Speeding Back into the Unknown

It looks like I’m back on that speeding roller coaster carrying me on a crazy ride to destinations unknown. While this change was something I’ve been looking for, now that it is here I feel overwhelmed with the speed and the unclear destination at the end. Will I crash into a brick wall? Will I be flung off the track into the icy waters lying below? Will I pull safely into a station and be welcomed with open arms? Only time and the ride will tell.

Okay, time to leave this metaphor behind and be specific.

At the end of August, we are going to leave Kansas and move to Massachusetts as Nathan has accepted a position as technical director at Worcester State University.

There are both positive and negatives to this move, the biggest negative being a pay cut (especially since I don’t know how long it will take me to find work). But, given the insanity of his job in Kansas, and the fact that it has really caused chaos to our marriage and our family (one of the things I haven’t really written about) we decided that this move was something that had more benefits than negatives.

I move back into the unknown, with no clear job, no clear role, and (as of yet) no clear address to move into.  I am starting all over again, and I’m not sure what that means. Despite all the interesting projects I’ve done over this past year, I still have a career path that has so many twists and turns it is almost impossible to decipher.

I don’t know who or what I am anymore. I don’t know how to market myself to  get the job of my dreams, because I’m not sure what that job is.  Here is the description of myself that I put on LinkedIn a long time ago,

Overview: I am a person who takes on challenges and makes them happen. I welcome learning new things that help me achieve goals. I welcome diversity and unusual opportunities. What this has led to is a diverse and complicated career that is hard to pigeonhole. I am looking for more opportunities and projects that will take advantage of my intelligence, desire to learn, creativity, leadership ability, passion and love of language and culture. I am:

• A Theater Artist & Educator: I have worked in theater in numerous roles including director, stage manager, playwright, and designer. I have directed shows for adult audiences and for child audiences. I teach classes to children and adults. I have collaborated on new works. I am passionate about the power of theater to change lives. I am looking for opportunities to collaborate on interesting and meaningful creative projects.

• An Interdisciplinary Educator: In addition to teaching in college theater departments and arts programs, I have taught in other disciplines, including: writing (composition classes), education, library research, general studies and honors programming. I’ve developed interdisciplinary classes that incorporate theater with other disciplines. I also have mentored students in a variety of ways. I am looking for opportunities that allow me to share my love of teaching and mentoring in creative ways.

• Writer: I write. I’ve written everything from a doctoral dissertation to articles for children; grant applications to a novel for young adults (as yet unpublished); blog entries to journal articles. I am as passionate about writing as I am about theater and education. I am looking for opportunities to write, in any form.

• Manager: I have worked as a stage manager, house manager, festival coordinator, and producer. I have helped start three theater companies and organized volunteers for many events. I am looking for opportunities that allow me to combine my organization skills with my creativity

As you can see, I am a complex individual. But, where this will take me, I have yet to see.

All I know is that here I go . . .

Anyone have suggestions of where to go from here?

Behind the Jungle

As my first attempt at focusing on the details, I thought I would share a little bit about the backstage adventures behind Jungle Book, Kids where I spent a lot of time over the past week.

Anyone who has ever done something for a live performance knows that back stage tends to vibrate with energy, especially on opening night.  Add to that normal excitement the fact that this show had 70 children between the ages of 7 and 12 and the atmosphere in that college theater and the crackle of energy was palpable. I’m sure if there was anymore excitement in the air bolts of lightning would have shattered through the ionized atmosphere. Seventy young children running around in various manifestations of jungle inhabitants (including plants, prickly pears, flowers, rocks, and all kinds of living creatures) created an atmosphere that could have been (and occasionally was) utterly chaotic. Thankfully, with the help of the director and the producer, the chaos stayed at a minimum except for the rare flare up of insanity.

Photo by Jill Schrader

My job, as stage manager of this production, consisted mostly of wrangling kids and trying to prevent them from talking, running, playing, touching. You know, all of the things that kids naturally want to do when they feel this much excitement. I also had to make sure the appropriate group was ready and quiet (the hardest part) for their entrances. Overall this went well, except for the monkey chorus who can only be described as a true bunch of monkeys, led in all chaos by King Louie who had a very distinct way of thinking that the rules did not apply to him. After all, he was the king.

In addition to these more traditional kid wrangling duties, I became the official makeup designer of Shere Kan, and consultant on Kaa, Balloo, and a few others. This would have been completely fun except for one little detail–the one that made opening night a challenge in numerous ways and tested my patience on many levels.

