The Silent Head Shake (or… Audience Etiquette)

To be a member of an audience for a live performance is to hold a certain amount of power.

Think about it.

Actors prepare weeks in advance to bring the public their very best.  Their work is exposed for the audience to either praise or pan.  The energy a full house brings to the performance can lift the spirits of those on stage and behind the scenes or. . .

…it can create a bitter enmity.

The same show across multiple performances can see quiet and defiant patrons as well as laughing and appreciative audiences.  And the comments backstage will reflect the actors’ read on the participants in the seats.

George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This house is AWESOME.  They get the jokes and applaud after every scene!”

or. . .

“Did you see the girl on her cell phone?”

or. . .

“Why are they SO DEAD today?”

or. . .

"Albert Guillaume Au theatre" by Albert Guillaume - Bonhams. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Albert Guillaume Au theatre” by Albert Guillaume
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons

“I thought we were sold out.  Why are there so many empty seats?”

Because of the amount of work and personal investment that goes into every performance, actors, directors, and technicians tend to get emotionally involved in the response.  We LOVE a committed, attentive, and receptive patron.  We loathe the individual who strolls in late, yawns a lot, looks around, checks their social media, and leaves at intermission.

A few years ago, in an attempt to curb some inappropriate behavior emanating from our house, we published suggestions for audience etiquette in one of our programs.  Here are a few excerpts from that production’s bill:

Thank you for your attendance this evening.  We are grateful for your support of our theatre department, and we hope that tonight’s experience is a wonderful one.  In addition to our commitment to the students, it is part of our mission to inform and educate those who attend our programs.  To that end, please note the following guidelines regarding audience etiquette.  Many are not aware of the distractions that can occur during a performance that will hinder the work of the actors and/or diminish the experience of other audience members.

  1. TEXTING – Texting or checking social media is a major no-no.  The light in a dark house will catch an actor’s eye quicker than a falling set piece, and any distraction is dangerous.  It can also irritate those around you.  We also know when you try to hide it in your hand, cupped to your stomach, beneath your legs, or in your purse.
  2. HARD CANDY – Unwrapping hard candy or cough drops in the middle of a performance can be heard throughout the hall.  The sound of the plastic wrapper in your hands as you struggle to free the immovable treat takes those around you out of the illusion of the play.  It can kill an emotional moment: the lovers are about to kiss… and crack, shuffle, crack, twist, crack!  Unwrap before the show begins.
  3. BABIES – University theatre, unfortunately, is not for infants and young toddlers.  Some of our plays contain content that is for mature audiences only.  We tend to panic when we see a patron bring in his/her youngest family member.  Times are tough, and we know that hiring a sitter is not always an option.  We will be understanding as long as you sit on an aisle and exit as soon as the child becomes an interruption.
  4. UNPLANNED EXITS – Emergencies happen; that’s okay. For your comfort, we always note in the program how long an act will be before you get a break. Please look for this and plan accordingly.

    "Albert Guillaume Les retardataires" by Albert Guillaume  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

    “Albert Guillaume Les retardataires” by Albert Guillaume
    Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  5. SLEEPING – Frankly, we’d rather you nap at home.  Not all shows are exciting all the time; we know this well.  But, we simply cannot afford to bring you an action movie in play form, and the students are working to learn the art.  Your kind attention is deeply appreciated.
  6. MAKING OUT – Eww.  No.  Just… no.  We are committed, however, to bringing you realistic kissing scenes when the script calls for it.  Enjoy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Have I seen each and every one of those happen in one or more of our performances in my time here?

Yep.

And sometimes we just feel like giving up on humanity when audiences do not practice good manners.  For example, in a recent production, a couple brought in a baby.  Our front-of-house staff tried to dissuade them from the show, explaining the loud noises and mature content (which was clearly stated on all our promotional materials and website).  The couple insisted on attending.  Our house manager asked them to please sit near the exit door in case the child should wake and cry.  They declined, insisting that the infant would sleep through the show.  They sat on the other side of the theatre, where they would have to cross the stage to exit.

