Liz at Eternal Lizdom, someone I know only through her blog, offered to 'interview' the readers of her blog. I volunteered. Here are the questions, and the answers.
1. Let's talk more about theatre. I'm sure the list is long... but give me the history of you and theatre. Where did the interest come from and give me your resume- what you've done and what your favorite roles or jobs have been.
Actually, my history in theatre is probably not that long. :-) Not as long as most who are as involved in theatre as I am.
a) I don't know where the interest came from, but I do know that I grew up listening to, and singing along with, my parents' show tune albums.
b) In the first grade, I brought home kids from my class/neighborhood to re-enact the Christmas story from the bible in my living room. I have a 'cast photo' of this event framed in the Studio. My mother created 'special effects' for us by hanging a 3-D origami star from the living room ceiling.
c) In the 4th grade, I wrote a Charlie Brown valentine play for my class (before they actually had a Charlie Brown Valentine special). My dad had a new Bell&Howell movie camera, with an attached tape recorder (!!) and he filmed it. I must have had some kind of teacher at the time--he actually allowed us to do this as a class project and then took it with him to some teacher seminars to show off.
d) I have three theatre miracle stories; here's they are:
i) In the 4th grade, I was held back. I had to have some corrective hip surgery and I missed a good portion of the year, so my parents held me back. Fast forward to my senior year in high school. That year, the school corporation built an auditorium onto our high school. Prior to that, there was no existing theatre program at my small high school. The music teacher and the English teacher decided to direct a musical--"Bye-Bye, Birdie". I auditioned and got the only real non-singing role (thank goodness--I don't sing) of Mae Peterson, the mother. It totally changed my self-concept and my life. If I had not had to have that surgery and been held back, I would have graduated before the auditorium was built. On the basis of that singular stage experience, I decided to become a theatre major at Butler. Snort. What an audacious hoot.
ii) John (my husband) and I had not lived in Greenfield all that long when we saw a notice in the paper about the formation of a community theatre group. We went and I badgered John into raising his hand to nominate me for secretary. That theatre group is now defunct, but from that sprang KidsPlay, Inc. I was in the right place, at the right time. The treasurer of that original group is now my business partner/manager at CrazyLake Art House.
iii) We have a real actor in our town (we might have more, but this one is the only one I know :-). His daughter came to audition for KidsPlay when she was in the 3rd grade. It so happened that she was to be first to audition, and she freaked; she totally froze; she cried. Her dad was mortified, but I told him, "Don't leave. She needs to see that this is a non-threatening environment." I had them sit in the audition room while the next few auditioners came and went, and when the child was comfortable enough to start telling me what each did wrong, I knew it was time for her to try again. She did just fine, and now, the daughter is a KidsPlay star and her father, a CrazyLake star. If I had let them go home, the CrazyLake Acting Company would probably not exist now.
e) I was in two Indianapolis community theatre productions before I started KidsPlay. I was Marie Louise in "My Three Angels" and Connie in "Come Blow Your Horn". I get very nervous on stage and really prefer to direct.
2. How did you specifically get involved in kids' theatre? It's a common interest between us so I'm especially eager to hear you pontificate on the subject of art and theatre and children.
I was a school teacher (for 19 years and 3 weeks) and I naturally gravitated towards working with children. I wish you hadn't suggested that I pontificate. You might be sorry.
The now-defunct adult theatre group did one show, and then decided to follow with a short Christmas play featuring a mix of adults and children. I 'co-directed' that one, and played a small elf role. After that, everyone around me needed a break, except me. I asked our board if I could direct a children's play (my group was called the Jr. Players), and so I did. Our first show was 17 minutes long and we charge $5 for it. Ack!!! When I finished that one, I did another, and another, and another. Meanwhile, the adult theatre group did nothing, while the Jr. Fundraiser Players brought in all the money. I started to have creative differences with the board, and eventually resigned from that group and started my own. KidsPlay is an independent (i.e., no adult group over it) 501(c)3 theatre group. We charge no fees. Our expenses are met with ticket sales, grants, and donations.
I love working with those kids. I work with kids in the third through eighth grades. Most of the ones I have now (in my 11th year) started with me early--3rd or 4th grade--so they have grown up on the KidsPlay stage. I love them like my own children, and my relationships with them are...there's no word for it--we think the world of each other. The local high school teacher once asked me--I believe I wrote about this in my blog--how I managed to get them to learn their lines on a deadline and I told them how they work so hard to please me and earn praise. They give up a lot for me and in return, I would do anything for them, and I think they know that. In those 11 years, through trial and error, we have what we do down to a science. KidsPlay is an amazing well-oiled machine. My parent volunteer group is amazing and that I'm able to motivate them to what we do astounds me. We work in teams and we work well. Each team has a leader who has become 'an expert' in his or her area (backstage, box office, concessions, make-up). They teach the rest of their team, so that when their child graduates and they move on, another parent steps up to take the lead. The parents seem to really enjoy it. Most of us are friends and we hang together. It is from this group of friends that the adult CrazyLake Acting Company sprang.
