Modern Holiday!

Hi Friend! While you are waiting on my Monday post (Episode 26 is an interview with my talented friend, Frank Gallagher) I have a holiday song for you:

I wrote Modern Holiday a few years ago and shared it with friends and family. Now, that includes you!

It’s snowing in the Northern Neck today.  And I am wearing my comfy pajama pants. It feels like Christmas in our little cottage and I love it!

My song, Modern Holiday, has that friendly laid back vibe I cherish. It pairs nicely with online shopping while listening to carols on the Internet. We microwave popcorn and watch Netflix movies projected on the wall in the front room while snow flakes softly land on the lawn. The only thing missing is a fireplace. But since it’s a modern holiday, we can put a fireplace scene on the laptop screen and turn the space heater on low near our tootsies.

I hope you all have a season filled with love and laughter. Connect with a friend or deliver a plate of cookies to a neighbor who might be feeling the holiday blues. If that’s you, reach out to friends, family, online support, a community you feel drawn to… we weren’t meant to spend all our time alone.

On the other hand, if you are blissfully savoring that cup of cinnamon tea while enjoying your own company, I hope you’ll listen to A Modern Holiday. And know that your personal holiday traditions are just as precious (probably more so) than the movie versions. You don’t need decorations or tight schedules to enjoy this time of year. You just need whatever makes you feel at peace.

After talking with my daughter about her and her partner’s wonderful experience at their first Shabbat last night, I know that the season isn’t just for Christians. It’s a glorious modern holiday season for everyone who seeks community, peace, and joy.

Episode 24 – It Takes a Village to Raise a Play with Liza Vest


Every Monday evening I talk to people about making original work for a live audience. Episode 24 features professional stage manager, Liza Vest. Liza is a long time friend with Broadway experience and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama. She’s also a former Tulsa Holland Hall student.

Liza had so much good stuff to share that I ended up with 10 pieces of great advice. She’s humble, she’s fun, and she’s at the top of her field. One piece of advice stands out for being excellent, yet often forgotten: Make good contacts and stay in touch with people in your field. This is true whether you’re a stage manager or a restaurant manager.

People in performing arts are like people in any other profession. To succeed, they need to make connections. Liza has done a great job staying in touch. Despite the fact that I did not have a job to offer, Liza has always been one to reach out, return calls, and keep tabs. In the performing arts, you never know when someone from your past will be able to answer a question, make an introduction, or just have a glass of wine.

Stage Manager Liza Vest with Sally
Liza with a little egg from her sister’s pet chicken

Luckily for Tulsa, Oklahoma where I lived and taught for many years, students have options when it comes to performing arts training. I mention Clark Youth Theatre during the podcast, as well as Holland Hall School. But we also have Spotlight Children’s Theatre and Edison Eagle Theatre with Amber Harrington. That’s where all three of my kids got amazing performance opportunities. This might be a good place to tell you, I am a huge fan of performing arts education. Theatre skills include acting, stage management, lighting, house management, sound technology, set building and carpentry, event planning, and a host of other skills that translate to the world at large. As a kid, I had opportunities in church, school, and the communities where I grew up to learn about theatre from different angles. My family has always supported my passion just as I encourage you to support the young people you know who are hungry to learn. It’s about so much more than getting a job backstage.

Speaking of theatre jobs, you can still get your 20-page FREE theatre resource. It’s a glossary of live performance support you’ll need for your show. It’s useful, entertaining, and you have my permission to copy pages and trade with your friends. If you’re a drama teacher, this is a great resource to get students thinking about all the areas where a person might contribute to a show’s success.

Concise Advice from the Interview: a short version of tips from my guest, stage manager Liza Vest. The advice is geared for Stage Managers but it’s actually  great advice for life:

10 – To make theatre work, you must be part of a community.

9 – Once a show starts, it’s a fast-moving train and the stage manager’s job is to keep that train on track and not stop.

8 – Find ways to practice calling cues before calling an actual live performance.

7 – Remain present and keep going no matter what happens. You must be focused and in the moment.

6 – If you are a stage management student, most stage managers on Broadway will allow you to watch them call their show.

5 – To find out how to contact a stage manager, get a copy of the Theatrical Index to look up shows and stage managers. Be professional and polite when you ask.