"Emil Mayer 043" by Emil Mayer - Damals in Wien.   Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Emil Mayer 043″ by Emil Mayer – Damals in Wien.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

This was also the one performance we had planned to film after receiving written permission from the playwright.

I’m sure you can guess what happened.  And instead of carrying the infant out the two times he cried, they turned to their fellow audience members and proclaimed, “We’re not leaving.”  The video?  Ruined.  The performance?  Strained.  The audience?  Antagonistic towards this couple.  Our faith in humanity?  *silent head shake*

All this is to say, we do this, in large part, for you—our audience!  We would be nowhere without our patrons.  We thrive on your attendance and participation.  We listen carefully to your feedback and response.  We pour ourselves out for you in the hopes that we can awaken an appreciation for the art form, for the issues addressed in the text, and for the talent and growth seen in the students.

Without you, our work is just another rehearsal.

And respecting the work . . . that’s just good manners.

TEL

That Unspeakable Something (or… The Power of Design)

The design process of a play is so important to any production.  It can literally make or break a work… apart from the direction or performances.  Design is that often unspeakable something that takes your breath away when the curtain parts.  It is a feast for the eyes (or ears) that works together with actors to bring the playwright’s world to life.

Design often starts with a concept–a sort of unifying theme or principle that will drive the vision of the play—normally proposed by the director or the team as a whole.  An audience will usually be unaware of this concept except for its subconscious weight.  However, if a design concept works and is well executed, then the patron will have a sense that something elevated the production to a whole new level.

For ETBU’s production of Eurydice (a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth), our approach was the mythological and the mundane conceptualized by transforming the underworld into a sewer complete with the river Styx and a Greek mosaic in the shape of a manhole cover.  The surface was scenically rendered as a boardwalk and lit with a bright daylight look.  This concept was rather easy to formulate; the work was rife with imagery that demands an otherworldly design.  Every aspect would adhere to the concept.  The costumes would circumvent the globe and the centuries to help pull in iconic looks from different cultures and time periods—both heroic and common.  The sound design permeated the air with drips, rainfall, and flowing currents as well as music from various centuries.  Lighting complimented the atmosphere, distinguishing between the world of the living and the realm of the dead.  The result was an environment that engulfed the audience through its proximity and substance.

The Set from Eurydice

The Underworld Set and Lighting Design from Eurydice
Scenic Design: Stacy Bone
Lighting Design: Josh Closs

For our production of Pride and Prejudice, it wasn’t easy to articulate a concept for the simple fact that Jane Austen isn’t known for her imagery.  In fact, the only recurring “symbol” in the adaptation were personal letters.  We were also tasked with time-period realism, multiple outdoor and indoor scenes, and a need for simplicity because of the number of set changes.  Our concept became that of “an open book”—honoring Austen’s work as a novelist.  The set was designed to look like an open book (complete with title page inscribed on the center panel) while at the same time resembling a structure that could serve as both interior walls and exterior buildings.  Each Bennet sister was given a “color of ink” in which their costumes would be predominantly designed: Jane was blue, Elizabeth was green, Mary was brown, Kitty was yellow, and Lydia was pink and red; the goal was that they would stand out from the parchment color of the set, representing their respective personalities.

The Set (Interior) and Costumes for Pride and Prejudice Costume Design: Sarah Bussard Scenic Design: Traci Ledford Lighting Design: Stacy Bone

The Set (Interior) and Costumes for
Pride and Prejudice
Costume Design: Sarah Bussard
Scenic Design: Traci Ledford
Lighting Design: Stacy Bone

The Set and Lighting as an Exterior Location for Pride and Prejudice

The Set and Lighting as an Exterior Location for
Pride and Prejudice

Ultimately, a designer must give as much to the production as the director and actors.  When I queried my colleagues about their responsibility to a play, one responded:  “As a designer, my task is threefold: to give the audience as much information as possible about the environment, the characters, the purpose of the story; supporting the director’s vision of how the story should be told; and giving the actors a safe environment where they can play.”

