so many years! What was I fighting for? Why am I trying to be a playwright just because it’s the mold that everyone else – that I assumed – everyone else was trying to be when I don’t even really want to be that kind of playwright. I don’t write the kind of plays that were being done. Why would I try to? I don’t want to be that kind of person. Why am I trying?

As soon as I sort of flipped that switch and completely backed away from trying to be the “Toronto playwright” big city playwright, that’s when everything turned around. That’s when Theatrefolk really took off.

Since that point, I’ve never been on a loss for something to write about. I have about four years of plays still ahead of me that I still know I want to write and I think that there’s really no other group of people that are more interesting and more open and energetic and optimistic and risk-taking than school students, than high school students. Also, how being in a play can be a life-changing for them – just even as simple as someone coming out of their shell or someone seeing someone on stage going through something that they’re going through. It’s a very powerful position to be in – to write for this market – and I take it very seriously.

Craig: I don’t even remember what the question was.

Lindsay: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Craig: Do you have a couple of memories or instances of impact that really stay with you? I know a lot of people tell you stories about things that have happened with your shows. Are there any that really stand out?

Lindsay: I have a play called The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note and every time I get to see a production of that – SPOILER: it’s about suicide – every time I see a production of that, every time I hear about it being done, a student comes up to me or emails me and tells me how seeing the play or being in the play has helped them get through a personal experience. It devastates me how many kids I’ve met who knows someone who has killed themselves or tried to kill themselves. So, that’s very impactful.

Another favorite story of mine is Kristin Gauthier who wrote the music for our musical Shout! She did a one-act version with her middle school students and told me a story about one of her students who was sort of in the ensemble but was too scared to go on stage. So, she told the student that they could sit in a chair just off-stage and just sing from there. On the last night or their show, went up to her and said, “Okay. I’m ready,” and went and joined the rest of the cast on stage.

Craig: Wow! Okay. We’re coming to the end here.

So, you have a kid who comes up to you at a table and they’re really interested in becoming a playwright. I know you get this 24/7. So, what is your go-to advice for them? How do you counsel people who want to become a playwright?

Lindsay: Well, the first thing is that, more often than not, the question they ask is, “How do I get published?” and it’s just the wrong question because that’s not our aim. Our aim as playwrights is that we want to be produced and that’s what you should be looking for.

Now, this is for adults. If you are writing for adults, first of all, a lot of publishers won’t even look at you until you’ve had, not just a production, a substantial production – that’s got to be your goal. Get to directors. Make yourself known at theatre companies. Become a very indispensable face around a place or with people so that your plays get done. That’s what you need.

The publishing for a play is the last stop on the train because, if it becomes your first stop, well, how are people going to find your play, right? If it gets lost in a big catalogue, I know a lot of people who have got their plays published and then that was it, they never saw their play produced again which is very hard to wrap your head around. Other than that though, if you’re really dying for publication, you know, you might want to go for a smaller house so that you actually can stand out.

Also, when you have a play, you really want to make sure you know who it’s for. Who is your audience? Who is supposed to see this play? Because what you have to determine very specifically, come up with your ideal audience member, draw a picture of them. Where do they work? What do they do? What’s their income bracket? Where do they work? What do they do in their spare time? Know exactly who your ideal audience member is because then, when you go and look for a theatre company to produce your play, you should be looking for theatre companies who market and do plays for your ideal audience member because that’s what’s going to give you a partnership.

There’s no point in trying to just blanketly send out your play to every Tom, Dick, and Harry theatre company when there are some companies that are just not interested in the kinds of plays that you write, and that’s okay! I think it’s way better to write something that’s very specific for a very small niche than to try and just write for “Oh, I want everybody to see this play! Everyone! Oh, it’s going to be on Broadway! Oh, it’s going to be great!” You know, that is a lovely sentiment and it could happen, but the likelihood is that it’s better to strike out.

Go to regionals, go to smaller theatres, enter contests, and meet people. If you really want to get produced, you need to meet directors. You need to become friends with directors because they’re the ones who might be choosing plays and who might become artistic directors. That’s where the biggest piece of advice is community. Build a community. Make friends. Work together.

Craig: Wow! What are you working on? What’s next? Put you on the spot here.

Lindsay: Which is so funny that you say that but I’m actually working on an adult play! So, I talked about sometimes doing things that are out of my comfort zone. I haven’t worked on an adult play since 2007. So, that is a very long time ago. I just had an opportunity to work on a play for a theatre company which is locally in my area because I knew the director and the director reached out and said, “Do you have anything that you’re working on or that might be good?” I’m like, “Well, try this, try this, try this,” and we picked on one and had an idea to sort of develop it. And so, I have to sort of take my brain in a different direction which I think is going to be really helpful and really useful for me when I return to writing for youth because that means the synapses in my brain will have been firing in a whole different way and that’s never bad.

Craig: You have a lot of plays in your drawer that are unfinished, is that right? I’m assuming.

Lindsay: Yes.

Craig: Okay. So, what is your favorite one? What is the one that you think you could still make it into a play and why is it not done? Why haven’t you gotten through that yet?

Lindsay: I have two that have been done.

I have a play called Shattered. If any of you Canadians out there and you know Albertine in Five Times, I have one like that, it’s called Shattered and it’s seven women from ten to seventy who are all at different ages of one woman and the one at seventy, she has Alzheimer’s, and they all meet on a beach and sort of not only just relive and celebrate her life but also bring it to an end together. And that has had two productions and then no more.

And then, I have a play called Appliance which won a national playwriting award and then also won a really coveted workshop slot in Chicago and it was done, too. It was done in Denver and, you know, it’s hard work when you’re an independent playwright, if you want to be in that kind of profession, and it’s really funny. I get really jazzed about working for Theatrefolk and working to make the company better and getting – not just mine – getting all of our plays in the catalogue into the hands and getting them produced.

I don’t have the same energy and enthusiasm for my adult work. I just don’t and that’s why these plays are sitting in a drawer because I find it – it’s so funny – I find it down-heartening and depressing to try and push my adult work out into the world and I feel none of that with my youth work.

Craig: Why is that?

Lindsay: I don’t know! I don’t know. I don’t know, maybe because I believe in my youth stuff more? Maybe I believe that it’s better? Maybe because it’s been more successful so, you know, success breeds, it sort of becomes a snowball effect because I find success there? That it’s enjoyable to keep pushing? I mean, it’s not easy either. I like the people who put on my youth plays. That has not always been the case with adult plays.

I’ve had way more struggles with adult plays and people messing with them or people, you know. A high school director has never told me to never send them another play or that my work is abominable. I’ve had artistic directors for adult plays tell me such. So, why would I continue to pursue in a world where you’re told you suck?

Craig: Well, thank you for being a guest on the podcast.

Lindsay: You’re going to end on that?

Craig: Well, what else should I add? Okay. I have a question. What were you afraid that I was going to ask you?

Lindsay: Well, I wasn’t afraid at all because that’s the whole point of this. The reason we’re doing this, it’s the 100th episode and all I could do – and I had no idea about the questions that Craig, that you, were going to ask – and we’ve been so busy today, I really haven’t even had time to think about it. So, all I can do, when I sat down here, is to be honest and try not to say “um” too many times which I failed at that, too, but that’s okay. For another day – another day! And to try and share something that you guys out there might find useful.

I think that, if any of you have young writers in your classes and if you’ve got people who are thinking about this career and are thinking about it in an idyllic light that there are some realities, I will say, having said that, there’s no better job.

There’s no better job than being a communicator of the creative arts. I’ve been doing this now for twenty years. I’ve been doing this now for twenty years through all the very lean times and through being very focused on what kind of writer I want to be and that’s what you need to tell your students. Get them to be focused – not just “I want to be a playwright” or “I want to be a writer.” The more you can be specific, the more focused, the easier it will be in this day and age to find an audience and that’s really what it’s all about.

Craig: I’m so bad with dates but we were in our mid-thirties, yes? When we finally quit our last day jobs, is that right?

Lindsay: Thirty-five. When did we move? 2007. Except that, when we bought our house, I went back and did a little temping because we were in the midst of buying a house and we needed to have a little more. But us supporting ourselves as creative artists, we were thirty-five years old – that’s another thing you might want to tell your students. This is not a career for the weak or the easily wounded or someone who, when the tough comes, they get going. You have to stick it out and, to be honest, there are some people who stick it out this long and they never find it, do they?

Craig: No, I know people who are still trying to make it as actors who are my age, people who I started out with who still aren’t quite making it, and are still trying to get things going and I find it kind of sad, but I don’t really consider myself an actor anymore. I’m kind of out of that. I’m kind of Theatrefolk full-time. But I don’t know. If Hal Prince called then maybe I’d come out of retirement.

Lindsay: All right. You’ve heard that. You’ve heard it here; if Hal Prince calls, Craig is ready to step in.

Craig: This episode is going to cost us a fortune with all the downloads from Saipan.

All right, now are we good? Was that a positive ending?

Lindsay: That was lovely. Thank you so much, Craig.

Craig: Well, thank you for being a guest today, Lindsay Price, and I know you’ll be back next week as the host.

Lindsay: I look forward to it!

Craig: Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

Are you on our email list? If you’re not, you really should be! We’ve been focusing all summer on resources for Drama teachers. Two weeks ago, we sent out links to three amazing Romeo and Juliet resources. Yesterday, we linked up to a piece called Competition: Performing in Pairs which is full of tips and tools for getting your students to perform their best in duet scenes.

Each issue of the newsletter also features a play of the week where we give you a little insight into a play in our catalogue and we also share a little tidbit about ourselves. Yesterday’s email made mention of someone’s wedding anniversary.

Lindsay: I think it’s you and me!

