Jenntertainment's Weblog

Adventures in children's theatre.

Is Theatre Right for Your Child? February 24, 2012

Every year, parents across the country are forced to send their children somewhere – anywhere – after school, in an attempt to keep their kids entertained and out of trouble until dinnertime. The choices are many, and some parents may find it overwhelming to choose the perfect extracurricular activity for their child. I have taken the liberty of creating this simple quiz to aid puzzled parents in the decision-making process.

1. Does your child excel in sports?
A) My child is the next Michael Phelps
B) My child can run, if necessary
C) My child prefers to challenge the mind instead of the body
D) My child has a written note from a counselor excusing him/her from gym class forever

2. Does your child make friends easily?
A) Very Easily: My child has never met a stranger
B) Somewhat Easily: My child has a lot of friends on Facebook
C) Struggles Somewhat: My child has a few close friends
D) Struggles: My child’s friends are mostly imaginary

3. Does your child tan well?
A) Like a Greek god/goddess
B) Burns a little, then tans
C) Burns to a crisp
D) Not Applicable; we can’t get him/her to go outside

4. Does your child have any allergies or dietary restrictions?
A) No known allergies
B) Mild seasonal allergies
C) Moderate seasonal allergies and a mild peanut allergy
D) Severe environmental allergies and extreme allergies to nuts, soy, wheat, dairy, eggs, latex, chocolate, and cotton.

5. Is your child currently receiving emotional/psychological counseling?
A) He/She has never received counseling
B) Not currently, but he/she has received counseling in the past
C) Our family attends one counseling session per week
D) He/She attends one or more family session and two or more private sessions per week

6. What does your child think about the shows Glee and Smash?
A) Likes the stories, but hates all that senseless singing and dancing.
B) Likes it, but isn’t obsessed.
C) Loves it, and actually thinks that it’s cool to walk around with an “L” on his/her forehead.
D) Loves it, but thinks he/she could sing or dance it better.

Sports
If you answered mostly A’s, then your child is best suited for sports activities. Whether it’s horseback riding, swimming, soccer or lacrosse (whatever that is), your child will excel in a competitive atmosphere that keeps them physically active and perfectly tanned all year long.

Academics
If you answered mostly B’s, then permanent relocation to the world of academia is in your child’s future. Encourage their studies by buying them pocket protectors, and letting them join the math club, chess club, or debate team. Though they may have some difficulty fitting in at school, they will eventually find their niche, and possibly win the Nobel Prize.

Crafts
If you answered mostly C’s, then your child would be best suited for a life of kitsch and craft glue. They may squirrel away in their room for hours at a time, but when they resurface, they will have created a memento of lasting beauty. Enroll them in classes at your local craft store, or find a scrapbooking club. If their genius is cultivated, they may end up with their own show on the DIY Network.

Theatre
If you answered mostly D’s, then please take your child immediately to the nearest children’s theatre. If your child is bookish, sensitive, creative, and needy, then he/she is the perfect candidate for a life on the boards. The boys will learn to apply makeup and sew sequins on their clothes, while the girls will learn how to use a mitre saw and open paint cans with their teeth. Most importantly, they will be surrounded by kindred spirits, and be happier than you ever thought possible. I hope to meet you and your child very soon. 🙂

 

Sonnets January 26, 2009

Filed under: Only Small Actors — jenntertainment @ 5:26 am
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SONNETS

On M.L.K. day, only a handful of students attended our scheduled rehearsal for SCT’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Instead of blocking without all of our characters, I decided to spend the time introducing them to a little thing called the Shakespearian sonnet. After playing around with some of the Bard’s verse, I asked the students to write their own sonnets, using his unique format. I chose not to give them a writing theme or topic or opening line, but just to have them create words and phrases of their own, as they were inspired to do. Here are some of their offerings.

 

‘I stood alone and watched you dance.

You seemed to shine with ethereal light.

I approached you, took a breath, a chance,

But my disturbance shattered the illusion of that night.

Maybe our love was merely a dream,

A nightmare of when we joined to make us.

The haunting remnants of when it seemed

That we were honest and truly in love.

I’m still waiting for your memory to fade

But my heart won’t seem to let you go.

The many promises, under moonlight made,

Bitter falsehoods the morning light did show.

And so our love lies in the past,

Broken and destroyed, like shattered glass.’

A. Schulz, age 16

 

‘Standing in the midst of war

Deep inside his heart did search

A soldier praying to the skies for more

Time for life to leave its perch.

Staring at the blood around

Mixed with memories of early years

And fallen comrades slain on ground

Did awaken his darkest fears.

Tears shed for what just might have been

Had mankind been less a beast

He wept for unforgiven sin

And pondered on the devil’s feast.

