Writing 101 – A Sense of Place

In April, I spend time in many  different places, doing many different things. Here’s a brief list of some of the places I inhabited in the first 8 days of this month:

  1. Bing Theatre – Attended Final Dress Rehearsal for Grease
  2. MCC Theatre – Two days of 10 out of 12s and a Dress Rehearsal of The Waiting Room
  3. My office – Assorted tasks related to this year’s productions and next
  4. Smart & Final – Buying food for the Meet and Greet rehearsals for “Waiting Room” and “Hide and Seek No More.”
  5. Spudnuts – Slinging Donuts
  6. GFS 106 – Lecturing on “Production Management” and introducing to my students, Sheldon P. Lane, PM of The Ebony Repertory Theatre
  7. DRC Conference Room – Meeting finalist candidates in the School’s search for a Critical Studies professor
  8. Massman Theatre – Attending first tech for “Hide and Seek No More,” an original play written by one of our MFA Y2 Playwrights
  9. Scene Dock Theatre Workroom – attending three production meetings for 5 remaining productions left in the semester
  10. Town and Gown – Dining with parents of prospective students
  11. My Couch – Sitting and recovering -arguably the least inhabited in April but most comfortable of my sites
  12. Lobby of Kaprelian Hall – Purchasing a tuna sandwich, my dinner, from the vending machine

I’ve bored you to death already.  I am doing a writing 101 drill through WordPress, where throughout the next twenty days (or remaining 18), we respond to writing prompts which we receive at midnight each night – or 12:01AM to be precise. Which is, in the month of April, just about the time I sit down to play a few mind-numbing rounds of solitaire before climbing into bed next to my lonely and abandoned husband. Today’s prompt – sharing a space with all that it evokes.

We’ll linger on #6 for a bit, the beautiful classroom where we teach the students who take THTR 130, Introduction to Theatrical Production, a class which meets at 8:00AM every Tuesday morning. Ask any of our students and they will be quick to tell you how much they love love love the 8:00AM class meeting time. THTR 130 is a very large lecture class with a lab; the class is divided in half each semester. Half of our students attend lectures about the literal nuts and bolts of assembling scenery, lighting and sound elements and costumes. They do their labs in our theatres and shops, building and painting scenery, hanging and focusing lighting instruments and sound speakers, and sewing costumes. They do these labs three hours a week for a total of 36 hours.

The other half of the class comes to lectures on the design areas and stage management. Their labs are intensively focused days surrounding the tech and performances of our School of Dramatic Arts plays, where they support the execution of the designers’ work by running the boards for lights and sound; learn how to run a mop around the stage (a surprising number of students seem to have never met much less used a mop or broom); help actors with quick changes; do hair and makeup; or execute scene shifts on stage.

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The seats stand at attention under the curved wooden ceiling holding multiple projectors.

Our lectures on design and stage management take place in a room in the Grace Ford Salvatori Hall, which, last summer, underwent an epic makeover. The happy result of this remodel, which we eyed with greedy anticipation throughout the summer, was neatly marching rows of fold-up seats, and desktops which retract into the backs of those seats.

The walls, off white, circling the room, are able to be written on, with markers provided in cups around the room; this feature  allows students to break into smaller groups and work on projects before reporting back to the group.

The biggest boon of the classroom is the multiple projectors which face the front white board and the 5 large monitors wrapped around the sides and back of the room. When I saw the projectors and screens being installed last summer, I panicked a little. This would change the game of teaching in this classroom. We all know form follows function, but in this case, my form was being challenged by the enhanced functionality of the room. My lectures now required visuals worthy of the space.

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Fortified with coffe and my laptop, I await the onslaught of students.

As a stage and production manager, I appreciate good paperwork and am enamored by its beauty, but the majority of the students in the class are actors, not stage managers, so the wealth of screens called upon me to raise the bar in all my presentations. By embracing my new “secret” life as a blogger, armed with a cell phone that transfers its pictures to my computer via a wave of my magic Airdrop, I can now confidently illustrate my Keynote presentations with photos taken “in the field,” during techs.  In the still limbo of the empty classroom at 7:40AM, I snapped a few shots to share the feeling of potential learning that could be achieved in the room. And as the students began to trickle in, I appreciated all their efforts to be present, many of them having been in the tech rehearsals the previous night until 11:00PM. We waved at each other, greeting and acknowledging each others’ service to our collaborative art of the theatre. My colleague, Duncan, likes to say the first day of the class,

 “None of your parents made you come to theatre school.”

IMG_3896And few of them knew exactly what the day to day would be for their student thespians. This room, and this class, are indeed an intro to a life in the theatre. Not everyone is cut out for it. It is hard work. Hard, with long hours, late nights, and early mornings, but rewarding, resonant work. So yes, I complained on FB last night that I was getting too old for these 15-hour long days. Guilty as charged. But at the same token, I get to do what I love. Make theatre every day from dawn until way after dusk. And it feels great.

When I get an email from a former student who just got promoted at her job, or I sit next to a freshman stage manager who is running his first tech and doing a fantastic job, I relish what my life in the theatre has taught me and my privilege in sharing those skills and experiences with the next generation of theatre artists.

A Classic Teacher’s Nightmare – Vacation Must be over

Last night I had a classic teacher’s nightmare. I dreamt that we were at the theater and we were having orientation for new students and we had some tables set up in the lobby of the bing. We were doing some practicum games,whatever that is, and our students were performing in teams. Sitting with me at my table I had two students whose first language was French. One’s name was Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf  and the others ones name was Trente-huit.  I had one of those moments where they each told me their names twice and I leaned in to listen carefully, before I realized that they were saying large French numbers.

“Isn’t it interesting that you both have large French numbers for names?”

In addition they were both so eager to tell me how much they preferred French 18th-century drama to anything else, that by the end of the two minute conversation I was practically weeping with intimidation.

One of my colleagues and I were on our way out of the theatre at the end of the evening because the next morning we had class with all of these students at Eight AM.

Before turning away from the students for the evening, I said to the group, “Well, did you learn anything tonight?”

Two of the six students turned to me with bored expressions and said “No.”

My colleague and I were both rushing because I had not apparently finished the syllabus.

He went to turn off the lights, but there were still about 45 people in the theater. I had to say him, “Don’t you think we should leave those lights on?” This was very uncharacteristic of my colleague.

Right then one of the returning students walked in in a hospital gown, carrying a newborn baby in her arms. More accurately, the baby was kind of strapped to her chest. I remember being much more interested in seeing who the boy’s face with her was, presumably the dad, wearing a name tag which read Jose, then taking in the fact that this student of mine had a baby strapped to her chest. Human interest I guess.

“Ellen,” I said, “when did you have the baby?”

“Oh, I just came from the hospital,” she said brightly.

“Ellen, I don’t think you’re supposed to take the baby out for the first 10 days.” (What do I know?)

“No, it’s fine,” she said in her ever present upbeat attitude. Very Ellen.

Then I woke up. Can you tell I am going back to work on Monday after three weeks off? Hmmm.