Craig: It’s a good email list, I promise! It’s not one of those bad email lists that you just delete the second you see them come in. So, join up right away at theatrefolk.com/signup.

Hey, and if you don’t like the emails that you get, it’s really to leave. There’s an unsubscribe link in every email and it actually works! You click it, we won’t bother you anymore. You won’t hurt our feelings, I swear – well, maybe just a little.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this wonderful podcast? Lindsay’s staring at me.

We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. Who has the Stitcher app? Do you have a Stitcher app on your phone?

Lindsay: No.

Craig: But some people do.

Lindsay: Somebody does.

Craig: I know that some people do get us on the Stitcher app. And you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes – that’s the far more likely place to find us, iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Lindsay: Nicely done, Craig.

Craig: Thank you.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

What do Drama Teachers Do In the Summer? Part Two.

Episode-99

The biggest misconception is that all teachers head to the pool and relax for two months during the summer. We’ve got more teachers with more stories, tips, tricks and tools. Get great insight into how to plan for the year ahead.

Play

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere. I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

This is Episode 99 and you can catch the links for this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode99. That’s, like, one episode away from 100! (Because I can count; math is my forte.)

So, we’re back in this episode with more teachers talking about what they do during summer vacation – more stories, more tips, tricks, and tools. Get great insight into how to plan for the year ahead.

On this episode, we’ve got teachers from Florida, California, Virginia, Ontario, and Texas. Let’s get to it.

Lindsay: Hello, Kea!

Kea: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Awesome. I am so glad that are able to do this. I’m talking to Kea Fernandez. And where are you in the world?

Kea: I am in sunny Southwest Florida.

Lindsay: Oh, I love Florida – just not right now. I’m a big November, February…

Kea: Yeah. Well, it’s raining outside. It is the time where it’s raining on one side of the street and not on the other side.

Lindsay: Yes, I’ve been there in July and just sort of like those are pretty impressive storms.

Kea: Yeah.

Lindsay: So, how long have you been a teacher?

Kea: I am going on eleven years.

Lindsay: Awesome. And have you been a Drama teacher all this time?

Kea: All this time. All of this time, with mild breaks in-between, but yes.

Lindsay: And what drew you to be a Drama teacher?

Kea: Actually, when I was about five years old, everybody chose what they wanted to be when they grow up – ballerinas, astronauts, and things like that – and, finally, my mother got to me and said, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and I said, “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to play all day.” And that’s what I do. And that’s what I do. I play all day and I’m very fortunate for that.

Lindsay: Oh, I love that.

Kea: I lived out my dream of being a five-year-old.

Lindsay: Yes, yes! And I love that you think of it that way. I think that’s awesome to think that, first of all, think of teaching as play and that, of course, in Drama, there’s just so much opportunity for that.

Kea: Absolutely.

Lindsay: All right. So, we’re asking the question, what do you do during the summer vacation?

Kea: Well, the first thing I do is I recharge my battery. I definitely relax and I spend some much needed time with my family and friends and that’s my first priority out of the list.

Lindsay: And why? Because I totally agree that it’s so important to recharge. Why, specifically for you, the Drama teacher, do you want to make sure that that’s part of your plan?

Kea: Because, when I’m in the school year, I am going, going, going, going, going, and I am full force – 24/7 – and making sure that my kids get the best of me and all the things that I have to offer. So, that summer time, I take at least a full week that I disconnect, and it’s difficult. It is very difficult, but I completely disconnect – or at least I try really hard.

Lindsay: And, of course, everyone listening is going, “Um, summer vacation is eight weeks, maybe? And you only take a week off?”

Kea: Well, sometimes, I can’t even do that. I went to the store today to go shopping for my daughter and, lo and behold, I turn around and I was met with one of my students who I hadn’t seen in about, oh, two or three years? So, it doesn’t end. I’d like to say I’ll take at least a week off, but it never ends. So, there, my sister is looking at me, like, “Can we go?” and I was catching up with one of my students whom I absolutely adore so I was very pleasantly surprised. So, yeah, trying to disconnect, even when you see your students.

Lindsay: And then, what else do you do during the summer?

Kea: Well, I really like to sharpen my saw. I was very lucky to fall into an improv group at FGCU which is around here – shout-out to FGCU Improv Club! – and I really enjoyed just playing with them and getting a chance to be around students of a different age. They’re in college, I teach middle-school students, so it was great to actually see how different they are and just play around and have a great time. So, that’s one big thing that I like to do. I come from an improv background. I love improv. And so, I was tickled pink to be able to go and just rehearse with them – no strings attached, no putting together a show, nothing like that. Just go and perform. Have fun.

Lindsay: And how does that improve your skills as a teacher?

Kea: I love it because, not only does it recharge my professional battery but, then I get to bring some fun ideas into my classroom. And they’re in college so they have all these different ideas, and they’re not hindered by administrative things and, “Okay. We’ve got to take attendance.” They’re about a whole bunch of different things so I get a real good opportunity to just dive right into it and offer something completely different to my students that they haven’t seen yet and it really breaks up the monotony of the classroom. So, I’m not just, “Okay. Week one, lesson one. Week two, lesson two.” It really breaks things up and you can throw a curve ball in your lesson plan if you want to, if you find something that you love to do that you just have to because you know your students are going to adore it, do it.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Okay. I think that’s awesome. Recharge those batteries. Sharpen that saw. Prepare yourself to throwing curveballs. I think that’s lovely.

Kea: And keep it fun. If somebody wants to collaborate on something, try it out. You know, just have a blast and that’s kind of my take on life, period. Just have fun. I mean, life’s too short so do it up.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kea. That was great!

Kea: Thank you, Lindsay! Have a great summer!

Lindsay: You too!

***

Lindsay: All right. I am now here with Claire Broome. Hello, Claire!

Claire: Hi! How are you?

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you for joining me this evening.

Claire: Well, thanks for asking.

Lindsay: We are asking the big question, what do you do over summer vacation? I think it’s that big misconception that teachers are sitting around by the pool, right?

Claire: That’s true. I was just reading in the Ontario College of Teachers Magazine today that the month that most teachers actually do their lesson planning is August.

Lindsay: Isn’t that funny, eh? I just find that always that there’s that thing that people who aren’t teachers just harp on about how, “Oh, you know, teachers get all this time off.” I don’t know any teacher who takes all this time off.

Claire: No, I don’t either actually. So, I think it’s a huge misconception but, at the same time, I think people always think that the grass is greener on the other side. I think teaching is a fantastic profession and I suggest it to anyone. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of work that goes into it.

Lindsay: Oh, absolutely. How long have you been a teacher?

Claire: Actually, I’m heading into my fourteenth year.

Lindsay: Awesome. And what made you decide to focus on Drama and be a Drama teacher?

Claire: Well, actually, I started out in theatre school and I enjoyed it a lot. The only thing was I look really young for my age which I know sounds, “Oh, poor me,” but I was getting casted as sort of like nine and thirteen years old at the age of twenty-three.

Lindsay: Yeah, I can see why that would be sort of not great, right?

Claire: No, it wasn’t great. So, I ended up working at a camp called (unclear) Arts Camp and I fell in love with it and it was fantastic. So, I still remember working with a student named David and trying to give him some ideas for a monologue and he was fantastic and he picked up on the ideas and ran with it and I fell in love with the idea of teaching.

Lindsay: I think it’s a pretty amazing thing when you can provide some information for a student and they just run with it.

Claire: I think that’s the best part of my day. It’s funny because I wouldn’t say that what I do is playing all day, but it doesn’t feel like work the same way, and I think part of the reason is the interaction that Drama teachers have with students and you get to know them on a completely different level.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Okay. So, how do you spend your summer?

Claire: Well, believe it or not, the planning starts now in June and it actually started in January. What happens is, at the end of each semester, my colleague, Collin, and I, we ask our students for feedback on our courses.

So, it does two purposes. One is that it allows us to understand what students have gotten through the course because they have to use Drama terminology when they’re answering the questions. But, more importantly, we ask questions such as, “Which unit did you like the most? Which unit do you wish you had more time on? Is there anything that you wish that we had done in the course? Any other feedback?” and we take all of that feedback and we actually apply it year after year. So, our summers are actually spent either revamping or rewriting or reconnecting with all of the different courses or the units that we’re teaching.

Lindsay: Isn’t that great? Because then, first of all, you’re not teaching in a vacuum and you can get the direct feedback from your students about what is the most effective part of your courses.

Claire: Right. The reason why I love it so much is because, I mean, obviously, we don’t want to torture our kids. But, most importantly, we want to make sure that what we’re doing is a touch-point for them. So, it’s something that they can connect to and they have a reason for doing it. If we didn’t ask for that feedback, I don’t think our courses would be as effective.

Lindsay: Are you making any changes for next year?

Claire: Actually, we’re rewriting our whole grade nine course.

Lindsay: Oh, man! Why a total re-haul?

Claire: It’s partly because we feel that some of the techniques that we’re reviewing really can just be review. So, instead of spending a week on tableau, for example, we might end up only working on it for maybe one or two days, but then, using the staging that you learn from tableau more effectively in our physical theatre unit.

Also, we’re finding that we want to be able to use more technology in our course as well and we want to find different ways of incorporating, for example, how do you use iPads or having sort of video documentaries of your creative process or things like that.

Lindsay: That’s awesome!

Claire: Thanks!

Lindsay: What about your other classes? Do you find that they’re more going to stay the same? Just maybe some tweaks?

Claire: There’s going to be some tweaks.

So, for example, in our grade ten course, we focus on a mini-play unit. We also teach sketch comedy. And then, on top of that, we also do this concept, we call it “paranormal state” – believe it or not – where kids have to take a ghost story and then they have to use, for example, a dramatic pause to be able to act it out on stage. So, how do you tell a convincing horror story using strong staging techniques and dramatic pause? So, we’re going to be taking a look at the format of that unit.

