Tag Archives: drama class

Are you surprised that the young leaders of the Never Again movement are theatre kids? I’m not.

Parklandby Stephen Sachs

They are young. They are bold and self-confident. They are articulate. They are passionate. They are leading a national movement.  And they are theatre kids.

A fiercely dedicated band of teen survivors of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this week are earning international attention through social media for speaking out on gun control in a movement they call Never Again. This grass-roots uprising launched by young people is highly organized and gathering national momentum.  The fiery speech by student Emma Gonzalez at a Florida rally is a viral sensation. Students grilled NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Senator Marco Rubio at a CNN town hall.   It drew three million viewers. The nationwide protest the group is leading on March 24 in Washington, D.C., is now expected to draw more than five hundred thousand participants to the nation’s capital. Sister marches are being planned in cities around the country.  The Never Again Twitter page already has eighty-one thousand followers.

All of this from a small troupe of teenage drama kids at a Florida high school who’s only worry last week rose from the stress of trying to memorize their lines.  This week, they all have much larger roles to play.

Several of the Never Again leaders are members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club. “All these kids are drama kids, and I’m a dramatic kid, so it really meshes well,” says leader Emma González.

Being “dramatic” doesn’t make any of these young people insincere. They are furiously committed. Even so, a dark fringe of “Fake News” conspiracy wackos on the internet are already accusing some of the kids of not being real students at all, but professional “crisis actors” paid to cause trouble. Asked about this charge, student Cameron Kasky told CNN that anyone who had seen him in the school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” knows that “nobody would pay me to act for anything.”

Are you surprised that these teenage drama nerds are now taking the international stage by storm? I’m not.

A theatre class is more than an artistic distraction for students. It can serve as a lightning rod of empowerment for young people. For many teens, the experience of standing in a spotlight on a stage in a play or musical,  galvanizing the attention of adults in the  audience, is the first time a young person discovers that what they say matters.  They learn that words have power, that their voice can move and inspire others.

Rehearsing a play teaches young people team work, collaboration, tolerance, the importance of listening to and following direction. They learn about problem solving, discipline, goal-setting and time management. And they discover that getting something significant accomplished can also be fun.

Drama club

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club.

The engine for all dramatic plays is conflict. Rehearsing a play thrusts students into roles attacking and defending both sides of an issue.  Therefore, the play teaches that no matter how dire the circumstances may seem, it remains valuable to understand and overcome opposing points of view to reach a satisfying ending.

Something magical happens to students when rehearsing a play or musical. They become a company. Adolescence can be painfully isolating. But in those brief hours of after-school drama practice, young people are forced to put down their cell phones and look each other in the eye.  They find human connection.  Friendships are formed, crushes blossom,  and leaders step forward. Perhaps most important,  kids learn that a group, working together, can deliver something meaningful and life-changing that is greater than themselves, for the benefit of the community.

When the CNN Town Hall on gun control came to a close, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club sang to the crowd. The song was written by survivors Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña to honor the 17 victims of the mass shooting. Their main message? “You’re not going to knock us down” and the standout line, “You may have brought the dark, but together we will shine the light.” At this moment,  those in the audiences turned the lights on their phones and stretched them above the crowd to shine their own light.

As one student asserted during a spoken word section of the performance, the students vow to “Be the voice for those who don’t have one.” A voice is a powerful thing, and theatre can be a formidable stage from which to find one’s own song.

As the Never Again mission statement declares, “Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard. ”

If art is a reflection of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, then whatever the students are learning in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club is a lesson for us all.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre

Things I Wish I Had Been Told in Theatre School

Callam Rodya 2

by Callam Rodya

Theatre school was great. It is great. But it can omit some of the more fundamental and important career lessons. School is, after all, a bubble. It’s not a natural professional environment.

So, with what little wisdom I have regarding a career as an actor, here’s a list of some things I wish somebody had told me in theatre school. Some of these lessons, I had to learn the hard way. Others simply would have saved me a bit of time.

