I've been gone a few days. I was on a bus. With other people's kids. We were traveling to competitions. To compete for scholarships, trips to New York, medals, trophies and bragging rights. I've had about 8 hours sleep in the last four days combined. But I find myself still vertical and breathing. That's good. Andy's horizontal...but he'll find his bearings soon enough.
It all started last Thursday morning, March 29, when we loaded up the school bus (and our truck) with some actors, some costumes, set pieces and a good dose of bravery. We set out to compete at the very first Region Drama One Act Play Competition. I say "first" because it's been a "festival" for the last fifteen years or so and (I hate to admit it) I haven't really cared about the quality of the work we produced because the judges are always generous to high school students. Unless your cast was still reading the script off the paper, we usually did pretty well. Superior, Excellent or Good. Hurray.
This year there was a trophy involved. A title.
"Region Champs." First, Second, Third Place.
Good marketing for a school of choice since 80% of our studentbody is from this region. So, since I'm in charge of marketing I thought we'd better go for it. And...who's kidding who.... a trophy changes everything. When there is competition, the quality of work is better. Goals are set, more kids get involved, work ethic doubles. Sure enough, across the region, that's what happened.
I cast 9 diverse kids in the One Act, one girl and eight boys of various sizes and types. I thought it was an interesting group of kids. Some veterans and some greenies too. They were simply awesome to work with. I cast passionate kids even though some of them were very young, passion was the only requirement. Being passionate opens you to direction. I needed kids that could work with me because sometimes, hearing "lets go back and take the suck out of that" at seven in the morning, makes you want to shoot a teacher dead. These kids would say "please give me notes," and "what else can I add to this or that character..." I'm an acting teacher and director... if I can't get what I want from them, fire me. The key is...choose the kids that will let you open them up so all you are doing is pulling those characters out of them as fast as they will let you. Easy.
The play was called "Fully Committed" which I find perfectly appropriate considering the fact that we rehearsed at 7 in the morning, after Titanic rehearsals and on Saturdays. No one EVER missed a rehearsal. (Trophy involved.)
It's the story of a girl that works in the reservation office of a chic restaurant. For 45 minutes, 40 characters "called in" and tried to get reservations, confirm reservations, change their reservations and lie about their reservations. Each boy played several characters and at least one woman. The lone girl had every other line. She had to remember when to say "How can I help you" vs. "thank you for holding" every single time she picked up the phone and she was downstage center and could not see the boys behind her. I CANNOT imagine having the brain power for that kind of exercise. I only have three brain cells left. YOWZA! I watched her every day in shock. She was fully committed and then some.
Those eight boys (and a brilliant stage manager that was doing live sound effects on stage) flipped in and out of character every time they picked up their phone. 40 characters! It was not only a blast to watch, it felt miraculous. At the competition, when the lights went down, I said my usual prayer "Heavenly Father, thank you for giving them talent, bless them now with focus, strength and confidence. Their best is still within them, help them find it." (If you are a teacher that doesn't pray...how do you get through it?)
"Their best is still within them."
Sounds bad, like maybe they aren't very talented, or haven't reached high enough. We tell the kids every day that if they don't give 100% of their talent every day at rehearsals, how will they ever know what their 100% is? Every day, as they push themselves, their 100% moves ...102 ...105 ...110 ... setting a new mark every day. If THEY decide to find out what they are actually CAPABLE of doing, if they decide to test their "sacred potential" as I call it, they will find it. And when that happens, look out!
So on THURSDAY, with the judges looking on, everyone decided to test their potential at the same time. I sat in giddy awe of my kids. Urgency, pacing, volume, not one line missed, the comic timing...all brilliant! I waited for someone to falter, but no one did. They were really listening to each other, working together as they rode the tide of that play. Final curtain. I took my first breath in 45 minutes, thanked God for his help, and got the kids back on the bus...with their First Place trophy sitting like a hood ornament on the bus heater. I got out my lists and started planning what to pack for the next days competition.
FRIDAY, March 30.
