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.

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Living That Tour Life Part 3: Lodging

As I write this, I’m sitting on a lovely wooden lawn chair outside of my motel watching the sunset over Lake Superior, realizing I forgot to put on bug spray.

Pause to go get bug spray.

Ahh, bug spray, my favorite perfume.

Anyway, this perfect writing spot is on the front lawn of my motel for the week. Confession: I have a fear of motels. I prefer entering through a lobby, walking down a hallway, and arriving at my door INSIDE. As a kid, anytime my family stopped somewhere to sleep during a road trip, I would beg my parents to stay at a hotel. I was convinced that all motels were broken into. You literally park your car right outside your door! I mean, come on! THEY KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE (whoever they is). Pretty princess, Samantha, didn’t always get her way at 2AM, and we would have to stay in a motel. Though I was paranoid and terrified, I was comforted knowing that my parents were there to protect me. Or at least to block the invader as I make my epic escape! I kid… sort of.

I’ve joked with Kevin all summer that if we ever stay at a sketchy motel, he will have to stay with me. So far, so good. This is only our second motel. The first was a lodge in a wooded area, so I felt secluded enough; though maybe seclusion should’ve made me more cautious. This week, I have an extra layer of protection with a screen door that locks, which is probably more for bugs than intruders, but it does help me a little. Kevin is also next door so can listen for any signs of scary. If I don’t post anything later on this week, though, please send a search team.

Nevertheless, it is nice that I simply walked out the door and was able to take in this amazing view. Maybe my motel fear can subside for the week.

This blog post isn’t just to talk about this week’s motel, but to share some of the benefits and struggles of living in a new place each week.

Temperatures

I have yet to be in a place with no type of air conditioner (so #blessed for that), but I cannot, for the life of me, ever get the temperature in the room right. Usually when you walk into a fresh hotel room, the A/C is either off completely or blasting cold air. I immediately adjust accordingly to try to make it comfortable, but somehow I always manage to get it to another extreme. How do I get it to a comfortable room temperature? Last week, I was so hot, so I turned on the A/C. The next day my room was completely damp. That was Tuesday, and the rest of the week everything in my room was slightly wet. WHAT DID I DO?!

Another temperature that is tricky is the temperature of the shower. A fellow tour director, Larren, posted a Facebook status that perfectly captures this dilemma:

“Every hotel shower seems to have such a fine line between ‘Hmm this could be a little warmer.’ and ‘Boiling lava, I’m melting, it’s getting hot in here so melt off all my skin, now I’m a lobster.'”

Finally, there’s the temperature of the mini fridge, assuming there is one. I’ve found that the mini fridge is either so cold that my lettuce becomes little frozen treats and my milk is a slushie, or not quite cold enough for the freezer section to keep ice cream solid. Cereal slushies, it is!

The Beds

Mostly, I’ve been lucky to have beds that are fairly comfortable. Sometimes I immediately strip down the comforter that looks like it’s as old as the hotel itself and replace it with my trusty freshman dorm comforter.

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Note the dated comforter that has since been removed

When you live life in a hotel room, you quickly learn that the bed is not just for sleeping. Yes, there is often a little desk with an office chair, but who really wants to sit there? Therefore, the bed is where I sleep, eat, read, and watch endless hours of Netflix.

As nice as a king bed seems, I have determined I much prefer two double beds to one giant bed. First of all, who needs all of that space to sleep? I’m not that big – I’d much rather have room for activities than have that giant bed! Second, two beds are really nice because I can reserve one bed specifically for sleeping and the other bed for everything else. That way, I can eat and not sleep in the crumbs from my breakfast that morning.

Housekeeping

Do Not Disturb. Nothing against housekeepers, but it’s just me, so I don’t need my room cleaned that often. Plus, I don’t want them to judge me for my dirty dishes that are sitting around. I do wish I could be a fly on the wall when they finally do clean my room at the end of the week. They probably can’t figure out why there’s so much orange makeup on my towels.

Though I don’t need their service during my week, I am lucky to have someone else clean for me. Sometimes the kids bring us candy as a treat, so I often leave extra behind in my room as a thank you.

Living Out of a Suitcase

Or two suitcases. Or two suitcases and a cooler and a toiletry bag and bags of food.

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My possessions for the summer vs. Kevin’s possessions for the summer. Sorry, not sorry. 

