Passionate education

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A theatre friend of mine recently asked the question, “Is it reasonable to compare performing with a Community Theatre, for a student, to sports or band activities?” My initial reaction was, “Of course!” And yes, it is certainly reasonable to compare the two. That lead me to read numerous journals and articles written on the positives and negatives of extracurricular activities for our children. And I realized what I was doing was looking for information that would support my argument that theatre is better. And I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ that disses sports.

I was a sports kid. Yep, even though I’m a professional actor I played a lot of sports in my childhood. Even when I wasn’t playing little league baseball, I was involved in ‘sandlot’ kick ball, football, and basketball. I was never very good any of them but I enjoyed spending time with other kids. In my organized sports activities I loved being part of ‘the team’. I will admit there were times I felt bad because I wasn’t as good as the other kids but I realize now I probably could have been better if I enjoyed it more. I find as an adult I tend to put more time into learning things I’m interested in. If I loved sports, like so many wonderful children do, I know I’d have put more time into getting better. But I didn’t, and that’s okay!

Did I learn anything from sports? Well, being part of a team was wonderful. I felt included and it definitely helped me improve my interpersonal communication skills. But I always felt like an outsider there. And it’s because I think deep down I never really wanted to be there. I was doing it because my parents felt it was good for me. They wanted be to follow in the footsteps of my siblings who played sports and were good at it. But it just wasn’t me. When I hit college I started playing volleyball and had a blast. Finally a sport I enjoyed and didn’t feel like I couldn’t do adequately. I worked hard at improving my skills and felt a sense of pride at my accomplishments. But I know now it was because I enjoyed it so much! That reinforces my belief if you want to learn something you will. And I did. It also didn’t hurt that most of my team mates were actors and singers like me. There was no pressure to fit in or play any kind of needless social game. And even though we liked to win our matches, it wasn’t necessarily the reason we played. We played because we enjoyed it. We played because it was fun. It was also quite a great workout! I realized as I re-read what I wrote I haven’t really answered the question of whether or not I learned anything from sports. I did learn things from sports. I learned how to work as a team. I learned how some people are athletically gifted and others are not. I learned it’s okay not to be good at some things. And unfortunately, I learned how too much competitiveness can be a very bad thing. I watched parents, mine included, get so emotionally involved with winning that they shouted, jeered and ridiculed other players and coaches. I learned in life, there are winners and there are losers. Now, I’m not saying this is true for all parents and their children, I’m just noting my experience. There are incredible parents and coaches out there and do sports because of the joy it brings to the kids. They are taught, just because your team loses, doesn’t mean you are a loser. If your team wins doesn’t give you latitude to boast about your accomplishments to demean the other team. They are taught to be better individually both on and off the field. And as a teaching tool, there’s where having your kids involved in sports really shines. And it’s also where having your kids involved in theatre really shines too.

Competition can be so detrimental to society. Yes, it can be a driving force for advancement in many walks of life but it can also breed so much negativity. As a professional actor I compete for roles every day of my life. And even in school, children compete for roles in productions. Some get in, others do not. But what I really like about theatre is the number of areas children can get involved. Like sports, some children have innate skills that make it easier for them to excel. Other children must work at it to get better. But unlike children’s sports, theatre offers many other options. Perhaps a children really wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t sing. Well then, they may be able to dance well. If they don’t dance well perhaps they have the natural ability to act. If a child wants to be involved in theatre but doesn’t act, sing or dance well they can be involved in the technical side. They can learn, costuming, set building, lighting, sound, and if they have incredible organizational capabilities they may be able to stage manage or even co-direct a show. That way they can do what they love, and be involved in putting together a great show. That is the one thing I love about getting children involved in theatre. Everyone can be included and work toward a common goal because in theatre no one is more important than the other. Without the “whole” there is no end result.

