I'm a process person through and through. Give me the studio, rehearsal, and the months leading up to a performance over showtime anytime. Even as a performer, I find myself craving long studio sessions over the 5 minute thrill of dressing up and powering through for the paying public. Obviously this is why I'm a teacher. However, sometimes I find myself seriously smitten with the love and joy that comes from watching your kids give it their all in a stellar performance worthy of their months of preparation. My Chicago babes and dudes at Green Mountain Union High School made me proud on Saturday night.
Those few folks reading my blog regularly know that I'm intensely curious about how we encourage commitment from our students especially through feelings of responsibility to the craft and each other. These kids blew me away with their hard work over the past few months and I've been reflecting on what helped make that possible for all of us. Here are a few thoughts...
Let's pick shows that excite our youth. I tentatively answered many queries about the appropriateness of our PG-13 rated production for elementary school children. I believe that what we expose our children to is both personal and contextual. My 2 year old daughter ended up attending the performance with me, however, most of the innuendos flew over her head and she had already been exposed to much of the music through my choreography sessions and rehearsals. What does it mean to do a rather explicit production with middle and high schoolers? It means that you have to have conversations that can be tricky and perhaps be more frank and honest than you have had to be with these young minds. At the same time, I believe in keeping childhood (and adulthood for that matter) sacred and letting the grit lead to empowerment and play. Teens are more ready to play than we give them credit for and when we allow for them to play with themes that are thought-provoking, somewhat scandalous, and curious to them, they sometimes surprise us with the product. These kids were so ready and invested in doing this production, I almost had to find ways to help harness and control the energy, rather then my usual role of epic energy booster.
Let's model a killer work ethic. We all entered the rehearsal space together after living a good chunk of our day. The kids had just finished their school days as had the directors who both teach full time, and I was coming from kid-extravanganza or a day of teaching/prepping/choreographing dance. Finding the energy for the next round is no easy task, but we must. The kids and I talk about how the energy we bring into the space is contagious, so let's work hard and try to make it good energy (and forgive ourselves when we fall on our butts in our attempts).
Let's pursue more quality multiage experiences in the arts. Green Mountain is a 7-12 middle/high school. Although the middle school and high school are separated for the most part, drama allows these two groups to interact. It's a must for the drama department - the school is too small to sustain a program without encouraging both groups to participate and the training for middle schoolers ends up being critical in their work as high school students. This dynamic also helped to create a positive, empathetic, and dedicated student group. The high schoolers immediately reached out and mentored the younger students, creating quiet moments of praise and connection throughout the rehearsal process. The younger students came with ENERGY. The seventh graders were the first to jump into a scene if someone was missing and play the part with gusto that had us laughing, laughing, laughing. I don't think many of these students would have crossed paths during their time at Green Mountain. I am grateful this experience has changed that.
Let's give students leadership roles and talk to them about leading. Chicago is a dance-heavy production. It's very stylized and I was working with a group of primarily untrained dancers. I started rehearsals by assigning dance captains - Leah and Margie - and they proved invaluable in running dances during the school day and outside of my scheduled rehearsal times. Taking on a leadership role with your peers is serious business. These girls had different ways of coaching and had to navigate their social relationships with their desire to demand excellence from the cast. This took regular negotiating with each other, me, and their peers. Ultimately this created a sincere investment in the outcome of the production. I am in awe of them.
Let's show gratitude. People have a lot of work on their plates these days, including kids. I know that many of my kids were working super hard in school, taking classes outside of this production (many I'm getting ready for the spring recital in my dance classes), play on sports teams, and are dealing with family, social, romantic life. The fact that we all made it into the theater as regularly as we did is nothing short of a miracle. The gift we gave each other was working hard and most of the time, doing it with joy. I made sure to thank these kids every day I worked with them for that effort. I also made sure that the true directors, Fritz and Cindi, could feel my very sincere gratitude as well. Let's not be afraid to be thankful. Let's thank away because there is so much to be thankful for. Thank you, thank you, thank you kids, parents, teachers, schools, and communities that make awesome productions such as this one possible.