Graduating from High School…12 Years Later

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

Tonight I attended the high school graduation party of one of my former children’s theatre kids, and It made me feel incredibly old (I turned 30 this year), This was a kid I used to baby sit who would “read” me “Madeline” (she had the entire book memorized with the correct page turns at around the age of 3) and her first play “Annie” was in the first full length show I directed (the summer after graduating from the same high school she attended.) She was six and the littlest orphan Tessie.

I will never forget the following year when she was Charlie Bates in “Oliver”, another child had spent an entire scene adjusting his vest (putting it on inside out, upside down, twisted and combinations of the three) much to the audience’s amusement. At seven, this young lady was distraught and nearly inconsolable at intermission that the offending child had “ruined MY play” and that she couldn’t go on for the second act. I vividly remember sitting outside on the picnic tables getting her calmed down and convincing her that she was needed and could help save the production. She pulled it together and went on to do a lovely job.

This was the same kid who would be so excited before a performance that she had to run laps around the building to burn off enough of the excess energy and excitement so she could sit still long enough to get her makeup put on without shaking. She was so proud the year she came in and announced that she thought she would be ok, and wouldn’t have to run laps that year.. a very mature nine year old. This lovely young woman will be attending a very prestigious university in the fall, and I am so thrilled for her, I helped her brainstorm for her college essays and talk through her final decision when it came down to two programs. It is amazing to see how hard she has worked and how far she has come.

I love these success stories, and remembering back to my much earlier days as an inexperienced recent high school graduate who was planning to be a government major and go to law school. I did summer theatre because it was fun. I had started acting with the program when I was six and it was such an important part of my summer that I wanted to give back and give other kids the same opportunities.

If someone had told me at age eighteen that twelve years later I would be working in this industry, having been steadily employed in the arts as a film maker, theatre director and theatre educator since graduating from college (with a degree in Theater and Dance) I would have told them they were crazy. I feel so incredibly blessed to have had experiences in many different parts of the country from Maine, Massachusetts, Texas… I am headed to New York on Tuesday for the summer and then heading to the mid-west to start a new job in Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall.

I have had a pretty crazy journey and have had some fantastic opportunities because I was not afraid to take a leap and try something new. My advice to all the recent grads is to trust yourself, and do not be afraid to deviate from your plan… It is important to have an idea of what you want to do; but know there are many different ways to get to your endgame, and frequently you learn much more from the journey than from the destination.

As a child, my favorite book was “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney, and I love the advice that little Alice gets from her grandfather after she announces that when she grows old, “I too will go to far away places, then come home to live by the sea”. Her Grandfather tells her “that is all vey well, but there is a third thing you must do. You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” The sentiment in this really strikes a chord for me… I am still in the “going to far away places” part of my journey, as for making the world more beautiful? I am hoping that helping foster a love of theatre in kids will help to fulfill that part of the equation, as for the rest? I am still figuring it out.

So to the Class of 2013, go forth, explore, make the world a more beautiful place and remember, you can always return home.

Connections…

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

One of my favorite things about teaching and directing is when students or actors finally put the pieces together and you get those “lightbulb moments” when all of a sudden something clicks for them.

This happened to one of my sophomores last week. He is in my Acting 1 class and is also playing Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls”.

We were working on most of the Sky/ Sarah scenes one afternoon and I was trying to explain that it looked like they were power walking down the street in “My Time of Day” when it was supposed to be a leisurely walk, a mosey, a meander, if you will. We tried it again and the same thing happened so I did an exaggerated version of what they were doing and then showed them the slower approach and talked about intentions and that they needed to think about what their purpose was, and not just power walk through the scene.

I watched him think about it for a second before he said, “Oh! Is this why we do random walk in class and you give us the scenarios?”

Finally! A connection.

I replied, “Yes! The things we do in acting class should be applied in rehearsals.”

The student, “That makes so much sense, can we try again?”

They got it. One small victory at a time… I’ll take it.