I have friends who loved both sports and theatre. Even in school some of them attacked both with equal fervor. I was always impressed with that passion. I love watching sports but I never really had the passion for it. I did my first play when I was in first grade and it was such a wonderful experience. But my performing in my first 14 or so years was playing my guitar and singing with my family’s bands and in church. It wasn’t until I finally gave up sports that I started really working toward something I love; theatre.

For the past week or so I’ve had the privilege of working with a young boy who was in our ensemble of my current production “Footloose”. I was behind the theatre one night and I met his mother and she said, “Oh, you’re Paul? He talks about you all the time and says you’re real nice.” Now, realize that this boy has done eight performances of this show and it’s quite a commitment for a child. She went on to say, “He can’t wait to come sing and dance every night! He really loves it”. I left the theatre feeling blessed to have been even a small part of his experience. I know there are stories like that in sports too. That just wasn’t my experience.

I know kids can learn a lot from both sports and theatre but we have to be careful not to pressure them in either direction. Perhaps children won’t like either. And in my experience, if they don’t really like it, if that really isn’t what their passion is, then they won’t work very hard at getting better. Now, if someone is better than you and that inspires you to work hard and improve yourself than that’s a good thing. But with competition, children have to be taught that winning or losing doesn’t define them. So is it fair to compare children in sports and children in theatre? Well, I guess we’d have to ask the children themselves. In my experience there are positives and negatives of both. But I really think it depends on where the child’s passion lies.

Try It You’ll Like It

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You auditioned for the 3rd time and you are finally cast.  You pack, you travel to the theatre and are greeted by the staff and fellow actors.  After a nervous nights’ sleep  you arrive at the rehearsal and do a read-through.  This is really happening.  You spend hours rehearsing and even your nights are filled with learning your lines, blocking and choreography.

You walk into rehearsal on the 6th day and hear,  “I’m sorry, but the theatre is closing.  You all have to go home.”  What??!!

What do you say to something like that?  Once again, a landmark theatre, The Wayside in Virginia is closing its doors.  And that’s sort of the way it all happened.  Something very similar happened to me once, a few yeas ago.

After spending three seasons with a rep company,  I returned to work after the Christmas break to be told, we can’t afford to pay you any longer so you’ll have to leave.  A few years later, that theatre too closed it’s doors.

What is happening here?

“It’s the economy!”, some people say.  “It’s because arts funding is getting cut!”, others shout.  “It’s the electronic age!”, still others pontificate.  And in all probability, some of that may be true.  But is it the whole story?

I remember doing a report, many years ago, that calculated the amount of revenue a theatre I was working for would increase, if every single adult in a 3 county region would purchase just ONE ticket to an upcoming show.  And I’m talking about one show in an entire season.  It was unbelievable!  The theatre could have survived on that alone!  So it begs the question, why don’t we do it?  That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

People plan for major purchases, save for vacations, and are o.k. with spending money on lunch and dinner.  But when it comes to going to see a play or musical there seems to be a tendency to say, “It’s so expensive.”  Well, it can be.  But I know from years of marketing people WILL spend money on things they want and are interested in.  So is that it?

I don’t have any statistics to prove what I’m about to say, but I feel in my bones it’s true to a point.  The younger generation, in general, does not have as much interest in live theatre as the older generation.  Everything is quicker.  Instant gratification is key.  Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.  But what is it about live theatre that doesn’t interest the 20-something generation?  Are we too boring?  Is there too much thought involved?  Is sitting in a theatre for 2 1/2 hours too much to ask?  Are the stories outdated?  Wish I knew.

I do know that there are a lot extremely talented people both on and off stage that make their livings creating and performing astounding live theatre across this great nation of ours.  And I know in my heart that will never stop.  Even though fewer, and fewer people seem to support live theatre by attending performances, we will still be there doing what it is we were put on this planet to do.  Perform.

