Kids Say the Darndest Things…

This week I’ll set sail to Treasure Island for the last time. Time is a funny thing. On one hand, it seems like forever since I was in Missoula ringing in the new year; yet, these past five months have flown by. As I reflect on this first tour, I am flooded with memories of heartwarming moments, and, of course, some hilarious gems. Please enjoy these anecdotes/quotes from children across America.



One week there was a little boy who, for some reason, was convinced he was being cut. He ran to his mom, so my tour partner, Jacob, had to convince him to come back to the circle and finish the audition. He was cast as a seagull (the youngest kids who are adorable and lead the way to Treasure Island), and after we dismissed from the audition, he came up to Jacob and said, “My whole life I have dreamed of being a seagull.” His WHOLE life. Of SEVEN YEARS! There you go, ladies and gentlemen, Jacob and I make life-long dreams come true.

The seagulls don’t have rehearsal until Wednesday, but he was around the theatre the next day because he had a sibling at rehearsal. Before rehearsal began, he walked up to the stage and said, “One more day,” as if he were preparing for battle.

Finally, Wednesday rolled around, and he was a shining star. I put him as the line leader, and before each seagull scene, I would remind him what to do. He would nod, and summon all of the focus a 7-year-old can muster, and prepare for the cue.

In between the two performances on Saturday, we were touching up makeup. During this time, we sometimes like to give the kids an opportunity to give compliments to their fellow cast. It was almost time for the show, so we needed to end compliment hour to give instructions for what to do after the show. All of a sudden, this boy had these giant crocodile tears. I took him out into the hall to figure out the issue, and he informed me, between sobs, that he didn’t get the chance to compliment the cast (even though he definitely had already said something). Being a softie, I told him after Jacob’s announcements, we might have time for one more compliment. It basically turned into an Oscar’s speech of him thanking everyone for making this the best week ever, and everyone was so amazing, and he loved everything, etc, etc, etc. Oh, that boy. I wish he had a social media I could follow so I can see him turn into a star.


Another week during compliment time, the kids once again turned it into their Oscar “thank you’s,” rather than saying, “Sally did a great job!” One girl raised her hand and said, “I’d just like to thank the audience. Without the audience, we would have no one to perform for. Really, they’re the reason we’re doing this. As long as we make people happy, we’ve done our jobs.” Or something like that. I think she went on several more sentences. We didn’t have outro music available.


In addition to teaching Treasure Island, we get to do workshops with kids who may or may not be in the cast. We do various exercises about different elements of acting. One of the exercises involves select students standing in front of the group, answering questions about their characters. The catch is that they don’t know who their characters are, but they figure it out based on the questions asked.

One student was Batman, and a student asked, “Why are you black?”

Another time a student was Olaf from Frozen. “How does it feel having two balls instead of three?” I tried to rephrase the question, saying something about proportions. Whatever I said, I didn’t make it much better. We tried to move the exercise along, but not before a kid managed to blurt out, “I thought he was talking about testicles!” Great… thanks for that.

A different exercise involves one of us being the ruler of a kingdom. The students are the subjects and must make bold choices to earn our favor. They are then either welcomed to stand next to the throne or dismissed. One time I was the ruler for a workshop with a high school theatre class. Someone came up and sang really high, and I dismissed them. Jacob informed the court that the Great Samantha prefers lower voices. A teenage boy walked up and said, “Oh, Great Samantha, I heard you like sultry voices.” He then got down on one knee and PROPOSED! He didn’t earn my favor because I didn’t want a lawsuit. However, I wish I could’ve rewarded him for his bold choice, which was the point of the exercise. 


One dress rehearsal when Jacob was Long John Silver and I was the director, Jacob had his costume on and I was wearing my denim jumpsuit. The kids were excited to see Jacob’s costume, knowing they would soon be getting their costumes as well. They also liked my costume, but they couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be. A nurse? They simply couldn’t understand that it was a real-life outfit.

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Said jumpsuit, for your reference. 


“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Are you engaged?”

“No.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“That’s really sad…..”

(These children should make friends with my grandma)


“Do you two have kids?”