14 scenes and 8 monologues. All costumed, all blocked, all whipped up in the dark hours of the night and morning, between classes and caffeine. 45 more caffeinated kids. Region Part II, Individual Events Team. Orders of the day: Load the bus in costume, arrive at foreign school, endure the stares and laughs of a studentbody that isn't used to seeing kids in lace cravats and spats. Special Instructions: Find your round and test your potential or I will kill you." Just kidding! I think I said, "just have fun" but in my mind I was praying "H.F., their best is still within them, please help them find it."
One by one I watched the ballots come in. Brilliant! Everybody tested their potential. Best of all, everybody contributed to the First Place team trophy which somebody tucked under their arm and skipped it out to the bus for the ride home. Within about 5 minutes, after we lathered praise on them and did the school cheer (we have one, we really do) I sank into my seat on the bus thinking about how privileged I am to work with such amazing children of God, when suddenly, behind me, there was a conversation about who was better, Zach Efron or Justin Beiber. Ah... there they are. They were gone for just a little, now they're back. I pulled out my next set of lists and started planning the next day's bus trip...to LOGAN... to the Utah Musical Theatre Awards.
SATURDAY, March 31.
We slept for about three hours, returned to Tuacahn with our luggage, 51 kids, costumes, several adults, and a semi-negative attitude...about buses. EIGHT hours of driving (that I didn't have to do, thank goodness or we might have died by Cedar City), eight hours of teenage small talk, singing, oh... there was far too much singing, damn them! But to call an end to it would be to crush the very soul of the teenage performer. What if I took five Ambien and someone woke me up when we got there?
We got to Logan late because the old yellow dog only goes 35 MPH through Beaver and Logan canyons. Bless my good brother-in-law Joel for driving that old thing. He was truly testing it's twenty year-old potential. It did a good job. Everyone arrived in one piece and thanks to Bountiful High for switching us places so we could still rehearse on stage for a few minutes.
We went from the bus to the rehearsal, from the rehearsal to dinner, from dinner to the hotel to get into costume and from the hotel to the performance. We did not stop. Once I sat down in the dark auditorium filled with 2000 high school kids, I was done. The highlight of the evening was winning the "Audience Favorite Award for Best Musical." Again, not an individual award, but an award achieved by the entire team. I love that.
They got to perform "Brotherhood of Man" which is the big finale number in the show they were nominated for and I have not seen them perform it better. I was, again, in SHOCK. How is it done? Most of them had been with me all week...same bus...same competitions. Yet there they were...testing their potential right up until the very last note of the song. Then there was the "group button." The one where everybody on stage raised their jazz hands and says "OH YEAH! Bomp." Audience went nuts! How do they do it?!?! Hotel bed here I come.
SUNDAY, April 1. No joke.
On our way home, we had the privilege of stopping at Primary Children's Hospital and singing to a fellow classmate who has been in and out of hospitals all year. It was the perfect Sunday activity and her spirit renewed us! I'm not sure how many surgeries she has had, dozens, but again, when I am tired, God shows me the sweet irony of a thing and I am simultaneously spanked and lifted up. Back on the bus, spirits renewed, Ambien waiting. Eight hours later we pulled in to the school, again...only this time, we didn't have to come back for nearly 12 hours. "Oh Yeah! Bomp."
When you are going through a run like that you just take one step at a time, one question at a time, one issue at a time, but now I'm looking back thinking "HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?" Why was there suddenly a test of my own potential included in this babysitting deal? Did everyone arrive at home alive? Yep. Then yes...even I can test my own potential. The best of me is still within.
The thing is, we're not alone here. There were teachers from all over the state that did exactly what we did. Nobody came to Logan from the edge of Arizona going 35 mph, but they all prepared their teams, supervised the madness, gathered up their trophies and revelled in the genius of their kids...because the drama teachers in this state test their own potential every day, I don't know a single one that doesn't. Thanks to everyone that made all of those competitions possible, especially Vanessa Ballam who is my personal hero.
So congrats across the state to the thousands of kids that tested their God-given potential this past weekend and the 150 teachers that didn't kill anyone in the process. That I know of. Yet.
Our best is still within us and we are FULLY COMMITTED.