Whoops. I have a clothes suitcase and a stuff suitcase. I unpack my stuff suitcase every week, which consists of a:

  • tea kettle
  • box of tea
  • George Foreman
  • mugs, silverware, food containers, lunch box, and plates
  • books waiting to be read (they remain packed until it’s their turn)
  • iHome

My clothes, however, stay in my giant suitcase. It used to be that anytime I vacationed anywhere, no matter the length of time, I would unpack to feel at home. When it’s no longer a special occasion and you travel every week, that just seems silly. I don’t mind living out of a suitcase that much, except for a few things.

  1. The clothes that I packed that I have yet to wear. I look at them and think, “Why the crap did I think I would want that this summer?” I resent these items every time I have to carry my insanely heavy suitcase up or down a flight of stairs, which I’m a pro at, by the way.
  2. The clothes that I left behind in Indiana that I miss and am longing for. Fun floral dresses, I’m talking about you.
  3. Everything is always wrinkled. Always. I’ve become very good friends with Downy wrinkle releaser spray. Sometimes the hotel has an iron that I can use (I’ve busted it out a couple times), but not always. Plus, even if there is an iron available, who irons a t-shirt? That’s just silly.
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    If this blog were super popular they’d probably send me some for free, which would be nice because I’m out….

     

Keys

I’m shocked at how many actual keys I’ve been given, rather than the piece of plastic that you scan. I have a bad history with keys. The key to my house I somehow never can manage to open the door with. There may or may not have been a time when I have stood outside my house WITH A KEY, crying because I couldn’t open the door. Luckily, I’ve had better luck with these.

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The sun has now officially set and the light from my laptop is a meeting place for the mosquitoes that do not care that I loaded up with bug spray. I’m headed in to my home for the week. Hopefully no one follows me in….

Living That Tour Life Part 2: Church

Growing up, I never had to move. The room that was my nursery as an infant is the same room that is now storing all of the years of belongings that didn’t join me for my summer contract. With that, there was a lot of consistency in my childhood, including my home church. I love my home church so much. I love the familiarity of it. I love how beautiful the sanctuary is, and I love the ugly brown stage in the fellowship hall where I got a taste of performing at Christmas programs. I love the tiny storage closet that connects the women’s bathroom to a fancy room with a piano, that I’m told a bride could use for a dressing room if she got married at the church. Though I’ve never used the passageway for that purpose, my friend and I spent many hours sitting in that closet, hiding from our moms after church, talking about boys. The congregation at my church has witnessed me grow as a singer, having had to listen to solos before I deserved a solo. More importantly, they’ve watched me from my infant baptism, to my confirmation at 13, and every step in between and beyond. It is such a joy every time I visit home to experience Centenary United Methodist and once again be with my church family.

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Selfie with my friend Gwen in the church bathroom, circa 2008. We apparently graduated from the closet to the bathroom at this point. I’m not proud.

While I did go to college and experience different churches then, this summer I have been exposed to even more different forms of worship. Each week, I keep my eyes peeled for churches around the area. Then, Saturday night I Google churches around me and pick one to go to according to very important factors, such as how early I will have to get up and whether or not I can walk there. Side note: lots of churches need to work on their online presence. It’s like they don’t want visitors – you would be shocked at how hard it is to find what time worship starts. Rude! I digress… Here’s some highlights of my experiences:

Abbotsford, WI

After our very first residency week, Kevin and I were invited to church by the parents of some of our cast members. It had been kind of a long week, simply because it was our first and we were still trying to translate what we had learned in our training into real life. We worshipped along with what we have deemed the whitest praise band we’ve ever seen. I’m chuckling to myself thinking about it, but there are no words. My home church is traditional and sings songs from a hymnal, accompanied by an organ. A few songs into worship, the whitest praise band ever decided to play an old hymn. We were sitting with the family that invited us and the son asked his mom what song it was and she didn’t know, but told him to just follow along on the screen. It was funny to me because it was the only song I actually really knew. After the service, the pastor said that the band was going to continue worshipping and we could either leave, stay and pray, or sing for a little longer. The family that invited us asked if they could pray for us. The whitest praise band ever was the background for such a beautiful moment as we held hands with this family and they prayed for safe travels, energy, and for the kids we would meet this summer. I can’t think of a better way to start a contract.