We have wonderful traditions in KidsPlay.
i) One is the day we move to the theater. We rehearse and build our sets on the third floor of one of the historic buildings in Greenfield. On Moving Day (a week before the performances) we tear down the set and lower it through the stairwell from one floor to another. It is harrowing to watch. We load it into the KidsPlay trailer and move to the theater. It is a solemn moment when we all arrive. It's a huge and wonderful facility and I try to create a sense of awe and privilege in the kids that they are allowed to perform in such a building.
ii) Another is our cast party. Once, several years ago, one of the topics papers wrote us up as doing a musical. I thought this was so funny (since I don't sing) that I came up with the idea for a parody song contest. It really took off and we now do it after each show, writing parody songs that might be included in musical versions of the show we just did. It is HI-larious fun. Adults sing, kids sing, adults and kids sing together. We drag out the karaoke machine and sometimes we even have instruments. After the pirate show, one entire family sang "Sweet Home Treasure Island" (to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama") that remains a hit to this day. I can't end this part without mentioning some of my personal creations: "If I Had a Building" (If I Were a Rich Man"), "Moose Bottom Lake" ("Fat Bottom Girls"), "Gladiator" ("Clementine"--"...Gladiator, gladiator, what rhymes with you? No one knows...this is why we never sing in any of the KidsPlay shows...."). It is an amazing thing to see parents and kids interacting and having SUCH fun. You couldn't ask for more wholesome family fun.
iii) Our final tradition is the KidsPlay graduation ceremony which we hold at the end of the final performance of our spring production. When this show is over, we allow the audience to leave or stay if they like (I LOATHE being forced to sit in an audience while the director thanks every last person who helped with the show--I won't even allow the kids to present me with flowers during the curtain call), and I read a poem--a limerick--that I wrote about each child and their experiences in KidsPlay. They are funny, they are touching, they are...difficult to write (why did I EVER decide to go with limericks????). Everyone cries. Including me. It's a great tradition. Here is a stanza from one of the poems:
And now, for the stars Jess will reach
No other like him will I teach
His name up in lights
On opening nights
Don’t forget me in your Oscar speech
Art and children....I don't know. People tell me I change lives. I see it sometimes. I have one girl now who will be graduating in May. When she came to KidsPlay, she was shy, a wallflower. She danced with us for a couple shows (I forgot to mention my dance group, which I started as a catch-all for all the kids whose mothers think they're they next Annie), and then, she caught my eye reading the part of Mrs. Claus. She has now blossomed into a true KidsPlay leader. Without KP, she might have always stayed shy, never come out of herself. You can tell that she really identifies herself as 'an actress', ' a theatre person' because of her experiences in KidsPlay. She has an identity where before she was just shy. I can't get over how brave and confident my kids are. Maybe I change lives, but mostly, we just have fun.
Art and children...I push these kids like no other children's theatre director I know. I know that I am too close to what I do to truly judge just how good they are, but I don't see anything around me that compares with our productions. Most others, I can barely stand to sit through. With us, with each show, we try something new, I stretch them a little more--accents, period piece shows, adult comedies (we once did a show that we saw at the Clinton County Civic Theater). There's nothing that's beyond them, except (see below)...
Art and children...we don't do musicals and we don't do dramas. I truly believe that those genres are not for children. I've rarely seen a child 'sell a song' the way you need to for a musical. They just aren't mature enough, and it's not believable. Oh sure, lots of theatres do children's musicals, but the audience is sitting there out of politeness or the fact that they're in some way connected with someone in the show. Sorry, but that's my opinion. And drama, real emotion. Not yet. Maybe someday I'll try that with high schoolers, but not with the KidsPlayers. We're in the business of entertaining--and we do.
3. Refresh my memory- how old are your kids? And parenting advice that you feel can apply fairly universally? Any regrets or best moments?
I have a 17-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy. My best all-time parenting advice has to do with traveling. With John and me both being teachers, we have had the entire summer off--and we travel. We actually have taken two vacations every summer: one is our traveling vacation, and the other is our two-weeks at the family lake cottage, away from computers, TVs, and the telephone.
a) traveling vacations (by the way, I should mention that we camp): Whale Watch 2005 (across to Niagara Falls, the coast of Maine, the city of Boston, Cape Cod, and Mystic Seaport (a fascinating Conner Prairie-style whaling village); Civil War Battlefields 2004 (starting at Fort Sumter through Appomattox, and ending up at Gettysburg for the five days that included the 3-day battle reinactment); Route #66/the Grand Canyon 2007 (this was actually inspired by Disney's "Cars"--we drove west, stopping in Oklahoma City, the Cadillac Ranch, a drop down to Roswell and over to Tombstone, up through Saguaro National Park, White Sands National Park, and to the Grand Canyon). Although I've taken my computer to blog our trips, we do not have a DVD player in the car, nor do I allow the Gameboys to go. It is family time--and my best parenting advice is how we spend our time--we listen to books on tape. The rule at our house is that you have to read the book before you see the movie, so we have listened to the entire Lord of the Rings, all the Harry Potter books, the Narnia books, Charlotte's Web, the Spiderwick stories, The Golden Compass--you name it, we've listened to it. We try to pick out stuff that we all can listen to and enjoy. My kids have developed excellent listening skills (which SO many children lack) because of this. This is my best all-purpose piece of parenting advice.
4. If you could plan a dream vacation and expense was no object, what would your itinerary look like?
Hmm. I plan my dream vacation every summer. I have no desire to ever do anything but drive and camp with my kids and my husband. If I could, I would revisit everywhere that we've already been, because it seems like we've never stayed long enough and we always want to stay longer, or plan to return some day. :-) Short answer. Sorry. :-)
5. If you were a tree... just kidding! How do you indulge or treat yourself? How often do you take time to take care of you? Is it something that's a priority or soemthing that you often forget about? What's the best thing a person can do to show that they care about you?
Hmmm. Indulge myself? I almost never make time for just me. I get so busy sometimes that I forget to eat... There always seems to be something more important, more worthwhile to be doing. So I have pretty simple taste in 'indulgences'. Cookies and milk. A nap in the middle of the day. I like to scrapbook and I'm going on a three-day scrapbooking weekend in March. My blog is an indulgence.
The best thing a person can do to show that they care about me is spend time with me. Talk, laugh. That they want me in their company is high praise in this busy world.