For non but devil could cause such pain

As to fall in battle, never to rise again.’

                                                                K. Buice, age 15

 

‘The sun awakens a sleepy sky

Upon a dewy tree trunk I rest.

I wait and watch as the fire birds fly,

Igniting the sun, and brightness at its best.

The morning’s deafening silence rang

This forest is dead, yet so alive.

And in it so far, no birds have sang.

I haven’t been back here since the age of five.

Memories are stirring

I don’t want to come home.

I know changes are occurring.

A nearby river flows, covered by white foam.

As golden dawn turns into noon,

I know the time I dread is coming soon.’

B. Hegarty, age 13

 

‘The sun sets on a deep blue sea.

Heaven rises in the sky, waves blend with the clouds.

We sit on a bridge, a journey to be free.

There is no noise, but the silence is loud.

A sudden calm, like never felt before.

Wild, beautiful, killer creature slowly jumps high,

Jumps so high with a passion in her core.

One by one, millions come, with her they lie.

We look on with awe. I want to join, to swim along.

They wail, those whales, slowly swimming on a secret path.

If only this was real, not a dream or song

But still this sight rids me of all my wrath.

And somehow, they guide me as well,

Entrancing me in some magical spell.’

                                                                K. Charbonneau, age 15

 

‘A burst of life

A spark of light

To diminish strife

And end all plight.

An explosion of sound

An endless chatter

As people are found

By those that matter.

A sigh of relief

Is slowly amassed

With the certain belief

That the storm has passed.

And so people disperse back into the dawn

Now that the power is finally back on.’

                                                                M. Slotin, age 13

 

‘Sitting in the trees

All day long,

Swaying in the breeze

To my favorite song

Seeing little birds

Fly around me in the sky

Like they are in some sort of herd

Me wishing that I could fly

Dreaming as I sleep

So many happy things

Becoming so very deep

To my mind they would cling

Hoping to never wake

From this wonderful daily break.’

                                                                G. Anderson, age 16

 

‘The butterfly sucks the pollen out of the bloom

Flower protrudes out of the soil

The light shineth through the window at noon.

Wind softly flows, the grass looks royal,

The sweet sugar stirs in the tea.

Sun and moon love, stars neareth,

They switcheth in love. Me?

I try my love to pleaseth.

The torture apart,

A violin plays a soft melody.

The love we have is art,

When we come together, no fidelity.

The clouds are not crying

For I am not lying.’

                                                                N. Pearlman, age 13

 

Yeah, I mean it when I say these kids are awesome.

 

What Thanksgiving is Really About November 17, 2008

Filed under: Only Small Actors — jenntertainment @ 9:04 pm
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‘Tis the season for Thanksgiving plays with kids in bonnets and turkey hats.  At work, we offer a field trip musical about Thanksgiving to all of the elementary schools in our area. It’s a cute show, but it only comes around one month out of every year. The premise is that the turkeys have grown suspicious about the rapid disappearance of their families during Thanksgiving, so they have called off the holiday. After hearing testimony from Pilgrims, football players, Native Americans and even cranberries, the turkeys finally decide that Thanksgiving isn’t really about them at all; it’s about giving thanks. Genius.

One of the songs that I teach is about Native Americans showing the Pilgrims how to plant and yield a great harvest. I usually start off each song by asking the students to answer a couple of simple questions about the topic. What kind of foods did we eat at the first Thanksgiving? Can anybody tell me the name of a Native American tribe? Did you know that it is now considered offensive to sit ‘Indian style’ instead of ‘criss-cross applesauce?’ You know; things like that.

Usually, the kids are spot on with their answers; they have been training for this field trip for weeks. This day, however, came with a slight surprise.

‘How did Native Americans help with Thanksgiving?’ I asked. Several hands were raised, but I could only pick one. ‘Yes, Jonathan. Can you tell us?’

‘Well, the Native Americans tried to be our friends, but since white people are mean, we killed them.’

‘Okay, thank you, Jonathan. Anyone else?’

‘Then they got mad at us for eating all their food at Thanksgiving,’ he continued. ‘So they started shaving our heads with tomahawks and dancing to make rain to make us drown.’

‘Excellent. Now, everyone turn to page 18…’

‘That made us really angry, so then we decided to take everything away from them and make them move to where it’s cold because we like to live on the beach. White people made the Native Americans move where nobody wants to live. In Minnesota.

 ‘Then we started littering and that makes the old man Native Americans cry. I think that’s why we have Thanksgiving.’