  1. “Stealing the show” is not a compliment. The ensemble is more important than your “moments”.
  2. You’d be surprised how few people are willing to pay for theatre tickets when they aren’t your friends and family and have no personal connection to you whatsoever.
  3. No, you can’t actually play forty and fifty-year-olds in your twenties. At least, no one will pay you to do it.
  4. By the same token, there are very few roles in the theatre for twenty-year-olds.
  5. The stage manager always works much harder than you. And technically, you work for him/her, not the other way around.
  6. Most people don’t get drunk on Opening Night…because they have a show the next day…idiot. Oh, and cast parties are more likely to be cast dinners.
  7. Developing and producing your own work is the single MOST important thing you can do after you graduate.
  8. Background film roles don’t do shit for your career.
  9. Unions are awesome and the worst at the same time.
  10. When people said you would be poor thanks to your brilliant career choice, what they really meant was “completely fucking destitute.” And that’s okay.
  11. Auditions are on one level. Knowing the right people is a completely different level altogether.
  12. Directors, casting agents, and producers care as much about how easy you will be to work with as they do about how good you are for the role. If not more so.
  13. Remember how you used to have five weeks to get off book? NOPE. Get off book NOW.
  14. Save up a certifiable shit-ton of money if you’re going to move to Toronto. Like, a ridiculous amount. Student-loan worthy. That is, if you want to actually be able to go for auditions, take classes, network, and you know, any of those other career-building essentials.
  15. Don’t do everything. Seriously. Know when to turn something down. And believe me, you’ll know.
  16. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid for your work. And you should be. But you won’t always be. So when you do work for free, which will be a lot, make sure it’s work that you’re passionate about or will really be a career booster. And honestly, it should be both.
  17. Ninety percent of casting decisions have nothing to do with how you perform in your audition.
  18. Most of the time, when you don’t get the part, it’s not because you suck, but because of some other (probably superficial) reason altogether. Unless you suck.
  19. Energy is more important than appearance. So get more sleep instead of wasting your time making yourself look good. After all, there’s always a hair and makeup person on set. There’s rarely a person to spoon-feed you caffeine and cocaine.
  20. Take your “me” time. And cherish it. Because the pursuit of an acting career will totally consume your life.
  21. Don’t hide your “physical flaws.” Embrace them. And learn how to look at yourself objectively.
  22. Your “hit” is no joke. It’s what you’re selling. Either be okay with it, or figure out a way to change it and still look like a real human being.
  23. No matter how big of a star you were in school, out here, you are just a part of a team. So act like it. And give credit where credit is due at every opportunity.
  24. Acting is actually easier than you want to believe it is. And more people can actually do it than you want to believe. And most people behind the scenes work harder than you do. So don’t be a diva.
  25. You are replaceable.
  26. The camera really does add ten pounds. No shit.
  27. Stage and screen are completely different worlds requiring completely different approaches and are cast in completely different ways.
  28. You thought there was “technique” to acting on stage? Just wait till you get some serious face time with the camera.
  29. Rehearsals are a luxury. Don’t waste them.
  30. It is not okay to be drunk, stoned, high, or any other kind of intoxicated while you work. Not for “professionalism” reasons. But because you are, in fact, worse.
  31. Try not to get discouraged/cynical/jaded/resentful too early. This is a tough business. That’s just the way it is, and it’s not going to change any time soon. So be tough. Or get out.
  32. And finally, don’t go down this path just because you’re “good enough” to be a professional actor. For the love of God, do it ONLY because you cannot do anything else.

Always be brave and bold.

Callam Rodya is an actor, electronic music producer, graphic designer, writer, and filmmaker based in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

You Want to be a Playwright? Should You Get an MFA or a Degree in Life Experience?