“Haha, no. We wouldn’t be very good parents if we had children since we’re in a different town every week.”

“Just get a babysitter!”

“No, I don’t think that would work out very well.”

Cue a different child:

“So, what do you do with your kids?”


On a Thursday:

“What’s your name? I remember that it was really long on your name tag….”


“Okay, you two sit right there so I can take a picture of you. Okay, now we need to take a selfie.” – A 5-year-old with her iPhone


This story isn’t exactly funny, but it was one of those moments that didn’t feel like real life because everything was spiraling out of control. I was teaching the group of seagulls, and all of a sudden one of them had a nose bleed. I asked the assistant director to watch the kids while I ran to get our contact for the week. When I returned with the contact, it looked like a crime scene. The child had wiped the blood everywhere, and it had spread to the floor. The contact quickly rushed the child out, and I was trying to move the rest of the kids away from the blood. What’s that sound? Oh, a child just threw up at the sight of blood. Now, there was a blood pile, and a puke pile, and a group of frightened children. I moved them out into the hallway to try to salvage any chance of saving the rehearsal. Oh my word.


In order to teach a show in a week, Jacob and I teach separate groups and then piece the show together later. One day, we reconvened for announcements before dismissal. I asked Jacob’s group how their rehearsal went. “Great! Fun! I loved it!” etc. etc.

Jacob asked my group.

“BORING!”



In case this blog post has you feeling like that poor group of over-worked children, I will wrap it up by saying that I will be boring kids for the next twelve months. That’s right, Treasure Island is coming to an end, but I will soon be traveling to infinity and beyond with Gulliver’s Travels… in Space! Forever grateful for the greatest job in the world.

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy…

… but let’s spend a very concentrated amount of time with each other, and then see you never, maybe.

On the road again. I began a contract with Missoula Children’s Theatre on December 27 (and am just now getting around to writing a blog post). Anyway, I rang in the new year with what an outsider would call a complete group of strangers – the other tour actor/directors training for the job. Yet, as we were all squished into a hotel room hugging each other and wishing one another a Happy New Year, there was so much love in the room.

One of the people I hugged New Year’s Eve was my roommate, Christina, a fellow tour actor/director. She and I instantly clicked. We would finish a full 10-hour day of work and then, though we were exhausted, would stay up late chatting, crying, and giggling — like we were young girls back in the days of sleepovers. Finally, one of us would cut the other off in the middle of conversation and say, “It’s time for bed!” We would go to sleep maybe ten minutes later. Maybe. Actors have a gift for bonding quickly because we love to study people (and talk about ourselves). It’s also a necessity because we don’t have the luxury of being with our family or long-time friends, so we have the responsibility of filling that void for one another.

Training ended and I drove to Alabama, and she and her tour partner went to California. We’ll see each other when we return our trucks to Missoula, but after that, who knows? (Just kidding, Christina. We’re going to be next door neighbors and I’ll knock on your door when I need to borrow a cup of flour.)

Speaking of the end of training, that marked the beginning of the 32-hour drive from Montana to Alabama. Just me, my tour partner, Jacob, and our truck. Our friendship began during training, and as we drove across the country together, opening up about our lives. I was struck that in just two weeks I perhaps knew him more than most would learn about a co-worker in a year. Maybe I’m wrong, as I don’t have much experience with more traditional jobs, but I’m guessing that normal everyday banter doesn’t include your favorite music, guilty pleasure snack, or details about your childhood.

For those of you unfamiliar with my job, my tour partner and I travel to a different town each week and teach a different group of students Treasure Island. It may sound mundane to do the same show week after week. However, each week a new group of students transforms it to be something entirely unique. As I say goodbye to the students when they turn in their costumes after the final show, it means so much to think how far they have come in just a week. Sometimes I look at some of the younger kids and wonder what they will be like as teenagers or young adults. Many of them may not remember much of the week, but for some it may spark a passion. Either way, I feel lucky to have been involved in what is hopefully a fun, enlightening experience for them.

