Monday, August 13, 2012

That's My Olympics


Note:  Anni Rogers - this one's for you.

My dad's DVR is full. Full of the Olympics. "Just in case I want to go back and watch something." He had seven channels earmarked for recording every sport, 24/7 for two and a half weeks. Occasionally, I would wander in to see what he was watching, comment on the uniform or lack-thereof, the eight-pack, or the questionable gender and move down to my exotic basement living situation and pass out from the stress of the new job. 

I stopped to watch diving yesterday. A guy stood on his hands on the very edge of the diving platform. I simply could not believe that a human being could do something like that. Then after what seemed like an eternity, he jumped, tucked himself in half, did about 27 turns then disappeared into the water leaving three little drops of water in the air behind him. A.H.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

I said to Andy, "you could do that, hon. I'll work while you train for the Olympics." The only response: "Meh...its pretty hard to fold an orange." Then off we went to cut out the rest of the costumes we're going to need for our next show.

I'm dumbfounded by the training and the sacrifice that an Olympian puts in to breaking a world-record or the minuscule chance that they might stand on the medals platform for their 15 minutes of fame. It's incredible. I wonder, however, do they ever look around and see the lighting, or wonder how many years it took that costumer to learn how to work with Lycra? I'm typing this as I watch the closing ceremonies and the reunion of the Spice Girls. w.o.o.t. There are probably 300 Df-30 diffusion hazers being used in the stadium. Know what those do? I do.

The point is...everyone is an Olympian in their world. Over the course of our lifetime we gain the skills we need and make the sacrifices we have to make on our painstaking journey toward breaking our own world records every day. Not everybody has to learn how to fold their orange, thank goodness. But can you aspire to be the best ___________ on the earth?

One day in 1992, while I was directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Davis High, I didn’t feel well at all. I felt clammy and nauseous. Thought I was going to throw up all day, but never did.  I felt hot. Then cold. I needed to pee, but never could.  I had a side ache that I couldn’t shake. I kept twisting right and left, trying to pop my back. At one point a kid said to me “Are you okay?” And that was strange because, kids rarely notice a teacher, rarely really even look at a teacher. Their teacher is there to give them assignments, grade them, clean the room they sit in and make copies of the next day’s assignments. They exist merely as an obstacle to be gotten over. You too shall pass, kind of thing.

It’s quite a feat we’ve done. We’ve created an entire race of human machines. The expectation never changes from student to teacher…okay in rare cases you will find an occasional kid really listening to you as if you were given them their wi-fi password for the day. But let’s face it…the education machine does not change. It might look a little different from teacher to teacher but…the roles, the functions…same. Same in America. Same in Japan. Same in Zimbabwe. The ratio of giver to give-ee is almost always about 36 to 1 (though you know I don’t believe that ratio works worth squat.) There are books, writing utensils, worksheets to finish, problems to solve, papers to write all over the world. You can write a paper on Dickens in Thai too. Same old, same old.

Whoever started this tradition, Eve to Cain and Abel probably, was setting us up pretty good. Except for the teacher/student ratio, nothing has changed in…about that long. Cain was distracted all the time and needed an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and Abel was…well, able. He was the Sterling Scholar in History, hm…not much to study…let’s say botany.

I digress....

But still, while Eve was teaching them the name of all those plants and animals surely she had her days when she didn’t feel well? Days when she said to herself “I should have gotten a sub.” But did you see the guy that broke his leg in his race, keep running? I did too. Damn him!

Nevertheless, that day in 1992 I should have gotten a sub. 

But it’s so hard to prepare for a sub. Much easier to come in and slosh through the day. Sick You, is way better than the 80 year-old deaf lady with Herbie Goes Bananas in her purse.

So I was surprised when my student said “You look like you’re going to throw up. Maybe you should go home.” That’s nice of her. Thinking about my welfare.  Or did she just not want me to throw up on her? Or cancel rehearsal. Either way.

I made it through the day, but my back was killing me and a strange white ring had appeared around my mouth. Then after the last bell rang and the second half of my day was beginning, rehearsal, I actually thought about cancelling it. The kids would be thrilled. WAHOO! They would all scream. Thaaaaank yeeewwww!  And the room would clear faster than Michael Phelps can swim the 200 meter butterfly.

Why did they always feel like it was easy to skip rehearsal? Because they had yet to realize the sacrifice it takes to put on a gold medal performance. Was it my responsibility to teach them that? Probably. Besides that, when would we catch up? We didn’t have extra time built in. We had two more shows to do after this.  WHAT KIND OF MARTYRS ARE WE?! I could call in the choreographer to work dance, but I'd have to pay her. It was so close to opening, and today, TODAY, the play was going to go from a stinky poop show to a gold medal show and I could make that happen in one rehearsal. (Uh huh...keep telling yourself that.) Sacrifices must be made.