The grade eleven course is actually in really good shape. It’s almost too full which is kind of scary. But we’ve just gotten it, I think, to a really good shape.

And then, in our grade twelve course, the only thing that I’m really working on is learning more about collective creation. So, we actually do a collective creation as sort of one of the big projects in grade twelve where students actually write their own collective creation. And, because of that, I want to learn more about writing. So, one of the things that I love about the summer is that you actually have time to do some of the exploration that you don’t have during the school year.

Lindsay: You can actually focus on your professional development instead of just getting it in piecemeal during the year, right?

Claire: That’s true.

One of the other things that I do – and it’s a plug for you guys – is actually spend a lot of time on the Theatrefolk website. I find a lot of the things that you have on there is ridiculously helpful.

So, for example, in grade nine, I was looking at your monologue project where you have multiple students saying the same monologue together as a choral drama piece and we’re actually going to be building our choral drama unit sort of on that piece. So, I’m actually going to be looking for monologues on your website this summer.

Lindsay: Awesome! I love that! I will take the mantle of being ridiculously helpful. I think that’s fantastic!

That’s great, Claire! I really think that this whole notion of getting feedback from your students to help your curriculum and then you have sort of a pathway in your summer when you’re thinking about how you’re going to revamp things. I just think that’s a wonderful piece of advice for particularly any new teachers out there who maybe aren’t quite sure how to spend that summer time.

Claire: That’s great. I think also it just really helps clarify for you what the students are getting out of your course. And, also, if they really felt that they needed more time on something, that you should validate that because it’s their creative process and they’re probably the best judges of it.

Lindsay: Fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing!

Claire: Okay! Thank you!

Lindsay: Awesome.

***

Lindsay: Okay. And right now I am talking to Jena Aspden. Hello, Jena!

Jena: Hello! How are you?

Lindsay: I’m great! So, tell everyone where in the world you are.

Jena: I am currently sitting in my house in Wylie, Texas. But I teach in Plano, Texas.

Lindsay: And is that north, south, east, or west Texas?

Jena: That is in the metroplex of DFW.

Lindsay: Perfect. I got that. I know exactly where that is. Been there.

And you were just saying you are just coming up to the end of your school year.

Jena: Yes, tomorrow is the last day with students.

Lindsay: Yeah, that sounds like that’s a good thing.

Jena: Although I am teaching a summer camp this summer – actually, two different summer camps – and that starts next Friday so it’s like I see them in a week anyway so it’s really not like I’m getting rid of them.

Lindsay: Well, it’s the perfect segue into we’re asking teachers what do they do on summer vacation. And so, you go straight from teaching all year to working in a summer camp. How come?

Jena: Because, for me, I continue to learn and, the more I learn, the more I can teach my kids. At Plano ISD, this past summer was the first summer that they had actually provided a camp for the middle schools, but they had been doing one for the high schools. And so, this summer, I’m actually going to be working both the high school and a middle school camp, and they bring in directors that are not part of PISD to actually be the directors of our shows. And then, those of us who are PISD employees can then be assistant directors and, you know, it’s a one-week and then, by the end of the week, we’ll put on a one-act play and, you know, we get to see everybody’s different directing style and the way they interact with the kids and different ways of cutting a show and all of that fun stuff. And it’s like I just try to learn as much as I can from everybody so I can take that to my own students whenever we hit a one-act mode which will be in the Spring.

Lindsay: And what a great experience for you to, you know, sometimes it’s not a bad thing to not be in charge, isn’t it?

Jena: Oh, my gosh. It’s so nice not to be in charge. It’s like, “I don’t have to make that decision today. Ha-ha! I’m the assistant. Why don’t you go talk to them?”

And, also, for me, what I find really fun and interesting is it’s Plano. Plano, we’ve got thirteen middle schools; five high schools which is nine, ten; and then three senior highs which is eleven, twelve.

Lindsay: Holy cow.

Jena: And so, yeah, so there’s like, Plano East, Plano Central, and then Plano West. And, when we come together at camp, it’s just Plano ISD and so Eastside kids are working with Westside kids working with Central kids and it’s just a true theatre family. And so, I get to work with kids from all over the district. And then, during the school year, when I go and see their shows, they’re like, “Miss Jena!” and I’m like, “Hey, I had you during summer camp because you used my first name,” and they’re like, “Miss Aspden!” I’m like, “You’re my actual kid.” So, it’s just fun because then I end up with students literally all over the district.

Lindsay: Does that change things a little bit when you go into competition? When you actually have some connection with students from other places?

Jena: I think so, yes. This past summer was the first summer that I had worked camp and I did the high school camp. And then, I’m in the transition period where I worked at one middle school for ten years which was a Westside school. And then, my current school, I’ve been at for four years now and it’s Eastside so I have students – two of the senior highs in our city. And, as I would go to one senior high, I would see kids that I had from camp who worked together during the summer. And so, they’re friends regardless of what their school rivals are.

And so, one, they come to support their friends. But, two, they do kind of come to check out the competition and see where they are compared to fully speaking to the other schools. But, ultimately, they’re there to support their friends who are on stage which is, you know, a beautiful thing.

Lindsay: Well, it gets to that whole notion of the thing that we try to teach students about community and working together and it’s in practice, isn’t it? When you bring everyone together from all these different places and say, “Okay, now we’re a family.”

Jena: Yeah. My middle school and there’s one other middle school, we feed into the same high school and, two years ago, when we were competing for one-act because lately middle schools have been on a rotation for one-act, and we hired a person to come in and critique both of our shows. And so, it’s like one school, they went first, and then we watched them perform and watched their critique. And then, we had dinner. And then, we performed so they watched us and, you know, saw our critique. And this was, like, three weeks before actual competition. And then, at the competition, we could see each other’s growth, you know, from three weeks prior to the actual competition. Plus, they’re like, “Hey! We were together at your school for that dinner thing and we’re going to be with each other next year at high school!” So, it’s already building that high school community theatre, you know, family before they even get to that ninth-grade level. And so, our high school director is loving the fact that we middle school people are already hanging out together and bonding those kids because, you know, it goes from competition to rival schools to, ‘Oh, now we’re together and we’re one.”

Lindsay: I think that’s great. I love that! What do you think middle school teachers should be doing on their summer break?

Jena: Reading scripts which is, like, “Hi, I’m a mom of two,” and sometimes that’s not always the best thing, you know? “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” but I try to get at least one script read a week – if not one every two weeks – just so I can keep myself fresh on what’s out there and, “What do we want to do next year?” or, “Oh, maybe the year after that?” or maybe the year after that. Like, your script, Tick Talk, I had read, I think, three years ago or four years ago, and it has just been sitting on my shelf forever. And then, last year, when we competed, I’m like, “Finally! I have the cast that fits that show.” So, you know, just continue to read stuff because you never know if you can cut things down for a duet scene. You know, for me, I teach Speech as well so I’m in charge of speech competitions so I’m like, “Oh, I could take that for a duet scene,” or, “Oh, that would be great, you know, di-hi or whatever.” So, you know, read, read, read.

And then, also, the other thing I would say is be involved in whatever state theatre organization, educational organization you have, like, for TETA, we have a summer camp just for teachers.

Lindsay: And I’ll just say that TETA is the Texas Educational Theatre Association.

Jena: Thank you. I should have said that. But, like, when I first became a teacher, my major was English. I had never done speech and theatre or anything but I had taken the classes at college, took a test, boom! I am certified to teach! You know, theoretically.

And so, when I walked into my theatre classroom which is what I hired to teach, I was going, “Okay. I have never done this.” Even in high school, I was not a theatre person. I was a band person. But I loved all of my classes and I totally fit in with everybody so, going to summer camp the TETA holds – Theatrefest, I think, is what it’s called for the summer or something, whatever it is. But I just, you know, was a sponge and took those lessons that I learned there, tweaked them for myself, and what worked in my classroom. And so, again, just learn as much as you can. Get ideas and steal things, borrow things, tweak things. Just like I said, be a sponge.

Lindsay: It’s all about just getting better, isn’t it?

Jena: Yes, always. I call it being a lifelong learner.

Lindsay: I think that’s an awesome thing to be and an awesome thing to aspire to, too.

Thank you so much! Jena, this was just great. I really appreciate you taking the time.

***

Lindsay: Okay! I am so happy to now be talking to Christa JonesJena. Hello, Christa!

Christa: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Thank you so much for doing this.

Christa: Thanks for having me.

Lindsay: And tell everybody where you are in the world?

Christa: I am in Norfolk, Virginia, United States, and I teach in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Lindsay: Awesome. And how long have you been a teacher?

Christa: My first round was twelve years and I took a few years off and this is my first year back full-time.

Lindsay: And how is that?

Christa: It has been great! I’ve had really great perspective coming back in after a hiatus because I got burnt out so it’s been good.

Lindsay: Yeah. Do you feel that, when you made the choice to come back, it must have been really rewarding to go, “Okay. this is the place I was supposed to be”?

Christa: Yes, it was as sure as I knew it was time for me to take a break. I was that sure, when I came back, that this is what I should be doing.

Lindsay: And I think this segues really nicely into what teachers are asking, the question: what do teachers do during their summer vacation and, time and time again, the Drama teachers I talk to, they are so gung-ho and like a freight train during the year.

Christa: Yes.

Lindsay: And that, when summer hits, you’ve got to be careful, right?

Christ: Yeah. I’ve always looked at the summer as an extended weekend. You know, Friday is the June, Saturday is the July, and Sunday is the August.

Lindsay: I love that.