What detail could cause me, the most experienced person involved in this show, to shoot evil looks and lash out? Only one thing could push my buttons that much.

The much dreaded . . .

Now, to be fair, most of the people who helped out back stage were delightful. They put in tons of man hours and created incredible costumes. They kept things organized and helped keep the chaos down.

The ones that made the demon in me appear were the ones who decided that they knew best.  They knew that their child should wear bright red lipstick, even though we (the producer, director, and myself) wanted somewhat less “whorish” colors for these girls. They knew that their daughter’s hair would look better with the bangs down, even though those bangs hid her eyes and blocked the makeup and made her itch. They knew what should happen backstage during the show, even though they stood in the wings and (it appears) used a flashlight that showed out in the audience. They knew when to let the kids move from point A to point B, even thought that meant somehow kids were wandering around in No Man’s land where I found them by luck.

Luckily, I had a very supportive director and producer who made it explicitly clear that I was the boss backstage, and that my word was law. Of course, thanks to Stage Moms, I had a few arguments with their children who were trying to listen to their parents when their parents were WRONG! I won . . . of course. But not without having to raise my voice and be strict.

And during the final two performances we restricted access to back stage much more seriously so I did not lose my mind.

At least the kids realized that I really am nice even when I had to be mean (or at least strict). Most of them appreciated that I was there.

The only thing that brings out my dark side is a Stage Mom. So, if you ever work on a show with me, or send your children to do a show with me, leave your diva attitude behind or expect the wrath of Dr. Lisa.

Evil Eyes. Makeup design by Sarah KramerLee.

Mwa ha ha ha!

Into the Jungle

I’ve spent the last few weeks helping out the local Children’s Summer Theater to get their first production of Jungle Book Jr. up.

It was supposed to be an easy gig that I took simply because Sarah wanted to perform in the play. She had to audition, like everyone else, and then she got cast as part of the Elephant Chorus so I agreed to be the Stage Manager. You may remember I was a little traumatized about the situation, as I discussed in this post.

The following photos were all taken by Jill Schrader:

My Little Elephant, front and center.

Sarah stands at attention the best. She's the second elephant in line, standing ramrod straight.

Sarah standing tall and singing.

Love this action shot during rehearsal

This one is just too adorable. Look at them acting all scared of Shere Khan

This little Stage Managing (read kid wrangler) gig turned into quite the project as I became:

  • Facilities coordinator and tension smoother over. (Long story, but somehow because I’m married to the Technical Director of the theater–who is currently in Iowa–it seems that it became my job to deal with all technical difficulties.)
  • Puppet designer and choreographer for Kaa the Snake.

Having Kaa, mouth open wide, come up from the pit was my idea. But hat lead to today's accident. Boo!

  • Monkey wrangler and semi-choreographer (which meant helping fix up trouble points even though my choreographic talent is limited to jazz hands)
  • Makeup designer, mostly of Shere Kan while advising for Kaa the Snake and Baloo. (I’ll add pictures of them tomorrow.)

  • And now crisis solver as Shere Kan fell off the stage today (she’s okay) and we have to deal with encouraging her to go on and adjusting her blocking for a show that opens tomorrow. She’s the second one to fall off the stage this week (the first was a child who didn’t listen when we said freeze in a blackout–she’s okay too)

No wonder I’ve been blocked, exhausted and just generally pooped.

Wish us luck for tomorrow night, but please don’t say break a leg–that’s a little to scary for this situation.

Appeasing the Gods and Goddesses

Dionysus and Eros, Naples Archeological Museum.

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, I’m beginning to think that I must have really offended some all-powerful being who has decided that it would be fun to throw as many challenges in my way as possible when it comes to this show. As my Music Director (who is the one who officially hired me for this job) said today, “Our show is doomed! Doomed!” Why, you ask, when I had such a positive post about it yesterday, and a really successful (and short) tech today. Let us review, shall we:

