Sunday, June 26, 2011

'Why Is There Cheese Coming Out of Your Pants?'

Let me slide the curtain back a wee bit on the Real Daily Life of Your Humble Narrator (that's me). For the last few weeks, I've been tackling several theatrical projects, as I do most every summer.

For many years now, I have most fortunate to work as an acting teacher for children, usually 3rd to 9th graders, for classes offered via Walters State Community College and for the local arts center in Morristown, the Rose Center. Also, I am working again as director for the annual Rose Center Summer Players production - this year, my fourth in the program, we are working on a production of Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories." That show opens the last weekend of July and will be held at Rose Center, and I'll be posting/promoting about this show more in the days and weeks ahead.

The downside for any readers here, however, is that such tasks often mean much less time to post here. My apologies for my absences - it takes a quality and quantity of time to create posts and such time has been difficult to obtain, as my mind has been consumed with so many lesson plans, students, scripts and much more. Still I wanted to share a few things from the last few weeks which I found hilarious fun.

In my classes we explore lots of acting styles and techniques and the kids do lots and lots of improv exercises to draw out ideas and I say with no reservations whatsoever that the kids create some truly funny (and sometimes serious) moments on the stage.As I am always nerdishly committed to acting, I've known for some time that I surely must appear to the kids as one strange and eccentric adult. So be it. Hopefully, all the goofiness I help create also includes educational aspects, but also, it's just fun for all of us.

One improv scene we work on is the Interrogation. Two students take the stage, one is a detective and the other a suspect (and there are other variations too) . The aim is to only speak in questions, and it gets insanely hard and funny. At one point this past week, a student had been told he was a "pie thief" who is accused of stealing cakes, pies, donuts, etc. As the student was being questioned about where he was, and his alibi's and such, the detective suddenly turned and pointedly asked "Why is there cheese coming out of your pants?!??!"

That line pretty much stopped the class as we all just laughed like a room of, well, kids. I have no idea where the idea for the question came from, but it surely brought us all to tears laughing.

There were several other funny scenes in the last few weeks too, in which students worked to perform as some kind of character - either one from a book, script, tv show, movie, real life, or one they invent themselves - and do a short monologue as that character. That always brings out memorable moments.

For example, one young boy performed as a CIA agent who was working undercover at a Bass Pro shop as salesman, another young girl acted as if she were a totally confused host on the Today show who had lost her script, was late to the set, and keep asking if was time for a commercial. "It's time to take a break for a commercial .... isn't it?" she asked looking at imaginary cameras and putting her finger to her ear as if she had a earphone connected to the control booth. "can we ... is it ... it's not? .... Ha- ha, just a moment folks ...we.... NOW we have ... we don't have? Ha-ha .... ummmm.... are we still on?"

Another young girl, skin all pale white, with fiery red hair, takes the stage, whips as scarf around her like a shawl and does a spot-on impersonation of actor Tyler Perry as "Madea". A few years back, a boy did a stunning 8 minute routine imitating Bill Cosby from his stand-up movie "Bill Cosby:Himself". It was a flawless impersonation. He did the scene where Cosby was talking about the chaos surround bath-time at his home, and his performance was just amazing - especially when you think that there is no script he could have memorized - he had just seen that video so many times he knew every line, every pause, every inflection - and when he was done, he calmly walked back to his seat as if nothing at all had happened.

And for this year's Rose Center show, most of cast are taking on multiple roles as they create all the wild animals from Kipling's stories - camels, elephants, snakes, horses, monkeys, and many more. In these shows, the actors also (with much parental help) create the costumes too. So many days are ahead of puzzling out how a horse walks, how an elephant uses his trunk, how to make costumes that might need to convert from a giraffe into a kangaroo. They work very hard and while I will always make time to write (either here or working to create other new stage shows) the gifts that these kids are willing to share I truly appreciate and learn from as well.

Working in the performing arts does not resolve world problems, won't reduce the national debt or stop global warming or any such 'real world' issues. Still, the growing imaginations and creativity I have been lucky enough to witness always reminds me to never underestimate what we are all capable of, if we just allow for a time and a space for creativity to flourish. It's a wonderful way to spend the summer.

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