Christa: Yeah, because Friday, you work, but then, Friday night, you’re free so part of June, you work, and then part of June, you’re free. And Saturday is big in play and then Sunday you start getting your head wrapped around going back to work so it’s just an extended weekend really.

Lindsay: It’s a good way of looking at it. And, also, it’s an organized way of looking at it so that you’re not, you know, getting to that week before school and sort of panicking.

Christa: Freaking out, yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah, about what needs to be happen and the preparation for the year. So, what kinds of things do you do during the summer?

Christa: It depends on the summers. Early on, I did nothing and I quite honestly think that was a problem. I sort of thought of the summer as “no more work” instead of a break to do something different so it seemed harder to go back to work in the beginning, but now I’m either writing curriculum or I’m in a play, visit with family. I think it’s really important to do something completely non-school-related so you feel that you are actually getting a break, especially in July on that Saturday where you can just take that month to play.

Lindsay: Do you think it’s important for Drama teachers to sort of step off and be on the other side of the line as it were? And to act or do set design or stage manage? Or just do something that’s the active part of being in theatre?

Christa: I do. I think it brings a heightened sense of relevancy to your classroom. I think, the moment I start saying, “I was in a play once. I think it’s time for me to do a play again,” and, you know, if I were a designer, it would be the same thing, “I designed twenty years ago.” It just kind of strengthens the validity to what you’re teaching your kids. However, not every teacher is or was a practicing artist before they became teachers. And, if they’re not, I think the way that you can approach it then is to flip it and become a student in the summer. Take a class in design. Take an acting class just to keep yourself fresh.

Lindsay: Absolutely. I think that that’s what it all comes down to so that, when you’re going back year after year, well, you don’t get that burnout.

Christa: Yeah.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much! This has been such a great experience and it’s really been wonderful talking to teachers and seeing what they do, and also sharing it with other teachers and particularly those first-timers who, I’m sure there’s a lot of them out there who are like, “It’s summertime! Woohoo!”

Christa: Yeah.

Lindsay: I think that changes pretty quickly.

Christa: Yes.

Lindsay: Thank you so much!

Christa: Thank you!

***

Lindsay: Hello, Valerie!

Valerie: Hi there!

Lindsay: Hi! How are you?

Valerie: I’m doing great.

Lindsay: Awesome! So, I am here with Valerie O’Riordan. And, Valerie, tell everybody where you are.

Valerie: I am in San Francisco at Archbishop Riordan High School.

Lindsay: Awesome! So, let’s just get right into it. When school is over, when you are done school, what are some of the things that you do as a teacher over summer vacation?

Valerie: I get back to my pleasure reading and I do some work on my lessons because I’m updating a class. I’m kind of creating a new class this summer so I’m doing work on that.

Lindsay: Yeah, you said that you were actually, like, creating a new curriculum for this playwriting class?

Valerie: Yeah, basically, two classes that I used to teach are now combining into one. So, I’m going to be teaching ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders, and since I’ve been teaching the same curriculum for so many years, I wanted to shake it up a little bit for me and my students so I’m going to have a whole playwriting and writing element that I’ve never done before.

Lindsay: So, how does that work for you when you are planning a new curriculum? What are some of the things that you do?

Valerie: One of the great things, I was just in Tampa last week for my son’s baseball tournament and the Tampa weather had us indoors a little bit and I took with me the April issue of Educational Leadership Magazine and almost every single article was something that I annotated like crazy because it was all about writing in the core curriculum. So, there were all sorts of exercises and thoughts. I’m starting a blog with my class next year. I’ve never done that before. And I’m going to be combining that with your Monologue Everything and the kickstart that I got last, well, this past year, I guess.

So, it’s just sort of looking at what I used to do and the exercises that, for me, are a little tired now and looking at where my students are at and what I think they could benefit from. The writing element isn’t very strong in the class that I teach so I wanted to give them the possibility, the opportunity to grow and to know that they have permission to make mistakes when they write without worrying about an assessment.

Lindsay: Yeah, that’s the thing particularly with creative writing, you know? It’s not a 2+2=4. They need to have that ability to make mistakes! So, what are some of the things that you do to allow students that freedom?

Valerie: Well, in the past, they always had a journal that we did three to five times a week and I’d tuck it away after they’re out of my class and I give it back to them on graduation day. So, it’s really a neat thing because they totally forgot that they did it half the time.

But I used to do what I call a creative research project with my freshman class and I’m going into my fourteenth year and, about six years ago, the writing just became so bad on the two- to four-page essay that they wrote that I just took it out because they were going to be filled with too many red marks, you know?

So, I’m taking that now and, honestly, I don’t actually know what I’m doing yet.

Lindsay: Ah! Is that scary?

Valerie: No, it’s really fun.

Lindsay: Hah! Good!

Valerie: Because there’s just so many resources out there that right now I’m reading and writing a lot of notes and I know that, by the time the two months of summer goes by, I’m going to have something. And, if I don’t, they’re going to find out on the first day of class that they’re my guinea pigs and we’ll have a fun time going from there.

Lindsay: When you have so many resources to get through in the summer, how do you avoid being overwhelmed by it all?

Valerie: Well, this past year, all of those wonderful little emails that you would send with this kind of exercise and these kind of writing prompts, I have a big box in my office that’s called Curriculum and I would print those out and I would just put them in that box.

So, in the next month, I’m going to get that box out. I’m going to get a few different magazines that I’ve annotated and it’s going to be, “I think my students would be able to do this. This one is going to be down the road.” I’m just going to, I think, really pick and choose and I just love the idea of doing that.

And the students really tend to gravitate toward, when they think that their teacher doesn’t really know what they’re doing, you know, I have a bigger master plan but I am going to tell them, “This is the first time I’m doing this and we’re going to learn it together.” So, that’s what I do; I kind of just pick and choose different exercises that I think are going to speak to them.

Lindsay: Yeah, and I mean, that’s not a bad thing to do – to let your students know that you’re all in the same boat, learning together.

Valerie: Absolutely.

Lindsay: You know, because why not shake things up for yourself too as a teacher?

Valerie: Exactly, and they do love that. They love it when you make a mistake – either, you know, a verbal typo or something on a handout or whatever. But they really tend to like the fact that I tell them, you know, in the bigger scheme of things, I know what I’m doing. But, in the smaller minute-to-minute, lesson-by-lesson, sometimes I’m like, “You know, I’ve never done this before so let’s see and you’re going to teach me. I’m not just the only teacher in this classroom. You guys are going to teach me whether it’s successful or not.”

Lindsay: And what a great way to solidify something for a student when they become the teacher.

Valerie: Right, exactly. It empowers them.

Lindsay: And then, the other thing that you told me about is that lifelong learning is really important to you.

Valerie: Yeah.

Lindsay: And where are you going next year?

Valerie: Next summer, I’m going to Athens to study for three weeks with colleagues that I haven’t met yet, going to Epidaurus and all of the places that I’ve been teaching for years and years and years. I’m going to be able to walk on that ground and it’s actually a playwriting. I had the choice of choosing between the playwriting and the acting. And, when I went to London a few years ago, I did the acting part, but I’ve got to tell you, I was so out of practice of learning lines that it didn’t get in my way but, boy, was it a nerve-racking type of thing so I decided to go the playwriting route this time so I won’t have to worry about learning lines.

Lindsay: I can’t imagine and what a great thing, particularly if you’ve been teaching Greek theatre and all the basics of where we all come from with Drama and then actually go and stand in those amphitheatres.

Valerie: I’m so excited. And I’m raising funds through GoFundMe and one of the moms – one of my Drama moms – suggested that I do that and I’m already halfway to my goal.

Lindsay: Oh, my god, that’s great!

Valerie: I know. It’s amazing.

Lindsay: So, because of this, this is very important. Why is it important? Why should teachers never stop learning?

Valerie: Well, I don’t know. Part of it, for me, I always loved school and so it’s no surprise that I ended up being a teacher. But I think it’s important to tell my students, you know, to let my students know that I like to continue to learn and that what I’m teaching them comes straight from the source and that I’ve been there and I’ve touched it and that they can go out into their world after they graduate and create their own future.

Lindsay: What a great thing to give them. I love that!

Thank you so much, Valerie! That’s wonderful. I love to hear about what teachers are doing and I’m really glad that you were able to share this with us.

Valerie: All right. Thanks so much, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Awesome. Thanks!

Valerie: Take care.

Thank you all, teachers! Thank you so much! Kea Fernandez,

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this wonderful podcast?

We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

What do Drama Teachers Do In the Summer? Part One.

Episode-98

The biggest misconception is that all teachers head to the pool and relax for two months during the summer. What to hear what really goes on? If you’re a beginning drama teacher listen in and take notes!

Play

Show Notes

Roshambo by Brian Borowka

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere. I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

You are in Episode 98 and you can catch the links for this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode98.

So, the biggest misconception is that all teachers, during their summer vacation, head to the pool, put their shades on, feet up, eat bonbons, right? Well, I recently talked to ten Drama teachers from Korea to California and, let me tell you, there’s not one of them who are sitting by the pool, eating bonbons – not one.

I’ve got to tell you, I mean, I’ve been amazed – always been amazed – at how hard Drama teachers work during the school year and I’m pretty gobsmacked at what they do during their summer vacation – vacation – during their summer vacation.

So, today, we’ve got part one with teachers from Virginia, Ontario, Alabama, North Carolina, and, if you’re a beginning Drama teacher, I think you really want to listen in and take notes. You are going to get some great ideas.

Lindsay: All right. Hello, Allison!

Allison: Hello!

Lindsay: Hi! How are you?

Allison: I’m doing good; really busy but that’s just the norm.

Lindsay: And where are you in the world?

Allison: Yes, I teach at the York County School of the Arts which is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, in the United States of America.