Milwaukee, WI

The next week our originally scheduled town re-scheduled for the fall, leaving us with a week to stay with my older brother in Milwaukee. Because trying to park a minivan downtown is the worst, we researched a church within walking distance from his apartment. This church didn’t come up on the original Google search, but after a few searches, we came across a church called Bent Tree. It meets in the Third Ward (Jacob’s neighborhood) in the conference area at a coffee/wine bar. When we walked in, we were instantly recognized as newbies because apparently this church just started up in February and must be pretty low key since they don’t meet in a church. It turns out it is part of a larger church based in Texas. We participated in worship with the jazziest praise band (keyboard, guitar, and SAXOPHONE player!) then were given time to go refill our coffee before the sermon. After intermission(?), a pastor from Texas was live-streamed onto the screen! It was a really interesting experience, but what sticks out the most is how welcoming everyone was. They were so excited to see new people at their church and for us to be a part of something so dear to them. Nevertheless, we dodged out as quickly as possible after it was over because we were a little bit tired of trying to explain who we are, why we were in Milwaukee for the week, and what we do for a living. Also I’m pretty sure they all thought we were a couple and one woman assumed that Kevin was there visiting the drummer (aka the one other black person there).

Wadena, MN

I got a little taste of home when I went to a United Methodist Church (after a few weeks of missing due to a visit from my mother, traveling wedding weekend, and oversleeping)…. Aside from one mom with a newborn, a dad and two pre-teens, and me, the average age of the congregation was about 70. I loved it. It was such a small group and you could just tell how tight-knit they were. After the pastor gave the morning announcements, he let the congregation pass the microphone around and give any announcements or prayer requests they had. It was like they were an actual family. Later on, it was time to pass the peace and the elderly couple in front of me said “Peace be with you,” and then KISSED! Ahhhh my heart melted — they are so in love!!!!!!! I was also feeling a little bit bad, though, because it was the two of them and one other woman. She’s third wheeling so hard. Anyway, after her morning kiss from her hubby, the one woman turned around, looked at me, and said, “I don’t know you.” Welcome to small town, USA.

Baudette, MN

This past week I went to a Lutheran church for the first time since I went with my grandma as a young girl. Now, we Methodists use grape juice for communion, so my little self was not prepared when I took a big gulp of communion wine. I spent the rest of that service consumed with the burning feeling down my throat and the awful taste in my mouth. I also got tired of singing, which says a lot, coming from me. This week, as I sat in this new-to-me church, I  was filled with a bit of nostalgia as I experienced a Lutheran service all these years later, this time more accustomed to drinking wine, less consumed with the taste, and more in touch with the meaning of it all.

There are two main takeaways from my tour of churches. One, as Christians, it seems we often get caught up in trivial aspects of church. Should we sing looking at words on a screen or words from a hymnal? Should we be accompanied by an organ or a praise band? Should the pastor be in traditional robes or look like a hipster at a coffee shop? Of course, the denomination of the church isn’t trivial. However, while I certainly have preferences of where I feel most at home and how I personally connect, despite the many differences, they all preach the same thing. God is present at every gathering. We all worship Christ, and I think in the end of time, God is going to laugh at all of us for all of the wasted breaths worrying about the slight variances in what is really a group effort.

Secondly, it is wonderfully freeing going to a church by myself, knowing no one. Rather than needing to catch up with my church congregation, I am able to really focus on what I came to church for. At first, I felt lonely, but then I remembered, all Christians are my church family. It’s like that old kid’s song goes, “I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All of who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!”

Living That Tour Life Part 1: Eating

If you know me at all, you know that food is a very important part of my life. Admittedly, it’s an important part of everyone’s life because if you did not eat, you would die. I am not arguing that my need to survive is greater than others, but my appreciation and interest in food exceeds normal. My older brother gets lovingly frustrated with this obsession. For example, when I heard about his romantic proposal to his fiancée, one of my first questions was inquiring about all of the details of the celebratory meal they shared after. Not of the juicy details of their conversation, but of the juicy food on their plates.

I not only love talking about and eating food, I love cooking it as well. My mom is wonderful and always welcomed me into her kitchen, even at a young age when I thought recipes were for chums (many apologies to my family for being forced to try everything). This past school year was my first time living without my mom’s cooking or a meal plan, and I loved cooking for myself! It is so fun and relaxing having a kitchen and unlimited possibilities.

