Adventures in New York or Education from One Director (or artist) to Another (Part Two)

On Monday, July 16, a group of theater directors, teachers, community theater personal and even wanna be directors gathered on West 53rd Street in New York for the annual Broadway Teachers Workshop. The opening session was led by Nicole Kempskie (an award-winning writer, educator and theater artist) and Todd Woodard (an actor and previous Managing Director of Arts to Grow). This was a time for us to explore the problems that other organizations face and problem-solve to help each other. The take-away? Many of us face the same problems. There is comfort in knowing that my issues–the ones that make me feel like a failure –when I face them time after time–are not unique to me. We divided up into groups and each listed a problem and together thought of ways to help each other. They left the poster up all week so we could circle the room and see the other issues and answers.

My next session was with Jonalyn Saxer (swing Mean Girls, Holiday Inn, Honeymoon in Vegas). She taught a dance class….no, before you ask, I didn’t dance, but I LOVED watching!  And if I had to do it all over again I would have jumped up and tried.  I discovered many of the teachers aren’t fortunate enough to have a team of people. They direct, teach music and do the choreography. Dancing might not have been the greatest skill of all of them, but they stood up there and did their best and had fun while they were doing it….just like we request our students to do.

Lessons from Jonalyn:

  1. Your body should be stronger than what is required of you. Work out, rest, eat right.
  2. She explained exactly what a swing does. Wow. Easily the hardiest part on stage and worthy of a great deal of respect.

My next session was a projection design session which honestly was WAY over my head. I found myself sending little videos back home to our technical director.

#1 lesson: If your projection light is bright enough, black is a better surface than white. That was eye-opening for me.

The last session of the day was design for productions. We split into groups again and Tobin Ost (Set design for Newsies) assigned each group a different theater space. We all had to design a set for Jesus Christ, Superstar based on the stage space. This was extremely difficult for me as this is a play I’ve never seen so it was difficult to know what each scene required. After the breakout session we each reported on the design and why certain decisions had been made. As we reported on them it was eye-opening to see how the environment plays into the strengths/weakness of each spot.

At 8:00 we went to see Once on this Island.

I have to say, I loved the space. It was theater in the round. The moment we sat in our seats the action on the sand-filled stage began. There were goats and chickens and the actors talked and played and were fascinating to watch. The singing was fantastic although sometimes the dialect made it quite hard to understand. I know this was a Tony award-winning play. I didn’t like it. I find little use for a play that spends most of its time praying to the “gods.” I won’t spoil the end, but let me just say I felt like I had wasted my evening when the girl’s prayer wasn’t answered. When you see it, please let me know if you agree.

We had a talk-back with the cast afterwards. What a wonderful group of people. They explained to us that this show was much more difficult than anyone knew it was going to be because they are singing and dancing on sand the whole evening and sand shifts so they are constantly trying to find their footing.  It seems my day was filled with actors telling me the toil musical theater takes on bodies!

All-in-all it was a tiring day, but very informative and fun!

This is just me, trying to be a better director!

Let me know if you have questions or comments about any of these things or if you have seen Once On This Island!

Until next time,

Reba