My head was swarmed with visions of small children wearing Pilgrim hats & Indian headdresses, textbook images depicting the Trail of Tears and the Minnesota Vikings football team, television shows featuring Martha Stewart roasting Cornish game hens and commercials showing a single tear slowly falling down the leathery cheek of a Chief standing on the side of I-95. As a child, how do you separate all of these picture book images and pop culture references into their proper categories and come away with even the faintest understanding of what Thanksgiving is really all about?

We tell children that it is to give thanks to God for a bountiful harvest, but these kids don’t know what it means to harvest because they’ve never even seen a farm, and mentioning God in school is only permitted during the Pledge of Allegiance – whatever that is. We tell them it is a time for family. That is, a time for the family that we only want to see on major holidays when it’s easy to make idle chatter about your sweet potato recipe or, my goodness, how the children have grown this year. We tell them it is a time to give thanks, but how can we teach them about gratefulness and good stewardship on a day followed by women in battle armor dueling for the best Day-After-Thanksgiving purchase? In short, how can we expect for children of this modern age to have even the slightest understanding of Thanksgiving, when it all seems to be holiday propaganda mixed with the idea of a loving family?

So I asked.  ‘Why, Jonathan? Why do we have Thanksgiving?’

‘We have Thanksgiving to be nice to the Native Americans and thank them for giving us all their stuff. Then we eat a big meal to thank the grocery store for giving us food and then we go shopping and thank the store for giving us presents and we thank mommy and daddy for giving us little sisters. We get things and say thank you for them. That’s what Native Americans did for Thanksgiving.’
     Well, the philosophy is a bit off, but I guess the truth is in there somewhere. Maybe we’re not doing such a bad job after all.

 

Fiddlers on the Roofs November 13, 2008

Filed under: Only Small Actors — jenntertainment @ 7:55 am
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     For some odd reason, the soundtrack of my life is Fiddler on the Roof. I have been personally involved in six productions and have seen the movie, professional and amateur productions of it countless times. With all of its’ wit and wisdom, I truly love this show, but I no longer laugh out loud at the jokes. I am reasonably certain that I could recite the entire show as a monologue, if circumstances called for it. What might those circumstances be? Only time will tell. As the Good Book says…
     The following is a piece I wrote about two years ago that is making a comeback, due to recent events. This does not refer to the school production of Fiddler that I saw last weekend, but to all youth productions of anything, anywhere.

 

     At one time or another, anyone who is anyone will experience the joys of small scale church and school musical productions, most of which are far from musical. From Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Loewe to homespun passion plays, watching these young artistes hard at work has taught me to appreciate even the meekest one-act. I know that school plays are going to be sub-par, er, less polished, okay, laughably bad even. Let’s face it, halfway through the junior version of Annie Get Your Gun, death begins to lose its sting. Yet somehow I find the pull of a children’s musical irresistable. Sort of like watching a special kind of train wreck in which the crash victims are singing and dancing enthusiastically as their car derails. I pay my five dollars and buy my homemade lemon squares in anticipation of an evening filled with missed cues, falling scenery, off-key warblings, bathrobes used as any variety of costume and the swelling of great pride. I just can’t bear to look away.
     In my years as a patron of the somewhat-theatrically-inclined-arts, I have seen a number of breathtaking performances, including Jesus Christ Superstar minus the crucifixion, Hair minus all references to sex, drugs, alcohol, war or draft dodging (which rendered the production all of twenty minutes long),  South Pacific done admirably by all white students very poorly spray-tanned, and just the first act of Babes in Toyland, before all of the complications begin. All ranked a high eight or nine on my scale of amusing theatrical experiences, the rarely attainable ten, of course, being the highest place of honor. My scoring system is quite neanderthal; it consists simply of measuring the time spent with hands placed over my mouth in the delightful horror of wondering what daring feats they will attempt next, and the time spent counting the number of names in the program that end in “e-y.”
     I think one of my most memorable experiences with cafeteria theatre was at a Southern Baptist church. This one scored a perfect ten, by all accounts. Every city, no matter the size, has that one church that is more like a government institution than a house of worship. Just picture it; they have an enormous congregation led by the equally enourmous Brother So-And-So with an oddly pink and maroon-colored sanctuary large enough to store at least one million hymnals. Imagine my glee when the church’s parochial school decided on none other than Fiddler on the Roof for their spring musical.
     Pandemonium promptly ensued. The cast of fifty was comprised mostly of girls, and the few male cast members all played multiple roles, donning different hats and stick-on beards as “disguises” so real that I’ll bet their own mothers hardly recognized them. Orthodox Jewish customs were cast aside like Tevye’s two youngest daughters (what were their names, anyway?) and every “mazel tov” was said with a decidedly southern twang. Heads were left uncovered, girls and boys held hands while dancing in a circle for the opening and the evening was wrapped up with a speech from the program director encouraging people to joint the Christian faith. My favorite part was the tavern scene in which a half dozen or so “Russians” wearing preppy fur-collared jackets stomped up to the bartender, slammed their fists on the styrofoam scenery – thereby leaving a visible dent – and loudly proclaimed their desire to be served “milk!” It was beautiful. 
     I have noticed that beds, baths and bars are forbidden in such theatre. No matter the importance of the setting, the three ‘b’s must be avoided at all costs. Eighth graders with false facial hair may pretend to play poker, dance atop tables and shoot capguns at one another, but toasting “L’Chiem” in a bar setting is the devil’s work. Today’s youth is permitted to listen to the crudest of song lyrics and watch the most overtly sexual television shows, desensitizing them to the very concepts of virginity, sobriety and modesty, but all theatrical references to the underworld or everyone’s favorite beast of burden must be censored for the sake of their spiritual purity. I have recently come to the conclusion that it takes a much dirtier mind to find the smallest bits of evil in the most outwardly innocent activities than it does to simply take them at face value. Perhaps they are truly looking to hide their own transgressions instead of preventing new ones.
     The evening was topped off with a ten-minute long curtain call and a reprise of If I Were A Rich Man sung by the entire cast. The audience was on its feet, parents whooped, grandparents waved flower bouquets wrapped in cellophane and siblings held up signs reading “I ❤ Fyedka.” The cast rushed out into the house as soon as it was over and began the ritual of hugging and kissing their fans, all of whom live on the same street. You see, at the end of an interminably long evening of “tradition,” everyone will have forgotten the missed entrances and the overzealous french horn player in the pit. All they will remember is that they were brave enough to stand on stage, heads held high, and get treated to a big dish of ice cream on the way home from their night of theatre magic. That is why I must go. It is my duty to act from afar as Drama Club Historian and accurately preserve the true miracle of high school theatre; the miracle that, despite advanced technology, pop culture and severe budget cuts to arts programs, putting on a play at your school is still cool, still worthwhile.

