The Best Job Ever

Multiple times this week, I got to hear some of our community’s young people singing together in rehearsal as we continue to rehearse for the December show at the Hawkeye Community Theater – “The Nutty Nutcracker”.  The kids in the cast range in age from Kindergarten through high school.  Academically, they could never be in the same class.  Athletically, it wouldn’t be safe to put the little ones on the same team as the older kids.  Instrumental music?  As much as I love it – and as much joy as playing instruments has brought to my own life! – the wide difference in skill level would prevent all of them being in the same ensemble.  Choir?  Now we’re getting closer.  But let’s be honest – the music that would be a challenge for the littlest in the cast would be boringly simple for the older kids.  To keep all age groups challenged, we once again would need to separate them.

But the world of theater?  Ah!  Now THERE is a jewel.  With multiple characters that require different levels of acting skill, different vocal music abilities, and different amounts of time spent on stage . . . the most novice actor can share the memories of a show with a veteran of the stage.

I’ve also begun listening to the soundtrack for the show that I will be privileged to direct at Fort Dodge Senior High this coming Spring.  It will be my tenth at FDSH and I’m just as excited about this title as I have been about the other nine!  But don’t ask what it is because we aren’t quite ready to reveal it just yet.  (Contracts to be signed and such!) And no, I WON’T give you a hint!

I had an unexpected day off work today – an all-school field trip took all the kids off campus! – so I spent the time reading, running errands and listening to the music that I will be writing staging and choreography for very soon.  Every so often a snippet of inspiration would hit . . . an idea for a set piece or clever scene change; a dance move that absolutely MUST be included in a particular song; a fun transition to move actors to different spots on the stage mid-song . . . you get the idea!  I simply listened to a musical soundtrack all day and got to call it “work”!

Working with young performers from varied levels of experience and watching them grow in their art or getting to listen to a gorgeous score and honestly tell my hubby “I worked for a good chunk of my day off” . . . I really do have the best job!

Pick a Reason

Maybe it’s the Sophomore dance captain who showed fantastic leadership skills as she helped a cast member get caught up after missing a dance rehearsal.  With patience and encouragement, she taught and clarified dance steps and helped to polish a fellow performers work.

Maybe it’s the principal characters who are devoted to crafting characters that are multi-dimensional, true to the story, and engaging.  Their creative ideas enrich the performance, their hard work makes the accents sound just a bit more polished each time they speak, and they bring chills or make me laugh often.

Maybe it’s the AMAZING sound of the cast as they work through a vocal rehearsal.

Maybe it’s a dance line that works like they’ve been performing together for years, making sure things like hand placement and toe point match!

I could go on for pages.  And I would still be barely scratching the surface.  They wear me out, make me laugh, take my breath away, give me all sorts of reasons to keep layering in new ideas, and keep me feeling young.

As I type this, I’m COMPLETELY exhausted.  It was a very busy week which ended today with a seven-hour day working on the “big numbers” – trying to make up the time lost to snow day cancellations – and my back and legs are so sore that I can hardly move.  But I cannot imagine a better way to end my week.

They wear me out, their energy can be a bit much to handle, and the schedule I run each Spring is nothing short of crazy.  But I love every minute spent learning from, growing with, and directing “my” theater kids!

It's All Wonderful

Just finished playing for one production.  Performance week is always the big adrenaline rush.  Right up to the bittersweet final performance when a few tears are shed, extra long hugs are given, and you snap a few pictures with your favorite people.  That’s the culmination of all the work.

I went right from that show to directing the FDSH Spring musical.  I’m at the very beginning – teaching choreography, confirming music cuts (if and when they are necessary), giving out the blocking, etc.  It feels like I am forever away from polishing, taking/giving notes after a full run of the show, giving make up and hair the thumbs up (or thumbs down!) . . . the thrill of performance and the stress of tech week seem so far off in the distance.  But I know it will all be here sooner than I think.

Today it was reviewing staging/choreo for tomorrow night’s rehearsal, confirming the assignment of some minor speaking parts, and tweaking music cuts to make a song work just a little bit better for the pit and the actors.  That kind of work can be time-consuming.  And it NEVER gets applause.  But I love even the “tedious” stuff like that.  Teaching the choreo and the blocking can be repetitive but I love to see the progress.  Even when that progress is a baby step forward.  I absolutely adore getting to work with new faces as well seeing how much familiar faces have grown since last year.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, I have had some paperwork/planning to take care of for the summer youth theater program I direct.  Scheduling rehearsals, creating the audition packets, etc.  We are still several weeks out from auditions so the fun is nowhere near beginning for that just yet!

This part isn’t fun.  To most people.  And it definitely isn’t glamorous.  But it is thick with possibility!  With the Senior High show, the pieces are starting to come together.  For the summer program, we are putting some tools in place to increase parental involvement AND we are growing the program in some fun ways!  To an outsider looking in, this is the boring stuff.  But to a theater geek like me?  The excitement has already begun to build and the possibilities of what will be are still in front of me.  To some, this phase of production is seen as a “necessary evil.”  To me, it’s just a different kind of wonderful.

Finally There

Wordless Wednesday!When I am a part of a theater production – whether I am directing, onstage, in the pit or whatever – there is the moment when I walk into the theater (ANY theater) and it’s as though the air whispers, “Welcome home.”  It is in that moment that who I am and what I am doing are most perfectly aligned.  But when I try to explain that to others, they think I’m crazy!