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So glad this treasure was preserved

Tour life is different. I have yet to master how to buy an appropriate number of groceries for one person one week at a time. Going from hotel to hotel, I never know what kind of situation I will have. One week we were really lucky because stayed at our sponsor’s house and had access to a fully stocked kitchen! Another week we were housed at an extended stay and had a stove, full refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and access to appliances and pans. The very next week we were back to a mini fridge and microwave. No coffee pot. That week I discovered coffee concentrate mixed with hot water. Not bad….

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Week 1 on the road, I didn’t have coffee filters, so I improvised with napkins from the continental breakfast. It was worth it to get freshly brewed Mudhouse coffee! I have since bought coffee filters.

In addition to whatever the hotel may have, I brought along my hot water kettle and a small George Foreman, so that helps. Once again, food is important to me. I don’t like to eat simply because I’m hungry or it’s time to eat. My mood is significantly affected by what I eat, the presentation, the quality of the food, etc. First world problems. Whatever.

Anyway, I refuse to eat PB&Js and ramen all the time, so I get creative. Last week I had the typical mini fridge/microwave combination and made a meal I was pretty proud of: turkey burgers grilled in my George Foreman, topped with a slice of cheddar cheese, red bell pepper, and spinach, served with steamed green beans and butternut squash. Those steamable bags are so handy!

 

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Cooking with a George Foreman and microwave is easy enough, but hotel room cooking is awkward because of the lack of prep space. I cooked my turkey burgers and the excess juices simply leaked all over the hotel desk (yuck). I cleaned it up, but the maids probably didn’t know what to make of my towel covered in turkey grease. I bought a dish wand so I can clean things properly, but somehow things never seem that clean when you’re washing dishes at the same sink where your hairbrush is sitting. That night, after cleaning dishes that held raw turkey, I was a little bit nervous that I would be brushing my teeth with an accidentally contaminated toothbrush, simply from being around that area.

So far, so good on the contamination issues.

This week our motel only has a mini fridge. There are no microwaves and signs prohibiting all cooking appliances. We’re in a big fishing town, so apparently they had issues with people frying fish in their rooms and stinking up the whole motel. Even though it would probably be fine to make a panini, rule-abiding Samantha can’t bring herself to rebel. Grocery shopping knowing you only have a mini fridge is depressing. Luckily, our sponsor for the week gave us each a $50 gift card to the gas station. Their iced coffee is surprisingly good.

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That brings me to eating out on the road. Yes, I do eat out. I prefer to save my money and cook for myself, but especially weeks where cooking can’t really happen, we turn to the town. I have been enjoying exploring local restaurants and witnessing the connectedness of these small towns. Tonight Kevin and I were clearly outsiders as other patrons didn’t even need a menu to order.

 

Sunday is our travel day, so when Kevin and I make it to our new destination for the week, we like to eat out, get settled into our hotel, then do our week’s worth of grocery shopping. Unfortunately, local restaurants are often closed on Sundays. Sigh, but expected. What is not expected, however, is that we have found that apparently Monday is the second holy day of rest because SO many restaurants are closed on both days. What’s up with that?

In summary, trying to eat healthy, save money, and cook as much as possible is challenging. I’m not a starving artist, but an artist who is hungry for good food.

And one final tidbit: a silly Samantha fantasy is to have a singing cooking show where I cook and then instead of cutting to a commercial while the food is in the oven or cooking on the stove, I serenade the viewers. If you know of anyone who’d like to produce, I’m open to 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

Show Reflections – Part 3

This is my final installment of show reflections after having seen 14 shows during my 6 weeks in Europe. It’s crazy to think this journey has come to an end, but I am so happy with the experience I’ve had. Seeing shows was one of the most important aspects of this trip for me, and I am thankful for being introduced to such a wide range of theatre. Here are my thoughts on the final two shows I saw (with the company of my mother)!

Miss Saigon

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For my mother’s sake, I felt that her West End experience should include a grandiose musical. There were so many fantastic shows I had already seen that would have been fun to introduce her to, but I figured we might as well see a show that neither of us had seen. I had heard great things about this production of Miss Saigon, so I figured we should give it a go, though it was a little ironic to see a show dealing with Americans in Vietnam War while in the UK.