Lindsay: Awesome. And when does your school year end?

Allison: It does not end until next Friday which is June 13 so I’m still in the throes of school.

Lindsay: You’re counting the days though?

Allison: I’m trying to! Like, last show done.

Lindsay: Oh! Break a leg!

Allison: Oh, thank you!

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, what we’re talking about is summer vacation and what teachers do for summer vacation, and I think it’s the big misconception that teachers are just, you know, sitting around with their feet in the pool, sipping on a fruity drink, and eating bonbons, right?

Allison: Absolutely. It is definitely a misconception.

Lindsay: What do you do?

Allison: Well, I have, in fact, I even created a checklist for myself years ago to make sure that I actually accomplish everything before the first day of school. Some of these things are very common for any kind of teacher.

For example, during the summer, I reflect on last year’s notes and on lessons to make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes moving forward, or I make some adaptions. I also go on Twitter and connect with educators for new ideas. I go on Pinterest too lately to browse for new ideas on classroom management, how I want to set up my classroom because good teaching is just good teaching. I also buy school supplies just like the kids, I get my pens and pencils and my Expo markers, things like that, and try to hit up the sales in August that typically happen in office supplies stores.

For theatre specifically, for my classes, if I need to get certain art supplies that would help out for next year’s lessons. For example, I do a unit every year with my upper class that deals with neutral masks so I make sure that I’ve ordered the materials for that unit and I try to do it in the summer when I have a little more time, especially if something’s happening right at the beginning of the year.

I go in and I clean and organize my classroom because, during the school year, I really don’t have time to set it up and to especially make any changes. I clean my desk, I change out my posters, things like that.

And the theatre as well, for Drama teachers especially – going in and, you know, really cleaning up backstage, taking an inventory of supplies such as lamps for the lighting instruments, you know, making sure the props are organized, the costume closet is organized, because that’s a lot and lot of work, especially with the more things you accumulate that you really, yes, you should maintain it during the year, but during the summer time when you’re unencumbered by teaching then you can really get down and dirty and clean up everything.

And deciding a season for the year, granted some of that comes from knowing your students and what kind of pool of talents you’re going to be dealing with. So, if you did teach the year before, you kind of know what students are going to be available the next year. So, if you can select a season before going into the first day of school, that’ll make your life ten million times easier.

Setting up royalties and getting licenses for the shows you want to produce the next year and, depending, I guess, on your school, our school requires us to fill out paperwork to request the use of our theatre space for rehearsals and for our productions and getting it on the school-wide calendar. So, we call them facility requests. So, we do that during the summer, too. So, obviously, when we’re doing a show, the band or a random event can’t come in and take up our space when we need it for a rehearsal or for a show.

Lining up faculty and personnel that’ll help you if you’re doing a musical, making sure we have a choreographer lined up to help us out, a music director, possibly an assistant director, if we have the funds for a costume designer, trying to set all of that up during the summer as well.

I have a lot more.

Lindsay: Oh, man! Allison, you rock! I think this is just so awesome and I think you’re right. I’ve been in so many theatre classrooms, like, during the year where it just seems like it’s overwhelm has happened and things are in piles and there are just props and costumes everywhere. There’s never any time during the year, is there?

Allison: No. So, it’s kind of like the summer is your opportunity to be relaxed and set everything up.

My program, we do a lot of field trips during the year and I know, you know, not everyone has that kind of luxury or the budget to be able to do that but, you know, I know a lot of Drama teachers that aren’t necessarily in a magnet program like mine where they might take one or two field trips a year, and sometimes they’re overnight field trips, like, to New York City or international trips. We do international trips a lot.

So, during the summer, we use that time to contact vendors to set up for tickets for our field trips, arrange for transportation, kind of taking care of those nuts and bolts so it’s not, especially if it’s an early field trip, and just kind of getting a plan for the year of what we want to do. In fact, my faculty, we’re about to have that kind of meeting next week, during our last week of school, so we can plan for next year.

We also have, like, if we want to have guest speakers or guest performances come in, we also, you know, try to have something set up or start making those communications out to those people during the summer or way early out so we have that set in place.

And then, I kind of write in those dates on my desk calendar and my plan book during the summer, before the first day of school, because it usually takes me about an hour or two to write all those dates in. Like, when are the main stage shows going to happen? What is my rehearsal schedule going to look like? So, I kind of have an idea in my head.

And I could just keep going.

Lindsay: Well, I think what’s really important, I’m thinking, if there are new teachers out there, organization and checklists. I love the idea – make yourself a checklist. And then, when you get to the end of the year, you don’t have to – exactly as you say – you don’t have to flounder and figure out what it is that you should be doing before that first day of school; you’ve got it written out. And what a great thing to come into the first day of school and you’re prepared.

Allison: Yes! And, of course, you know, there are things that are specifically for, you know, being a Drama teacher, like, you know, selecting your season, things like that. But then, you have all of the school’s expectations like you need to make sure, you know, you have your syllabus made and your classroom management planned and make sure you’ve prepared for an open house and for a back-to-school night and make sure you’ve read the teacher handbook and reviewed the school’s emergency procedures and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And, every summer, I send out welcome letters to my students before they have me on the first day of school so they’ve had one, you know, example of communication of me before they even get into my classroom. So, that’s on my checklist.

So, it’s a lot, but it’s the stage manager in me to make a checklist.

Lindsay: Aha! Aha! That’s your background! I can see it! It’s written all over you!

Allison: Yeah! Yeah, I’m definitely a director, stage manager, and every year I go back to this checklist and I edit it.” You know what? I need to put this on this checklist,” or, “I don’t need to do that anymore.” So, I think, as a first year teacher, having a running document on your desktop of your computer or wherever or a journal and just writing down notes as the year happens – like, “I better make sure I do this,” and throw that on my checklist because I didn’t have this checklist until my second year of teaching.

Lindsay: Wow!

Allison: And so, it’s like, if I could have had this checklist from the beginning, that would have made me feel a little better, especially when I mark them off. I did that!

Lindsay: Absolutely. Oh, Allison, that is so great! I think that is really, really. And how great must it feel too for your students to come into this organized, they’ve already heard something from you. I think it makes a big difference when you’re setting the scenario for that first day of school. I think it makes a difference when someone’s walking into a chaotic situation and an organized situation.

Allison: Exactly, because it’s embarrassing and, you know, we’ve been in this position before – just from outside reasons – but, you know, the first day of school, when they come in, they want to know, “Okay, when’s the first audition for the show? What is our season? What are we doing this year?” and, if you can’t tell them, “Well, we have the first show figured out, but we don’t know when the next one’s going to be,” or, “We think we’re going to have auditions for the first show next week but, if you have, this is our season, we have audition forms already for you to fill out on the first day of school and our audition is happening next week and this is the rehearsal schedule,” then they’re going to be like, “All right. I can get excited about this. Everything’s already planned.” You know, they’re going to feel better. And you, as the teacher and the director of everything, you’re going to feel a big breath of relief because you’re already set up.

Lindsay: Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you so much for this, Allison. That’s awesome!

Allison: Thank you for the opportunity. I hope it helps somebody out there.

Lindsay: Oh, I know it will.

***

Lindsay: All right. So, now I am talking to Troy Taylor. Hello, Troy!

Troy: Hey! How are you?

Lindsay: I’m awesome. How are you?

Troy: I’m doing quite well.

Lindsay: Good. That’s what we like to hear. Tell everybody where you are in the world.

Troy: I am currently in Birmingham, Alabama, where I teach at Hueytown High School. I’m the theatre teacher there. I’ve been there for two years now. I’m only about to start my third year in my teaching career so I’m quite young in my career and my experience.

Lindsay: That’s awesome. Are you still enjoying it as your first year?

Troy: Yes, and I love it a lot – I really do. Each year, it gets better and better, and my kids get more and more excited and we just are doing more and more things as we keep growing and every day passes by.

Lindsay: What made you choose theatre? What made you choose to be a theatre teacher?

Troy: Really, my journey as a student through theatre in high school was an important part of my life and growing up and my teacher was very important as far as me becoming a man and learning life lessons and just what it brought to me was very, very valuable. And so, that was a journey that I wanted to take as far as giving back to society, so to speak, and being able to do that for students of the future.

Lindsay: It’s an important job, isn’t it?

Troy: It really is and it’s a very big job.

Lindsay: Absolutely. And on that note, so the question we’re asking is what do teachers do during the summer? What do you do on your summer vacation?

Troy: Well, I wish I could say that I had a summer vacation. For the last two summers, ever since I was hired, I’ve spent literally every day at the school, and working to get ready for the upcoming year, or cleaning out and putting stuff away from shows that are still left out, or returning things that we’ve borrowed. You know, working on lesson plans and, I mean, you name it, that’s what I’m doing. There’s not much of a summer for me, you know? And that’s something I knew would be a part of my job if I really took it seriously and there’s a lot to do to get ready for our kids and, you know, shows and planning and production and all those kinds of things.

Lindsay: Why do you think it is that people assume that teachers just take that time off? “Oh, they’ve got the summer off. Oh, the lucky teacher!”

Troy: Realistically, there may be a lot of teachers that get to do that, but teachers who really care about what they get to do and the opportunity that they have to work with students every day don’t take the time off during the summer to rest because they’re too busy trying to prep for the upcoming year and for the next batch of students they’re going to have – you know, new or they may even have some of the same students – because they care about what they’re going to present to their students who want kind of opportunities they’re going to give and, you know, especially being a theatre teacher, we’re always thinking, “Okay, what can we do next? What’s the next opportunity that we can give our students?” and that takes a lot of planning and a lot of time outside of the normal 8:00 to 3:00 school day, you know? And, during the school year, you’re doing rehearsals so that summer is really when you do your planning and prepping for the next school year.