Owning the Stage

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

I have the same problem many high school directors have… A lack of leading men. I am very fortunate, however to have a bunch of very funny, talented character actors, hence, our fall production Guys and Dolls. I have been working with one of my actors, a sophomore with a phenomenal tenor voice and a lack of self confidence on his role in the show.

He had a major problem with pacing on stage. It was so bad that it looked like a cartoon where his feet were moving independently from his body (a pretty typical young actor problem). I brought the issue to his attention in a one on one rehearsal and then made him run his song while I recorded it and then made him watch it. He had been completely unaware of this until he watched for it and started laughing. “I look crazy” he said.

I asked him why he felt the need to move around, and he said he had seen an interview with someone on Broadway about having to “own the stage”. His interpretation of that, was if he moved around the stage a lot he would own it, almost like marking his territory.

I explained that frequently it was much more effective to just stand and deliver if you truly want to “own the stage” with lots of songs. It is much harder to stand still and command attention (especially for an insecure high school student hiding behind movement) but if you are focused on what you are singing, it is a stronger choice.

We did a bunch of exercises and really played around with his solo so he had specific places to look for different parts of the song and a strong focus throughout and made him try it again without moving. Massive progress made in an hour.

Fast forward to the next day when we do the number with all the back up singers. The first time we ran the number the kids were in shock by the transformation. At the end of the rehearsal, I asked the student how the song felt.

“So much better!” He replied. “That makes so much more sense and I feel like it forces everyone to listen to me, I felt really powerful.” He walked out with a grin on his face.

I love it when they actually listen and apply the direction I give them.

Singin’ in the Rain Director’s Note

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre

“Singin in the Rain” Cast at a Rehearsal

Director’s Note

2012 marks the 60th Anniversary of Singin’ in the Rain, the iconic MGM movie musical featuring the transition from silent movies to talking pictures. From crazy costume changes, shooting, editing, and projecting both silent and talking period films, to tap dancing, 13 actors playing over 50 roles, more dialogue than normally appears in a musical, not to mention the whole “rain” aspect as well as the iconic images and character portrayals from a beloved movie, this is without question the most difficult show I have produced with CCT. After 15 years of directing, hundreds of kids, 29 productions with CCT, and 24 very hot Julys spent in the Hall, it’s time for me to have a real summer vacation. I would like to thank the countless kids, parents, and community members who have helped support the Chebeague Children’s Theatre over the past 15 years that I have served as the Artistic Director.

This group of actors is incredibly special to me, and as you can see from their bios the majority of them have worked with me for many years. When I think back to Into the Woods, or Music Man it is amazing to see how far they have come as actors. I have watched them evolve from insecure elementary school students to high school students ready to take on the world. I am so proud of each and every one of them, and it has been such a privilege for me to get to be part of their journey. The young adults you will see tonight are a remarkable group and the true definition of an ensemble. They work incredibly well together and are so supportive of each other; there is a level of trust among their group that you will see on stage,; they are not afraid to take risks, because they know the others will catch them if they fall. Without question, working with this group has been the highlight of my theatre career to date.

To the Troupe: Thank you for lots of laughs, impromptu dance parties, hundreds of hours of rehearsal, your enthusiasm, energy, dedication, and drive. The Charlie Hounds, Xtream Stunts, spontaneous sing alongs, AVPM, and tap dancing have created countless memories. While the curtain is falling on this act of your lives, I know there will be many more opening nights to come for you, and although I am “retiring” from CCT, I hope you know I am not disappearing and will continue to be your biggest fan. I know we will see great things from all of you, and I can’t wait to see where you go from here. All I ask is that you remember me in your acceptance speeches when you win your Tony Awards 😉

To the Chebeague Island Community: I would also like to thank all of you who have been so wonderful and supportive of all of us through the years. From donating costumes and props, acting in shows, building and painting sets, writing scripts, putting up tarps to keep the rain off the kids, playing the piano, taking photos, providing rehearsal and performance space at the hall, doing hair and makeup, sewing costumes, helping to learn lines, putting up with our very loud music and tap dancing, stopping the actors on the road or at the store to tell them they did a great job, and most importantly for being an incredible audience and allowing generations of young people to feel what it’s like to be a star. You may be able to say “you saw them when” about some of these kids in the future… I would bet on them.

