Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why I'm Mad Today

I pulled one of my students aside today to ask her why she's been missing so many rehearsals for the musical. I absolutely adore this girl - smart, confident, independent, mature, funny, just an awesome kid. Anyway, I pieced together from our conversation that she's been skipping rehearsals to be home with her mom since her mom 1) is a drug addict, 2) is mentally unstable, 3) has attempted suicide in the past and is threatening to do so again, and 4) is currently being tested for breast cancer. Basically, this 14-year-old is terrified that if she's not there every minute, her mother's going to die. To top it off, though, the girl also feels immense guilt because she's skipping rehearsals. When I tried to reassure her about that, she told me that she feels even worse because when she skips rehearsals to be with her mom, she doesn't go "where [she] should." So, she misses rehearsals to be with her mom, but can't handle that emotionally so she goes somewhere else instead and feels even worse for letting down more people.

I love this girl, and I don't see how this can possibly end well. Either 1) mom sticks around, and the girl stays with her out of guilt and misses on the potential of having a life of her own (and what a life it could be!), or 2) mom dies and the girl has to go through that particular hell, or 3) mom lives and the girl leaves her, but has to deal with the guilt of that independence.

I hate that she has to be dealing with this kind of stuff. Believe me, I know that part of the reason why she's such an awesome kid is because she deals with this kind of stuff, but I really, really wish I could take this away from her, if only for a little bit.

So, doing one of the few things I can for her, could you keep my girl in your spare thoughts this week? She could use some "green world" wishes from others, even if she is totally unaware of you, my friends. Of course, I ask this knowing very well that you all have your own dear ones to worry about. Which is why today's model of Very Bad Parenting is not a surprise to me, just an all too sad refrain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The day I became brilliant

I've been fretting about the 5th grade tour. I wanted to have my kids present a song and dance, but I didn't think we'd have time. The kids just got back to school today, and I'll be out on Friday. They're testing all day on Tuesday, and there are some various awards assemblies here and there next week. It would be a very abbreviated time to teach a song and dance to students, somewhat because I don't know what I'm doing, but even more so because they would be resistant to the idea of singing and dancing.

I was in the middle of an e-mail to Jen, elbow deep in all these whines and whimpers, when I suddenly because brilliant. The 5th graders will sit and listen to the band play. Then they'll sit and listen to the orchestra play. Then they'll sit and listen to the choir sing. They won't get to play instruments or sing a song, they'll just see a demonstration and listen to a sales pitch for that program.

To sell the theatre program, why make the 5th graders watch others having fun? Why not do theatre exercises and games with THE 5TH GRADERS THEMSELVES?!

So that's what I'll do. The coaches have graciously agreed to babysit the fine arts students for that day, so I'll send off my students to the gym and spend 100% of my presentation time focused entirely on the incoming 5th graders. When these 5th graders go home, I'll bet they won't remember what violin concerto they heard, but they will remember being a sculpture in a garden, walking into the wrong room and losing status, and participating in a glorious broadsword battle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Song needed

On February 1, the local 5th graders will be touring my middle school. Each year the 5th graders walk around the school, meet the core teachers, and visit the music department. Band, choir, and orchestra each get five minutes to pitch their department to the 5th graders, and they usually use most of that time letting the middle school students play and sing. After all, nothing shows off a department like actual student demonstrations.

Theatre has never been a part of this event because there had not been a 6th grade theatre class until this year. Now that we have a 6th grade theatre program, I asked why theatre is still not participating. I'd love to add a second 6th grade class next year, and eventually a second teacher who would have a full load of just 6th grade theatre. The administration agreed that this was a good idea, and so they will be taking tours of 5th graders through my room on February 1 so that I can show off my program.

Now I just need something to show them.

We've done monologues and small group scenes so far, and I'd rather show the 5th graders something that the whole class does together. I could teach them a Waterhouse-style physicalization of R+J's prologue, or we could have a giant Air Broadsword battle (though I think that might frighten my principal a bit). But what I'd really like to do is a song and dance. We'll be doing a musical at the end of this year, and I'll need to do a class unit on musical theatre eventually, so it might as well be now.