4 – Stage managers must be adaptive because theatre is a generative art form and new ideas constantly change the needs of the work.

3 – Get as much experience as you can – but you do not need a master’s degree to stage manage.

2 – Ask people who are doing what you want to do for their advice, or simply ask how they got there.

1 – Talk to people and maintain your contacts. 

Next Monday I’ll post my conversation with the founder of New York’s BodyStories -Teresa Fellion Dance: Teresa Fellion. I’m super excited! Check out this blog for articles and podcast episodes. And sign up for a FREE Creator’s Notebook insert at SallyPAL.com/join.

Thank you for sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, and thank you for listening. I want you to pursue your dream to have original work on the stage in front of a live audience. It’s scary, but I’ll be here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of people like us. I want to help you create original shows for a live audience… All the performances you’ve seen on stage once lived only in someone’s imagination… Now go support a kid who wants to perform!

Episode 18 – Creator’s Notebook #1 – Staffing Your Show

In today’s episode, I’ll go over Part One of your Creator’s Notebook. If you want to pause the show while you go download the pdf at SallyPAL.com/join, I can wait… (waiting music). Is everybody ready? Okay. While you wait on your printer, I’ll tell you that there will be no Concise Advice from the Interview today, but we do have Words of Wisdom from George.

Recently I found myself thinking more and more about the team that makes a live stage show possible. Your show could include clowning and aerial acrobatics like Cirque de Soleil, or it might be a poetry reading, or a tap dance recital. What all performing arts have in common is collaboration. Even if you’re a busker playing for the quarters people toss in your guitar case, you’re still collaborating with your audience. For most shows, there’s a Production Team. (This team is forced to meet in secret in order to remain mysterious and powerful). The team includes the Director, the Stage manager, and the Technical Director, but depending on the type of show it might include a variety of other team players.

I created a 20 page insert to a larger resource called the Creator’s Notebook. The Creator’s Notebook is based on a notebook most play directors make themselves called a director’s notebook. I’ll dig up some of my old director’s notebooks and take some pictures so you can get a look at my attempts to stay organized.

If you send a picture to sally@sallypal.com of your well-used director or creator’s notebook, I will try to post it on SallyPAL.com. AND I’ll send you a link to a free collection of funny images I made with some public domain theatre art. You’ll find examples of the images in the 20-page pdf you can get for free when you join the SallyPAL Creative Team! Just go to sallypal.com/join.

4 Steps on the Journey to Success  

 

Many of us have an area or two (or 10) in life that presents a challenge. Some of these challenges seem overwhelming: Overcoming addiction, digging out of a financial hole, losing a loved one. Some challenges present us with positive opportunities to grow: Learning a language, starting a blog, completing a 5K. Here are 4 steps you can apply to the challenges you face. Use them to leverage your life for learning, fellowship, fun, and growth.

Step 1. Choose a Specific Area of Growth that is Measurable and Commit to It

This first step can sometimes be the most daunting. Becoming a better person sounds like a great idea, but it’s not truly measurable and it’s certainly not specific. Committing to improving your posture, learning how to make vegan pancakes, zeroing out a low-balance credit card, or writing your first one act play are all specific and can be measured. Look around your life for one small thing with a dividend. If your back is often sore, there is a likely payoff in learning how to properly sit and stand. If you want to move toward a plant-based diet, learning to make one killer recipe could be the start of something big. You might choose a credit card with a low balance and see if you can put an extra $10-$20 a month toward paying it down. And knowing a one-act play can run anywhere from 10-90 pages gives you a pretty good measuring tool.

 

Step 2. Gather a Support Person or Two

Being accountable to your brain for accomplishing a task means you are accountable to no one. And unless you have some super human lone ranger power (hint: You don’t) success is unlikely. Distractions and other people’s projects will inevitably get in the way. Ask someone to be your accountability holder. Choose wisely. Make this a person someone who will honor your commitment. I have had accountability holders who turned into nannies. You can avoid this by making sure your person understands your commitment. Reminding someone of a commitment is not nagging, even though you will sometimes feel like claiming it is. Be coachable and see your support person as your biggest fan.