Thank you all and enjoy the show.

Rachel Damon

Artistic Director

Annie Director’s Note

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre

 

Cast of “Annie” before the Show

 

After 15 years of directing, hundreds of kids, 29 productions with CCT, and 24 very hot Julys spent in the Hall, it’s time for me to have a real summer vacation. I would like to thank the countless kids, parents, and community members who have helped support the Chebeague Children’s Theatre over the past 15 years I have served as the Artistic Director. It is amazing to see how the program has grown and evolved over that time period, and with “Annie” I am coming full circle.

“Annie” was the first full length show I directed, in 2001 after my senior year of high school, and it was one of my favorite shows to act in as a child (I played Judy 20 years ago. And yes, the thought of that makes me feel very old). In all three productions of “Annie” the “adult”roles were played by older teenagers with the younger kids as the orphans. Miss Hannigan is still wearing the same fabulous blue dressing gown found at the Grange (though it looked very different on Betsy Kersteen, Lauren Miller and Genny Dyer). The production values and choreography have greatly improved since 2001 as has the training these actors receive (due in part to my B.A. in Theatre from Colby and many years of teaching and directing theatre in independent schools.)

It has been such a privilege for me to work with so many kids over the years and hopefully inspire the same love of theatre and performance that I received as a participant in CCT all those years ago. It has been a delight to watch them grow as actors and find confidence and their voices on this stage. There are too many stories to recount of those lightbulb moments when a kid finally figures it out, and this is really the reason I have continued to return year after year. This program has been such a huge part of my life and enabled me to get my start as a director for which I will be eternally grateful.

Thank you to the “older kids” involved in this production who have been in double or triple rehearsals every day and have been logging 6-12 hour days in the hall to put both this show and “Singin’ in the Rain” together. My heartfelt appreciation goes to Henry Edwards for wrangling many small children over the years, always being willing to pitch in with a smile on his face, and for being an amazing director, actor, sound guy, techie and assistant.

So this show is for you: the Chebeague Island Community who have been so wonderful and supportive of all of us through the years. From donating costumes and props, acting in shows, painting sets, putting up tarps to keep the rain off the kids, taking photos, doing hair and makeup, sewing costumes, helping to learn lines, putting up with our very loud music and tap dancing, stopping the actors on the road or at the store to tell them they did a great job, and most importantly for being an incredible audience and allowing generations of young people to feel what it’s like to be a star. You may be able to say “you saw them when” about some of these kids in the future… I would bet on them.

Thank you all and enjoy the show.

Rachel Damon Artistic Director

Blast from the Past…

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

I had quite the experience on Friday that reaffirmed “why we do this” in a one on one rehearsal with one of my children’s theatre kids who I have worked with for the last 7 summers. We have worked closely together for years, and as this “kid” (now a 16 going on 17 year old rising junior in high school) began his normal stalling routine to avoid warming up his upper range he started reminiscing about shows past. I was shocked to discover he still remembered his tap choreography and all the words to a solo he performed 4 years ago, which he proceeded to perform. He then went through much of his old rep. Including telling me where all the set pieces were on stage for countless productions. This is a kid who would from year to year be on the fence if he was even going to do the show, and would coast into auditions acting like he had no clue and then blow it away, he had clearly been practicing despite telling everyone he wasn’t going to do the show.

To be completely honest, on some level I am surprised he has stuck around this long, he is a super talented athlete who lives for his sport. There are times where he really could have gone either way, but it has been exciting watching him grow as both an actor and a person over the last few years. His friends at home didn’t even know he did theatre in the summer until this year when he auditioned for his school musical (after a long phone call from me urging him to do it) and got a principle role as a sophomore with a huge cast of mostly upperclassmen.