As the kids were filing by me, someone said “maybe we should cancel rehearsal you look terrible.” And that made me furious. You’re welcome for the sacred opportunity to be in a play at my expense you little ingrates…and (since it was their idea), I said instead “you think YOU should miss rehearsal? I’m against cleaning up rotten vegetables after the show. Let’s go take the 'suck' out of the show.”

About an hour into rehearsal I sat down. Two hours later I almost called it quits again, but there was a WHOLE HOUR we’d be missing…. waste not want not.  Three hours of “I love thee not therefore pursue me not,” murmured by a 15 year-old actor, later…. And I was sweating like I’d just run a marathon. We had met some goals and that was important. But I could barely talk at that point. 

I stood up to leave the auditorium and carefully put one foot in front of the other, grabbing the chairs one at a time for balance as I inched up the aisle.  I didn’t think I was going to make it but all the kids were outta there. Why didn't I just cancel rehearsal? I would be home already. It seemed to take an hour to get to my car.

I said a prayer for the drivers that would be on I-15 with me for the next twenty minutes. I prayed that I would be able to get to an emergency room without causing other emergencies. So stupid. But right before my apartment exit, I pulled over, popped open the car door and threw up. Finally! WHEW! I felt better! So instead of going to the emergency room I went home. I was feeling gooooood. (In comparison, I guess.)  I was so close to home, I decided the emergency was over. I told my sister (who was my roommate) that I should probably go to the hospital but I was going to wait and see if I died first…just kidding.

She was running out the door to get her boyfriend from the airport. She said she would take me to the hospital when she got back. So na├»ve. We lived about 15 minutes from the airport, but many things create airport chaos and an hour later I was in so much pain I thought I was dying for sure. I pulled my cheek off the cold bathroom tile and tried to stand. 

I didn’t have a cell phone in 1992 and I could not walk at this point. I could pull myself up to a crawling position and I crawled from my apartment, outside to the apartment next door. No one home. Next door. No one home. I went down the stairs, on my hands and knees, to the apartment below us and a young married girl, Carrie, who had been in our ward before she got married, was home.  Thank you, God. 

I imagine standing in her shoes right then…seeing the girl from upstairs on her knees sweating and slobbering all over her nice new door mat. “Can you take me to the hospital?” What faith this girl had! I was drenched in sweat. I looked like I'd just been thrown in a swimming pool. I was very literally foaming at the mouth. She could have gotten rabies for all she knew! 

But, she didn’t have any gas. She had to stop for gas. Ah, newlyweds. She had also left the house without her purse. Can’t blame her. She was freaking out. And I was twice her size, so getting me into her Datsun was an olympic event in itself.  

I had some cash in my pocket, but I had to crack myself open to get a hand in there. We finally got out enough sweaty change to get to the HMO on Redwood Road. Apologies to the employees at the Flying J gas station in North Salt Lake in March of 1992. That pile of bubbles and tuna? Just vomit. Not nuclear. Sorry.

At this point I thought I might be trying to pass a kidney stone, because I had experienced that on my mission in Thailand, several years earlier. Sure enough, I was suffering from the #1 teacher ailment in the USA, kidney stones. We don't get to pee when we need to because we'd have to leave 36 kids alone to trek to the nearest faculty bathroom!

Anyway, it took them several hours to get the pain under control...that's another story. My good dad came from a meeting he was at in Salt Lake and held my hand through the night. The only thing I could think about, after waking up in intensive care the next day, was “I didn’t leave a sub packet.”

I pictured a deaf lady pulling out Herbie Goes Bananas and the kids sliding down off their seats like Dali’s melting clocks: "Brrrgrgaaaaahhhhhhh...why did I come to schoollllllllllllll????????? I wonder if rehearsal is cancelled?"

I don’t remember much about Midsummer. I'm sure the kids pulled it off. I still have the t-shirt. But the kidney stones and that poor girl that had to check me in, God bless her, I'll never forget her act of kindness. She had, without a doubt, set a record that day for "Best Neighbor." Give her a gold medal.

I didn’t have to terrorize her like that. I should have called in sick when I felt the first stabbing pain, the day before. But I was afraid to waste the time. I was afraid someone would think I was just sluffing. I was afraid someone would say I was lazy. I was afraid someone would say I didn't care what my show looked like. I was afraid someone would say I didn't know what I was doing. I was afraid someone would fire me for my inability to....to what? Take care of myself? 

SO dumb.

