Jenntertainment's Weblog

Adventures in children's theatre.

What I Did on My Vacation July 8, 2013

Filed under: My Job is Weirder Than Your Job — jenntertainment @ 11:29 pm
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     My favorite school activity was always Creative Writing, except for when the assignment was one of those awful “What I Did on My Vacation” journals. Other kids would write things like “I visited my grandparents in South Carolina and went fishing. It was fun.” If it was a really good vacation, they might write “We went to Disney World and my brother threw up on Space Mountain.”

     My summer journals were never so mundane. In fact, I still have one from the fourth grade that reads like this:

     “I had a lot of rehearsals on this ‘vacation.’ You couldn’t really call it a vacation, though, since I feel like I worked harder than I do when I’m at school. We had rehearsals almost every day for a play we’re doing called Gypsy and even though I’m only in the first act, there is a lot to be done. Gypsy is a play about a real-life stripper named Gypsy Rose Lee, and I play her when she’s a little girl (before she’s a stripper, that is).

     “When I’m not on stage, I’m usually helping backstage with costumes or microphones. It was really difficult finding ways to hide the microphones this time, since most of the girls hardly wear anything, but my dad says that I’m the expert. I also get to help Michelle with all of her costume changes, which keeps me pretty busy because she’s the lead. We also had to paint and build the set, and that takes a long time. Some nights we were there until two or three in the morning, but to be honest, I like those nights the best.

     “My favorite part of the play is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” That’s when all the different strippers show off their routines, like light-up panties, butterfly wings and Mazeppa who likes to ‘bump it with a trumpet.’ It’s so funny.  After all that work, mom says we need a vacation from our vacation. I agree.”

     It may come as no surprise that I rarely got to read my reports out loud. Not all of my essays were about strippers; some were about learning how to load fake guns, getting makeup lessons from drag queens, or explaining the origin of the term avante garde, which I learned during a production of Mame. I vividly remember consulting my teacher’s aide about how to spell it, but she simply raised her eyebrows and said “Well, if it ain’t in the dictionary, and if I ain’t heard of it, then it ain’t a real word.” That was the first time I ever felt smarter than an adult.

     What did my teachers think I was doing with my nights and weekends, and how many times did they consider calling child services? Fortunately, my principal acted alongside me in many productions, including Gypsy, and we had a secret pact. “You never tell anyone at school that you’ve seen me dance in chaps,” he bribed, “and I’ll give you excused absences on your opening nights.”  It was a pretty good deal.

     A few of my friends were also theatre kids, raised in similarly unconventional environments. Like me, my friend Laura loathed Career Day assignments, because neither of us could explain our parents properly. While I tried to enlighten my classmates on the intricacies of the burlesque striptease, she had to tell everyone that her father sang at outdoor festivals dressed as Uncle Sam.

     The confused faces of our peers were the first signs to us that we were a little different. Then we both grew up and found out that not everyone has a costume closet in their house, and that most people spend their 4th of July attending fireworks shows, not standing outside on the roof of an 18-wheeler wearing earplugs and watching your mother call pyro shots in time to the 1812 Overture.

     I was quite content to lead a double-life; one filled with reading, writing, and kickball; the other filled with music, glitter, and provocative dances. The thing is, you don’t realize that your family is different until someone tells you so. But 17 years later, with a house in the suburbs and a job that sometimes requires fishnets, I still struggle to answer the simple question of “What do you do?” without feeling like that little kid standing in front of her class, reading an essay about strippers.

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Career Day February 24, 2012

Every Spring, we get invited to speak at a circuit of career day assemblies at local elementary schools. Most of these fairs are held in the school’s gymnasium or lunch room and feature grown-up after grown-up talking dryly about their jobs in finance or law while students try not to fall asleep. Usually crammed between fractions and lunch time, these assemblies seem to be less about helping students find answers to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and more about grown-up show and tell. When faced with a room full of kids, every adult wants to look hip, even if they’re talking about accounting.

The good part is that working at a children’s theatre looks like the height of glamour and excitement if you’re still in the fourth grade. When compared side by side with a career as an insurance salesman or a dental hygienist, we look like the bomb. While other vendors give kids free calculators and samples of toothpaste, we do demonstrations of puppetry and fencing! Plus, we give them real pirate gold to take home. I don’t want to brag, but we’re kind of a tough act to follow. Especially if you’re a software engineer and give a Power Point presentation about how to make Power Point presentations.

I imagine that we’re quite annoying to everyone else at the fair. Nicely polished, sensibly-suited professionals come in to speak to students about their work, armed with flow charts that depict the staggering number of years of college you will need to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. All while we make balloon animals and wear silly hats. Take that, rocket science! Why study to be a lawyer when you can just play one on tv?