One of the things that stuck with me from the mini (half hour or so) blast from the past private concert I got in lieu of our scheduled rehearsal (he has always been good with stalling), was that he kept stressing that “How could I have forgotten any of it when you spent so many hours drilling it in my head. I know when it’s right but I also know when it’s wrong and needs to be fixed.” He seemed very surprised that I was shocked he remembered it all. He said he remembers everything and I don’t doubt it after watching him in action. It was amazing to hear him sing songs he hadn’t performed since before his voice changed. It would be incredible to watch him do the full version of some of the Broadway Junior shows we did over the years today… and I hope for his sake he gets the opportunity for a “do over” on some of those roles. Notes that were a stretch a few years ago have become his “go to’s” and money notes. I think he is finally able to admit to himself and own the fact that he does love performing. He certainly wouldn’t keep coming back for 3-8 hour rehearsals or more during his summer vacation if he didn’t.

From a teaching standpoint, this was really gratifying to hear. As a teacher you feel like most of the time people aren’t actually listening to you, or they are listening but it isn’t sticking. In rehearsals I am constantly giving the same notes over and over again, sometimes with little to no change in the performance. I have been questioning what I want to do in the future recently, and moments like this help me to realize I am still on the right track.

So thank you, for making my week, listening and applying what I have “pounded into your head” for all these years, and most of all, thanks for not turning into a punk and sticking with it; your passion, dedication and drive make it all worth it.

Commencement

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

As a high school teacher, commencement (or graduation) is a bittersweet time. On one hand, you are so proud of the young men and women who are moving on to the next stage of their lives; most of them will be entering college, some have unknown destinations. There is the feeling of relief when some of the more, shall we say “challenging” students receive their diploma and a feeling of excitement (with some trepidation and sadness) when those great students you really connected with and got to know cross the stage.

I feel very privileged, that as a drama director I get to know my students both inside and outside of the classroom. I spend 15-20+ hours a week with these kids on nights and weekends and really hear about their triumphs and struggles throughout their high school career. I hear the rants about assignments, parents who “don’t get it”, friends who have wronged them, and see the fall outs of breakups, college rejections, and the bad grade on the test. I hope I can provide them with some insight, coping strategies, advice from someone with more experience, a shoulder to cry on and most importantly someone who cares and will listen to them. On the flip side, I get to enjoy the successes too; the hard work to earn the A, the college acceptance, the excitement of acing the audition, or the role in the show, and get to watch these students grow and mature, take positive risks and push them to do things they didn’t know they were capable of. I edit papers (for classes I don’t teach), brainstorm for college essays, write resumes, draft letters of recommendation, help pick songs and monologues for auditions, and spend countless hours running lines and teaching choreography (over and over).

I really know my students, which is something I treasure, they are not just a number on a transcript but real people I have had the joy of watching grow into (for the most part) extraordinary young men and women. Every year there are one or two that are particularly hard to say goodbye to. But for those, I know it is not really goodbye, I continue to hear from them through college as they grow and explore, and in many cases that is the best part of the job. To hear from the former students how something they did in class or rehearsal was helpful in the future, that is the goal… Preparation for “the real world”. A scary place, but one I know they are ready to enter.

So to those in the Class of 2012 are irreplaceable (you know who you are) keep in touch, let me know about your successes and challenges in the future, I know we will see great things from you. This isn’t the final curtain, simply the beginning of a new act. Break a leg!

Working Waterfront Article on CCT

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre
Great Article from The Working Waterfront on Chebeague Children’s Theatre!
July 27, 2011
ARTICLE

Broadway on Chebeague

by Chloe Dyer

It’s a hot July evening, and bikes are strewn about the entrance to the Chebeague Island Hall. From the open windows, the sounds of teenage voices and Broadway music can be heard. Inside, everyone is divided into groups, some sitting on the piano, some on stage, singing in unison. Opening night beckons.

Summertime on Chebeague Island is not complete without at least one production from the Chebeague Children’s Theatre (CCT), with performances held at the white and green frame community hall. This year, the theater company will stage three plays.

