Tag: acting

A Curious Outcome

I found him crouched in a corner laying in a fetal position.

The kids told me that is the way he is. Let him go, you don’t want to have him blow up on you. He does that when he gets angry, no one can talk him down. It’s just the way he is.

I remember the day I first experienced a young man’s trials amongst his peers. He had needs that weren’t addressed easily, and had developed a reputation as someone who lost it with a huge temper that exploded when things didn’t go his way. Everyone just left him alone. I had seen him perform in a school play in junior high school and I knew I wanted this young man on stage. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but the story turned into one of the most positive experiences in my career.

One day in the middle of a scene, Sam disappeared and didn’t return to the stage. I asked my student director about him and she said that’s normal for him, he just has to blow off some steam. I said I wanted to go talk to him, and she gave me a look like we’ve done that before, good luck. I found him lying in the choir room. He was crouched in a corner laying in a fetal position. I stepped in closer and said his name out loud a couple of times and he didn’t respond. I knew this guy was going to play a lot of roles in the future. He was in 9th grade at the time. I asked him if I could talk to him and without looking at me, he adjusted himself to a sitting position. I told him we were going to have a lot of conversations like this in the coming years and I saw a smile come across his face. At the moment I didn’t know if it was a sarcastic grin, or an honest appraisal of his moment. After a few minutes of conversation I realized it was the latter and he probably heard me breathe a sigh of relief. We made it through that moment and he returned to the stage and we finished his scene. The night ended and he grabbed his book bag and left without saying a word. I thought to myself it was a start.

Over the next three years I watched Sam come to life on stage. With each role he would hit me with a barrage of questions, the common one being he didn’t think he deserved to be on stage. He deserved every moment. He was good. I got to know his parents well and knew them to be supportive of his son’s efforts on stage. In his junior year we traveled to New York, he was part of a group of students that went on a theatre crawl together. At one point during a production of, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at intermission, Sam got up and shouted, “This play is about me!” We knew each other well and he turned to me with another smile. This time I knew what was on his mind. I was happy watching Sam grow over his four years on the stage, and graduate school with high marks in every class.

We are given the opportunity as theater directors to work with students from every walk of life. In this circumstance, the degree of autism Sam was experiencing helped him dive into the characters he played on stage. Not only did he find himself on stage, that also carried over into his experiences in life. In all my years directing it was hard to know anyone else as passionate as he was with his craft. So many times he walked off stage with a quit attitude in his mind and then returned shortly after and rocked the room. He just needed to trust the outlets around him. I was honored to work with such commitment.

© Thom Amundsen 5/2022

Why Shakespeare?

Because acting is life. With every good playwright we find the realities we endure being played out on stage to help us understand. Without knowing the consequence, the moment needs to find reason, and if done properly, can teach all of us something. That is the beauty of theater. That is the marvel of Shakespeare.

I often in my classroom, whether it be English or theater would reference Romeo & Juliet. There is a scene where the star-crossed lovers cannot be with each other yet have each other in their hearts to a point of obsession. I will ask my class, or perhaps my cast, have they ever experienced waiting for someone? Have they known the anxiety of not knowing? When Romeo shutters himself in his bedroom, is that like putting on a headset and tuning out the world? Would both fathers reach out to friends to find out the state of mind of their children? All of these questions relate directly to our lives today. They speak to the anxiety that our children go through on a daily basis – much like the same for adults. So why is it so important we see that played out in the script and inflections created by actors on stage? It tells a story.

Our lives are stories, each and every one of us has experience. If not, then the likes of Neil Simon, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates could not be embraced in the manner their words are heard. If not, then William Shakespeare would be just another hack. The truth is though every one of these names speaks to the human condition. Only a few have been mentioned, so many more exist and continue to evolve. The beauty of Shakespeare is his words and moments lifted our emotional bearing in a way that is hard to argue allows us to relate to situations that are as real now as they were centuries ago. Sophocles wrote of the demise of power with great reliance upon human interactions to suggest the deceit that can bury a society or at least mar their credibility.

