Thursday, April 5, 2012

S.Y.L.!

When I got called to serve in Thailand on an LDS mission I was so excited to learn how to speak another language. BWAHHAHHA! I had no idea it would turn me upside down, spank me, chew me up and spit me out. It was a humbling experience. Every Friday was SYL (Speak Your Language)Day at the missionary training center. You could only speak the language you were learning. So Fridays, for the Thai missionaries should have been called Pantomime Day. For 18 months, you add vocabulary to your brain as fast as you can to decrease the communication barrier between you and the native population. You need 18 years. In the end, I was not a talented Thai speaker, but I became "fluent" because I received a lot of help from the Big Teacher in the Sky. There is no other way to explain it.

They say that English speaking missionaries come back spiritual giants (Andy served in Minnesota and this is true), Spanish speaking missionaries come back linguists (My dad served in Mexico and made a living teaching Spanish) and Asian speaking missionaries...just come back.

On my way home from Thailand, I was by myself. We had a layover in Narita, Japan. I was not excited to be returning. I had already extended my service and was living on borrowed time. I had been in a refugee camp and they needed me. I was very sad to be coming home. Back in pioneer time, we had to pick up our luggage and transfer it ourselves so I grabbed all five pieces of it, and started across Narita to find my next plane. It did not have wheels back then and it was so heavy. I had collected things, souvenirs, so as not to forget what I'd been through and to give to my family. They had paid for the experience after all. Those bags were heavy.


I walked about ten feet, would stop and shift it all, change hands, walk another ten feet, stop .... I thought for sure I was going to miss my flight. Being so loaded down, I must have looked ridiculous. Suddenly three HUGE American men came up behind me and asked me if they could help. They were three baseball players from the Chicago Cubs. No kidding. God had sent me some help and having been in Thailand amongst the tiny Thais, Vietnamese and Cambodians, these were officially the biggest humans I had seen in a long time. They relieved me of my luggage completely, and following me to my next destination. They didn't ask me who I was, the black tag a dead giveaway, they just said "You goin' to Salt Lake?" I nodded and off we went.


I had the dreadful feeling that I was losing Thailand every step I took. Just by listening to these three men talk about baseball in their salty slang, I felt that I was losing my Thai minute by minute. It was like a bad dream. NO ONE was speaking Thai to me, why would they? No one was filtering their English either, but I was so grateful for the help I kept my mouth shut. I felt the "missionary" peeling off me like a sunburn as we walked across Narita.

Sadly, I have not spoken Thai to anyone but Thai restaurants servers...since 1988. I can lamely say "We'll have the Paht Thai and Yellow Curry, please." That's about it.


Simple things come back pretty easily, "like riding a bike" and maybe if Andy and I went to Thailand the language would start coming back, but because it's tonal, identical words are dependant upon the way you say them. "Hand" and "Pig" are the same thing but I can't remember which one drops in tone and which one lifts. S.C.A.R.Y. I would undoubtedly offend the Thai nation and end up staying in a creaky grass hut over a swamp full of alligators. I've lost something I worked like a dog to obtain. It's so sad.


This is true with artists as well. They need to feed their art - speak their language..so to...to... speak. Especially performing arts teachers. Because they get so busy, they are very lucky if they ever get to practice what they preach. We teach theatre, dance or music because it started out as a hobby for us and still is. I don't scrapbook, I don't train for marathons (o.k. I should), or garden (blog #?) but in my precious free time, I feed my disease, my bucket...my passion. Because if I lose the passion for it, no amount of steps that I take into my rehearsals will be enough. We need to act! We need to sing! We need to dance!


When I lived in Northern Utah, there were plenty of opportunities for us to do community theatre at night. I got to be Penny (You Can't Take it With You), Sister Robert Anne (Nunsense), M'Lynn (Steel Mags)....and I got to work with adults...speak adult for a few hours every day. Our social circles were the people we met in community theatre. I miss that so much! The people we invited to our wedding were people we met doing community theatre. In fact, all the years I was directing the community theatre in Lehi, every time we had a play, it resulted in a wedding. It turned out to be a great way to meet people! Safer than bars, cheaper than the internet, and you always know you'll have at least one thing in common. If you can still find a place to do it. Community theatre kept me sane and most of all, I was a better theatre teacher because I was a practicing member of the theatre community as well.

Time for a little S.O.A.P.B.O.X. Sorry...


There is not a city community theatre in St. George anymore. There used to be, and many people were involved in great shows and hundreds of patrons appreciated it from the audience. But it did not have a permanent home and eventually, after many years of trying to string it along with little support, it died. Theatres are more expensive than ball fields. (Did I say that out loud?)

I do not know the reason why St. George doesn't throw some money at their amateur theatre arts community. Tuacahn uses a few community members but they are a professional theatre after all. The college and high school's are bound to use their own students because it's educational theatre. Small independent break out groups occasionally appear, but without a home, they don't last long.