The group of kids rehearsing at the moment is called the Chebeague Children’s Theatre Troupe, made up of older veterans of the theater program, ranging in age this year from 12 to 15.

Many nights, rehearsals run until 10:30 p.m. as the Troupe prepares for its first production of Fame, set to open tomorrow on July 28. In addition to Fame, the performers recently put on three productions of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brownwith as few as nine rehearsals. (There will be an encore fundraiser production ofCharlie Brown on August 13.)

Two years ago, due to the level of interest in the theater program, performers were divided into two groups based on age. Productions are usually put together in as little as four weeks, meaning long hours of rehearsals.

Last weekend [July 22 and 23], a younger Chebeague Children’s Theatre group, made up of children under 12, performed Oliver!

Despite record-breaking heat both nights, the kids played to a nearly full house. Reuben Olney, who is currently in his fifth year as a member of the younger theater group, says his favorite part about acting is, “being able to fool around with a part and changing everything about yourself for that part, and being funny.” Reuben played the Artful Dodger in Oliver!

Genevieve Dyer is acting in her 10th year as a member of Chebeague Children’s Theater and is the veteran of the Troupe. Her favorite role in the past was Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which the cast performed in 2009.

This year, she played the role of Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and will take on the role of Mabel in Fame.

For Dyer, spending time with the cast is as much fun as the performances. “We are all really close. We joke around a lot in practice, but at the same time we get a lot of work done and always have a successful production in the end.”

Heading the CCT is island-native Rachel Damon, who began acting on Chebeague at age six as a lost boy in Peter Pan. This will be her 23rd year as a member of the program, and her 14th year as the artistic director.

For Damon, the hectic production schedule is a mix of hard work and good times.

“We have a lot of fun together and laugh a great deal,” she says. “It is amazing how much we are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I am continually astonished by their determination, but ultimately the fact that they are having so much fun is what makes for the most memorable and strongest productions.”

Damon will also conduct a musical theater camp August 8-12 for younger kids with some help from the CCT Troupe. At the end of that week, the campers will stage a small performance at 7:30 p.m. at the island hall.

Damon graduated from Greely High School, winning the Greely Drama Award, and attended Colby College, where she double-majored in American studies and theater and dance. Now, during the school year she works at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, where she is the drama program director. She says her group of 20 students there “are very enthusiastic and a joy to work with.”

Her love of theater rubs off on the kids. “I really like having the opportunity to work with the same kids year after year. It is amazing to see the change and growth in some of these kids over time,” she says.

In addition to providing summer theater on Chebeague, the CCT serves as an opportunity for year-round island kids and summer visitors to get acquainted, often resulting in long-term friendships.

Holly Glass, a first-year member of the troupe, is summering on Chebeague and lives in Wellesley, Mass. At age 12, she is making her acting debut in Fame!

“This year was my first whole summer here and I am making friends, which is probably the best part about it,” she says.

And that explains why, in the middle of the summer, the Chebeague Island Hall is full of young people acting. “Sure I’d like to go swimming if it was really hot,” says Glass. “But I’d rather be here with everyone.”

Fame will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday July 28, Friday July 29, and Sunday July 31. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children.

Chloe Dyer is a resident of Chebeague and a participant in The Working Waterfront Student Journalism Program.

Open Letter to “The Actor’s Nightmare” Cast and Crew

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

To the Cast and Crew of “The Actor’s Nightmare”-

Words cannot express how incredibly proud of all of you I am. Your performance on Friday night was phenomenal and I felt so blessed to be both your director and teacher. You worked seamlessly together as a unit to present a polished and very tight performance.

Sometimes the cards don’t always fall in our favor; but each and every one of you should be so proud of your individual performances and contributions to this project. Judging theatre is subjective and much of it comes down to individual taste. Unfortunately, the new rubric and scoring system from the Maine Drama Council was not in our favor last night. Performing first made it more difficult for the judges to know where to put us on the rubric, not knowing what would come later in the festival. The judges score the schools as they go and cannot go back and make changes based on the subsequent shows. There is also no category for difficulty of material or literary merit, something that would have helped us considerably.