Our biggest competition at these events is the local petting zoo, which for some inexplicable reason always brings baby alligators to the assembly. Call me crazy, but I consider any reptile that must be contained in a steel cage with a leather strap around its mouth to be an ineligible candidate for a petting zoo, and I would encourage said alligator to seek employment elsewhere. Of course, the kids go crazy over reptiles and the presumably badass park rangers that work with them. I would rather lick a public toilet than pet a baby alligator, but that is just one of the many things that makes me different from a 9-year-old boy.

No matter your position on baby alligators, I think we can all agree that the worst person to be at a fourth-grade job fair is the funeral director. It’s a hard sell, especially when your handout is a pamphlet on grief counseling and your show-and-tell consists of formaldehyde, embalming fluid, and a baby casket.

~ I’d like to take a moment to remind you that this blog is a work of non-fiction and that I’m not making any of this up. These elementary school job fairs actually have baby alligators and baby caskets, and if I ever find out who’s in charge of coordinating these things, I plan on writing a formal complaint. ~

At the end of the assembly, the students have to rank each career from “Most Appealing” to “Least Appealing.” Then they must compare and contrast the answers to four questions in the hopes that they will, at the ripe age of 9, discover their true calling in life based on a systematic matrix of data. Unfortunately, this Q&A session is when the students begin to back away from a sparkling life in children’s theatre with fear and dread in their eyes.

What are the average work hours? Always.
What is the average salary? Hilarious.
What skills are necessary for this profession? Creativity, passion, insomnia, patience, tact, and hot-gluing.
What advice would you offer someone who is interested in pursuing this field? Don’t get a dog.

After all that, dental hygiene starts to look pretty good.

Joking aside, I have to admit that, despite how much I truly love my job, I don’t really consider children’s theatre to be a viable career option for, well, most people. Just like other fairy tale professions (Princess, Cowboy, Mattress Tester), there is no career path or road sign that points directly to “Children’s Theatre Director,” even if you’ve taken the time to get one of those highfalutin MFAs (and believe me, those first two letters don’t stand for “Master” or “Fine”). You can’t travel that route in pursuit of an amazing paycheck, incredible hours, high recognition, glitz, or glamour. Instead, you can only follow your heart down the path that says “I-Believe-I-Can-Make-the-World-a-Better-Place-by-Inspiring-Creativity-in-the-Minds-of-Tomorrow.”

What’s at the end of that path? Stay tuned. 🙂

 

What I Did On My Vacation January 3, 2009

Filed under: Jenn-eral — jenntertainment @ 4:52 am
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My favorite school activity was always the Creative Writing assignment, except for when it came time for those awful “What I Did on My Vacation” entries. Other kids would write things like “Today I slept until two o’clock, played basketball and ate macaroni and cheese.” Or sometimes “We went to visit my grandparents in South Carolina and went fishing. It was fun.” If it was a really good vacation, they might write “My family went to Disney World. Donald was my favorite.” Mine were never so direct or easy to understand. In fact, I still have one from fourth grade that reads like this:

“I had a lot of rehearsals on this ‘vacation.’ You couldn’t really call it a vacation, though, since I feel like I worked harder than I do when I’m at school. We had rehearsals almost every day for a play we’re doing called Gypsy and even though I’m only in the first act, there is a lot to be done. Gypsy is a play about a real-life stripper named Gypsy Rose Lee, and I play her when she’s a little girl (before she’s a stripper, that is).

“When I’m not on stage, I’m usually helping backstage with costumes or microphones. It was really difficult finding ways to hide the microphones this time, since most of the girls hardly wear anything, but my dad says that I’m the expert. I also get to help Michelle with all of her costume changes, which keeps me pretty busy because she’s the lead. We also had to paint and build the set, and that takes a long time. Some nights we were there until two or three in the morning, but to be honest, I like those nights the best.  
                
My favorite part of the play is “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” That’s when all the different strippers show off their routines, like light-up panties, butterfly wings and Mazeppa who likes to “bump it with a trumpet.” It’s so funny. After all that work, mom says we need a vacation from our vacation. I agree.”

It may come as no surprise that I rarely got to read my reports in their entirety, as my elementary school teachers were too afraid of what was coming next. Not all of my essays were about strippers; some were about learning how to load fake guns, makeup lessons from drag queens, or explaining the origin of the term avante garde, which I learned during a production of Mame. I have a vivid memory of consulting my second-grade teacher about the spelling of the word, since I couldn’t find it in the dictionary. She simply turned her head, raised her eyebrows and said “Well, if it ain’t in the dictionary, and if I ain’t heard of it, then it ain’t a real word.” This was the first time I ever felt smarter than an adult.