Polly Carl

Polly Carl

by Polly Carl

When asked a few years ago if someone with talent and desire to write plays should get an advanced degree in playwriting, I said unequivocally yes for two reasons:

  1. I’m a huge advocate of graduate school of any sort. Graduate school is an indulgence that every one who can access, should. I don’t have a timeline for when, but I truly believe taking three or more years to think about things that interest you and make you passionate and advance your understanding of the world is absolutely essential—especially if you want to tell stories that you hope will mean something to an audience greater than your best buds and your mom.
  2. As far as making theater goes, the significant career opportunities in our business are so few and far between that I would tell prospective students any leg up was worth considering seriously. For example, if your script was on a pile, or if you were applying for a directing fellowship, those letters M-F-A might advance your script/application up the stacks.

My advice to graduating MFAs used to be different too and extremely practical! As you’re thinking about that final year in the program focus on:

  1. Having one fully realized “straight” play with no more than four characters is essential. The MFA is a launching moment and to launch in any significant way into the regional theater movement, your most realistic shot is to have one solid producible play in the most conventional sense.
  2. Make connections with all of the play development centers (Playwrights’ Center, New Dramatists, the Lark, Sundance, Playwrights Foundation, etc.) and apply to every opportunity they offer. In other words, find an artistic home to develop as an artist. This advice hasn’t changed.

But as I experience the work the next generation of theater makers is creating and in what context, I’m beginning to shift my advice. More importantly, I’m convinced now that I’m not the right person to give advice. I’m not being humble here, but rather acknowledging that I’m giving advice from the vantage point of having a salary and health insurance and that my advice is becoming less and less practical and perhaps makes assumptions about what people want out of a career that are more about what think they should want.

But here goes some advice anyway.

  1. Don’t apply for an MFA in anything right out of undergrad.  If you desire to be a storyteller from any vantage point (playwright, director, dramaturg, actor, designer, stage manager, etc.) spend some time living in the world and figuring out what stories you want to tell. Travel, work strange jobs, taste exotic foods, become a marathon runner, join the Peace Corps, and engage everything that feels unfamiliar.
  2. Don’t take a menial job in a large theater just to be near established theater artists. I think the worst thing an aspiring young theater artist can do is to learn too soon the business-as-usual way of making theater.
  3. See as much of every kind of art that you can take in. Close down your Facebook and Twitter accounts for days at a time and read novels, listen to authors read their works on podcasts, go to museums, operas, symphonies, rock concerts, and ballets.
  4. Volunteer at places unrelated to theater. Understand that theater is a part of a whole, but not the whole.
  5. Fall in love. Break up. Fall in love again. This can be love with people, other artists, art objects, remote camping sites, whatever.
  6. Then after all of that, if you still find that you must tell stories, and that you must live in proximity to a stage, by all means apply to an MFA program. It will be the greatest gift you can give yourself.

For those of you graduating in the spring with your MFA:

  1. Maybe go to New York, but maybe not.
  2. Don’t worry about getting an agent.
  3. Find one or two or three other people you want to make theater with and live in the same city, or rural town, or on a tropical island together, and make theater according to your mutually agreed upon definition.
  4. Tell the stories you want to tell and only the stories the want to tell. You will get many opportunities to tell stories other people want to tell; minimize these gigs.
  5. Introduce yourself to every theater maker who inspires you, but don’t bother to try and ingratiate yourself into institutions or try to get next to artistic directors whose work you don’t admire just on the off chance they might throw an opportunity your way. There will be plenty of time in your career for compromising and groveling. Save your knees as long as possible.
  6. Think big. Big plays, big performances, big social change, big bold theater that will burn the house down.

For anyone trying to sort out how to make it in this business: there is no formula. As artists, I personally think rules and boundaries and formulas and systems and even institutions can dampen the possibilities for our artistic expression. And nothing can be more harmful to creativity than believing there is one path toward it.

So get an MFA, maybe. Move to New York, maybe. Write only two-handers, maybe. Buy bottles of expensive wines for Artistic Directors, maybe. But for sure, find a way to tell the stories that will choke you to your very death if they aren’t let out, and don’t make any assumptions that there’s a singular career trajectory for the theater artist.