As hard as it is, I would urge you to focus on your performance, rather than the results. Please keep in mind that there were five other schools at Skowhegan last night that walked away with nothing, and would have been thrilled to bring our second place trophy home. The judges recognized your efforts on their critique sheets saying:

“Excellent character work, confident choices… very clean and committed acting, in particular Gary’s monologue a standout.”

“Great comic physicality of the styles…fun, interesting, clearly delineated characters… some very strong characterizations..nice moments- work best when cast is really playing off each other…really nice images…movement right on the nose…liked the stage on the stage, simple, surreal- great use of set pieces to create space.”

“A nice crisp presentation of this absurdist play- strong tech supported the vision. Many strong moments. The audience responded when acting was broad- it really helped to move it along. Good sense of ensemble”

“Visually VERY appealing, great use of lighting, loved the strobe. Costuming was AMAZING! WONDERFUL! WOW! Really nice piece that you should be proud of, especially those costumes! Stage Manager did a really nice job. Well Done :)”

All of you have made huge progress since we started in December and it has been such a pleasure for me to watch you grow and evolve as actors:

Mollie, you have graduated from silent roles and can now speak onstage! Your incredible facial expressions and movement were so strong. You did such a wonderful job with Hamlet and especially Private Lives. It has been such a delight to watch you find your voice on stage. You were spot on and your timing was impeccable on Friday!

Braden, Beckett was absolutely hilarious. You were able to make the very absurd material so funny, and the silent moment of you getting Gary into the trash can was one of the highlights of the show. You have excellent comedic timing and wonderful expression.

Amelia, your characterization of Meg had just the right balance of authority with fabulous physicality. The costumes, hair and makeup were stunning and worked so well together as a unit. Thank you so much for all of your hard work on all of the aspects of this production.

Tyler, the executioner was incredibly real and incredibly scary. Your vocal variety and physicality added to the realism of MFAS. Thanks for all of your help with scene changes and moving the set.

Gentry, your opening scene on roller skates was such a riot, and you had the audience in stitches as soon as you skated through the door. Hamlet was hilarious and the mix of variations in voice with the absurd movements and physicality were such a treat to watch.

Gary, I am so amazed by how far you have come as an actor in the past few months. You worked so hard and it really paid off. You had the audience eating out of the palm of your hand, and your portrayal of George was spot on from the wonderful facial expressions, strong physicality, to incredible amount of vocal variation. Your monologue was impeccable and work on the set extraordinary.

Gabby, Jamie, Maria, Lahana, each of you were so important in your roles of keeping the show moving smoothly both on and off stage.

Jane and Morgan you both did an excellent job running lights and sound, and the judges commented on how well the tech was integrated into the production which is a testament to both of your hard work.

You were a very tight ensemble and worked incredibly well together which is something that you do not always find in theatre, and especially in High School theatre. I have always said that I like theatre without the drama, so thank you for a very drama free theatre experience. You were all so easy to take “on the road” and I really appreciate your professional attitudes and behavior throughout the rehearsal process and festival weekend.

This is not the end, thought it may feel like it. You have all learned an incredible amount about acting, working collaboratively, and theatre history. You can now confidently tackle absurdist theatre, comedy of manners (Noel Coward), Shakespeare, Beckett, as well as a Meisner approach to a naturalistic style of acting and understand the differences between these styles of acting.

I was very inspired by the work of Lincoln Academy and their production of “Run Time” at the drama festival and plan to make our spring production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” a collective collaboration project. You have all worked so hard this year and I think you are up to the task of adapting a work and making it your own.

Thank you all so much for such a wonderful experience. Working with this cast has truly been one of the highlights of my directing and teaching career. I want you all to know how much I really appreciate all of the hard work, dedication and time that went into making this a wonderful production and a fabulous theatrical experience.

Thank you again, I am so proud of you all.

Rachel Damon