When we’re in each town, we either stay in a hotel or a family opens up their home to us for the week. My own family has hosted three different exchange students, several baseball players, and then there are my brothers’ friends, who always seem to end up on our basement floor. From my experience hosting, I know the importance of host-guest interaction. So as a guest, I don’t want to just go to my room; rather, I want to take advantage of this small window as life intersects with these people. So far, we’ve stayed at just two different homes, but both experiences have had a deep impact, resulting in a nearly choked up goodbye.

Tour life could be very lonely. There’s only one person that you consistently see, and the majority of the people you interact with are under 15. Yet, by allowing myself to be vulnerable and really connect with these people that I’ll likely never see again, I don’t feel alone. Goodbyes are hard, and sometimes it’s tempting to not open yourself up to such short-term relationships. Why have a conversation with someone who’s basically a stranger and is only in your life for a week when you could instead call home? Maintaining existing relationships is important, but so is living in the present. The heart has no boundaries – it continues to expand with each new connection. I am so lucky that every week I meet so many beautiful, colorful, interesting souls. And, who knows? Maybe somehow the universe will find a way for our paths to cross again.

New Acting Gig!

Blog time! It’s been awhile, as my children’s theatre contract ended mid-August. I haven’t really had much to say in my BFA blog because I have since been spending some quality time at home saving money and searching for the next acting gig. However, when I started this blog I said that it would tell of adventures during contracts and in between, so here we are. In between.

As I mentioned, I am at home saving money. I have been hired as a server, which is one of the only non-theatre jobs I have had… or so I thought.

Here are the ways I’m using my BFA as a server:

Listening

In the first semester of acting, our professor blew our little freshman minds when he said that one of the most important tools of an actor is listening, rather than our own delivery of lines. It is, of course, important to listen to the customer’s orders and make sure that it is right. I also “listen” to body language to know whether the table wants me to interact with them or give them their freaking food and go away.

Makeup

In serving, like acting, it does matter what you look like. I have never worn makeup more consistently than I have for this job. So far, so good.

Illusion of the First Time

We talk about making scenes fresh so that it doesn’t sound rehearsed, but that we are truly saying these lines for the first time. I haven’t been serving that long, but I’ve noticed it is already a challenge to bring this freshness when I introduce myself to a new table and go through all of the usual questions. I try to tailor my “lines” based on the responses of the different guests. Also known as being a real person having a conversation, rather than a robot.

More importantly, I’m getting really good at running into people I haven’t seen in a long time and updating them on my life. Some people are very concerned that I have decided to drop out of school because they don’t know I graduated in May. They are then concerned (or pretending not to be) that I am at home serving. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. I just don’t want to move to Los Angeles with no money.

Improv

Going along with the old saying, “the customer is always right,” I’ve learned to go with the flow and be a problem solver. For any special requests, I respond with, “yes, and….”

Acting

Here are some of my best acting moments:

  • Hiding the judgment when people order incredibly fattening meals and then need about 7 more sides of ranch. *TANGENT* I never knew how obsessed people are with sauces. Why do you need to dip ranch in everything? I do not understand! One server had a man ask for an entire bowl of ranch for his cheeseburger. Oh, absolutely, have some liquid fat for your fat. Whatever. I love ice cream, so I shouldn’t judge.
  • Acting happy to serve the man who came in with a free appetizer card and ordered an appetizer and water
  • When guests ask for recommendations from the menu on things I have never eaten
  • When I first started and actually had no idea what I was doing
  • When people hear I’m an actor and then try to give me advice on jobs I should look for or say things like, “Have you ever thought about New York?” New York? What’s that? Never heard of it.

Objective

Tips.

I am so #blessed to add this credit to my résumé. Please come out and see the show!*

 

*In all seriousness, despite my sarcastic remarks, I am thankful for this job and am actually having a lot of fun 🙂

 

Acting While Directing

Life with a BFA – the title of my blog. Four years ago, I was getting ready to move into my freshman year dorm, meet a whole bunch of strangers who would turn in to my best friends, and learn that I knew nothing about acting. Acting class consisted of learning about objective, really digging into who my character is, developing an inner monologue, etc. Throughout my training, I studied really complex characters, analyzing their every thought and back story. It was a long way from my audition into the program, when I broke down my monologue by thinking “it would sound convincing if I said it that way.”

