“Grease Live” from the Control Room

Directing Without the Drama, Musings

As a former stage manager, calling shows were my favorite part of the job.  I loved being in control of the rhythm of the show and felt like I was conducting the piece.  Needless to say, this fantastic video from the control room of “Grease Live” made me want to get back on a god mic and start calling cues.  I love the behind the scenes looks at how productions are made and this is a fantastic glimpse into the magic of television.

Walk the Moon meets 42nd Street

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

Words cannot express how obsessed I am about this fantastic opening number from the 2015 Broadway Cares Gypsy of the Year performance.  I was introduced to Walk the Moon from some of my fabulous middle school theater students in Cincinnati (shout out to Drew and Rachel) and “Shut Up and Dance” was my song of the summer.  42nd Street is also one of my favorite musicals of all time, so to combine the two is simply amazing.  I love the way they have taken the opening and plot of 42nd Street and done a mash up with this very popular song.  Enjoy!


4th of July


Recipe for a successful float:

  • Stalk the dump for large pieces of cardboard? Check.
  • Recruit unsuspecting friends and family and convince them to agree to participate in the float without giving them full details of what they would have to do? Check.
  • Develop an idea based on materials available that fits the theme? Check.
  • Buy paint? Check.
  • Scenic paint stones with highlight, shadow, speckling and a little glitter to catch the light to create the perfect fairy tale castle? check.
  • Make a tower out of a cardboard box? Check. 
  • Harvest bittersweet to make a bean stock? Check.
  • Pull costumes? Check.
  • Attach supports to truck so Rapunzel doesn’t fall off the top? Check.
  • Measure all the power lines on the parade route to see if we can build the tower higher and discover the roof and flag plans have got to go? Check. 
  • Assemble the entire thing using screws, washers and duct tape? Check.
  • Cover castle with bittersweet so it loos more like a castle and less like a tank? Check.
  • Install drawbridge? Check. 
  • Get talent into hair and makeup including a 16 foot wig made out of yarn for our male Rapunzel? Check.
  • Basically run out of time and have to rush to the parade muster spot? Check.
  • Most important step: have a blast with friends and family? Check. 

Some photos and video from our recent 4th of July parade Grand Prize win.  Yes, this took forever, at one point we had 4 engineers working on this project.  The theme was favorite children’s book and we decided to go with Grimms Fairy tales, basically because I had the costumes from a production of “Into The Woods” with a little “Complet Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)” thrown in for good measure. Thanks so much to both the behind the scenes crew and the talent for all your hard work, energy and laughter. It was a ton of fun working with my dear friends and family to pull off this crazy float and I can’t wait until next year to see what the theme is so we can create another giant masterpiece. #fendersonfloats Video from the Parade



Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Directing Without the Drama, Musings, Theatre

This week has been very bittersweet.  I am excited to be embarking on my new adventure teaching abroad in Singapore, but am also sad to be leaving my wonderful students and colleagues in Cincinnati.   I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly talented kids and even more talented adults.

One of my 8th graders wrote a fantastic goodbye speech for the closing assembly yesterday that I thought I would reprint here.   Thank you Drew, for Aslan, Julian Marsh, Conrad Birdie, Harold Hill, Stephano, Scar and at the last minute Pumbaa.  It has been such an honor being your teacher and helping launch your love of theater.  Thank you for all the laughs, the characters and the memories.  I am so excited to help you continue your theatrical journey and see where it goes.  The admiration is mutual, I only ask to be thanked at the Tony Awards 🙂