Today is Shakespeare’s apparent birth date, so it provides reason to be grateful for his words and how they have become statements of who we are in today’s world. Who we are in his eyes of culture a long time ago in an English language often misconstrued. Shakespeare belongs on stage, and it is the mannerism, the expression, response of the actor on stage that lets the audience know there is evidence to the nature of life. We talk of existential crises in our lives, and look to find Shakespeare has played out the catharsis in some scene or soliloquy witnessed in its raw form. The actor is alive on stage..

When we think back to that moment with Romeo & Juliet experiencing teenage lives, imagine how students today go through the same. What better knowledge gained than playing out these lives on stage, with all the emotion and intellect of a simple analogy of the human spirit? The genius of a playwright deserves a lauding on their birthday.

The irony is the next scene in his day.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

She Belonged On Stage

At least those were her words when Becky returned to an audition after years of being away. I’ve changed her name and productions to protect her anonymity. I was first introduced to Becky in a production of Mary Poppins when she played a significant role. She was someone who came out of nowhere, they usually do and found herself with a significant role, one that she would present with a fierceness a director may only wish a student would bring to a program.

I remember her having an edge with the cast immediately. People looked upon Becky and knew she was serious about her purpose in a show. She had her lines down early and was even helping the younger children find comfort with their roles and acting abilities. I remember being able to give her any direction and she always took it a step further. She one time told me she didn’t really get along with anyone else and she was just here to do her job. Though I wanted to disagree with her I could see in her dynamic she did stay close to the chest and it was significant to see her become close to anyone in the production. That wasn’t a bad thing I decided, she was actually so talented I let her do whatever she wanted. Off stage she may not have been everyone’s best friend but when acting and working on her role, there was no question of her commitment.

And then she disappeared. The production ran its course and suddenly Becky didn’t return for the one acts or later the spring play. In fact she vanished from the halls of the school. The next year came and went and no Becky still. I was puzzled because she was so good I was actually mildly planning my season around her (a taboo admission by a director). As I did find out she transferred to an ALC, an alternative learning center. I wouldn’t know the reason for a couple of years but once I did discover her there she did invite me to a couple of poetry readings, so I knew it was evident she wanted to perform. Turns out her angst toward other members of the stage was more likely anxiety, and she just couldn’t maintain a comfort level working with the school productions. I always encouraged her and she would give me a maybe look and be on her way.

Senior year came along and Little Shop of Horrors was our fare for the fall musical. Suddenly on the list of auditions I saw Becky’s name. I was beyond delighted. Here comes a monologue story. Students were mandated to have a prepared monologue for the audition. When Becky got up to do her piece it was one of the most heartfelt pieces I had ever heard – a story of a young woman that knew she belonged on stage but was afraid. She finally decided in the caveat of the reading she needed to take a chance and would go for it. I loved it. It fit her swimmingly. I asked her where she found the piece I would like to see it myself and maybe use it in my classroom. She looked at me with a pensive glance and said, “I wrote it.” In that moment I cast her in the show.

There is something about anxiety and students finding themselves on stage. They may walk the halls of school in a meek manner not wanting to upset the cart, their insides churning with fear the entire walk. Put them on a stage and that persona can change, I have seen it occur time and time again. In Becky’s case she belongs on stage, and to confirm this feeling I had, she continued to excel on stage in her post-secondary studies. I am delighted to reference such a wonderful human being and actor in my theater classrooms.

There is an illusion we all try to reach when performing our realities in the scheme of a stage. When we can lives may also become more complete and validating. For Becky, she did find a zone and embraced her opportunities.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

Why I Teach Theatre – first installment

When I began teaching theatre I inherited a program that walked on water. My predecessor had much success and I was filling big shoes. I remember when meeting him, he laid out the program and then followed with the students I ‘should map the program around.’ He introduced me to his top leads in name and told me to watch for them, said their talents will make the program explode.