Fresh out of my university bubble, I have been given this unique challenge of acting and directing children simultaneously. Every week, we teach an entire show to a new group of kids. Here’s the breakdown:

Monday – 2 hours of audition, 2 hours of teaching one group of the cast everything they need to know for the show

Tuesday – 2 hours of teaching a new group of the cast, 2 hours of another group

Wednesday -The groups that I’ve taught + the groups that Kevin has taught unite, and we have a 4 hour rehearsal to put the entire show together

Thursday – 2 run-throughs of the show

Friday – Get kids fitted into costume, dress rehearsal, dinner break, get them in makeup, and finally a performance

Saturday – Performance #2

So much of my energy goes into making sure that these kids learn the material, remember everything, and, of course, are quiet backstage. Directing is definitely the main part of this job. During rehearsals, my inner monologue during my solo is not about trying to convince Pinocchio to plant his money into a magic field in hopes of stealing his money. Instead, my mind is on the vermin: “TURN – TURN NOW! WHY CAN’T YOU REMEMBER THAT?! SEMI-CIRCLE!!!!!!!!!!!! NO, DON’T SQUAT YET!”

My very first week, my own lines were still fresh in my head and our cast was small in number AND in age. Kevin and I were improv masters for that week, as there were just too many lines for those little ones. There’s one particular scene where I say a line, praising Pinocchio, saying he has “grace, poise, and statuosity.” After, different vermin have lines basically restating mine. The kid who played the head vermin that week was probably 7 or 8. Like I said, a young cast. He couldn’t remember pretty much any of his lines. Because I was so frazzled and I was still new (and likely the scene before had been a train wreck), I somehow jumped over that one line and skipped ahead in the scene. Later, he asked me backstage, “Samantha, when do I get to say, ‘Yeah, grace’?” Bless his heart, there was ONE LINE that he remembered, and I RUINED IT FOR HIM!!! It broke my heart to confess, “Oh… you don’t get to say that line. That scene already happened.” Since then, my lines have been correct so that I don’t destroy the dreams of small children.

Our scripts were mailed to us prior to training week. We were told to come in with our lines memorized so that during training, we could focus on learning the rest of the show. I did my usual actor homework and made all of these plans in my head about the Fox and motives and all of that. Halfway through this tour, I remembered that and chuckled a little. Then, however, I remembered the main note that I received at my freshman year assessment. I tend to over-analyze things, so my professors wanted me to continue to analyze prior to a performance, but then trust that all of the homework I did will be there and simply act. I think it took a bunch of kids distracting me from my own head to really let loose and trust my acting, even if it is children’s theatre. Because, I realized, I have been simply acting. Yes, the dialogue and subtext is a lot simpler than Chekhov, but still…. using that BFA for good.

Tonight is Thursday, which means that tomorrow I will once again be in director mode for the majority of the day, but by 7:00, I will share that opening night with those kids. I will put on my costume, and I get to perform.

I realize that the audience consists of parents coming to see their children and so much of my energy during the week is focused on making said children look good. Still, I share the stage with them. I get to sing a solo and most weeks no one applauds because the parents are probably tired and also because Pinocchio has the next line and he usually goes straight to it. I’m not offended – mostly I’m relieved that Pinocchio knows his line! Last week, however, the audience applauded and I had a moment of gratitude as I realized what a gift it is that every single week I get to sing and act and be silly for a different community. After the show, one of my sweet little “spirits of the enchanted forest” came up to me and said, “Samantha, good job. You’re a really good actor.” I think that’s the best compliment I’ve gotten all summer!

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I can’t neglect to mention that I was lucky enough to one week have audience members there for ME! Much love to my mom, brother, and future sister-in-law!

Today at break in between our two run-throughs, one member of the cast was very confused. She said that she knows we’re directors/actors, so she wanted to know if I’m the actor or the director. Then I was very confused because I had just spent the last two hours yelling counts to her choreography and then appearing onstage saying my own lines. Both, little girl. I am both. And I love it.