 

Step 3. Make a Plan with Visual Aids

With your support person decide how to measure your success. Will better posture allow you to sit comfortably for longer periods of time? How much longer? Will you try three different recipes or just practice one several times? By when will you get the card paid off? Will you freeze it in a cup of water while you pay it down? How many pages or minutes will you commit to writing every day. Your support person can help you hash out the details of this plan and ask the questions you may blithely skip. After your commitment session, make some notes that can become visible reminders of your commitment. I have a sign on my desk that reads, “Shut up and Write!” It’s not subtle, but subtle doesn’t always get the message across.

 

Step 4. Follow Through

With the help of your team, visual aids, and commitment, take steps toward your success as often as possible. If it’s every hour as it might be with your posture, set a timer on your phone to act as a reminder. If it’s every few days as it might be for cooking or writing, set the day in your calendar. If it’s once a month for something like your credit card payment, include weekly savings in the plan so you get to the end of the month with enough to pay the card down. And enjoy the process. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the little successes. If you only focus on the end game, you miss the fun of learning along the way.

I know a lot of people in the performing arts who prefer the excitement of the rehearsal process over the performance. Your journey toward mastering anything in life is where you discover who you are. And, by the way, you are awesome. If all does not go as planned, forgive yourself. Do not spend time beating up on you. It’s a wasted opportunity! When we fail, we have a chance to learn, regroup, repair, and restart toward the goal with more knowledge than before. Once you build up a roster of small successes, you’ll want to move to bigger projects.

Episode 8 – Educational Theatre

Arts Educators Empower the Next Generation
Arts educators bear a special responsibility. They must provide feedback that opens young artists to take creative risks.  At the same time they teach technical aspects that are hard to master. For teachers, lifting up while calming down can be challenging but rewarding. When students reach college they have some ideas of their own. They also have some performance habits, both good and bad.

Pitfalls for an Arts Educator 
To be an arts educator in a college setting you must be relevant. That means practicing your art while teaching classes. This is always a good idea. But it comes with pitfalls. For a performing artist it means your students will see your work. That can be scary. Students are often supportive. But they can also be very judgemental. If you are not confident in your work, you could lose status as an arts educator. Lisa Stefanic is a working artist and an arts educator. When Lisa is in the classroom, she brings her vast knowledge of what actually works (and doesn’t work) on the stage. When students see her work outside the classroom, it’s clear she knows what she is talking about.

Arts Educator Lisa Stefanic
Today’s episode of SallyPAL is an interview with actor, director, arts educator, and acting coach, Lisa Stefanic. If you’re a fan of Weird Al Yankovich, you may remember her as Phyllis, the Wheel of Fish contestant in his feature length movie, “UHF”. Lisa has performed in or directed more shows than could fit on a resume. She has starred in several original shows. She also teams up with her husband, Vern Stefanic, to help students create new works. We talk about teaching, developing new talent, making old shows new again, and a variety rehearsal techniques.

But Wait… There’s More!
Be sure to listen until the end for Concise Advice from the Interview and Words of Wisdom from George.
Arts Educator Lisa Stefanic teaches theatre classes at Tulsa Community College and as a private coach.
Arts Educator Lisa Stefanic

A Lengthy Literature List for Learners

Cover of "The Merry Adventures of Robin H...
Cover via Amazon

This is an excerpt from an article in the Sunday, March 13 Tulsa World newspaper.  In it my friend, Suzy Griffin, lists several books as a recommended canon of classic literature for secondary school students.  She made a point of telling me it is by no means complete and isn’t necessarily meant as a read-all.  It is simply a collection of books useful to a shared literary and cultural experience.  Of all the things we do as teachers, teaching students to read, understand, and communicate using the written word is the most relevant teaching we do.

From The Tulsa World, Sunday, March 13, 2011:

“There’s a reason these books are considered classics,” said Susan Griffin, a department head at Edison. “They tell the stories of our history and our culture; there are allusions everywhere around us, from restaurant titles to song lyrics to crossword puzzles.  “Whether you love them or hate them,” she said, “reading the classics adds a depth of knowledge to our understanding of the world.”