The problem is time. Our semester ends Friday, so all this week is taken up by exams. Monday is a holiday, and Tuesday is a teacher work day. So once the kids come back I'll only have six class days to put something together. I'd like a song that's not too complicated, with plenty of individually sung lines, like "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I'm no Alvin Ailey, so I need something that's closer to "choreographed movement" than "dance." It shouldn't be too long, since the 5th graders will only have five minutes in my class. And I need to be able to get the karaoke CD or download the instrumental song from iTunes this weekend.

I was thinking maybe "Anything You Can Do" from Annie Get Your Gun. It's recognizable from TV commercials, and it can largely be spoken rather than sung. It can be done by two large groups back and forth. That's the best I've come up with after an hour of brainstorming, but I'm certainly open to other suggestions. If this were your program, what would you show in five minutes to pimp your program? If it's a musical routine, what song? Can this be done in six class days?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Middle School Macbeth

Tomorrow my current Middle School residency comes to an end with our culminating performance of Macbeth. I've gotta say, there are moments when I watch my wee ones saying the lines and I suddenly flash back to the smelly room with the horrible grey carpet at Smith, and all those exciting, alive moments you all found when we were working on that play. I keep remembering NITS colleagues playing the various roles and it always makes me smile. Jen-you are still my Duncan!

Since we were talking a while back about fitting more kids in our plays to increase participation, I thought I'd share how I managed to get 50 kids into this production. I split the major roles to ensure that no child had more than 50 lines of text to memorize. (We had five weeks to put the whole thing together--including tech and auditions. yikes.) We've got 5 Macbeths, 3 Lady Macbeths, and 2 Macduffs. But I still had 12 kids who needed roles, so I created a prologue filled with "Ghost Soldiers." Why are they ghosts? Because it's cool to be a ghost, and it was an easier sale than simply saying "you have these two lines." So I made up all kinds of military ranks (my favorite of which is 'Subaltern') and added the prefix "Ghost." In the prologue, the Ghost Soldiers speak text from the play--mostly the witches' prophecies and other bits of advice that people give Macbeth. Add dramatic lighting and creepy music, and Voila! "Was that the best Ghost Soldier Prologue you've ever seen in a production of Macbeth?" the Ghost Ensign asked me the other day. "Yes," I responded truthfully. I will not be there when she cracks open an unedited copy of the play, but it's going to be rough.

We also had an effective tech project I'll share in case anyone is in need of giving tech kids a project. I made them go through the script and seek out interesting images and words. They then drew pictures based on what they'd found "full of scorpions is my mind," "a moving grove" "the charmed pot" "look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it." And one boy drew a skull wearing a crown with eyes filled with FLAME. It was not from the text, but he was super-excited by it, and I was too. Then they scaled up their drawings onto butcher paper, cut out the patterns, traced them onto black fabric, cut those out, and finally glued them on to banners. I sewed dowels into either end, and we hung them for our set. (You can sort of see them in the picture.) I'm skimming over the day when I had to help them to create images that would work in silhouette, but overall, it was an easy project and a cheap way to fill a large space. (thank you $1/yard fabric table at Wal-Mart!)

Hope you are all well. Welcome Trish! (sorry it took me so long to get your email to Amanda, but I'm delighted that you are here. I'm still bummed that I didn't get assigned to help with the residency at your school, but I hope you'll tell us all about it here.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Save the Polar Bear!

Funny Pictures
(from here)

I saw this today and totally thought of you all. As a matter of fact, every time I leave a room and even consider leaving a light on, Ariana's cries on behalf of the polar bear echo in my head and I go back to give the little guy a few more seconds on the iceberg.

Happy New Year Everyone!

I am so happy to be back in contact with everyone. I feel like I was lost for so long and now I am comming back from an abyss. I look forward to hearing everyones news, and sharing mine.
"Everything you want is just ouside your comfort zone" -Robert Allen