Letters to Holly

Wednesday, March 22

Do Not Go On With The Show

The school hosted a Theatre and Dessert event last night, offering coffee, cake, and short performances by the drama kids. This is the same group whose teacher asked me to give notes to after watching their one-act play last year. What I didn’t know until after I had taken the notes was that they were leaving the very next day to perform. My notes would have been meaningless as they had no time to rehearse after hearing them. Mostly, I gave them basic stage advice: speak up, turn to the audience, know what your character means even if you don’t understand all the words. Very basic stuff. This event was to show off what these kids were readying for a statewide competition on April 1. I was in competitive drama in my senior year of high school so this was right up my ally. But I wouldn’t be taking notes this time (wasn’t asked), and I could just watch the kids show their stuff.

Their stuff, however, is weak. It all began OK. The school office lobby was strung with lights and filled with fancy table settings. It was a small gathering of parents, the kids, Heidi, and me. We sat with Ms. D’Onofrio, the sister of Vincent, the guy from “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” Heidi knows her son well, having taught him at least one year. Great kid. Handsome as hell and seems genuinely nice, at least around us old folks. Heidi, her, and another mom talked up school and kids while I counted the strewn coffee beans on the table cloth. This is normal. There’s very little I can offer for school talk except to say what I remembered from days as a student in another school district in another state. The dessert was great, and the kids were the wait staff. It’s a nice touch and, as Ms. D’Onofrio said, prepares them for a life as actors holding real jobs. I recognized one of the girls from her article in the town paper; she’s going to be in a movie produced and filmed locally. I got bad vibes from the article as the filmmakers wouldn’t say what the film was about -- as if someone else in this town would rush out to make the same film. Seeing this girl in person and later watching her act, the bad vibes grew; she doesn’t convey real skill or charisma, and I question the motives of people who cast her. She’s very attractive and young, and small movies like this one tend to get that type naked so they can sell the movie to distributors. She probably sees this as her way out of Mayberry. She might be right.

After the food, we went into the auditorium – maybe 30 people at most – and watched the kids onstage. The show began with short scenes from Romeo & Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Very easy stuff for this age group. Very few props, no costumes. This is exactly what I did in competitive drama, minus The Bard. I was in two scenes, one from The Foreigner and one from Neil Simon’s Hotel Suite. The latter featured my first and only completely blank; I simply forgot everything, and we improved the rest. I got overconfident and thought I knew it. I never let it happen to me since.

But back to this night. When the first scene started, Your Sister whispered to me, “I owe you one,” meaning she thought I was mortified for watching this. I shrugged it off. Hey, they’re high school kids. You can’t expect them to learn everything so early. After the scenes, they took turns performing two monologues each. D’Onforio did the “to be” speech in Hamlet and had trouble with the lines. He then followed up with one of the cliché melodramatic monologues offered to kids for drama classes. Horrible stuff. Because the kids at this age aren’t expected to show subtlety and range, the monologues give them a chance to display Big Acting Emotions. They just have to hit those spots. One girl worked two different accents, one as Eliza Doolittle. She was good, one of the better performers.

The worst was saved for last as a gal performed a song from South Pacific. At least, she was supposed to. She completely and totally blew it, singing maybe a third of the words. She had a nice voice from what I could hear, but she was painfully soft. Was she freaked for performing in front of her parents (the single worst scenario for a kid that age) or did freak because she hadn’t learned the song? Can’t tell. But as bad as that was, the last bit, a duet of “All That Jazz,” was just embarrassing. The two girls were performing the very last song from Chicago, except they weren’t singing, and they technically weren’t dancing. They were walking their half-forgotten, half-hearted choreography while a CD played the song from the movie soundtrack. They didn’t know it, and yet this got the loudest applause. One can only assume it sprang from gratitude that there was no more to follow. This is when I turned to Your Sister and whispered, “Now you owe me.”

I don’t blame the kids. I blame the director. She has not prepared them for a state competition. They didn’t project, they ran through their lines, they shuffled their feet, they didn’t know fundamentally what the material was about, and some simply didn’t know their lines.

Now let’s assume there were mitigating factors. As I said, performing in front of your parents is hell. You are reminded instantly of standing on stages in elementary school, and that feeling of being cherished but wholly off-key and clueless clashes with teen expectations of leaving home and being your own capable person. What makes it worse is performing in front of such a small group. It’s much easier to put on a show for a large crowd; with a smaller one, you are aware of each person, and you don’t develop a sense of the communal mind and reactions.

Then again, I don’t know that these kids were ever prepared to perform onstage. Some have in earlier productions, but competition scenes are rehearsed in classrooms and might be ultimately performed in classrooms. Or you might perform them onstage in front of all the other competitors. If those kids weren’t prepared to do this stuff onstage, it’s no wonder they were so soft and shy. And if they do perform onstage at the state event, they are gonna get hammered by the judges. It’ll be a slaughter, and the kids from stronger programs are gonna chuckle all the way through.

Your Sister suggests that their teacher comes from a musical background and doesn’t know how to direct acting. That may be. I know from experience that plays and musicals are directed differently. Acting in a musical is a distant second to the singing. It’s possible the kids are inadvertently hung out to dry. If so, I feel for them and wish I could have a week to work with them. I’ve been there. I can get them ready. But it’s not my call and offering my help would be like Angry Dad armchair coaching from the stands when Your Sister coached the team.

When we got home, I showed her some of my mementos from high school drama: pictures, programs, small plastic awards. Then we watched “Sex and the City” to cleanse the palate. She’s gonna go out with a teacher gal pal on Saturday and is encouraging me to have a bachelor’s night with guys or throw a small party. It sounds fun, but I don’t know how well I can entertain her teacher friends alone. Teachers talk shop. It’s what they do. I can’t offer that. Unless they only talk to each other, and I get enough of that teacher parties.

Picture of the Day
Mr. Yuk turns 35 this week.

In the news
Don’t tell Your Sister. Adam Vinatieri signed with the Colts. They just took one of the most clutch players in NFL history away from their biggest rivals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

saw v for vendetta at the imax after my last mcat test. brain drain then huge, huge explosions and natalie portman high pitched whimpering. really pretty movie, really flashy-- the film and portman. best british accent-- blew renee's bridget out of water. ok, back to studying.