A designer should therefore be a strong communicator both in conversations with the director and in their designs; they must also be imminently practical with the budget and protective of the artists on stage.

To achieve their goals, designers must be able to analyze the script for imagery as well as necessity.  Obviously, research is of paramount importance… Designers must be armed with a broad knowledge of architecture, furniture, fabric, texture, music, shape, line, color, and décor throughout the centuries.  They must be able to problem solve quick scenic or costume changes (or know how to cover them with lighting and sound effects).  Technology in the field is constantly changing as well, so understanding how to program the newest light board or edit sound with the latest software can often be a real challenge.

And what breaks my heart is that so often their hard work goes on behind the scenes without much in the way of applause.  Or understanding.  Or appreciation.  It bears repeating: it is a massively time intensive collaboration to go from director’s approach to finished product involving the cooperation and investment of many, many people.

The next time you venture to see a show, I would encourage you to stop for a second and appreciate the details: the scenic elements, the subtleties and intricacies of the lighting design, the color and contour of the costumes, the personality contained within the makeup and hairstyle of each character, the aural environment of sound, and the nuances that complete the world through set dressing or props.  Then look for their names in the program.  After the conclusion, seek them out if they are onsite.  Shake their hand.  Acknowledge the product or praise their talent.  Spread a good word about the work they do.

Their labor and partnership are invaluable to me, and the results dependent upon their talent and efforts.

So to all the designers out there… thank you.

TEL

Everyone Is a Critic (or… Respecting the Work)

“You’re only as good as your last blog.”  Those are the words ringing through my head right now as I fight writer’s block.  That’s not a good sign when you’re only on blog #4.

Those words echo what I hear every time I select and direct a show.

“You’re only as good as your last show.”

I know exactly where those words come from.  I know they aren’t healthy and, furthermore, that they aren’t the truth.  Ironic as it may sound, I *know* my self-worth is not found in my performance.  But what I feel… that’s a different matter.  Heart over head sometimes, right?

Most times, actually.

We live in a day and age where everyone is a critic.  With the advent of the internet, anonymous vitriol is as easy as the click of a button.  Don’t like a restaurant?  Leave an anonymous review.  Displeased with a doctor?  Write a scathing diatribe against her practice.  Inconvenienced by a store clerk?  Send an email to his boss.

And if you’re in the entertainment business?  Boy, oh boy.  Everyone is an authority.

In my twenty-five years as a director, I’ve heard some doozies.

One patron, after a three-hour show, complained as she was leaving, “Why did it have to be so long?  At least they could have told us it would be that long.”  We did.  It was written in the program.  What else can we say?  Sometimes we do shows that are classics.  And the classics tend to be long.

One didn’t like a rug we used as part of a set design.

One didn’t care for the playwright.  Found her annoying.

One said I was “still learning my craft.”  At this point, I had two degrees and twenty years of experience.

As recently as a few years ago, I heard a young patron exclaim in the lobby at the conclusion of a show,

“Well, that was awful!”

I was standing right next to him.  And I felt the rage climb up out of the dark recesses of my heart and find its voice in my own.  I zeroed in on him with cold precision and said, “You need to leave.”  He looked at me in complete disbelief.  I repeated myself, lest he misunderstand.  “You need to leave… now.”  Then he understood.  Then it registered all over his face.  He immediately stammered out, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

“Well, you did.  Leave.  Now.”

He did.

Not my proudest moment.  But I did not want my students to hear that.  And I did not want my heart to hear that.  We had just finished five weeks of 12-15 hour days to launch the show.  We had fought budgetary limitations, casting woes, calendar conflicts, rental costume mistakes, and a ton of multimedia issues.  Memorization alone was deeply challenging for several of the actors.  Sleep deprivation had claimed most of us, but we pressed on; for every minor victory, there seemed to be some major setback.

