I have the pleasure of teaching in the suburbs outside of New York. These kids are great. They are exposed to enough of the ‘big city’ to be spunky and sassy but are still surrounded by the shelter of a small town in the suburbs. For a good while I never had the experience of really knowing a born and bred NYC/Brooklyn/Queens kids. The first time I was ever exposed to this rare breed of human was in college. A good friend of mine was a born and raised Brooklyn boy who went to performing arts school in the city. I found that this college freshman was more independent than I am even today, was sharper in large social situations, was more savvy when it came to getting from place to place and most importantly was so aware of the world around him and because of this had a type of confidence some would say was cocky, yet I would say, was honest. Of course, this is NOT to say that kids who grow up in even the smallest of hamlets cannot develop these skills, but rather that NYC kids tend to be exposed to far more at a young age than those of us who grew up in other places.
Urban Dictionary Defines Teen Angst As:
When teenagers, for any number of reasons combined with their hormones and stress from school, get depressed. Contrary to popular beleif, some teenagers actually do have it rough and have to deal with shit most adults don’t have to. Other teens don’t and just like to pretend they do. Either way, everyone has a right to be pissed off
Does any adult remember what it was like to be a teenager? Does any adult remember it sucking so much? I don’t, and most people I know don’t. We all think of our teenage years as care-free, fun, exciting. Yes, of course there was some hardship in there,some bullying, some bad chunks of time (especially if you were/are a theater kid) but the bulk of memories we have of our teenage years, are positive ones. Why is that? Is it because we were honestly so happy as teenagers OR is it because we grew up and realized our teenager problems aren’t as bad as the real life ones we have to deal with now OR is it because as teenagers everything felt like it was the most important thing? I honestly, don’t know the answer.
The past few weeks have been a challenge for me as a teacher. I have been dealing with a lot of students who look miserable and unhappy. High school does not seem to be sitting well with them and I find that every week the bags under their eyes get worse and the little glow in their faces dim a bit. They walk heavier, they smile less, they laugh less and they hug each other more. At first I thought they were out partying or have been up late studying, but the longer I spend with them, the more I realize it is more than that. I keep wanting to tell them, ‘you ain’t seen nothin yet’ but that doesn’t seem as though it will accomplish anything. So I sit on the sidelines and wait for an opportunity to let them express themselves through their dancing, vocals or even lines in a show. Some shows make make this easier than others. As discussed in a previous post, very few theater students nowadays want to do Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma… why? Because they don’t connect to the characters or the stories. Shows like Spring Awakening are what draw students in because those characters are dealing with the same issues (I hope not ALL the same issues) as them. Here’s a new show to add to the teen angst list…. Carrie: The Musical.
Teaching ‘peanuts’ is never anything short of entertaining. I define a peanut as a student between the ages of 6 and 12. Peanuts are a rare breed to me. They are an age I have yet to really figure out. They are smart, yet naive. They are cute, yet annoying. They are endearing, yet frustrating. They are not quite self-sufficient but they are really bright and tend of have a lot of great thoughts. Now teenagers, pish posh, I can figure out teenagers in a matter of an hour. I think it is because I remember being a teenager and I really have no clear memories of being a peanut.
Teaching peanut theater is always really rewarding. You see them start at such a basic level and then grow in to these little performing monkey’s. However, with any new hobby or activity, you have to learn structure, the rules, how the game is played. There aren’t ‘rules’ per say in theater, rather, a language you have to be fluent in. Words like downstage, upstage, props, blocking, house, deck etc. To me, these words are so commonly used I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know them. However, it is part of my job as a theater educator to spend the time in rehearsal going over the language of theater to not only give the kids a great experience, but to give them the proper tools to continue on to a higher level of theater, if they so choose.
In rehearsal last week with the peanuts, I was staging bows. A very wise professor told me that bows are the most important part of the show because they are the last taste the audience gets before they leave the theater. It is because of this, that I take bows very seriously and make sure they are as clean, if not cleaner, than the rest of the show. Bows with peanuts are always interesting. You really get to see the personalities of the kids. Some kids will run right out to center stage and give some grandiose curtsey or wave. On the opposite side of the spectrum you get the kids who bow and walk at the same time. They are so nervous to stand still or be to be the focus of attention that they just keep moving. This particular cast of peanuts last week, were all over the place. Some kids were taking longer than others, some kids wanted to hold hands while they bowed, some kids looked like they would rather be fence shopping with their parents than be on stage, the list goes on. After running it once, I stopped and explained that the proper way to bow is with your hands at your side and that you must raise your body up a little bit before you bow forward. I gave an example and they all followed in suit. Than I asked, ‘Can anyone tell me why we bow?’
