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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Upweek, High School, One-Act Plays, and Competition

A Student-Designed poster by a Student-Written Play

Greetings everyone, and thank you for checking in at Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and tonight's post is rather late.  Forgive me.  It is a busy week--- upweek.  Yes, all you theater people out there know what that means (some even like to call it H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKY-STICKS WEEK).  This is the week the shows I have been directing go up.  Friday and Saturday, an evening of one-act plays with my high school students.

You see, I am not just the playwright and theater blogger you all know and love, but I am also a part-time high school drama teacher, and the sole drama director at my old alma mater, Foxcroft Academy.   I teach a playwriting class, an intro to theater class, and I direct the school productions.  This week, I am presenting three one-act plays.  The first is a completely mixed up, weird and wild version of Little Red Riding Hood that came out of improvisations that my students have done over the last seven weeks or so, shaped (more or less) by me.  The second, is one I am really proud of, called Rabbits in the Garden (see poster design above) by a first-year student named Racquel Bozzelli.  She was in my playwriting class last semester--- Rabbits is her first play, and it deals with a young woman who is sent to an asylum, partly because of her experiments, which involve rabbits in the garden.  It is wonderfully creepy, and shows so much potential for a first play (let me put it this way--- I wish I could have written something this good when I was a freshman in high school).  I am super psyched, because the whole purpose of the playwriting class, aside from teaching the craft of playwriting, was to get student work on its feet.  I am a big believer in student-driven work.  And, finally, it is happening. 

The third play is a play I wrote called Aeroplane Over the Sea (which will one day get its very own blog post).  This play will serve as our competition play. 

Ah, yes!  Competition!  All across the country, high schools participate in one-act play competitions.  Here in Maine, of course, it is watched over by the Maine Principal's Association, and while I agree that everyone who participates in theater is a winner already, I am also a firm believer in competition pushing people to be the best that they can be.  Now, fortunately, in my experience, the competition festivals are very friendly... students are not cruel to one another, everyone is a good sport, every group gets applause and treated with respect.  This is important, and something I uphold with my students.

Having said this, I still go to win.  And everyone should.  Winning is fun, winning is good, but, most of all, winning is something that validates a program, something you can take home to your school and say, "See?  Theater's not THAT different from football, huh?"  Okay, so I'm kidding.  A little. 

I have found just in the short time I have been doing this that competition makes the kids snap to a little bit, makes them take things more seriously.  Like it or not, competition is a great motivator.  No one wants to go to any kind of competition,m even a friendly, good-natured one like a one-act play festival, with anything other than their A-game. 

Of course, these festivals can be frustrating for drama directors.  It basically boils down to three judges' opinions.  Three judges who are deemed "experts" by the MPA.  And don't get me wrong--- I've known plenty of fair judges, but I've also met plenty of mean ones.  Ones who, for whatever said reason, take their position as an opportunity to point out how they know SO MUCH more about theater than you possibly could. 

I guess that's why there are three of them. 

But even if you're lucky and get three really awesome judges, in truth, it is impossible for any one of them to take their personal preferences and separate themselves from what they simply like as people.  Yes, you can score things like volume and diction, but even scoring characterization opens the door to nothing but opinion.  Judges can't help but rate a peerson's characterization based on their own feelings of how a character should be portrayed.  Hence, Little Willy who played Hamlet with a bold choice of a lisp, probably has a lot going against him from the get-go, just like the director who decides to do a Cyrano without a big nose, or all sort of other choices. 

Still, it is educational for students to get feedback from these judges during the critique sessions.  It is a valuable lesson in learning how to take what is useful, and how to compartmentalize what is not. 

And, again, when I take my students to competition, just the very experience of them competing does make them winners in my eyes.

It's just that the goal is to be winners in EVERYONE'S eyes. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Gotta deal with upweek, that just so happens to be during a huge blizzard that may cancel my dress rehearsal tomorrow (with performance dates that can't be changed--- Ahhhhhh!), and with making sure the kids are getting the most out of the performances here in town. 

I was proud tonight.  As I said, a big blizzard is in the process of occuring, and I told my students that if school is called off tomorrow, so is there rehearsal (school policy).  These are high school students--- what high school student doesn't love a snow day?  But, God bless them, they said, "We better have school tomorrow... we have so much work to do!"

That attitude, in my mind, is worth four good dress rehearsals right there.

Thank you for reading this late post of mine.  And remember... competition can be a good thing in the arts, and theater, oh yes, is definitely a sport.

See you tomorrow.

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