The play was tough material, to be sure, but worthy of examination.  It asked the audience to engage their minds, to sit up and follow the subtle clues dropped by the playwright, and to ask hard questions in the end about life, responsibility, and reality.  It was meta-theatrical and self-referential.  It’s textbook canon, for crying out loud!

Either this patron wasn’t up for that… or we failed in our attempt.

Did we fail in our attempt?

I don’t know.  We seem to forget the kind things people say.  Though I am sure there were several for this particular production, I can’t seem to remember them.  I remember the putdown.

But it taught me something.  It taught me to respect the work no matter who the producing company is.  It reminded me to stop and look at the minutiae in the piece.  Someone typed that program.  Someone designed the artwork for the poster.  Someone painted the detail on that set.  Another hung and cabled those lights.  Still another stitched the trim on that gown.  Another choreographed the fights.  Another braced those platforms.  Who collected the props?  Who styled the wigs?  Who sound designed or stage managed or directed the show?  How long did it take to memorize those lines?  It is such a hugely collaborative process that the amount of man-hours invested would be near impossible to count.  And that amount of work–that crushing and unyielding amount of work–I will respect that.

How many details can you discern from a single photo from a production?

How many details can you discern from a single photo of a production?

Admittedly, we may not like the end result.  And I believe differing opinions are valid and healthy.  But I will not speak unkindly in their house.  I will not speak unkindly in their house.

TEL

What are you thankful for?

Ahhh Thanksgiving….

Photo Credit: dog.happy.art via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dog.happy.art via Compfight cc

Many a blog post has been written about Thanksgiving not really being about the turkey, not about the food, and all about family! Not necessarily on this page, but you know what I mean.

So for this blog, I want to tell you about my Thanksgiving break assuming that you already know all of the above. Why beat a dead turkey, you know?

I am blessed to usually be able to spend Thanksgiving with my family. My parents and sister live in Nebraska, which is really far away from Texas, yet somehow we manage to meet up for this holiday!

Last year, they came to our house in Marshall. This year, we all met in New Orleans and had SO MUCH FUN!!

If you’ve been to NOLA at all, you know that all the food we had was awesome. And the shopping was great too!

But now that I’m reflecting on the trip, I can see that I also learned/was reminded to be thankful for a whole lot. And that’s what I’d like to share today.

1. I am thankful for the hospitality of the south.

As you can see, it was super cute, and really close to the French Quarter!

As you can see, it was super cute, and really close to the French Quarter!

We tried something new on this trip; instead of the six of us (both my parents, my husband and I, my sister and her husband) paying for 3 hotel rooms for 4 nights, we found a house to rent from AirBnB.com.

It was just really nice to be able to stay in a neighborhood and get the full experience of New Orleans :)

2 women own this house, and they left us all kinds of necessities like shampoo, soap, hair products, a hair dryer, etc.

Their hospitality was just amazing!

2. I am thankful for the rebirth of New Orleans since Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was living in Nebraska. I have a whole lot of family who live down here though, so I still felt some of the effects personally.

street

I have one uncle who lives in Kenner (about 30 minutes from New Orleans), and he and his wife had to evacuate and rebuild their home like so many others.

Seeing the city back to life on this trip made me so happy! There were lots of musicians, street performers, artists, and tourists back on the street like it used to be!

You can still tell that the storm had lasting effects on everything. Even some of the street art we saw was made out of reclaimed Katrina wood, or wood from the rebuilding of houses, etc.

The people have picked themselves up though, and I love that spirit!

3. I am thankful for my husband.

I am thankful for my husband every day, but he was especially wonderful on this trip. You see, he was crazy sick.

Coughing and snot-filled, he drove us to New Orleans and still managed to have a great time while we were there!

Admittedly, he couldn’t taste the beignets at Cafe du Monde on the first day (TRAGEDY!), but we went back the next day just for him :)

Photo Credit: nerdling via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nerdling via Compfight cc

It was a real hardship!

So all in all, we had a great Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a great one too, and that you can remember what you’re thankful for!

