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!

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