Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Consultant of Oz

My fascination with stagecrafts continues. Sad to say, I'm almost OCD about it. I did it for so many years and still feel I have something to share. So...I just finished consulting on our local Middle School's production of "The Wizard of Oz". It was fun to be backstage again and not having that performance pressure or the discipline of the hyper/excited students..."Places!"

My local elementary school's principal, Mrs. Kinney, suggested that I might be able to help since she knew I used to do "productions". Her school was providing the "Munchkin Chorus" and the auditorium. So...I went and volunteered with Mrs.Ropppelt, the Middle School teacher/director (brave soul). She immediately referred me to Lydia Sandecki, the Art Teacher/Stage Manager. She was very open to my "suggestions" and clearly needed some "help" backstage. Her students/classes had created some beautiful sets/scenes and she had "a ton" of props to manage. She also created the "special effects" i.e. black light, smoke, mirrors, prop "water" and all the minutia "Wizard" needs. Quite an undertaking for a Middle School with more than 70 kids involved, lots of parent volunteers who built the rolling sets, did the lighting and sound effects. What a wonderful way to bring the whole "school-community" together. Eleven performances were planned but there may be less due to a snag of "no permission slips" for the rest of the middleschoolers.

They thought that I was just going to "help" push scenery around in the dark...but, early on they found out that I had other objectives. (plus my artificial hip wouldn't let me do too much). No, I was more interested in "future productions" being better organized and run by the student/leaders. Parents and Teachers continue to do so much in these massive they are providing the "experience" for their kid/school that "they didn't have or did and wanted to reprise"

My first consulting was to suggest that there be a well-defined hierarchy of backstage "jobs" and "job descriptions/expectations" of students. i.e. "Student Stage Manager, Props Manager, costumes manager, scenery grips etc. They needed to be "empowered" and challenged to make it their production as the "calm" controllers of the show - backstage - dressed in black. They had "places" to be in also, cues, and responsibilities to make the show, their show, a success. (the actors are all too excited usually) So...I suggested a "prop checklist" stuck to the tables. A complete, in order, list of what it was (they were), who took them on stage, who took them off and where they were kept for future shows. I then watched and monitored to see if that was was, very capably, by a very "in charge" student/actor named Ainsley. (?). She was then promoted to Student Stage Manager/prop manager. Suggested grips were assigned to stage left and right and a curtain operator (automatic draw) could also be the "promptor". Mrs. Sandecki was already liking these suggestions because they ultimately gave her less to do frantically in the dark.

Next I suggested, in writing (all) a "spreadsheet" on what yet needed to be done, bought, scrounged, set, repaired etc. This is always a good tool just before "tech/dress rehearsals" It also contains a column for "who is responsible for what, where and when" It forces organization backstage. Luckily the Spring Break week came after the Dress Rehearsals and before the Final Performances. So hours and hours of work were donated during that week, mainly by, dedicated teachers on their own "vacation time" and by volunteer parents and grandparents...I know, I've been there too.

My last major contribution/consultation in writing was for the importance, at this age (kid) for "Peer Recognition", and "Peer Evaluation" of what they had done individually and as a cohesive group/team backstage and on stage. I felt the need when concern was voiced about the lack of recognition/anticlimax of just the "lights and applause" of elementary students and parents. My vehicle for this was the "Wrap Party" with "Balloted Awards" (Tonis, Academy etc.) Call them the "Toto Awards" because they did have a live, well-behaved, dog on stage...and back stage being held. Have the kids consider the "values learned/taught" through productions like these in the "nomination process" of their peers (can't nominate self or best friend/popularity contest etc.) Define the nomination categories and criteria...i.e. Best Girl Supporting Actress, Best Stage Manager, Best Chorus Member etc. Then have them presented with "thankyou speeches" at the "Wrap Party with a keepsake certificate or trophy, cookie etc. This is where the learning takes place and where "fond memories" are made about school projects. Nothing wrong with mutual "stroking of egos" at this age.

We'll see if they follow my suggestions or some modified form of them. (not taking them all to a reward field trip to Universal Studios...they would be nice but, not really necessary) My opinion...but what do I know?...We took as many upper elementary kids on the longest bus trip ever after a production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" the Renaissance Faire from Claremont to Thousand Oaks area. It was not the adult fair of today, but one for students run by that old actor from "Walton's Mountain" Will ...(can't remember his name) The grandpa role...white hair, beard. The kids enjoyed all the "renaissance stage skills" i.e. sword fighting, costume making/wearing etc. Yes, this was the only time my wife went along because we had our oldest son in it. Never again...those school buses did serious damage to your kidneys and, no the temptation is there to "reward" the good, compliant kids with such an outing...not necessary. (in my, never to be humble, opinion. Bob!


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