That, and the miracle that Tevye’s pants didn’t fall down during the wedding dance, because it looked like they might.

 

Things I Learned at Summer Camp August 10, 2008

Filed under: Only Small Actors — jenntertainment @ 9:17 am
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Arts & Crafts class is frequently mispronounced by young children as “Carts & Afts.” Correcting them is an effort in futility.

Carts & Afts safety scissors are actually more dangerous than regular scissors because they encourage kids to try harder to cut themselves. They are amazingly successful.

Carts & Afts class seldom produces art. On rare occasions, however, the kids finish their class projects early and get to make whatever they want. Now I have an abstract pencil holder made of clay, a modernist puppy sculpture made of beads, my name written in Mandarin Chinese (though I highly doubt it) and a portrait of myself mysteriously wearing a cape with a sun on one side and a crescent moon on the other.

On the first day, everyone thinks that 10 sit-ups and push-ups are fantastically unjust. On the last day, they are so proud of themselves for reaching 100 that they hold sit-up competitions to see who is the strongest. If my one accomplishment all summer was to inspire kids to build healthier bodies, then I am satisfied.

Sometimes they hold sit-up competitions after lunch and get sick. This is not my fault.

Some of the kids actually think that I can only count up to eight.

Most boys can touch their toes more easily than most girls. I don’t know why.

Most kids think that Aerosmith is just a new version of Guitar Hero. On the flip side, they now know selections from The Rolling Stones, Kiss and Pat Benetar.

One kid thinks the lyrics to the Beatles song Saw Her Standing There says “I’d rather dance with your mother – ooh!” 

Kids that are allergic to nuts and wheat can’t eat jack.

My co-workers can get out of work for any number of fascinating problems. They have managed to get caught in a tornado, have their house struck by lightning, sit on a bee, flush their keys down the toilet and fall into a cactus patch.  

A band-aid and a Capri-Sun can heal all wounds.

Kids are like parrots; they stop talking when you turn off the lights.

According to our campers, July 18 was Act Like a Mime Day. This is the best day of the year because the children don’t talk…ON PURPOSE. They also wear striped shirts and berets and pretend to be drowning or trapped in boxes for extended periods of time. Not kidding.

Ages 6-10 get dropped off and picked up at precisely the right time, bring a homemade lunch in a High School Musical lunchbox and have great audiences of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, teachers, friends, neighbors and people they met at the park that are amazingly supportive.

Ages 11-18 straggle in about fifteen minutes after call time, buy a frozen entree from the grocery store next door for lunch and are lucky if they get both parents in the same room. The cast is family for a lot of them. This is why we exist.