Project 38

Directing Without the Drama, Theatre

Very excited to be directing a middle school production of “The Tempest” for this new endeavor!

PROJECT 38 – Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s new arts education initiative!

Over the last 20 years, CSC has brought classical theatre and literature to life for over 200,000 students from 150 schools in more than 100 zip codes across three states. This close connection with students and educators has inspired them to take on this exciting new endeavor. Last season, Cincinnati Shakespeare also “completed the canon” by producing all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. The 38 plays have served as the inspiration for the title of PROJECT 38.

In this program, CSC will collaborate with 38 different area schools. Each school will be given one of the 38 plays in Shakespeare’s canon. Then, over the course of the year, teaching artists from CSC will go out to each of the schools and work with the students and faculty on bringing that play to life in various ways. This could be through a traditional production, a monologue or scene, or a dance piece, or music piece, a mural, etc.- anything the students & school can conceive of and feel passionately about. It will culminate in the PROJECT 38 festival at the end of the school year which will become a multi-day celebration in which all the students will gather, and share what they’ve created with each other, their schools, family and friends and with the community at large.

The dates of the festival this year are April 15-22, 2015.

Steps for Writing A Memorable College Essay

Auditioning, College Audition Prep, Theatre

Steps for Writing A Memorable College Essay
Written by Rachel Damon, 2014

1. Brainstorm
Seriously, get a piece of paper and do a free association word map of anything you can think of about your topic, it’s ok if it is all over the place and there are lots of tangents, stories, moments etc… feel free to use lots of colors 🙂

2. Make A List…
Bring your word map to the computer/ ipad and make a list of everything you wrote and put like things together (similar stories/ moments/ topics), bullets and lists work great for main topics then stories and sub topics that relate to them.

3.  Pick Your Favorite Moment
From your list pick some of your favorite topics/ stories/ moments and write about them. Be descriptive, make me see what is happening, and how you are thinking… the best essays are slice of life, telling us about a moment or time that struck you.

IMPORTANT: This is a free write, not your essay, like Nike says “JUST DO IT”, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation or how it sounds… just get your words on paper, this is a pre-rough draft.  This might be really long and rambling… that is good.. really good, it will give you lots to choose from and enable you to pull stuff from later to use for your supplement and scholarship essays (My first college essay draft was 7 or 8 pages single spaced… tons of junk, but lots of good stuff I was able to use later.  It takes a while to get into the mode of this and your writing gets better as you go AND you remember things and experiences… trust the process.)

The best college essay teaches us something about you and the way you think… this is make or break in competitive college admissions.

You are an individual with really interesting experiences, don’t make your essay sound like everyone else’s. Avoid generic statements and cliche. You want a fresh take on your subject… not something they have read 100’s of times, so find your niche.

You don’t have to save the world or rescue orphans to get into college… talk about your passions and what makes you unique.

4. Copy your entire free write and don’t mess with the original…
there is good stuff in there you can use later (even though it may not seem like it)
Pick your favorite moment or story that jumps off the page, are there parts you can combine… what story are you telling? (This is a good time to get some outside advice on what is more compelling or unique.)

5. Refine Your Story…
Work on refining that story… you need a good hook at the beginning to get the reader engaged. The goal of the essay is for the reader to get a sense of who you are, so show them! This isn’t a school essay topic… it’s a personal statement. Don’t be generic, be yourself! It’s ok to use informal writing styles here… it’s about you.

6. Dig deep
Really think about how you felt in the moment and make us feel it too… why should we care? Make us care about it. Show us why it’s important to you, don’t just tell us.

7. Keep editing and refining your ideas...
What does the moment tell us about who you are, who you were and who you will become?
Initially it is really important to not worry about the length, completely tell your story and then you can edit it down and help determine what you need and what can go. It is much easier to cut than it is to add and it makes it MUCH stronger in the long run.
A good strategy is to read your essay out loud and see how it sounds (helps you catch editing mistakes and make sure it sounds like you)

8.  Not feeling your essay topic?
Not loving it? Go back to your free write and focus on a different moment, use the same strategies from above and rinse and repeat until you get it right.

The paragraph you hate today, might be the perfect beginning or ending for a later version of your essay… just copy and number each draft version (google docs is awesome for this) so you have a record of where you have been.

10. Ask for help…
But don’t let anyone edit out your voice… it needs to sound like you.  Sometimes talking with someone about your topic and a fresh perspective can do wonders for your writing.

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.

Cabaret for Cancer


So, I have amazing students… they decided to turn our spring musical revue show into a fundraiser for two different organizations that help families affected by children’s cancer. They have been working really hard on both the show and the fundraising/publicity aspect and it has been an amazing learning experience for them. Below are two of the appeal videos they made for the show, the first is more geared toward getting people to attend the show, and with the second they are targeting Broadway Performers to get them to donate items for their live auction. So if you are reading this before May 18, 2013 and want to help them out just follow them on twitter at cabaret4cancer or email them at


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.