Writing In Pencil

The schedule of a working actor is weird. Having just graduated in May, I’m new at this, but I already know that much. I feel so fortunate to be working so soon after graduation, but having a theatre job after graduation is different than landing a 9-5-sign-your-life-away-for-years-and-years kind of job.

Prior to graduation, I had to complete the university’s exit exam. One of the questions was about our employment post-graduation. I hair-flipped to myself about being able to report having a job lined up. They then wanted to know my annual salary…. That’s difficult when I will be working for companies at months at a time. While I’m so thankful for this job, the reality is that this contract goes until August 20th and then I need to figure out what I’m doing next.

During this summer, unless a particular town doesn’t want to have two shows or they happen to cancel a rehearsal, I really don’t have a true day off. Monday-Thursday we rehearse, Friday and Saturday we put on the show, and Sunday is our travel day. So, when my contract is over, I will go from not having a day off to immediate unemployment, unless I come up with something brilliant to do after.

Further, because these contracts are only a few months at a time, each day is so important. It’s not like I can request a vacation day for one of the few days I’m in a town. January of 2015, my cousin Abby asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I, of course, said yes, but once she set the date for July 2, 2016, I realized that my yes had to be tentative, depending on job offers. As much as I love my cousin and wanted to be there, it was hard to justify turning down a whole job for a day.

Three weeks ago, I found out that our town for the week didn’t want a performance on the 2nd because of the holiday weekend, meaning I was able to go! I quickly made arrangements for my marathon weekend. Friday, we had a dress rehearsal, performance, and striked the set. A taxi picked me up from my hotel at 3:30 AM Saturday, I flew to Boston, went straight to the salon to get my hair done, witnessed a beautiful wedding ceremony celebrating over ten years of love, danced the night away at the reception, and finally went to sleep at 2:15. I woke up again at 7:30 on Sunday so that I could fly back to meet Kevin in the next town. Thank goodness our sponsor gave us the 4th off because I needed a day to recuperate!

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Abby, the beautiful bride!

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The whole family together for the wedding!

 

It was a blissful weekend and so special to be with my whole family, but it got me thinking about this strange life I’ve chosen for myself. My brother and his fiancée (the two with chocolate brown hair above who look like they belong in a magazine) are getting married a year from now, and I have no idea what my life will look like then. I will obviously be there for that one, but what will my employment look like that summer?  I can prioritize family, but it saddens me to think how many of my friends’ weddings I’m bound to miss.

These thoughts were on my mind as I read an essay in Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines. One of my very best friends gave this book to me for my birthday, and it is full of some of the most honest, relatable, and thought-provoking essays, challenging us to choose happiness. In this particular essay, Niequist realizes she should have written her life in pencil, rather than pen. She argues that we make these plans for our lives that seem so set in stone and go about our lives as if they are guaranteed, but God has other ideas. Wow, so true.

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If you need a good devotional supplement – this is it! Whether or not you’re a Christian, she has some wise words on how to live a full, happy life. Thanks again, Morgan, for the thoughtful gift! 

So, as I continue on with this career, my plan is to write in pencil and plan for a lot of erasing and re-writing. It really seemed like I wasn’t going to make it to Abby’s wedding, but God took care of that one. I know there will be sacrifices I have to make, but it is worth it for me to be pursuing my dreams and NOT working a “normal” 9-5 job. I just have to trust that He has His hand in everything I do.

 

Casting

My freshman year of high school, the fall musical was Oklahoma! On the audition sheet, it asked for our preferred role. I, of course, put Laurey because she is the lead. This was silly for several reasons: 1) I am not a soprano, nor am I a golden age ingenue, 2) I was a freshman, and 3) I clearly wasn’t that informed, because I spelled it “Lori.” Still, in my mind, I was the perfect person for that role. Instead, I was cast as Aggie and then spent hours trying to find out who Aggie even is!

Today Kevin and I cast our second show, and wow, it is not easy. We have two hours to introduce ourselves, go through the rules of the week, audition the kids, and cast the entire show. The actual audition consists of kids saying their names, ages, and several lines, one at a time in semi-circle. From there, Kevin and I cast the whole thing while they sit and talk quietly amongst themselves. There tend to be a few obvious standouts (easy to spot because they are often wearing shirts from past shows), but aside from those, casting is a little bit instinct of who has the most potential for growth and where I predict their strengths to be.