A teacher, a director, a mentor, a friend.  When I first met Miss Damon I was part of a small panel tasked with interviews the candidates for the Middle School theater position. I wasn’t sure what to think of Miss Damon, but over the next two years my opinion changed completely.  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was a trial run for what was yet to come.  We blocked the show through jokes, laughter and fun and put on a stellar middle school performance.  Not a month later, Tap Boot Camp began and Miss Damon taught the firlls how to tap and the boys how to fake it.  We quickly learned that Miss Damon’s forte was musical theatre.  Through sweat and through blood we forged an experience in a fiery heart of true family.  The matriarch of this family was of course, Miss Damon.  We said our goodbyes for the summer and took a short three months respite eager to begin the 2014-2015 season, it was sure to be a memorable one.  The first day of school was marked not by crisp folders and a new backpack, but by Bye Bye Birdie auditions.  A new batch of talent, ready to shine, entered Founders and were welcomed with open arms.  Bye Bye Birdie set the bar pretty hight, yet with Miss Damon’s direction we were sure to surmount it.  Earlier, before summer vacation had begun, a small group of 7th and 8th graders auditioned into an elite group headed to the Junior Theatre Festival the following winter.  Immediately after Bye Bye Birdie, rehearsals began like never before.  Under Miss Damon’s leadership, 15 Middle Schoolers ventured to Atlanta and were immersed in the world of Musical Theatre for 3 days.  The time flew by and before we knew it, we were back on the bus headed to Cincinnati for The Tempest.  Many of us had never performed Shakespeare before and The Tempest loomed over the Theatre department like an evil gray shroud.  Miss Damon, The captain of our ship told us to be brave, have faith in our abilities and to most of all, have fun.  The Tempest, though not the most conventional show, was another successful show.   Audition for The Lion King were a bittersweet affair.  We sang and danced knowing that the “7Stars Theater” was losing more than just its upperclassmen.  Miss Damon held her head high and stuck it out through countless rehearsals never thinking of the end.  When it finally came to Tech Week, the end was in sight.  The final performance of The Lion King  was marked with tears of joy and sorrow.  Through it all, we were behind our leader.  I can say that without her guidance, my life would be drastically altered.  Miss Damon gave me the courage to get truly invested in Theater.  I thank you for giving me the courage to continue.  Miss Damon has touched the lives of all who she directed and the effects of her passion will never be forgotten.  As Sean O’Casey said, “All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”  Though your direction, many of us at the middle school are well rehearsed for theatre, academics, and life.  Goodbye Miss Damon and once again, thank you.

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.

“Creativity is a form of Knowledge”

Musings, Theatre

“Creativity is a form of knowledge.” -Diane Paulus quotes Harvard President Drew Faust during her “Pippin” acceptance speech at the 2013 Tony Awards.

As a high school drama teacher who is transitioning to middle school next year, I was struck while watching the Tony Awards by the number of children appearing on Broadway. The talent is overwhelming and the kids are give so many chances to shine; as orphans in Annie, the four Matilda’s, Revolting Children, the young Michael Jackson in Motown, the fabulous tappers in A Christmas Story and more. Billy Porter (Tony Winner for Best Leading Actor in a Musical) talked about watching the Tonys as a kid and finding his place in the world. Think of all the kids watching tonight and how amazing for them to see people their age living their dreams. It was inspiring to watch the energy and enthusiasm leap off the stage in almost a more heightened way then having seen most of the productions live this spring.

Diane Paulus quote about the importance of creativity really struck a chord for me. As an arts educator one is constantly fighting an uphill battle to justify the importance and existence of their program. When budgets are tight, the arts are usually the first to go, and are considered a “special” or not a real class. The arts are vital and teach so much more than just how to be in a play.

“Kinky Boots” (a big winner tonight) celebrates the idea of being yourself, and staying true to who you are and accepting others for who they are. What a great message for kids, and one that should be celebrated and encouraged. “Matilda” (another front runner) advocates telling your own story and not becoming complacent, make things happen, and don’t let them just happen to you. The idea of taking action and controlling your own destiny is another fantastic takeaway for students.

The arts aren’t dead, they are alive, evolving, and important. Teaching creativity and independent thinking is just as important for future success as English and Math. So, go see a Broadway show… The kids (and adults) on Broadway will blow you away and give you some hope for the future.

(Getting off my soap box)

Neil Patrick Harris was a fantastic host, the opening number was epic and I particularly enjoyed the “Television Sucks” sketch, tons of great performances and inspirational acceptance speeches that celebrate the importance and vitality of live theatre.


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.

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.