To all the young people out there…if you haven’t seen a live play or musical.  Give it a shot.  You might really enjoy it.  To all the folks of my generation and older, go see a live show, there really is nothing like it.  I’ve had the distinct honor of working with some of the finest actors and singers I’ve ever seen or  heard.  And yes, that out trumps many of the known actors we see on television and movies.  I’m telling all of you, one of the best actors you never heard of is probably a few miles away at that local, professional theatre in your city or town just waiting to blow you away.  No, they’re not plastered all over magazines, the Today show or TMZ but they’re there, giving all they have 5 or 6 days a week.  And they’re really good!

Maybe that’s how it all starts.  Just go.  Buy ONE ticket.  Experience live, professional theatre.  If you like music, go see a musical.  If you like drama, go see a drama.  If you like to laugh, go see a comedy.  They’re there.  And if we all turn off Netflix, our T’V’s, and our computers for just 3 hours, and attend a live play or musical, they perhaps theatre’s won’t have to close their doors any more.

My Best Friend

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“How do I know if she’s the one”, he asked?  I replied earnestly, “Can you imagine a day without her?”  An interaction I’ve had with several people over the years.  My “can you imagine” question was created basically as a way to change my typical “you just do” answer.  The latter always seemed to precipitate a groan from the person.  But it is so true.  I can’t explain it.  That night over 16 years ago when I first saw her was unlike anything I ever experienced.  It was very different.  I just knew.  Even then I couldn’t imagine a day with her.  And tomorrow after celebrating 16 years of marriage I still can’t imagine it.

Because we both follow our hearts and do what we love to do, we spend several months a year away from each other.  But honestly, that’s only our physicalness (I know that’s not a word).  She’s always with me.  And I’m always with her.  There’s a support system in place that supersedes everything else.  We’re each other’s best friend and that is important.  When we do get that chance to spend time together, it’s even more special.  And honestly, it’s just being her presence that fills my spirit.

My best friend just came to spend some time with me and, as always, we had a wonderful time together.  That beautiful, familiar face smiled at me and that non-spoken connection flourished.  And it is a connection.  When we met, and we married 4 months later, many naysayers balked.  So in response I wrote a song.  And the chorus still rings true.

“Do what you do.  Not, what “they” say

Stop looking for love, it’ll come your way

Like a powerful storm, without warning it strikes

Filling your heart with its glorious might.”

My best friend and I even wrote a song together.  We’d both been married before and this time, the 2nd time, it would be the one.  The lyrics were a road map…

“This story is true, yet it hasn’t begun

It’s a great way to live and hell it sounds like fun

We’re gonna’ follow its lines and learn all the words

So it’s right the second time so there isn’t a third.”

“How do you know?”  The hell with it, I’m going back to, “you just do.”  To my best friend, lover and wife…I wish you happy anniversary.  And I’m so looking forward to the next 16 years.


Family Legend

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Are we predisposed to behave in a particular way?  Since beginning my genealogical journey many years ago that question has arisen many times.  In part because so many of my ancestors were vagabonds.  They were individuals who traveled from place to place without ever planting their roots too long in one place.  I’m like that too.  And unlike a lot of genealogists, I was satisfied to just trace my surname and my mother’s maiden name, I wanted to trace all the surnames of my maternal and paternal grandparents going back as far as I could.  And the book I’m writing on the matter is a work still in progress.  Here’s a little snippet:

“I just couldn’t do it.  I spend hours each week scanning documents online searching for records of our ancestors and I watch what other amateur genealogists do.  If their father’s name was say Miller, they take that name and trace it backwards as far as they can go.  They also take every single Miller branch and see where “it” goes.  And when I took over the family genealogy I just couldn’t spend all that time on one name or line as it’s called.  I wanted to find information about all our ‘direct’ ancestors.  By ‘direct’ I simply mean all of our grandfathers and grandmothers.  Besides, others in my family had already done a lot of research on my Mom’s maiden name Hampton.  It’s one of our lines that has been checked, verified and proven for the most part.  And my mom’s mom, my grandmother, her maiden name was Gensil.  Now there was a line that hadn’t been researched too far back.  No, wait, yes it had.  Another family historian had done a lot of research and sent it to me.  O.K., I can certainly look at this new data and go about checking, verifying and proving as much of it as I can.  Well thanks to a distant relative and my own research, that’s been done too.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen to do our genealogy as I have….I do believe it’s important to know where we come from.  If it’s true that you and I are genetically predisposed to act a certain way, then perhaps their lives can add some insight into our own”