AL

Real Live Prof

Spoiler Alert! If you are thinking about applying for a position of Spring Blogger for ETBU, maybe you shouldn’t read this. Or, maybe you should …

My biggest impression was that I was surprised at how much work and effort this discipline really takes, at least for me. My regular Fall preparation for classes is generally lighter than is my Spring schedule. (3 preparations in the Fall, and 4 in the Spring). Even so, blogging filled out my schedule every week. Maybe I should not admit this but it usually took me 4 to 5 hours per week to get the blog done. I found myself thinking about the week’s topic (or trying to think of a topic!) for hours, usually on the way from Longview to Marshall. Once I had settled on a topic, I would try to write the bulk of it in one session. The next day, or later, I would try to edit it some more (often based on commuting musings). Finally, posting day would arrive, and I would edit and even, correct it all again. I would often try to include a picture, which I would snap with my phone, edit, and then get uploaded, cross loaded and placed just so. Plus, I had to learn a new software program, which is always a challenge. (Now it sounds more like 6 or 7 hours.)

My second biggest impression was that I was so glad I had decided to attempt this project in the first place. It has done me a world of good. The first benefit I realized was that as I was trying to introduce readers to my discipline, (sociology), I realized again why I had been attracted to it in the first place. I am not sure, but I might have fallen in love with sociology all over again. A second benefit was that as I was attempting to integrate my faith and teaching, I realized I was much more deliberate about trying to find those teaching moments and launching them when doing so seemed most appropriate. A third benefit for me was the realization that I am a feedback addict, though not so much from students. I loved and benefitted from long discussions about up- coming topics with several colleagues. I may even be guilty of plagiarizing a few of their brilliant thoughts. A fourth benefit was having a creative outlet besides just teaching. I think most people have deep thoughts (even Jack Handy) but few of us have a place to bounce those thoughts around. Writing a blog forces one to think deep thoughts and then, to commit those thoughts to “paper”. 

On the negative side of the ledger, I would have to confess that I repeated the mistake I made in seminary. I allowed deep thinking and blogging to be a substitute for the personal pursuit of face time with God. In seminary, I allowed religious course work to substitute for pursuing God personally. After all, I was studying Scripture, but not on a personal, what-does-this-mean-for-me basis. (I was never this bad, but while I was there, the school had to enact a new rule that required the students to actively participate in a local church because many of my fellow students chose to sleep in on Sunday morning.) A second drawback for me was that I realized I have a limited capacity for deep thinking, and so I wonder at what else I should have been thinking about during those times I spent thinking about the blog.  

As I am writing my last blog for this series I wonder at what will be my final takeaway. Will it be another crossed-through item on a not-yet-started bucket list? Perhaps it will be the first of several blogs. I honestly do not know, but I am so grateful for the opportunity. Thanks!                

 

Thankful

When you ask a professor to reflect on and blog about her experiences in the classroom, expect there to be a bunch of grousing about students’Bashaw laziness and lack of commitment, and some lamenting about the moral decline of civilization, as seen in the youth of America.

And maybe I have done a fair amount of complaining as I have pondered the intersection of faith, teaching, students, and society this semester.

However, as I reflect on my job as an educator-counselor-learner-mentor-pastor-motivational speaker, there is much more for which I am thankful.

  • I am thankful that God has allowed me to work in a career that demands constant learning, that challenges me to get better and know more every day;
  • I am thankful for the privilege and challenge of teaching the Bible, in its messiness and glory, and for the opportunity to communicate my love for Scripture with my students.
  • I am thankful for daily deadlines (and I also curse this!), that I must keep on top of things and strive for excellence not just for my own improvement but for the education of others.
  • I am thankful for the constant interaction with young people, which forces me to learn how to tweet, compels me to learn new colloquialisms (that’s ill!), and keeps me in touch with the challenges and contributions of this up-and-coming generation.
  • I am thankful for flexibility of my classroom, that my teaching need not fit into a rubric or someone else’s expectation. I can lecture or use pod casts or facilitate discussion or show youtube clips or encourage journaling or sing songs or have confession time, depending on what best communicates a particular subject to my students at a particular time.
  • I am thankful for the teamwork involved in a university setting, that professors and administrators and maintenance crew and IT and cafeteria workers and student workers and resident directors all work together for one noble goal–to provide the best education for our students.
  • And I am thankful for my students: students who are trusting enough to listen and learn, who are brave enough to show vulnerability in the classroom, who are caring enough to support their peers in their needs, who are committed enough to be leaders even in their young age, who are strong enough to overcome all the challenges they face in their personal and private lives in order to remain committed to education and to their faith in the midst of a distracting, discouraging, sometimes dream-crushing world.