We interviewed someone for a piano teaching job at the school last week. As we were listening to him talk about his skills, he mentioned that he earned $50 an hour teaching private lessons.  I thought “WOW, this guy has skills. I wish I had some skills.” I don’t think I meant that I don’t have skills. I just don't have "pageant skills" as I like to call them. Skills you could show off in a beauty pageant. I have skills that aren’t really named…like “the ability to shut down a group of teenagers just by staring at them,” and “the ability to fix a fog machine, with some spit and a paper clip in the dark.” Oh yeah. Those drama teacher skills - not exactly Tchaikovsky. NEVER worth $50 an hour.

But...aren't they?
  • I am a producer, contract specialist, artistic director, team manager, casting director, concept designer, dramaturg, certified acting teacher, people mover and arranger...
  • I am a music director, accompanist, voice teacher...
  • I am a choreographer, stage combat designer...
  • I am a costume designer, fabric buyer, cutter, stitcher, milliner, finisher...I can set a grommet in 9 seconds.
  • I am a set designer, builder, lumber buyer, hardware expert, painter, mover, safety controller...I actually know how to weld. Yep.
  • I am a sound designer, i-tunes specialist, sound board mixer, microphone repairer, cable runner,  battery changer...
  • I am a lighting designer, buyer, colorist, special effects creator, light board operator, mood maker, electrician, circuitry mathematician, follow spot expert.
  • I am a props master, pyrotechnician, historical decor professional, craft innovator, spray painter, glue gun queen.
  • I am a public relations diva, graphic designer, press release writer, professional photographer, advertising mogel, poster printing expert, post master, radio ad maker, poster hanger, ticket seller, house manager....
  • I am an accountant.
  • I am a teacher, nurse, psychiatrist, custodian, mediator, psychic, wailing wall. 
If there were an Olympic event for eclectic skill accumulation, theatre professionals would have a desk full of gold medals. But just because you CAN do it all, doesn't mean you always SHOULD. So when someone offers you $250 to produce their musical, the first thing you should say is..."per hour?" But do we? No. We say "that sounds like fun!" or "maybe they'll see what I'm worth and pay me more next time." No. They won't. You worked so cheaply last time, they'll never offer you more money. You have to stand up for yourself. For your Olympic-sized skill set! Will a Principal like me more if I stay at school until 3 in the morning? No. He won't even notice. Will my peers think more of me, if I do 7 shows a years? No. They'll think you're dumb. What if I don't win the Shakespeare trophy?..d'oh!... never mind, that's a bad example. ;-)

Many of us are going back to school this week. (As if we haven't been working all summer) I'm starting a new job at Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts. Andy is starting at TWO schools, SLSPA and Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. I'm excited to use my skills at a new school. But this time, I'm going to try to accumulate a new skill...taking care of me. 

My new mantra this year is this: 

I am a theatre Olympian! I change lives. I save lives. But in order to do that, I must keep my head in the game and my feet on the floor. I must fill my brain with creativity by watching theatre, being in theatre, studying theatre, joining with other theatre professionals. I must be abreast of the innovations, opportunities and evolutions in theatre that will make my life easier, my students more competitive. I must work harder and more efficiently (and not past 6:00 (PM!) But this pressure is not meant to dissolve me into a pile of kidney stones. No teacher can light a flame without one themselves. Since I get paid the same for two, I will not direct seven shows a year. I will not be angry when my most talented students choose to go to the local college. I will smile at fuming parents and not take their emotions personally. I will read a book that I want to read. I will eat at normal times during the day. I will pee when I need to pee! I will get more help. I will not fundraise for shows. I will protect the kids that are the true future of the art but I will not double cast a show. I will lock my door if I've had enough. I will not take the health of the drama world upon my shoulders! I will have a social life! I will reclaim my life as MINE. I'm T.H.A.T. I.M.P.O.R.T.A.N.T. 

Okay...it's a pretty big mantra. Definitely too long to chant while sitting in the lotus position. Let's face it, I'd never get out of the lotus position if I said all that. But remind me, when you call me at midnight and Andy and I are still at school painting...remind me that I wrote this blog in my last free moments before hitting my 23d school year.

23 first days of school. 7 schools. It used to give me butterflies about a week before. I would be up cutting out bulletin board pieces until three in the morning the night before. Tonight I’m blogging. Hehehehe. 23 years. 

It’s not that I don't care as much as I used to. But I've become very good at the seven minute bulletin board. My mental and physical health is most important. Would Carrie Walsh spend the night before a game hitting volleyballs over a net until the game starts the next morning? No. She’d eat a small animal and then go to bed.  So tonight, I’m eeeeeeking out the last moments of freedom…they are mine!  

Tomorrow I will take my Olympic-sized butt back to my new office and I will passionately run my race for the next eleven months. Marathon runners got nothing on me! I will keep up with the competition. I will pace myself. I will push through the injuries. I will hydrate! I will bring home the gold. Cuz that’s my Olympics (bitches.).