So, starting from the age of 5, here’s a chronological list of some of the books Griffin and her fellow instructors think people ought to read in a lifetime:

The Cat in the Hat or any other books by Dr. SeussMother Goose; How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, Bill Peet; Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein; Aesop’s Fables; Black Beauty, Anna Sewell; Heidi, Johanna Spyri; The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame; Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, E.B. White; Winnie-the-Pooh books, A.A. Milne; The Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder; Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie; Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll; Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain; Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys, Louisa May Alcott; Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins books; The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle; King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Roger Lancelyn Green; Anne of Green Gables series, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Agatha Christie books; Sherlock Holmes books, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas; Anything by Edgar Allan Poe; The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien; The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; A Tale of Two Cities, Charles DickensThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving; Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe; War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells; The Once and Future King, T.H. White; Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith; Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott; Idylls of the King, Alfred, Lord TennysonWuthering Heights, Emily Bronte; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; The complete works of Emily Dickinson; Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier; The House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne; Moby Dick, Herman Melville; Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas HardyAnna Karenina and War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; Anything by William Shakespeare; The Odyssey and The Iliad, Homer; The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde; Walden, Henry David Thoreau; Les Miserables, Victor Hugo; Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes; The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.”

For some, this list might be your summer reading challenge.  But for many of us (I am included) the list simply serves as an example of the quality of literature that makes for a lifetime of excellent reading.

Check in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Here’s  a very short video for you! I realized that when life gets hectic I am a little slower to post so I came up with a plan: I will post blog entries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week.  That way, you can check in to see what’s on my education radar.  In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and surfing so you stay up to date on the news about what’s going on in the world of compulsory education, especially as it relates to the arts.  Thanks for reading.  Look for some other exciting changes this week and feel free to let me know what it is you would like to see me discuss on this blog!

The Play’s the Thing! Making Shakespeare Fun

Photo of the first page of A Midsummer Night's...
Image via Wikipedia

I teach Shakespeare to 6th graders and they love it!  A few weeks ago I gave my kids a bunch of chess pieces (you can use whatever you can find), a pad of mini sticky notes and a synopsis for one of Shakespeare‘s plays (found many places from the Folger Library to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes).  I instructed the students to get in their small groups and find a way to use the chess pieces (with stickies for character labels) to tell the stories of their plays.  It was hilarious, exciting and fun.  Watching the kids manipulate the pieces to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream was so much fun.  I wandered from group to group admiring how every single student was fully engaged in correctly relating the plot using their “dolls”.  They internalized the stories and had so much fun they actually complained when class ended.  I think middle school and high school kids deserve a chance to get on the floor and play with their toys.  What say you?  I also created a rap containing all of Shakespeare’s plays in order of performance. Check it out under the title “Bard Rap”.  Good luck with your students.  I am excited for them and for you!

 

Creating Everyday Art

For most of my adult life I have had the feeling that art has less to do with the medium and more to do with the expression of it.  My oldest daughter and I were having a conversation about the 20th century design works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There are several works from the Bauhaus at the MOMA.  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bauh/hd_bauh.htm Even though Hitler closed the Bauhaus, its impact on how we view art resonates.  German architect Walter Gropius (Bauhaus founder) had this idea that art could be expressed through the utilitarian. What is revolutionary is the concept that art, architecture and design are all artistic expressions and ordinary people could enjoy aesthetics in simple necessary things.  I think maybe Greeks and Romans had a similar belief (I’m sure this idea is not limited to the West) that ordinary things should be works of art.  This seems really obvious in the display of household items from the remains of Pompeii found in the National Archeological Museum in Naples, Italy. http://museoarcheologiconazionale.campaniabeniculturali.it/thematic-views/image-gallery.  Everyday things such as pots and combs were elaborately and lovingly decorated with sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny images. I love this idea that a person can express an idea and become lost in the creation of what we would consider an ordinary thing such as a hairbrush or dinner or a pair of shoes.  The Bauhaus movement taught us that it doesn’t have to be elaborate or heavily adorned to be considered art.  Beauty or art is indeed in the eye of the beholder.  To make the ordinary aesthetically pleasing or interesting, we can put the responsibility on the beholder to be present to the ordinary.  A life filled with the awareness of artistic expression is a very rich life.