Lindsay: And that’s awesome, I think, that you have got a grasp on that so early in your career. I think it’s just going to serve you well.

Troy: Well, thank you.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Troy!

Troy: Thank you, Lindsay!

***

Lindsay: And now, I am with Danny. Hello, Danny!

Danny: Hi, Lindsay. How are you?

Lindsay: Oh, I’m great! How are you?

Danny: I’m perfect.

Lindsay: Aha! Oh, I love to hear that!

Danny: It’s night-time and the sun’s going down. It’s beautiful over here.

Lindsay: Aha! It’s beautiful where I am, too. Tell everybody where you are.

Danny: I’m in North York, Toronto. Just north of Toronto, Ontario.

Lindsay: Just north of Toronto, Ontario. I love that. I love being able to talk to somebody as close to local as I’m going to get, I think. That’s great.

Danny: Nice.

Lindsay: So, how long have you been a teacher?

Danny: This is my twelfth year. It feels like forever but only twelve years so I’ve got lots to go.

Lindsay: Yeah. Why does it feel like forever?

Danny: Well, first of all, as a Drama teacher, we’re always busy so every year feels like four. But it’s all good, though. You know, I’m definitely not going to complain. I love what I do but it’s hard work.

Lindsay: I don’t know a Drama teacher who isn’t on the move 24/7 who just puts in so much extra time. I think that’s something.

Danny: You have to.

Lindsay: Yeah, you do! Well, if you’re going to do the job well, right?

Danny: Well, usually, I tell parents, “Anybody who’s willing to listen, our job is almost 90 percent marketing and then 10 percent teaching,” and that’s a great thing too because the marketing is really a lot of great stuff that we do, right? Because it’s the kids doing their work.

Lindsay: Yes, absolutely. So, you’re heading into the end of your school year.

Danny: Yes.

Lindsay: How do you use your summer months?

Danny: Well, first of all, the summer is – although it can be seen as a time to relax – really, especially as a Drama teacher, again, it’s a refresher more than anything. And so, I guess that includes doing a lot of reading. For me, I like to learn, but really, that comes from reading new things and seeing a lot of stuff and obviously that includes plays, but it’s also traveling and finding new inspirations for stuff and within all of that is obviously finding passion and revitalizing passion because it’s very easy to get stale – not just as a Drama teacher but as a teacher in general, especially the longer you do it.

So, in order to be motivational and in order to get your kids to be passionate, you have to stay revitalized. Almost like every September, you come in and it’s your first year all over again and you can’t do the same thing. So, I think refresher is the most important thing.

Lindsay: I think that’s a great idea to look at it, that you have to kind of come into every year as if it’s the first time because, otherwise, you’re just repeating the same games and doing the same exercises and, I think, students know when you’re just going through the motions.

Danny: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, they take Drama because they have an expectation coming into the course and, even if they, you know, if they have an idea of what to expect, if they’re surprised pleasantly, they’re going to be more engaged as well. And so, it’s not tricking them but it’s keeping them on their toes and, again, the only way to do that is by being fresh every year.

Lindsay: Yeah. Well, you’re leading by example, right?

Danny: Absolutely, that’s one of my prime beliefs.

Lindsay: So, when you started out as a teacher, did you always have this principle of how to use your summer months or has that changed over time?

Danny: Well, as far as the staying fresh and the passion is concerned, you know, for me, I remember – I can’t remember what it was exactly but some sort of lecture in teacher’s calls and it started with that. Again, I think, when you get into the profession in general, but then, specifically as a Drama teacher, if you’re not thinking in terms of leading by example – like you say – but with passion and always staying fresh, that’s always been a part of who I am as a person so I think that just comes natural as a teacher.

Lindsay: If you could give an example of one thing that you think every starting Drama teacher should be doing on their summer months, what’s the one thing that you think would be incredibly helpful?

Danny: Writing.

Lindsay: Ah!

Danny: Yeah, absolutely, and not necessarily any plays. I mean, me, personally, I keep three or four journals at any given time and it’s ideas. You know, I’ll be driving in the car and I’ll ask my wife to write something down for me that comes to my mind and it’s based on something I see or something I’m reflecting on from the day. But, again, the more you write, it’s inspirational, it keeps you fresh. Like I said before, you know, it comes from a place of passion, obviously, if it’s coming, you know, from that moment.

And, again, I think writing always is going to come from the heart and then, again, if that’s what you’re turning around and trying to give to the kids, it’s going to be inspirational. So, writing is very important. It could be about anything. Again, it’s not necessarily, like I said, about a play. It could be anything – new curriculum, it could be new lesson plans. I believe every two years, I have a two-year cycle, and it doesn’t always stay that way but I totally revamp all of my plans every two years in the summer so that it could be also writing new plans.

Lindsay: I think that’s awesome. I think keeping a journal is, again, something that we want students to do so, if we want students to do it, we should also be, again, leading by example.

Danny: Absolutely.

Lindsay: And I just love it. I love having a notebook on hand so that, when anything hits your brain, you are in the habit of making sure it gets on the page.

Danny: I learned that from a director that I worked with once and it was in his back pocket and it always stuck out to me because he usually had the most creative ideas and so I just took that from him and I applied it to my teaching practice.

Lindsay: Oh, I love that; that is such a great example.

Thank you so much, Danny, for sharing that and I really appreciate you taking your time.

Danny: No problem.

Lindsay: Awesome.

***

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I am talking to Chuck Stowe. Hello, Chuck!

Chuck: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Hey! How are you doing?

Chuck: Doing great. It’s been a wonderful week.

Lindsay: Awesome! And so, just tell everybody where you are in the world.

Chuck: I am at Stuart Cramer High School in Belmont, North Carolina – that’s just west of Charlotte.

Lindsay: Ah, excellent! I can picture where that is. And how long have you been a teacher?

Chuck: This is my tenth year teaching high school.

Lindsay: Did you teach something else before that?

Chuck: I was on the college level – three different colleges.

Lindsay: Oh! So, what made you decide to go to high school?

Chuck: Moving back here to help take care of family and finding available jobs. But I love it. This is where I’m supposed to be.

Lindsay: Ah!

Chuck: I enjoyed teaching on the college level but I absolutely love teaching high school students.

Lindsay: Oh, why? Why?

Chuck: I get to see them learn to love theatre as much as I do.

Lindsay: It’s an amazing thing. I think that that’s what I love about doing plays for high school students particularly because they’re sponges and they’re so enthusiastic and they’re so energetic and it’s always a joy.

Chuck: Absolutely. I stay young because of my kids.

Lindsay: That’s always good. Okay. So, what we’re asking everybody is what do you do during your summer vacation? What are the things as a teacher that is important for you to do?

Chuck: One of the most important things for me, with theatre, I spend all my time in a classroom with no windows, an auditorium with no windows, a shop with no windows, so to get some sun time and fun time to just kind of recharge the batteries a little bit.

Lindsay: A little Vitamin D is necessary, right?

Chuck: Absolutely, but just making sure, you know, we give so much of ourselves all year. We’re giving and giving and giving – time-wise, emotionally, physically – that it’s time to recharge the batteries for ourselves. Make sure, you know, spending time with friends, with family, those kind of things. Read a few books that have absolutely nothing to do with theatre or with educational development or professional development. Just some “me” time, doing that.

But, for me, one of the most important things I try to do every summer is do theatre where I can be part of a team.

Lindsay: Ah.

Chuck: So often, we are one-person programs. Most of us work as a one-person theatre department and we bring in people, volunteers to work with us and, of course, we have our students that we’re working with, but we’re still ultimately responsible for the whole thing. But to be able to go somewhere and act in a show, or just help build and paint a show, or work on costumes for a show, do something where I can be part of a team where I’m not having to work alone, and that’s refreshing and energetic and you can be creative. You’ve got people – other professionals you can bounce ideas off of. And I’ve often found that I can talk to those guys about some of the things I’m planning for the coming year and getting feedback from other theatre professionals in a non-school setting.

Lindsay: I think that’s amazing because, first of all, all we talk about quite a bit for our students is team building, ensemble, team building and ensemble. You know, we want them to be a team and if you haven’t had that experience of being on their side of the table where you are a part of the team, you know, how can you encourage them to do that to their best, yeah?

Chuck: Yeah, I agree, and that’s so important because, what we do, we hear so much about 21st century skills and, you know, collaboration and creating and problem-solving. It’s what we’ve done in theatre for 2,500 years.

Lindsay: Oh, yeah.

Chuck: We talk about it but we need to – like you say – be experiencing it first-hand to then be able to come back. And I bring some of those experiences back into the classroom. A couple of years ago, I did Summer Stock. Last summer, I worked with three summer camp programs in our community where they have theatre camps – three-week theatre camps where they produce shows and I helped with those programs. So, different things you do in different responsibilities. Just finding a way to plug into hone my own craft, working with professionals, gives me a chance to, like, again, you know, that whole recharging the batteries metaphor.

Lindsay: And there’s so many different ways you can recharge those batteries too, you know? Just the whole notion, I just love that idea, because you’re still working on your craft of being a theatre teacher but from a completely different perspective.

Chuck: Yeah.

Lindsay: That’s awesome. I think that’s so really helpful. When you started out as a teacher, what was your vision of what your summers would be like?

Chuck: Ah, well, naively, I thought I would be taking the summer off and I have, you know, from June 10th till August 25th to just relax and hang out and home and work in the yard and projects around the house. But the reality is I still do all of that, but I make time to do the other things – the theatre work as well – and I try to do as much pre-planning as I can without going overboard with it, if that makes sense.

Lindsay: Oh, totally, so that, when you walk in on that first day, you know where you’re going.