For a bit of a summary, the story focuses on the relationship between Kim, a young Vietnamese girl who has been forced to prostitution after the death of her family, and an American officer, Chris. They marry, but he is unable to take Kim to America with him once the war is over, though he promises to return. Years later, the owner of the house Kim used to work for, Engineer, is bribed to hunt her down at the request of her formerly arranged fiancé. When he does find her, he discovers she had a son with Chris, and says that is their ticket to America (claiming he will be her “brother”).

I won’t give away the whole story, but that’s enough for you to know that Kim is the protagonist. The whole show really follows her story, and her needs are foremost presented, yet, at the curtain call Engineer was the last to bow. I have thought and thought about this, but I still can’t figure it out. He did have a song in Act II that was a showstopper, and while it was performed well, I honestly felt it should be cut because it broke up the momentum of the plot. It was simply about how great his life in America was going to be and eventually led to his daydream with scantily dressed women in a convertible. It had the wow-factor, but I was more interested in the story than that.

Speaking of wow-factor, the other note-worthy technical element of the show is that a helicopter flies above the stage as Chris leaves for America without Kim. Though this is a big element, it is way more deserved because it actually enhances the emotional impact of the story.

And yes, it is quite an emotional journey. I highly recommend this show, unless you’re like my roommate who doesn’t like sad things. In that case, stay away.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre

I’ve seen West End, a show at Regent’s Park, a show at the National Theatre, and at Shakespeare’s Globe, but I had yet to see an off-West End work. Luckily, my friends at The Phoenix Artist Club were promoting this original fairytale folk-musical, so I decided that would be the perfect ending to my theatre experience in London.

We arrived at The Landor Theatre hoping to find some yummy snacks before the show, as we had missed dinner after a lovely day at Kew Gardens. Walking past a bar area, we found our tickets at the box office in the back then continued down the hall to find an outdoor beer garden complete with a BBQ! This was much better than over-priced box office confections. My mom and I each had a roasted red pepper quesadilla topped with salad and washed down with a beer for her and a cider for me – yum!

Hut in the beer garden

Hut in the beer garden

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Back by the box office we found a staircase that led to the actual theatre entrance. Our ticket was collected (and not returned) at the door, and we learned that it was general admission seating in a folding chair black-box style set-up.

What a beautiful set!

What a beautiful set!

For such a small space, I was expecting an equally small cast, but the first number surprised me with a company of about 20 people in modern clothing, singing a hopeful song about the annual tradition of waiting to see if the statue in their square would wake. A cloaked figure took over the narration and we were taken back to a world of years past.

This original story has hints of Pinocchio and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The town clockmaker, in grieving his wife, has built a life-size doll that, to his surprise, can talk, move, and even think for herself. After losing his wife, he can’t bear the thought of losing her as well, so he is, of course, quite protective and makes her stay inside, claiming that the people out there won’t accept her.

Of course, she defies his request in search of life beyond walls. She falls in love. She is a successful seamstress. The other seamstress is jealous. Everyone learns the truth of who she is. Climatic song of exclaiming who she is and no one’s gonna bring her down (ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh). Dramatic turn of events. Dun dun dunn…..

There, that’s me being concise (trying). I do hope you have the chance to see it, as they’re hoping to make it as a West End show. The music is exciting and brought to life by a cast that exudes the joy of performing. Though I narrowed the plot down to mere sentence fragments, it isn’t what you’d expect from a fairytale musical – it’s quite dark and thought provoking, not simple at all.

I had the privilege of meeting the lead’s mom while queuing for the toilet (I’m so British now), and I learned that her daughter is a Canadian who now lives in London with her husband, whom she met while working on a cruise line. I met her after the show and mentioned I’m studying theatre at MSU, and she said she’s done some shows in Branson. We’re always told this theatre world is small, but it’s so hard to believe sometimes because the world seems so vast. It’s not.

So, as I’m fighting the sadness of leaving London, I’ll keep that in mind because you never know where life may take you.

Recurring Events

Many of my blog posts have been about a particular event or general impressions from my surrounding environment. As I’m nearing the end of my trip (sad), I have dedicated this blog post to letting you in on two semi-regular activities of mine in London.