There’s one ancestor in particular that I found incredibly interesting.  His name is Hans Hansen Bergen and he’s my 9th Great Grandfather.  He was one of the earliest settlers on what is now New York City, then called New Amsterdam.  There’s a wonderful family legend about him that was shared in the history book, “The Bergen Family” by Teunis Bergen, published in 1876.  It says:

“There’s a tradition in the family, which probably may have some foundation, that Hansen while engaged in the cultivation of his plantation, was chased by the Indians, when for safety he took refuge in a tree, where they soon discovered him.  Supposing his end to be near, he commenced singing in a melodious voice, with which he was blessed, the hymn with commences with “In mijn grootste nood o’ Heere.” (In my greatest need O Lord).  His singing so charmed is pursuers, that after listening for some time in delight, they left him unmolested and free to go on his way rejoicing; thus proving the words of Congreve in the play “The Mourning Bride”, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.”  

I love that quote from the book.  Perhaps I carry some of my 9th Great Grandfathers musical genes which may be why I sing and love music?  There are other examples too where I see myself in my ancestors.  Or to be more accurate, I see them in me.  I encourage you to take some time and delve in to your family history.  It just might shine some light on who you are too!

Making Music

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It doesn’t happen very often.  Not that I’m complaining because I love performing, but having two days off this time was more special because I was able to spend time with my family.  I don’t have the opportunity to spend to many holidays with them, so this was a true treat.

I love my nieces and nephews.  And yes, I’m even old enough to have great nieces and nephews!  Since my oldest sister is so much older than me I was an uncle at the ripe old age of 9.  And now, at 47 my oldest nephew is 38.  He’s more like a brother to me than a nephew.  He and his wife have been married the same amount of years as my wife and I.  And it’s always fun to spend time with them.  They have three wonderful children who I adore!  I hadn’t seem them in a little over two years and my goodness how they’ve grown!  Not only do they look older but they’re definitely acting a little older too!  The grow up so fast!  I had a great time with my sisters too, but one thing in particular was the highlight of my vacation days.

My 8-year old great niece Kendall has been bugging her dad to learn how to play guitar.  And since I took my axe with me, I figured it was important for me to play it for her.  She was enthralled by it.  So, I put my guitar on her lap and we started her first lesson.  What a thrill it was to see her little mind working out the rhythms I tried to teach her.  The typical down, down, up, up, down, up folk strum seemed daunting at first but within 15 minutes she had it.  She even held her hands properly!  I was floored.  As she was seated on a stool in front of me, she continued to strum the guitar.  She wasn’t playing chords of course, but I decided to play chords as she was strumming away.  And we made some great music!  Her mom came over and was amazed at how quickly she picked up the strumming.  It filled my heart with such joy!  Shortly afterward, her Dad and I were on the internet looking at guitars for her.  Within minutes of teaching her I knew she was a natural.  It reminded me of teaching my step-son Christopher four chords when he was young and he took to it just the same way.  I can’t wait to see how she progresses.  I know she’ll be great!

Man, I love music.  Even more, I love making music.  And when that can be shared with others it’s a beautiful thing.  My whole mini-vacation was filled with music.  Whether it was listening to Boston and Styx as Easter dinner was being prepared or singing songs with my sisters in the car music filled the air.  And now it looks like another family member will be making music too!  I’m proud of all my family and especially my great niece Kendall Jo.  Heck, before long she’ll be better at the guitar than I am!  And I’m looking forward to that happening!