The cutest little boy raises his hand and with all the confidence in the world says, ‘to stretch our backs after the show’.
I don’t think my jaw has ever dropped to the floor the way it did in that moment. I was speechless. Firstly, what an amazingly clever answer and secondly, what an amazingly wrong answer. Although, I believe my jaw hitting the floor was more based on the cleverness aspect.
After a chuckle of laughter from the students and a guffaw from the creative staff, I told the little boy that while that was a very interesting and good answer, historically, it is not the reason we bow to the audience. We bow to say thank you for coming to the show, for paying all this money to see me, for applauding. It is an act of gratitude. The peanut didn’t look even a little embarrassed. He said ‘okay’ and we moved on.
I wish I could be in that kids head for the five minutes prior to this conversation. I am so curious how a peanut brain works. How he is so confident in what he is saying that he can just scream it out with no worry as to how it will make him look to the other cast members? Did he really think that bowing was to stretch your back? Did he hear it somewhere? Peanuts intrigue me for that reason. You really never know what will come out of their mouth or how they will interpret something. All I can do is teach the proper theater language and history and hope it sticks. However, I know a lot of what the students say sticks with me. I learn new things every day from them. Now every time I bow, I will pay more attention to how nice that stretch feels on my lower back after a long performance. Thanks peanut!
*This blog post makes me uncomfortable and is slightly personal but it was too good to pass up writing about.
I work in the theater and dance worlds so when it comes to a love life, men flirting with me or what have you, it is pretty much non-existant. I also went to the number 2 most gay friendly college in the country. It was more common to have a big comment on your hairdo or great shoes than it was to have discussing how hot you were with his guy friends. We had t-shirts that said ‘I’m a girl and I go to Emerson College…at least I got some in high school.’ I did not own that shirt, but the concept is brilliant and sadly true. I am not gonna lie, being flirted with, hit on or spoken about in that manner, by the appropriate person of course, is such a wonderful feeling. It gives you a sense of confidence and power that cannot be compared to anything else. I am a firm believer that confidence should come from within but help from a foxy gentlemen friend is not the worst thing in the world. However, when one is hit on or spoken about in a sexual way but a inappropriate person, a student to be exact, it doesn’t bring confidence as much as it brings fear for my job and a uncomfortable day at work.
This holiday season I was fortunate enough to work at a great little theater camp. As in many theater camps, there are 5 boys out of 60 students attending this 3-day theater extravaganza. The kids break up into 4 groups, split by age and travel throughout the day between four different instructors all of whom teach a dance. Group 3 is a lucky group! They not only have 2 boys but the only males counselor in the program. Boys will be Boys, flocking to the male counselor to discuss sports teams and rough house with them, hoping they will be able to exude their manly nature while being surrounded by all these little girls wearing pink. However, after my first class with group 3, this lone male counselor was ill prepared for the comments one of his ten year old campers would make.
‘Lexie has a huge butt’
‘I can’t stop looking at it’
(For the record: it is not THAT big)
The next day in my class, before I heard this story from the counselors, the little boy, fascinated with my large booty, stood behind me in class, barely danced, fixated on something … Something close to his eye level. I noticed that he wasn’t paying attention in class but I just assumed he was tired, ate too much, was overwhelmed with the choreography etc. It wasn’t until after my 2nd class that the counselors gave me the heads up. Honesty, I’m glad I was blissfully unaware while teaching because when I found out I actually had to walk away because I was laughing so hard and the brightest shade of red I have ever been.
The last day of camp I wore sweatpants and a sweater that came down to cover my rear end. I did not gain confidence or any sort of power by a ten year old thinking I have a big butt. If anything, I think he may have given me a complex and a fear of form fitting dance attire.
Kids make me feel old. Specifically, teenagers make me feel old. Old and conservative. Sometimes I assume that those two things go hand and hand, but they don’t. I find as the years go on, I am becoming more conservative than some of the kids parents. Where girls are coming to rehearsal in shorts that leave little to the imagination, I am wearing jeans in the middle of the summer. Where 10 year old girls are walking in with blush, mascara, lipgloss and blue eyeshadow, I long for the days when I didn’t have to wear makeup to hide the giant bags under my eyes. I get that times are a changin’ but I can’t seem to hop on board when it comes to my students. This manifests itself both in the way I act in my non-teacher life and the life lessons I find myself bestowing on the students
I will be the first to admit that it doesn’t take a lot for my slightly bitter and sarcastic heart to be warmed by the words or actions of the students I am surrounded by. They are a constant ego boost as many of my ‘regulars’ think that I can do anything. They help shed light on how ‘cool’ something might be when I am feeling jaded. They are a constant reminder of how happy I am not to be their age anymore, as even the most trivial things seem as if the apocalypse is coming. But the thing I am always taken a back by are the rare moments when I get a flash of them all grown up. Where they say something or do doing that surpasses the wisdom of a 16-year-old and makes the 23-year-old in front of them take in a breath of fresh, mature, non-jaded, non sarcastic air. On a rather uncomfortable Sunday during Spring Awakening rehearsal (what Spring Awakening rehearsal wasn’t somewhat uncomfortable?) I sat with a 16 year-old to talk about friendship.