What did my teachers think I was doing with my nights and weekends, and how many times did they try to call child services? Fortunately, my principal from grades 3-6 was a community theatre participant himself. He and I acted alongside each other in many productions, including Gypsy, and we had a pact. “You never tell anyone at school that you’ve seen me dance in a cowboy costume,” he bribed, “and I’ll give you excused absences on your opening nights.”  It was a pretty good deal.

A few of my friends at school were also theatre kids, raised in unconventional environments. Like me, my friend Laura loathed What Your Parents Do at Work Day because neither of us could explain it properly. While I tried to enlighten my classmates on the intricacies of theatrical sound design, she had to tell everyone that her father was a music historian, or more aptly, a balladeer that attended outdoor festivals dressed as Uncle Sam, Henry VIII or a Civil War veteran singing jaunty, era-appropriate tunes. We would often find ourselves in conversations like this one:

ME: I can’t spend the night tomorrow, I have an opening.

THEM: A what?

ME: At the theatre. Remember, I said I was in a show?

THEM: Thee-ate-er? Like a movie?

ME: No, not a movie. A play.

THEM: A play? Like what we do here at school every Christmas?

ME: Yes, kind of.

THEM: Why’d anyone wanna do that on purpose?

ME: Well, it isn’t really like school plays. They’re better and more fun. You should come see me!

THEM: Yeah, alright.

They never came. I didn’t expect them to. I was quite content to lead a double-life, one filled with reading, writing and the dreaded arithmetic and kickball, the other filled with costumes, paint, glitter, lights, songs, dances and tangled plots that resolve in two hours or less. To this day I find it odd to answer the simple question of “so, what do you do?” without feeling like that little kid standing in front of her class, reading an essay about strippers.

 

My Uniform May 30, 2008

I run the field trip program at ‘work,’ which involves marketing, booking and performing in our educational mini-musicals that we offer to schools in our region. It is the theatre’s top-grossing program and our best community outreach tool. This year alone we hosted over 6,300 pre-K through 8th-grade students from 8 different county school systems in Georgia and 5 systems from South Carolina. An estimated 70% of all students had never seen a live play or musical before and, of the small percentage of students who had, only around half had experienced live theatre outside of their school or place of worship. So not only are these kids experiencing what its like to see live theatre, they are also performing in front of their peers, learning facts and figures about their chosen school subject AND wearing silly hats. I love this program.

That said, there are days when you just feel like a dumbass wearing a bee hat and singing about pollination. I’m the one who sells people on the great benefits of this field trip – but I’m also the one who has to wear a little bonnet and apron while I talk about good nutrition in Hansel & Gretal Eat Right, so that when I finally arrive at the witch’s candy house, I don’t eat any of it because the witch doesn’t offer me any healthy food choices. The shows are great learning tools for kids, but sometimes the reality that we are adults playing Sherlock Holmes and Watson in a science show called Geology Rocks! (get it?) is a little painful. ‘Sedimentary, my dear Watson,’ gets very few chuckles from 2nd graders. 

So, I was in a field trip this week about the establishment of the 13 Colonies, playing George Washington.  (That’s right, George Washington.) About halfway through the show, George gets arrested by the History Police for speeding through the Revolutionary War, so I get a good ten-minute break from the show and the kids. This particular day, I heard the front door open, so I stepped out into the lobby to see who it was. As luck would have it, it is my favorite UPS man bringing me some dance costumes. He comes to the theatre probably twice a week, knows my first name, recognized me at the mall one day…we’re tight. Which is why I was really surprised when he gave me this funny raised-eyebrow look when he saw me. I said hello, signed for the package, asked how his day was, all of the social niceties. Then he very politely asked me what the hell I was wearing.

It was then that I realized – I was dressed in breeches, waistcoat, jabot and a tricorner hat with my hair pulled back in a ponytail by a little black ribbon. I also had trick handcuffs on my wrists, as I had just been incarcerated for trying to make history fun. The kids on stage were getting really close to my next cue and I knew that I didn’t have time to explain to him my entire reason for being…so I just said the first sensible thing that came to my head:

“This is my uniform.”

Without missing a beat, my delivery guy said “maybe you should work for UPS instead.”

As I sprinted towards the stage, hands cuffed before me, I thought that he kind of had a point. I’m a 23-year-old girl dressed up like the Father of our Country, acting out hypothetical-at-best historical moments with third graders who are taller than me. Then I went on to say my bit about the Bill of Rights (its the perfect resolution to our living Constitution!) and I thought…nah. At least my uniform has lace.