For all these things, and all these people, I am truly thankful.

jgb

Grumbling or Gratitude

In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp says this: “If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief . . . atheism.”

For someone who was born stressed, this statement struck me profoundly.  Worrying, for me, comes so easily—trust comes so hard.  But if I believe that God is good and in control and that He is present in the details of my life, then this should drive me not just to trust but to gratitude.  And gratitude is the ultimate expression of trust.  “Thanks is what builds trust,” Voskamp explains.  “Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. . . . I can walk the planks—from known to unknown—and know: He holds.  I [can] walk unafraid.”

I love Voskamp’s words and I can intellectualize them.  But fear and doubt and ingratitude still crouch in the corners of my heart.

When my wife and I married 15 years ago, I inherited a cat.  Christopher (an orange tabby) and Sharon had been together for 12 years. She picked him out of a litter of kittens when he was still so small that he fit in the palm of her hand.

That cat was fiercely loyal to Sharon, and, over time, Chris and I grew close as well.  But one thing Chris and I rarely agreed on was meal time.  When it came to food, Chris had high expectations.  He preferred his food fresh from the can.  And if the food happened to come out of the refrigerator, then he liked it warmed in the microwave for exactly seven seconds.  Chris also like his food “fluffed.”  I’d mix it in his food bowl just so with his special spoon and then top it off with his favorite crunchy dry food. These were the rules and I tried hard to obey them.

But most of the time, my meals fell way short of his expectations.  I’d warm his food and fluff it and garnish it—and, still, I failed to meet his five-star dining expectations.   He’d look at the bowl and then look at me as if to say—“Really—this is all you got?”  Exasperated, I’d look at Sharon and she would look at Chris.  And then Sharon would say in a stern voice—“Christopher!  That’s perfectly good food.  Eat it!”  And the funny thing is—Chris would!

He’d lower his little orange head and eat, his I.D. tag clanging against the food bowl.  But that didn’t mean he was happy about it.  And to make sure we knew this, with each bite of food he took, he’d growl—a low constant rumbling coming from his throat. He’d eat, but he wasn’t grateful.

Still makes me laugh.

But, here’s the thing—my ingratitude isn’t quite so funny.  And my grumbling can cast a dark shadow across my life.

In a chilling passage in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Lewis explores the character of an unhappy woman possessed by a critical spirit.  And the speaker in this chapter is distressed that such a woman might not enter heaven simply because she is a grumbler.  He voices his concern to another character.

“I am troubled, Sir,” said I, “because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling . . . .”

“That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.”

“I should have thought there was no doubt about that!”

“Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman—even the least trace of one—still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.”

What we need to be careful of, this second character explains, is becoming a grumble, “going on forever like a machine.”

Sobering words.

Am I a grumble?  Am I an atheist?  Have I chosen ingratitude?  Have I chosen not to trust?

Jesus says—“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).

And Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18—“Rejoice always. Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  For this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice.  Pray.  Give thanks.  Always.  Continually.  In all circumstances.

Some of the most convicting words I have ever read.  And appropriate for this Thanksgiving season.

Clearly, I have a choice to make. I am not a victim.  I am not powerless.  And even though I was born stressed, I don’t have to live stressed.  I hope that there is still “one wee spark” in my heart “under all those ashes” that can still be blown into a fire of faith and trust.  I hope that this Thanksgiving season I choose gratitude over grumbling.

May we all choose well.

skc