Chuck: Well, tomorrow, I’m going to be announcing to my students what our musical for next Spring is going to be and so I’ll start doing some pre-planning on that because I want to know in August – even though we’re doing the show in the Spring – in August, I want to know what the set’s basically going to look like and what our costume concepts are going to be like and who my production team is going to be. So, I’ll be putting those pieces of the puzzle together over the summer – not having all the details done, of course, but just so that you get the big picture at least filled in over the course of the summer with that.

Lindsay: Ah, I think that’s really the only way to survive the life of a Drama teacher – organization.

Awesome. Thank you so much, Chuck. That was really great, I loved that example. I’ve been talking to a number of teachers and everyone has had a different take on this question and I just love it. Thank you so much!

Thank you so much to all the teachers in this episode – Allison, Hall, Danny Dilallo, Troy Taylor, Chuck Stowe. I love how much I learn doing these interviews and I won’t lie, I mean, I assumed that there was someone who was kicking back and going to go into relax mode for the entire time but, ah, you know, deep down inside, I am not surprised – not really. You guys are the hardest working folks I know. My hands are up. You know, all hail the Drama teacher.

So, you can get the links to this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode98.

And before we go, let’s hear from THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!

Okay. Do you know what Roshambo is? Yeah, me neither – until this play came across my desk. So, Roshambo is the name for a tournament of rock-paper-scissors. That’s right. You heard it – rock-paper-scissors tournaments. And, of course, you’re intrigued because I was intrigued and you know that some people take rock-paper-scissors very seriously – so seriously that there’s national ranking, so seriously that they might cheat to win their tournament, that they have to devote their entire lives to practicing no matter what. This is the world of Brian Borowka’s play Roshambo.

I love the title. I love the subject matter. If you’re looking for a fun play for middle school that is not your fractured fairytale, pick this up. If you have a grade nine Drama class, oh, use this for scene work. Interesting characters who throw moves like you have never seen before.

Go to theatrefolk.com. Read the sample pages for Roshambo. Go to the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode98 and click the link. Read it now!

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this wonderful podcast?

We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The International Teacher: when travel and teaching go hand in hand

Episode-97

Rita Felder teaches in an International School in Korea. What’s it like? How did she prepare to teach students who speak English as a second language? She also shares why the summer is not just a time of rest for a teacher.

Play

Show Notes

Have you created unique interesting, action-packed drama lesson plans for your classes? Theatrefolk is looking for you.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, theatre educators everywhere. I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

This is Episode 97 and you can catch the links for this episode in the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode97.

Okay. Welcome all! I hope you’re kicking your summer off to a great start.

We are absolutely here at Theatrefolk Global Headquarters. Craig and I live quite near to Lake Erie and we have about a seven-minute walk to the left and to the right of us to hit water. If we’re feeling beachy, we go right. If we’re feeling like sitting on a patio, we go left and we hit our local waterfront watering hole. It’s not fancy but, you know, you can’t beat the view. It is just so relaxing to sit and stare at the water. It’s my favorite thing being close to water.

So, we are starting off in our summer fun with a couple of weeks of teacher interviews. I asked teachers the question, “What do you do for summer vacation?” and I think some of you are going to be shocked, some of you won’t be surprised at all, and some of you, you’re going to get out your pens and paper and write down these – these are great ideas of how to plan out your summer.

So, we’re going to kick it off with an “extendamix” though. Rita Felder, she teaches in Korea, so I got up at 6:00 am to interview her which was my fault, totally, because I screwed up the time difference. And before she fills us in on what she does during the summer, you’re going to hear what it’s like to teach in an international school.

Okay. Let’s find out!

Lindsay: All right. Hello, Rita!

Rita: Hi!

Lindsay: Hi! I’m really happy to talk to you. When I put out this call for teachers to talk about what they do on their summer vacation, you gladly raised your hand. Thank you very much.

Rita: Yeah, you’re welcome.

Lindsay: And I just want to tell everyone I’m talking to teacher Rita Felder.

Rita, tell everybody where you are right now.

Rita: Right now, I’m on very windy Jeju Island in South Korea.

Lindsay: So, we were just talking about how your internet connection in South Korea is very good and it’s fascinating to me that I’m here in teeny tiny town Ontario and then you’re on the other side of the world. I think that’s very, very cool.

Rita: Yes, it is.

Lindsay: So, how long have you been a teacher?

Rita: I’ve been a teacher for about ten years now.

Lindsay: Yeah?

Rita: Yeah. I had two main areas – Drama and Theatre, and also I’m a foreign language teacher so I always taught German and French for a number of years as well.

Lindsay: Cool! Now, is the school that you’re at, is that an international school?

Rita: It is, yes.

Lindsay: And why did you choose there? Where are you from originally?

Rita: It’s a bit of a long story. I’m half Swiss and I’m half Australian. So, I spent half my life in Switzerland and half my life in Australia. And then, I thought this was a nice in-between step, but I’m actually heading back to Switzerland later this year.

Lindsay: To teach?

Rita: To teach at an international school, yes.

Lindsay: And why did you choose Drama? Like, why was that something that you wanted to do? Why Drama and education?

Rita: Good question. When I was in Australia, I guess I should say I did most of my primary school – I did all of my primary schooling in Switzerland – and Drama isn’t one of the subjects offered in a public school there. When I first went to Australia and suddenly I was introduced to this subject called Drama, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, this is where I belong,” and I ended up getting involved in a lot of amateur theatre companies in the city that I grew up in.

When I was doing various different theatre productions there, I noticed that a lot of the people involved in the theatre company were actually Drama teachers and also English teachers. I guess what I really liked or what inspired me was that these were people who were obviously very passionate about theatre, but were also teaching it on a daily basis. And then, I thought, “Well, here’s a nice balance between having, I guess, a fairly stable job, but also being able to pursue that very strong hobby.”

Lindsay: Ah, that was going to be my next question. Like, why the teaching aspect? Isn’t that so funny how those things can inspire you and just sort of hold onto you? And then, change your life and direct your career!

Rita: Absolutely. I had to ask myself a lot of questions. I was like, “Well, what do I enjoy doing? Who do I enjoy working with? And what do I enjoy myself but what do I also enjoy helping other people do as well?” and I think that, in that regard, being a Drama teacher is quite rewarding because it’s something that I love doing, but I also love seeing other people enjoy the subject as well.

Lindsay: And what is it like to teach at an international school?

Rita: Yeah. Well, this is actually my first international school so I can’t really compare it to many others. But what I do love about being at an international school is that you meet people from all over the place. So, the colleagues that I meet have taught in many different countries and have really interesting life and career paths.

I really love the travel aspect. So, I guess we all here have the commonality that we love travel. And so, you know, even long weekends or short breaks, people will head off to Japan or head off to Seoul and just go and fly up there to see a show or something like that. So, yeah, definitely the travel aspect and just also meeting the different people from all places, all corners of the earth.

Lindsay: Of the globe.

Rita: Yeah.

Lindsay: What is the primary nationality of the students that you teach? Is it Korean? Is it American? Where do they come from?

Rita: Yeah. Well, at this school, at this point, it is predominantly Korean. We also have some students from Japan, and we have a student some Ireland, and we have a few students from China as well.

Lindsay: Okay. So, here’s my naïve question. Are you teaching them Drama in English or Korean?

Rita: Yes, it’s in English instruction. So, I teach in English, yeah.

Lindsay: So, for a lot of them, it’s English as a second language?

Rita: Yes, it is, absolutely. And, I guess, for me, as a language teacher as well, I have been able to use some of my – I guess – language teacher skills along the way which has been helpful.

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I’m fascinated – well , I am always fascinated. But what’s it like to convey principles of Drama like blocking and tableau – or just character development – to someone who has that language barrier?

Rita: Look, when I first came here, I didn’t actually know what the students’ level of English was going to be. And so, when I came and I started the Drama program here, I had my own plan in my head of what I was going to do in grade seven, grade eight, grade nine, and grade ten, and I actually taught Junior Kindy and all of the junior school at that point as well.

And so, I thought in my head that, you know, by grade ten I was going to do some Shakespeare and by grade nine I was going to do this and that, and it did really change in that first few lessons that I had. I thought, “Okay. I’m really going to have to change this entire program,” and not just because of the language piece at the beginning, but also because about a good 97 percent of my students had never done Drama before.

And so, even students who were in grade ten had never done Drama. And so, I thought, “Well, I can’t throw you into Shakespeare now. I would like to actually teach you some of the basics and get you a bit more confident and comfortable starting from scratch, really,” and even to then touch on some of the elements of Drama, and also with our students, being comfortable with raising your hand and volunteering, you know, those were things that we had to first build.

Lindsay: One of the major tenets of Drama is that we try things and that maybe it doesn’t work. In terms of creativity, the only way to really embrace creativity is to try and to fail and then to try again. What’s that concept like in a country where it’s very, very academic? It’s very academic, right? Is that right?

Rita: Yeah, yeah, it is. Look, I think that’s another reason why I really like the IB system at international schools. It’s the idea of the learner profile. And one of the characteristics that we try to foster is the idea of risk-taking and reflecting. And so, we’ll often use that, you know, and the kids now will be at the stage where they’ll go, “Oh, I’m being a risk-taker because I’m volunteering for this,” or, “I’m going to try this out and therefore…”

So, that had to be practiced and, I guess, built up over time. But you’re right. It’s not something that just happened on the first day.

Lindsay: Have you done plays with these students yet?

Rita: Yeah, we have. We’ve done, like, even for, you know, Christmas celebrations. We’ve done short plays. We did a version of The Gift of the Magi last Christmas which was really, really nice. I was running – along with a couple of colleagues as well – a co-curricular Drama club and we did some scene work and short versions of plays. And we also this year did our very first musical, too.