Luckily, our cast limit is 75, so while I may have kids who are unhappy with the role they receive, unless we have an insane number of kids audition, everyone will get a role. We’ve all heard complaints about my generation being the “participation trophy” generation, so some of you may be rolling your eyes. I’m not a big fan of the participation trophy either, but sometimes kids don’t need to learn rejection – they just need to learn.

In elementary school, I auditioned every year for both the fall and spring children’s theatre plays in town. I was never cast (or even called back), but my mom would still take me to the productions to watch. I enjoyed them, but was always bitter towards the person who played the role I wanted. Finally, the summer before 5th grade I did a summer theatre camp in which we put on a production of Charlotte’s Web in 2 weeks (or was it one?). Like Prairie Fire, whoever showed up was cast. I distinctly remember being in the lobby before the audition and feeling intimidated by the kids wearing their past show shirts. I had no show shirt to wear! They were all chatty and excited, but I was just nervous. During the audition, I’m sure I was trying so hard to get it “right” that I made small choices. My first ever role in a play, and I was Spectator 2. Yet, I loved every second of camp. In the fall, I not only got a callback for the children’s theatre production, but I was cast as the leading female role!

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I asked my dad to find this scrapbook page tucked away in my bedroom closet 🙂 

Even though I was only Spectator 2 in my first play, I learned so much during that camp simply from being a part of a production. More importantly, I gained confidence. Had it been a production where they cast just who they needed, I likely wouldn’t have been cast (again), would definitely not have been cast as the lead in the next show, and would probably not have made the decision to pursue a career in acting.

So, I am thrilled that I am able to find a role for each one of these kids. I am hopeful that the kids who were disappointed in not being Pinocchio or the Blue Fairy or any other ideal role are able to have a week just as transformative as my week as Spectator 2.

Welp, I Graduated

Hello again, internet! I enjoyed blogging so much during my study abroad last summer that I decided to have at it again this summer for several reasons.

First, many of you may wonder: what does one do with a BFA in Musical Theatre? Good question. In fact, at this point I only have one answer, which is my first post-grad job working for a touring children’s theatre. So, initially, this blog will follow my adventures with this first contract. However, I figure that I can keep this blog up through all of my contracts (and likely periods in between contracts) to shed light onto the life of an average working actor, if there is such a thing.

Second, I enjoy writing, and as the title of this blog post indicates, I no longer have assigned writing assignment because I am no longer a student. Even so, I refuse to lock myself in my hotel room every day after rehearsal and only watch Netflix. So, even if no one reads this, I am excited to keep my brain from turning to mush.

Third, what I do for a living is cool, and I think it will be interesting to read about! I’m two weeks in, so here’s a quick blurb to catch you up:

I serve as an actor/director/child wrangler/tech crew for Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre. Technically, my title is Tour Director/Actor, but that doesn’t quite cover all of it. After a week of intensely fun training in Barrett, MN (population 415), my tour partner Kevin and I drove our fully packed minivan to our first town of residency. Each week, we get a fresh batch of kids and audition them on Monday, cast the show, and immediately begin rehearsals. By Friday, we have a full musical production of Pinocchio where I play the Fox, Kevin is Gepetto/Tempesto, and we simultaneously guide the show along as directors. After either one or two performances, we pack up the van and go on to the next town to do it all over again.

We have only completed one show thus far, but I have already learned a very important lesson. Though I will teach the exact blocking and choreography that I have been trained with, each show is going to be different based on the cast we get. This contract is going to be a good lesson in letting go of control. Yes, Kevin and I are the directors and we will do everything in our power to put on Pinocchio as it was taught to us. Ultimately, however, kids are kids and sometimes that pivot turn is just not going to happen. Lines will be skipped, choreography may be funky, but as long as those kids have an amazing week, experience theatre, and get to make their parents proud, I am a happy girl.

More to come – thanks for reading!

Samantha