I laude the City of Lehi because when Hutchings Natural History Museum got a new home, the city gave the old museum to us artsy-fartsy's and we turned it into a working theatre. It only seats about 100 people, but it provides a huge service to hundreds and hundreds of citizens that are looking for that outlet for their families. Good Lehi volunteers still perpetuate the arts there and that makes me so happy. My earliest theatre memories are of a community children's theatre class.


JFK said the arts civilize us. Look at countries where the arts have died...what do they have? Constant civil unrest. The act of free expression then becomes a matter of national security. See how the old debater in me made that argument linear? I guess I'm just bugged that no one around here thinks that the common man needs an outlet for their art!


Andy started at the Valley Center Playhouse in Lindon, Utah. You know it? I think the good Renstroms still run it. You can spit from one side of the audience to the other. But who cares? They are the "theatre parents" of thousands of us because they fought to keep that little theatre open for the community for so many years.


Andy is now an Equity actor. All that means is that if he works again (which he hasn't much) they have to pay him union wages and abide by the rules of the Actor's Equity handbook. He gets his own dressing room, etc... He's fancy now. He is also an acting teacher, think of the influence he has, will have.


Last year he got to be a guest artist for Southern Utah University. He played Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was like a good anti-depressant. I could see it filling his bucket. His students flocked to see the show and were shocked at his performance. It gave them a new respect for everything that came out of his mouth every day. I prayed for another opportunity for him but one never came and not being able to participate in his passion was making him bitter.


Then Santa arrived.


Because he's "Equity" the catch is that he can no longer work for free. But if he is a faculty member, Equity was okay with that. The school needed to raise some money anyway and I had volunteered to add a "faculty fundraiser" to my schedule. But every time we tried to make it work, there were just too many people's schedules to work around. I knew if we waited til spring, it would never happen.


A Tuna Christmas has 22 characters in it, men and women, but it's written so that all of the roles are played by just two men. So I asked Andy and our technical theatre teacher, Josh Scott, to take on the project. Because it is educational theatre, after all, I offered all the tech positions to our students. Part of the magic of Tuna is the quick costume changes. Some of them were less than ten seconds long and included wigs, glasses, shoes...the works. The real show was backstage so to speak. 14 awesome technicians, each with a singular duty, "shoe guy," "wig girl," "lighting guy," just like professional theatre. I chose our best 18 year-old Stage Manager to take the project because he needed to learn how to manage adults. He would use the opportunity for his scholarship portfolio later on. Josh's classes built the set, the art club painted it, a parent volunteer helped me with costumes and the faculty ran the house and provided concessions (which incidentally made a lot of money for the cause!) It was truly a collaborative project.


And it was soooooo fun. We rehearsed in our living room on Sunday nights and over the Thanksgiving holiday. We laughed so hard sometimes I did pee a little. I admit it. It made me happy to see those two acting off each other and developing all those different characters because they don't get the chance to exercise their craft very often. They are too busy spending their free time producing theatre for everyone else. I could see their buckets filling up. My bucket was filling up. It made me even happier to see our students and their families laughing buckets! Win, win.


I could have raised money in a different way, heaven knows I know how to do a cookie dough fundraiser. But the pay-off was different. Not only did we raise over $5000, we got to give a lot of kids a great opportunity, we got to teach by modeling good acting and we got to reassert the fact that our teachers are also real artists. Since Tuna, Andy and Josh have become community celebrities. We can't go anywhere without someone saying, "Hey, you're the Tuna guy...you were hilarious!" Tuna reminded Andy and I why we do this. Sometimes you forget. Especially if there is no other outlet around. Bloom where you're planted... and all that.


My point is, and I do have one, no matter what the talent, if we don't use it, we will lose not only the skills but the passion for developing our SELF and the ability to use it in the service of others.


Our spirits MUST be elevated regularly. If we are to meet our trials and tribulations with sanity, we must be whole. Empty buckets are funny. They can't give anything to anyone.


The bitterness of taking care of everything and everyone around you eventually seeps into the cracks and crevices of your good survival attitude. Eventually, at least for me, I'm dealing with depression because nobody cares, not even me, that I have an opportunity to do something for myself. No one will fight for your sanity. You are in charge of that yourself. Rogue bitterness at one thing, magnifies itself into bitterness about everything.


L.E.A.V.E. I.T. A.L.O.N.E. Bitterness' BFF is loneliness. It will be fine if you send it back from whence it came. I've seen so many people leave more important things behind because they didn't make time to fill their own dang bucket.


Eternal progression is REAL FOLKS. No souvenir you've ever collected is going with you to the next life. You can't take your money with you...fact is, you can't even take your bills. So what do you really want to do? What do you really want to see, to read, to play, to experience, to hear, what language do you want to learn?

Because there are a million reasons you should be speaking it!

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