Lindsay: Awesome!

Rita: Yeah!

Lindsay: What was it like for them to perform for the first time?

Rita: I think what was quite interesting, when they first stepped into the Drama classroom – I remember this really vividly – you know, they’d look around and they saw that there weren’t really any tables and there weren’t really any chairs. And I said to them, you know, “What do you think we’re going to be doing here?” and they kind of associated Drama with what they know as Korean Drama – what they watch on television. It was just funny having that conversation.

So, I guess, you know, next to everything else, we were also talking about, “Well, what is Drama class? What is that? What does that look like? What does collaboration look like in this classroom as opposed to another subject area?” And I think that the girls – on many occasions – have felt an immense sense of pride when they have performed.

For example, one really treasured moment last year when we did our Christmas concert and the students performed a short played called Over the Wall. When the kids performed that, after we finished, I went to meet with them in the black box theatre and they were so excited. They picked me up off the floor and threw me in the air and caught me. So, it was such a lovely, lovely moment.

And even with the school musical this year as well, you could just see their excitement and the way that it just formed new friendships and made a lot of the kids come out of their shells, perhaps for the first time. It was really special.

Lindsay: Wow! And how special to be there and to see that! It must have been just amazing.

Okay. For anybody out there who might be thinking about applying to go to teach in an international school, what would be the biggest piece of advice that you could give someone who might be thinking of teaching overseas?

Rita: You mean in terms of looking for teaching positions?

Lindsay: How about what was the thing that surprised you most that you didn’t expect?

Rita: I wasn’t really familiar with Korean culture. Obviously, this is going to be different for every person.

Lindsay: I think that’s a good one. Like, just being aware of what goes on in the country that you go to. Like, was there anything that you had to adapt in your Drama curriculum to reflect the Korean culture?

Rita: Well, one thing which was really nice – and yeah, you’re right – is that, for example, being here on Jeju Island, there are a lot of beautiful folk stories. And so, in grade seven, when I wanted to do a story-telling unit, instead of perhaps drawing on my European influences of fairy tales and stories or Australian stories, I was able to get the kids to help me explore some of the Korean stories as well – obviously, stories that I may not necessarily be able to access because I don’t speak Korean. And so, I think, for them to be able to share elements of their culture through the medium of Drama was really special – for me too because it meant that I got to see this rich culture from a different side.

But what also just popped into my head is, if  I were to go to another country which I am later on this year, I definitely think it’s worth really exploring all the theatre opportunities around you because, like, for example, in Seoul, it’s got such a vivid arts scene and I didn’t know about that when I first arrived. And it took a few months to get in contact with different people and to network and to see, well, what is on? And is there something I can either take my students to or is there a workshop I can organize with someone who’s flying through South Korea?

So, I think, definitely exploring outside the school wall opportunities is really valuable.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Did you meet any resistance to teaching Drama from some students or from any administration? Was there any resistance? Well, obviously not because the program was there.

Rita: Yeah.

Lindsay: But, because it was new, was there any resistance?

Rita: No, I wouldn’t there was resistance – definitely not from the school itself.

Lindsay: You were there!

Rita: Yes, but also being an IB school, you know, Theatre is part of the curriculum and I think most people would need to see the value of te performing arts. We have a very strong music department as well and we have excellent facilities when it comes to, you know, our black box theatres and our auditorium and things like that.

I guess one of the things, if I could have my time here again, and if I could speak Korean – and this is a big “if” – I would love to be able to have the opportunity to, I guess, introduce parents to the subject a bit more. I had ideas at the beginning that, you know, I would do presentations where I might have a translator who would then tell the parent body about what Drama is and what it means rather than just having to read the information from a handbook.

But what we had instead, we had open days and we had parents coming through and students sort of leading them through the campus and introduce parents to the subject a little bit that way. And many of the parents afterwards made it very clear to me that they didn’t actually know what the subject entailed and were really supportive of it. But, I guess, you know, there’s always more that you can do. There’s always parents that you wouldn’t have met and who don’t necessarily understand how the program runs from beginning to end – like, you know, starting in grade seven all the way to DP.

Lindsay: It’s a pretty preconceived notion that teachers don’t do anything over their summer vacations – that it’s just party time for all – and this is something that I really wanted to sort of ask teachers. Like, what do you do during the summer and how do you spend that time?

So, what do you do?

Rita: Okay. Well, I did have a pretty special summer last summer. So, I wouldn’t say that my last summer was necessarily what I do every summer, but I will tell you what I do most summers as well.

Last summer, I was really lucky. I got to spend some time in Europe and in the US as well. So, what I did last summer was I spent a few days in London and, on my way to LA, I spent about eight days in New York. One of the reasons why I went to New York was because I’d never been to Broadway before and so I really wanted to experience that. And, of course, when I was in London, I went and saw a number of shows on West End.

So, I felt really, really lucky because I didn’t think that I would ever, you know, see West End and Broadway in the same trip, but I saw a ton of shows. I saw so many shows! Sometimes I even decided to go and see two shows in one day because I thought, “Well, look, I’m probably not going to be here for a little while so I really want to make the most of this.” And, I guess, the good thing for me is going to see a show is a little bit like PD because I walk away with so many ideas, I walk away feeling inspired and refreshed, and I enjoy it. So, of course, I’m now paying back for this trip. So, I saw lots of different shows.

What I also love to do during the holiday breaks is doing some kind of class – perhaps something that I hadn’t done before. So, when I was in New York, I just decided to do a singing workshop with a friend who is a professional singer and I also was really lucky I got to spend a couple of days on a set of a crime drama — just watching the way that that was filmed and meeting some of the actors and things like that. It’s not just perhaps what you would call proper traditional PD, but the stories that I was able to share with my students and the personal kind of appreciation for all the things related to performing arts were really strengthened during this trip as well. So, that was one thing that I really enjoyed.

Also, part of my last summer holiday is I ended up going to Singapore for a diploma program theatre workshop. So, during that workshop, I was able to share a lot of resources, make new contacts with DP teachers who are in Asia as well.

Lindsay: Just what’s DP?

Rita: Oh, it’s the Diploma Program. So, it’s grade eleven and twelve theatre students. And that was invaluable for me this year. You know, whenever I had questions, I could just flick people an email, and often it’s people who are in very similar situations as yourself and so it just makes things so much easier.

And one of the other things that I often do on my holiday – apart from relaxing and catching up with friends and all those good things, I can’t forget to mention that – is to organize my digital library as well because I find that, during the school term, I come across a lot of different resources or I spend a couple of hours looking for things and then suddenly, you know, you click on one website and then all of a sudden you’ve spent two hours looking for resources, but actually going through that an organizing it and going, “Hey, I found this, and this is actually going to really be useful for my first unit next year so I’m going to put it in this folder over here so that I know where to look for it later.” So, getting organized with that sort of stuff.

Lindsay: That’s the period you’re going to have time that you can organize things.

Why is continual learning so important?

Rita: Because I think, with something like Theatre and story-telling, it’s something that’s always changing in a sense. I guess, for me, it’s always about telling stories – that’s what I think about Theatre and Drama – but the way that you tell those stories is always going to change. People are always going to try new things and I think that, for a Theatre teacher to explore different, to look at different shows, to see what people are doing, to participate in a workshop yourself, if you don’t do those things then I think you’re always going to do things the same way that you’ve done them before.

And so, for me to go to Broadway, for example, I remember I went to see a musical there – Avenue Q – now, I’ve seen this show probably a good three times already. But every time that I go and see it again, I see different things. I notice different things. One cool thing was I actually went to see Avenue Q in Seoul, probably about four months after I went to see it on Broadway. And what was really interesting there was, like, even in the same show, things were done differently, you know, to accommodate the particular audience that they were performing to.

And so, I think professional learning for any teacher is important. But, for me as a Theatre teacher, yeah, it makes me feel refreshed.

Lindsay: That is a perfect example of it brings it right back around to we try and maybe we fail, we try again; that there is no one right answer in Drama and there’s no one right way to interpret things, and that’s so hard for students – and I think that’s across the board. It doesn’t matter where they are, students are very focused on two plus two equals four and it’s hard to get them to try and interpret differently.

Rita: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the focus then becomes not so much about trying to get the right answer but it’s trying to be able to teach students the skills of explaining their opinion. So, you know, if you liked something, well, why did you like it? Or if you chose to do it this way or if you chose to interpret it this way, why did you interpret it this way? And why is that different from the way that the person next to you has interpreted it? So, giving them the language and the skills to analyze and justify in that regard too.

Lindsay: And that’s going to serve them wherever they go.

Rita: Yeah.

Lindsay: Awesome!

Rita, this has been lovely. I really appreciate that you sat down where you are and just had a little talk with us about teaching and what you do.

Rita: Yeah, no worries. Thank you so much.

Lindsay: Have a lovely day. You’re at the end of your day, right?

Rita: Pretty much, yes.

Lindsay: You’re at the end of your day and we’re just beginning and that sounds good to me. Thank you very much.

Rita: Have a lovely day. Bye-bye.

Thank you, Rita!

I still find that amazing that I was in Ontario, Canada, and she was in Korea, and there wasn’t a blip or a fuzzy connection or anything. Okay, technology! I think that’s pretty good.

So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

Teachers! We want your lesson plans! We want to pay you for your lesson plans!

So, are you one of those teachers who loves to create your own programs? Teach lessons in your own way? We here at Theatrefolk are looking to build a library of lesson plans just for Drama teachers – just for you – middle school and high school.

Share your expertise with us and with Drama teachers around the world. Go to the show notes. Click the link in the show notes. That’s theatrefolk.com/episode97 to learn more.

Share what you know. Get paid for it. We would love to hear from you.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this wonderful podcast?

Well, we post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.