We all remember what it was like to be in high school or worse, middle school. It was dreadful. Friendship was a word used on bracelets and broken heart necklaces but no one had any real idea of what it meant. With the slam of a locker or a three-way phone call, you could lose your ‘best friend’. You were trapped between the anxiety of feeling like someone was mad at you and the knowledge that the probability of someone being mad at you was almost 75%. I never envy my kids for this reason. Especially the girls. I see them coming in to rehearsal crying, angry, upset, gossiping about the details. I want to tell them it doesn’t matter. But it does matter.
For the past year I have been employed to teach dance classes at a youth theater theater studio. This is NOT to be confused with a dance studio. A dance studio is where children learn technique, turns, tricks, and sometimes go to ‘Dance Mom’ like competitions. Now I LOVE me a good dance studio but I am not completely qualified to be teaching at a place like that. My skills are in musical theater dance. Telling a story, acting through song, giving 110% energy in every movement you do. That sort of thing. If you asked me to whip off a quadruple turn, I could attempt it but 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t land it. My job was to teach kids the basic, box step, pivot, three point turn and watch them grow into great actors who could move well for the stage. All these kids want to be in musicals not on Dance Mom’s.
I was definitely sad to be going to my final class this past week. Especially my Broadway 1 class. These 7-10 year old kids are wonderful, adorable, energetic kids who adored my class as much as I adored them.
It was the final dance class, so in true ‘last day of class’ fashion, we got some donuts and drinks and sat around and chatted for the last few minutes of class. I asked them all what they were doing for the summer. (stagedoor, stagedoor, shows, shows, shows and one basketball camp… weird). But I also wanted to see what the response would be if I asked them this question.
So, tell me what you learned in dance class this year?
I look very young for my age. I remember a time when I walked into the middle school I choreograph for and the security guard asked me where my hall pass was. I am carded for alcohol, R rated movies and am constantly mistaken for a teenager or a college student. Mind you, I am not far from a college student but still, when you hold a college degree you hope that there is a certain level of maturity and wisdom that radiates around you. The only thing radiating around me is a gaggle of teenage boys thinking I am their age.
Disclaimer: This post includes adult language and content
I remember when I was in high school, a top contender for our spring musical was ‘Sweet Charity’. Some of the ‘powers that be’ thought it was a little too mature for high school kids, with the main character being a ‘lady of the night’ and all. In high school, I never wanted to do the typical ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Oklahoma’ and thankfully, neither did the fabulous men who ran the drama program. I have grown up to respect and even adore some of the classic musical theater shows but as a kid, you couldn’t get me to go near them. They all sounded the same and all had a pretty similar story. Girl and guy meet, one falls in love while the other pretends not to care, usually acting rude or unfavorably to them (now a days we call this, sandbox syndrome) They fight. Something ridiculous happens with the ensemble stories, usually ending in a major ensemble number such as Sit Down Your Rockin the Boat or the Farmer and the Cowman and then poof, the lovers get together. Blah blah blah. Most kids, no matter what age, have their first experience with theater in a school setting where context has to be monitored and regulated. I get it. There are a lot of people to please when it comes to school districts, school boards, teachers, faculty and parents. However, when you are working in a tuition based theater program that requires enrollment to survive, the most important people we have to please are the students.
Most of the time, it is hard to really put some of the things that happen into a post able story. The phrase ‘you had to be there’ or ‘ you need to know the kids’ absolutely comes into play in this specific blog. Sometimes, it is just the simple one liners that come out no nowhere, cause a ruckus and then vanish that make a situation memorable and blogable (yup, blogable)
My plan is to have a series of ‘One Liner’ blogs that briefly explain the who?, what?, where?, when?, why? factors, without the epic story
Tech of Hairspray Jr was absolute hell. We were in tech from 3pm-9pm every evening after the kids had been in school all day. They were losing, as they had every right to be, but because they were losing it, the staff was also losing it. So, in an effort to keep the 15 principle characters on stage quiet, I went on stage with them during a hold to try to have a group conversation. One person talking is significantly better than 15 kids screaming.