Polly Carl is the director of the Center for the Theater Commons at Emerson College, and the editor of the online journal HowlRound

National Teacher Day: Ode to the Drama Teacher

Share This with a Teacher You Love!

Today is National Teacher Day. To honor these miraculous, tireless, under appreciated and underpaid  heroes on the planet, we are reprinting this post.  Share it with a teacher you love! Say “thank you” to a teacher who changed your life!

Theatre teacher Jim Gilchrist

Everyone has that one favorite teacher, right? That magical person at the head of the classroom who changed our life? Opened our eyes, mind and heart? Inspired our spirit and sense of direction, pointing us toward a new path of possibility and making us believe we could not only survive whatever journey lay before us — but succeed as we traveled.

For many of us, that one unforgettable, extraordinary life-changing figure was a theater teacher.


Ode to the Drama Teacher

by Samantha Bennett

And as you stand there: Aghast
Because we’re three days from Opening Night and
Ado Annie still doesn’t know her lines and
The Dream Ballet is a Nightmare and
The Light Board Op just got Detention…

Let us now praise You.

You, the Permanently Fatigued.
You, the Loyal-to-the-Point-of-Self-Neglect.
You, the Keeper of a Thousand-and-Eleventeen Secret Dreams.

You are the one who makes it all Look So Easy.
Who would have expected that the most important Skill you learned getting your BA was Juggling?

Juggling Paperwork and Personalities and oh, right –  weren’t you supposed to have a Private Life around here somewhere?

But even though you are Sick to Death of
Spoon River Anthology
You still puddle up every time you hear
“There’s A Place For Us”
No matter how Off-Key.

And while you still remember when you Brought the House Down in
Midsummer
You now love This House.

You have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy –
Can embrace their Inner Ethel Merman (and thanks to those English 101 classes you now must teach, you are keenly aware that using “their” in the previous sentence is increasingly considered correct and honestly, it’s really the only sensible answer as writing “his or her” is as damaging to poetry as the participle that dangles.)

And you have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy – can dive straight to the Deepest, Darkest, Quietest corner of human suffering and bring a room of teenagers – and yes, you, too – to silent tears.

You have made a Home for the Misunderstood
A Family for the Misfit and a
Safe Spot to land no matter how bad The Mid-Terms are.

Because despite all the Budget Cuts and
The Paperwork and
The Meetings about the Meeting to Schedule the Meetings and
The Truancies and
The Parents
Dear God The Parents and
Did we mention The Paperwork?

Nothing on this Green Earth compares to watching a group of kids
Learn the true meaning of Ensemble.

And nothing compares to the pure joy of watching The Ones whom you knew would Eventually Get It
Finally. Really. Get It.

And nothing nothing nothing compares to The Confidences shared in low tones as they seek you out in Your Office,
The Choir Room
The Front Seat of the Van on the way home from Fullerton.

You aren’t teaching Drama.
You are teaching Life
Which we all know is a Comedy – a Chekhovian Comedy – but a Comedy nonetheless.

And you aren’t teaching Choreography
You are teaching them to Dance.

And you aren’t teaching them how to be a Character.
You are teaching them how to be Themselves.

So here’s to you –
Making room for Art in a world that seems to have no room for Art.

(Because, by the way, that room has been repurposed as the new Standardized Test Prep Center – you don’t mind rehearsing outside, do you?)

And here’s to you –
Scrounging around for new shows that somehow match the sets you already have
Because some Genius on the School Board has
Recently Announced that not only can you not perform Huckleberry Finn
Or Anouilh’s Antigone (probably because he couldn’t pronounce it) and
Given the flap over the
Scene from M. Butterfly last year, I guess
March of the Falsettos and The Vagina Monologues are
Out of the Question for the Spring
So Oh Dear God it looks like it’s going to be
Arsenic And Old Lace one more blessed time.

But that’s OK
I love Arsenic And Old Lace.

So here’s to you –
Making room for another Coffee Mug with those damn masks on them

Making room in the Chorus for Just One More

And
Making room for each and every child
To Be
A
Star.