My Quest to Meet John Goodman

As mentioned in Show Reflections 1, I saw American Buffalo, starring John Goodman, Damian Lewis, and Tom Sturridge, my second weekend here. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Goodman is an alumni of Missouri State (go bears), so I was especially excited for my chance to meet him at the stage door.

After the performance I saw, I met and got autographs from the other two stars, but was informed that, “Mr. Goodman has left the building.”

Since I was only a ten minute walk from the theatre, I made a point to continue to go back to try to meet him. I often scheduled my evenings around making a trip to Wyndham Theatre at 9:45. One Sunday afternoon I did some homework at a nearby coffee shop and then walked over to discover there hadn’t even been a show that day. After that, I made sure there was actually a show before venturing to the stage door.

Unfortunately, the good news you’re hoping for doesn’t exist. I tried five times, but he is a man of privacy, which I can respect. With so many things to do in London, you might think this was a waste of my time, but I don’t regret it at all. Though I didn’t meet Mr. Goodman, whilst waiting with other fans, I got to know two girls from the FSU program, a group of acting majors from Iowa State University, and a film student from China studying in England. Though these are mere passing acquaintances, those conversations are what shape an experience like this. Another bonus: I learned at least one route by heart since I walked from my flat to the theatre so many times.

**Damian Lewis and Tom Sturridge also probably think I’m a stalker now since I met them 5 times… oops.

Open Mic Nights

Another fellow bear/friend of mine who studied in London gave me some insider tips, namely open mic nights at the Phoenix Artist Club. Yes, it is a club that meets in the basement of the Phoenix Theatre. It is exclusive to members except for Thursday nights when they open up their back room to house a musical theatre lover’s dream.

You first walk in at ground level where there is a host that allows entry. Then, you walk down the stairs and pass through the bar area that has plush, red velvet seats and walls decorated with headshots and show posters. Finally, through a sliding door, you enter into the open mic room with tiny cocktail tables, booths, and airport seating in the back corner. At the front is a small stage with a piano (occupied by one of the most amazing accompanists I’ve ever seen) and a mic stand. There is a stack of music books available to use, but most people bring their own sheet music. You put your name on the list with Jo and wait your turn as one of the two alternating hosts provides transitions between performers. And I mean performers. This isn’t your average drunken karaoke where most people scream-sing. Many of the singers are fellow musical theatre majors, while others are just lovers of the craft. I was told that one of the hosts played Superman in Superman the Musical (who knew that existed?)!

I attended this open mic night every Thursday, and it became one of my favorite experiences of my trip. The first week I went with a fellow theatre major, and I was just going to soak it all in without worrying about performing, but some guy with a guitar convinced me to sing. I looked through their selection of music and decided to sing “Someone Else’s Story.” Having not warmed up at all, it was a little intimidating singing for a room full of people who actually know the difference between good and bad singing. It wasn’t my best performance, but it was still fun!

The night ends at 1 AM when the entire room that’s left joins in singing “One Day More.” I can’t think of anything more appropriate for a musical theatre club in London!

I had been telling my mom all about this place and was so excited to take her when she arrived in London. We did have a nice time, and I sang again, but unfortunately our trip was slightly tainted by a creepy man who asked for our extra chair and instead sat with us. It was fine at first, but then he was slightly too touchy and just had that general yuck factor you can’t quite pinpoint, but that gives you the heebie jeebies. Finally, he bid us farewell, but then returned with another beer about fifteen minutes later. Taking that as our cue to leave, we left early and did not get to stay for the “One Day More” experience. It wasn’t the best way to end one of my most treasured experiences in London, but I suppose it makes it easier to leave. At least now I have a lovely place to return to the next time I visit London, and hopefully George won’t be there.

Adventure Weekend

I often refer to myself as athletically challenged. Both of my brothers are athletes, and I think they sucked all of the athleticism up. Nevertheless, my flatmate convinced me to sign up to go to Preseli Venture Lodge for a weekend that included coasteering, kayaking, and hiking.

In typical Samantha fashion, I first need to mention the food. The activities, lodging, and food were all included in one price, so you’d think the food would be so-so. Wrong! Seriously, this has been some of the best food I’ve had here. Everything was homemade, and it was pure comfort food. PLUS they permanently had tea and coffee available (with biscuits, aka cookies), and the coffee was actually brewed!

Our first meal after our 5 hour train journey from London to South Wales. What a lovely view!