The sad fact is, it’s taken me until recently to get to the point where I can say that I love being involved in the world of theater and feel no measure of shame.  In our “results obsessed” society, we tend to devalue those activities that don’t provide the main source of our income or serve to advance us professionally. People have  asked me questions like, “Are you ever going to give up this theater nonsense?”  or “Will you ever outgrow your theater hobby?”  The shortest, simplest answer? No.  My involvement in the theater predates my roles as wife and mother.  Now, I LOVE my man and my kids.  Like, “I-would-take-a-bullet-for-them” kind of love.  But holding on to my theater involvement allows me to hold on to a part of me that has been uniquely mine since before my life was abundantly blessed by marriage and motherhood.

People tell me that theater productions take lots of time.  Yeah.  I know that.  I’ve kind of lived it repeatedly.  But I am most authentically “me” when I am involved in a theatrical production.  My God-given design hums with joy every time I walk into an audition, a rehearsal or a performance.  I get lost for hours on end when I am working on my staging/blocking plans for a new show.  Even the exhaustion of tech week is a happy experience for me.  I know.  I’m weird.

So at the ripe old age of 45, I am putting this out there as a general announcement:  I LOVE every part of being involved in a theatrical production.  Even the frustrating moments.  I will continue to “go and play” as long as I am physically able and I refuse to justify it any longer and I CERTAINLY will not feel guilty anymore!  If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s okay.  It doesn’t have to.

The Choice Between Tired and Weary

At this point in time, the financial needs of my family of six – with two in college – are such that I must work.  Since I have not been able to find full-time employment, I currently hold down three part-time jobs.  Those jobs keep me going from 7:50 a.m. till about 3 a.m. five days a week and thanks to those jobs I work with everything from Kindergarten or First grade students to college age students every weekday.  That kind of jump is just a tad bit mentally exhausting!

To be honest, most of my employment hours find me doing what I have to do to earn a paycheck.  The one job that allows me to spend time in my one great area of passion – the performing arts – is the one hour or so of my day that brings me real joy.

When this work situation became my reality, it was with the understanding that I still got to set aside time to pursue my passion.  With the help of some AMAZING friends and board members, a dream I’ve carried for at least 2 decades will become reality in January of 2014 when Stage Door Productions holds it’s premiere event.  The hope is that this venture will eventually provide some income.  But for now, it is more avocation than vocation.  Nevertheless, there are things a Managing Director must do to help the first season become a reality!

I work with the colorguard at the local high school and love spending time helping those girls develop their skills (plus this former band geek loves being a part of marching season again!).  Before the school year is out, I will be directing a production for a local community theater (performances in December), will serve as the rehearsal accompanist/pit pianist for the Spring musical at the local community college (for the 3rd year) and will serve as the theatrical director for the Spring musical at the local public high school (for the 5th year).  All of those “theater gigs” come with paychecks.  Modest stipends in some cases, but it’s better than nothing!

When people hear about my schedule, people comment on how crazy busy it sounds.  Well-meaning individuals often tell me that I should free up my nights.  As one person put it “Let someone else handle all the theater ‘stuff'”.   They are convinced that doing so would reduce my stress.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

My jobs (with the one exception I mentioned earlier) provide a paycheck and not much else.  My theatrical/performing arts pursuits provide food for my soul.  There is no experience in the world that compares to standing onstage and delivering a well-timed line or heartfelt song to an attentive audience.  Unless that experience includes getting to accompany others who are doing so, vocal coaching cast members, or directing a show.  It is in performance that I am most in touch with parts of me that existed before I was anyone’s wife or mother.  To cut those events out of my life would NOT lower my stress level.  Quite the contrary.

If you see me these days and ask “How are you?”  I’m liable to answer “Tired.”  You might see “tired” as a problem and you might be tempted to encourage me to give up some of my “extracurricular” pursuits.  If I did that and you asked “How are you?” my answer would change to “Weary.” Frankly, I would rather be “tired” with a slight smile on my face and a soul well-fed than “weary” from a passion abandoned.


It is nearly midnight and I really should be in bed.  In the last five days, I have put in nearly 30 hours of rehearsal with the Fort Dodge Senior High cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Since we started the rehearsal process, we have lost nearly 10 hours of rehearsal time to weather issues, conflicts with other major school events, etc.  Needless to say, that makes for one very stressed theatrical director.  Namely me!  (And I have it on good authority that the vocal director – my friend Joe who, as the head of the choral department, is also the executive director – is a bit stressed as well!)

We open next Thursday which is still a little scary.  But I am cautiously optimistic. The kids have worked hard to make up for lost time, coming into rehearsal early to clean messy choreography, putting in extra time with the vocal director to create some beautiful music and going back and doing complicated scenes “just one more time”  As a result, the show has shown SERIOUS progress in just five days. We’ve still got lots of work to do and I will continue to push them hard.  I believe they will rise to the challenge.

But they are already making me proud.  There have been moments that made me laugh hard enough to cry.  Other actors have given performances so real, so believable that I stopped watching like a director and simply got lost in the magic.

They have put up with the cranky version of me yelling at them to do it again and do it right.

They have made me laugh until I cry.

They have captivated my imagination.

They have given me goosebumps.

They’ve caused me to burst into spontaneous applause during rehearsal.

We have work yet to do. And I’m going to be pushing them to give me more than they think they are capable of.

Am I tired?  Yep.  Have I lost sleep?  Oh yeah.  Spent quite a bit of time tossing and turning, trying to figure out how to make up for lost time and give “my kids” the direction they need.  Are the vocal director and I stressed?  Of course! Have I spent more time in the theater than I have in my home?  Almost!  But there is no place I would rather be at this time of year than in the countdown to opening night with “my kids”.