© 2011 Samantha Bennett
Created especially for the CETA (California Educational Theatre Association) Conference, Asilomar, CA, October 21-23, 2011

Ode to the Drama Teacher

Theater teacher Jim Gilchrist

Everyone has that one favorite teacher, right? That magical person at the head of the classroom who changed our life? Opened our eyes, mind and heart? Inspired our spirit and sense of direction, pointing us toward a new path of possibility and making us believe we could not only survive whatever journey lay before us — but succeed as we traveled.

For many of us, that one unforgettable, extraordinary life-changing figure was a theater teacher.

Ode To The Drama Teacher

by Samantha Bennett

And as you stand there: Aghast
Because we’re three days from Opening Night and
Ado Annie still doesn’t know her lines and
The Dream Ballet is a Nightmare and
The Light Board Op just got Detention…

Let us now praise You.

You, the Permanently Fatigued.
You, the Loyal-to-the-Point-of-Self-Neglect.
You, the Keeper of a Thousand-and-Eleventeen Secret Dreams.

You are the one who makes it all Look So Easy.
Who would have expected that the most important Skill you learned getting your BA was Juggling?

Juggling Paperwork and Personalities and oh, right –  weren’t you supposed to have a Private Life around here somewhere?

But even though you are Sick to Death of
Spoon River Anthology
You still puddle up every time you hear
“There’s A Place For Us”
No matter how Off-Key.

And while you still remember when you Brought the House Down in
Midsummer
You now love This House.

You have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy –
Can embrace their Inner Ethel Merman (and thanks to those English 101 classes you now must teach, you are keenly aware that using “their” in the previous sentence is increasingly considered correct and honestly, it’s really the only sensible answer as writing “his or her” is as damaging to poetry as the participle that dangles.)

And you have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy – can dive straight to the Deepest, Darkest, Quietest corner of human suffering and bring a room of teenagers – and yes, you, too – to silent tears.

You have made a Home for the Misunderstood
A Family for the Misfit and a
Safe Spot to land no matter how bad The Mid-Terms are.

Because despite all the Budget Cuts and
The Paperwork and
The Meetings about the Meeting to Schedule the Meetings and
The Truancies and
The Parents
Dear God The Parents and
Did we mention The Paperwork?

Nothing on this Green Earth compares to watching a group of kids
Learn the true meaning of Ensemble.

And nothing compares to the pure joy of watching The Ones whom you knew would Eventually Get It
Finally. Really. Get It.

And nothing nothing nothing compares to The Confidences shared in low tones as they seek you out in Your Office,
The Choir Room
The Front Seat of the Van on the way home from Fullerton.

You aren’t teaching Drama.
You are teaching Life
Which we all know is a Comedy – a Chekhovian Comedy – but a Comedy nonetheless.

And you aren’t teaching Choreography
You are teaching them to Dance.

And you aren’t teaching them how to be a Character.
You are teaching them how to be Themselves.

So here’s to you –
Making room for Art in a world that seems to have no room for Art.

(Because, by the way, that room has been repurposed as the new Standardized Test Prep Center – you don’t mind rehearsing outside, do you?)

And here’s to you –
Scrounging around for new shows that somehow match the sets you already have
Because some Genius on the School Board has
Recently Announced that not only can you not perform Huckleberry Finn
Or Anouilh’s Antigone (probably because he couldn’t pronounce it) and
Given the flap over the
Scene from M. Butterfly last year, I guess
March of the Falsettos and The Vagina Monologues are
Out of the Question for the Spring
So Oh Dear God it looks like it’s going to be
Arsenic And Old Lace one more blessed time.

But that’s OK
I love Arsenic And Old Lace.

So here’s to you –
Making room for another Coffee Mug with those damn masks on them

Making room in the Chorus for Just One More

And
Making room for each and every child
To Be
A
Star.

© 2011 Samantha Bennett
Created especially for the CETA (California Educational Theatre Association) Conference, Asilomar, CA, October 21-23, 2011