  • Very few of the theater students auditioned for the show
  • I asked people from the theater department to stage manage for me, and every one of them decided that they had to get jobs rather than help.
  • Before I even started rehearsal, two performers quit.
  • I went into the rehearsal period without a stage manager, and was only able to find one about three weeks in. The only reason I found one is because one of my cast’s boyfriend wanted to spend more time with her. He is a football player with no theater experience, and not much motivation to learn.
  • During the third week of rehearsal, one of the few actual theater students involved, quit two minutes before rehearsal began for COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS REASONS. He, of course, was the person with the most lines. I came up with what I think was a pretty good solution, but only time will tell.
  • Another one of the male performers was having family/transportation/job issues which meant he could rarely make it to rehearsal. I eventually had to let him go.
  • Eventually the cast settled down to three guys plus my Music Director who is also taking on a role, and 5 women. They are all fabulous!
  • The softball coach scheduled a tournament for this weekend (which was the planned date of the performances) and refused to compromise so that our two softball player performers would be able to perform, forcing us to change the dates of the show.
  • After we bent over backward to accommodate her, she still decided to pull her players out of rehearsal on Thursday so her team could go shopping to the movies and spend the night in a hotel, even though they could have left early this morning and still had plenty of time to get to the tournament.
  • One of my other actresses was falsely arrested because some other woman with her name blew off a court date and some other stuff.  Basically Bad J stole Good J’s identity. Luckily she was only in jail for  1 1/2 hours, but it has really upset her and added stress that was not necessary.
  • Another male performer has been out sick all this week with a migraine that lead to constant vomiting.
  • Last night, during a dry tech rehearsal (no actors, just tech) my stage manager informed us that he could not be here today, for the technical rehearsal scheduled so that he could learn what he needs to do.  Nathan took over as Stage Manager, and the “boyfriend” will now be running lights. One of the other crew members cannot be here for two of the three dress rehearsals, and I still need at least one more person to help out.
  • And finally, today one of the guys went into the hospital to have his appendix removed which means we may have to cut his numbers, one of which includes some of the fabulous puppets that Nathan spent hours making.

So now, with all that, I am going to end with a prayer to appease the gods and goddesses and anyone else who needs appeasing. Hopefully they will not be offended by this next attempt at creativity. I’m including as many of the ones connected with the arts or other issues in this story as I can find, so that I don’t offend any possibilities. I used this site , as it had a truly diverse list. Ahem:

Apollo, who loves music, poetry, art
allow our songs to “Rock the School House!”
and make our “subjects sing!”

Dagda, Irish father,
give us an Irish toast
to welcome laughter and the joy it brings.

Dionysus invite your followers
to join us in a theater full of music and life,
toast to our success.

Ganesh remove our obstacles
and share your wisdom
to allow all these talented students to sing.

Hephaestus recognize the sculptural art
of  puppets and give them life.

Hermes allow the poems to speak
and share the messages with young and old.

Hygeia, Goddess of Health
please help my actors return in strength.

Odin, Norse Father God
grant us the inspiration to make theater magic work.

Santoshi, Goddess of Patience
help me let go of the frustration
and give the gift of a fabulous show.

Spirits of power,
whoever you are
whatever name you choose
Grant this group of hard-working folks
the opportunity to amuse.

If  I missed anyone, please forgive me and allow my cast the joy of a successful show!


Lights, Sound, Music, Show!

I love to sit in a darkened theater and work with a lighting designer to build subtle but powerful changes on the stage. I love the power of light to create depth, dimension, color and emotion.

I love tech, when all the hard work comes together, and all the individual bits and pieces become a piece of living art.

This show has taken a long time to get to this point. From the day I initially accepted the assignment to direct School House Rock! to my fears because this would be the first musical I ever directed. From my watching and re-watching the videos, to my brainstorming how to make this show come to life in a new and interesting way. What is normally a six-week rehearsal process, became a process that seemed interminable, extended by snow days and the evil confrontation with a softball coach from hell. While tonight should have been opening night it is, instead, the beginning of technical rehearsals, and a long weekend.

But that’s okay. I love tech. And, the additional week means that the show is going to be that much better.

Of course, I’ve also had to deal with: actors quitting  early on, actors quitting after 3 weeks of rehearsal, no theater major willing to stage manage, a stage manager who does not have a clue, the unexpected early departure of my softball players (so that the team could go shopping, see a movie, and waste more money on a hotel rather than leave early this morning), a performer who is down for the count this week because of severe migraines and vomiting, and a choreographer who was overextended.


But you know what, the show is going to be great! And, as I sat in the darkened theater yesterday watching the magic of lights build, I felt good about it. As I watched half of my cast put on an incredible performance during rehearsal last night, despite the missing people, I felt really good. As I watched the wonderful puppets that Nathan created (because I wanted puppets in this show) come to life, I felt great! As I listened to the powerful voices of my cast, I felt enriched.

One more week. The show opens next Friday. Look for production photos in a post next week!

But, as a teaser, here are is a preview of a puppet as it was being built. Virtual bonus points for the reader who guesses which song uses a rhinoceros puppet!

Any guesses which song this is for?

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