Our first meal after our 5 hour train journey from London to South Wales. What a lovely view!

An American favorite with a European twist: Haribo marshmallows sandwiched between a biscuit with chocolate filling. Not exactly a s'more, but close Also pictured: Coffee with a Welsh cream liquer - delicious and warm for a cozy evening by the campfire

An American favorite with a European twist: Haribo marshmallows sandwiched between a biscuit with chocolate filling. Not exactly a s’more, but close
Also pictured: Coffee with a Welsh cream liqueur – delicious and warm for a cozy evening by the campfire

Okay, so obviously I didn’t go for the food, but for adventuring! We arrived on a Friday evening, but our scheduled activities didn’t start until Saturday. So, the first adventure was us finding our way to the beach. Along the path, we found a swing attached to a tree on top of a hill, so we got a free little thrill ride with that. It was an added thrill because the hill was muddy, so stopping was a struggle. It was quite a performance to watch me get off that thing, and that experience alone made me a little nervous for the actual events to come.

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A glimpse at the flailing mess I was trying to get off....

A glimpse at the flailing mess I was trying to get off….

Then we made it to the beach, and it was breathtaking. We spent some time frolicking, sitting on rocks, and chatting with some surfers who were camping out in tents.

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On Saturday the real adventures began! Our morning activity was coasteering. Honestly, trying to put on the wetsuit and all of the other gear was nearly as difficult as the coasteering itself. It was so hard to get the wetsuit up, and when I finally did, I was told it was inside out. I left it. We also wore wetsuit socks, extra wetsuit shorts over the other one, a life jacket, helmet, and tennis shoes! All of this was referred to as our kit.

After a short bus ride, we were at the shore of the Irish Sea, and it was time to begin. I saw lots of cliffs, and I was ready to climb when all of a sudden I realized we were swimming there! I knew we’d be jumping into the water, but I thought we would otherwise be on land. It wasn’t too cold because we were so covered, but our hands weren’t. I found the best way to avoid cold hands was to hold them up, float on my back, and just kick. This was probably not the most efficient mode of travel, but it was the warmest. We would swim for a bit, find our way to some rocks, climb them, and then jump off! It was indescribably freeing, but also slightly scary. We had to jump like a pencil, rather than dive, but they told us that on our way down we could flail about or do a dance. I decided to not risk forgetting to go back to the pencil formation, so I skipped the flailing for once.

View from jumping thanks to my friend's GoPro

Chilling out in the water after jumping. Photo thanks to my friend’s GoPro

That afternoon we went kayaking. We had to put on a second wetsuit, but this time I was a pro and put it on the correct way. I must admit, I did not enjoy this as much. It was really difficult to make the kayak go straight, and just as I was starting to get the hang of it I started to get a blister on my hand from the oar. At that point, I just kind of wanted to float in my kayak. Honestly, I think coasteering was just too so great that nothing could compare.

Feeling sassy in our blue helmets, wetsuits, and windbreakers (my kayak also was blue)

Feeling sassy in our blue helmets, wetsuits, and windbreakers (my kayak also was blue)

Saturday ended with us hanging out at the lodge, enjoying the campfire, and making friends with two separate bachelor parties. It was an amazing weekend and, besides my blister, I survived!

How this weekend changed my life:

Apparently now I think I’m untouchable. Yesterday was the last day of the study away program, so my school friends and I decided to spend our final afternoon biking and enjoying Hyde Park. We discovered it would be a 30 minute walk to the park, which we didn’t want to do, but we also wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather. For cycling, you can only bike around the park and not through it, which is an activity we’ve already done. So, I had the bright idea of biking to the park and then finishing the ride there to walk around. (They have this great thing where you can rent a bike at one location and turn it in at another – only 2 pounds for 30 minutes!)

Everyone was on board with this idea, but clearly it wasn’t very well thought-out. None of us knew how to get there on our own, so I led the way whilst looking at the direction app on my phone. Did I mention we were riding on Oxford St, which is one of the busiest streets in London? Yes, not our smartest move. The bike lane shares a lane with buses, so that was a little terrifying.

Two of my friends were really hating life, but I found myself chuckling. Yes, it was scary and I won’t do that again, but it was fun because we did it! If we had gotten hurt, this story would be a lot different…. we took the tube back.