I picked a show called ‘Antigone’ and cast the lead role with a young woman that looked like a Nicaraguan rebel walking down the hallway of the school. She hadn’t been on stage before. Another student read a monologue particularly well in my 9th grade English – Shakespeare unit and I suggested he try out. I gave him his first role. My lead male in the production had been skipping class all semester but I couldn’t deny his talents. I remember the leads I had been referred to being quite upset with the roles they received and this began a journey for me that mapped out my next 25 years as a theatre coach.

I remember first getting the job and being rather stunned I was given a theater right out of the gates. I was an English teacher with a desire to teach theatre to students and I was fresh meat. Both the former and present students would test me to my limits and it was there I cut my teeth in my first few years.

I had a central goal that was always in the forefront of my mind. That was, to give any student the opportunity to be on stage, no matter the history or background each student brought to the program. I became a teacher to do the very same, to grab those students out of the hallways that had no place to stand among their peers and create a family of actors and drama kids. When I was in high school I was neglected and felt discounted and I believed every student I saw in the same position deserved peace in their lives. Theatre would be a vehicle to help achieve that goal.

That first show had many thrills and demons by the time we reached a performance level. That young woman in the hallway, the student with the class monologue, the skipper all performed at their top level and everyone contributed to a satisfying experience on stage. I found students in the wood work to come in and build the set, students to run the technical aspects and even those students that wanted to design and post the billings to gain an audience for the shows.

I remember posting my cast list at 7:30 in the morning with so much excitement in my mind that I forgot completely about the reaction I would endure the entire school day. That was the last time I posted a cast list before the end of the school day. I had to put out fires all morning and throughout the school day with students either excited or ready to take me out in the parking lot after school. I realized they often would need the weekend to soften the blow of not receiving the role they wanted or come down from the clouds with the exciting role they received.

That rebel was beside herself pumped and terrified at the same time. That student with the Shakespeare monologue had to rearrange his football practice schedule so that he could participate. That lead male skipped school the next day. The former leads glared at me the rest of the production. I remember after the first performance the football player giving me a big hug, telling me this was the greatest moment of his life. I had coffee with him twenty years later and he recited that very poem from Shakespeare without flaw. Blew me away.

I think what is true about being an advisor is that whether we believe it or not we influence the lives of our student participant. Eventually my absent student began attending class regularly, and managed to graduate with all of his credits by the end of the school year. He and all of his teachers thanked me at graduation, me who just wanted to run a theater program.

The beauty of theatre is that students play a role whether it is behind the scenes or on stage with a new found commitment to being part of the whole. I think theatre brings out the best in students and I have always been blessed with the opportunity to be impacted and influence the lives of high school students.

The stage really can be a place where a teenager can begin to find themselves if they are lost.


© Thom Amundsen 3/2022

Because We Act

redshoes-fog

We do everything by the script,

how we manage our morning,

what time we show up,

when we decide to take care of this,

why do we need to live a mechanical life

Imagine if all the gears just stopped,

who would react, and who might run away.

yet, where would they go to find themselves,

perhaps in the woods, eventually they might die,

we do know yet what they have found,

because they never come to retell the story,

we just anticipate, the same way we just know

our world is going to exist as we plan in the morning,

and it will as it does at dusk when our minds expand.

I remember as a child the first I heard the words,

“All the world’s a stage’ I didn’t get it,

I knew it was pretty because that’s what my teacher

taught us about Shakespeare, lovely language.

Tonight while I again wait for that moment,

the crestfallen moon that shines upon my eye,

when I hope to figure out the reason why I want to stay awake

rather than fall into the fear of my dreams,

I wonder really what it means ‘to be or not to be’

I used to construe as death’s finality,

today, I’m wondering if I want to be like you, her, them

what identity do I choose with each morning sun rise.

* photo found on thefilmexperiment