Tag: commentary

Why a Lead Role Matters

In the stage, being the lead is a position of honor, a caveat many students might pursue in a make it or break it fashion. If they don’t get the lead their lives are shattered. If they do, their persona suddenly takes a confident turn and they look at life with fascination and confusion at the same time. It is important to recognize that confusion might be the greatest feeling they have coming into a role. There is so much more to the concept of the lead than simply getting a favored role amongst their peers.

One of the coolest examples I experienced with this concept is a person who received a lead when they least expected the opportunity. They went about things in the right manner, getting their lines down early, asking the right questions, and working tirelessly on their role. The one aspect they forgot was recognizing their role with their own peers and everyone involved in the program.

It took me years to understand the impact of a lead beyond the role they played on stage. Being a lead contained a lot more responsibility. I remember as this actor worked on their role, an expressed frustration evolved as they tried to figure out their character. A cathartic moment for me was to find them in tears in the middle of the house, quietly weeping in fear. I asked them what was the matter, and the response was an inability to carry out their role because of the pressure not only in their acting ability but indeed the focus of their peers. Continually the response I received in the conversation was “I don’t deserve this” or “no one believes I can play the role.” I believed in their ability and expressed that directly saying the responsibility for meeting that goal belonged in my hands, and just play the role.

I discovered there was a need to take that philosophy a step further. I gave that role to people that deserved a lead for a two fold reason. The first is they deserved the role, and I believed they would give their effort completely to meet expectations. But the second rule had as great an impact. Playing a lead meant being able to represent the whole of a production, in that others were actually relying on the lead actor’s ability to represent the production on many levels.

A lead is meant to show everyone they are able to be there to help push the show forward, that by their own actions everyone would find their purpose in the production by example. I remember this young person crying their eyes out for days, and then suddenly coming back one day and showing the reason they got the role through impeccable effort. By doing so everyone tried to raise themselves to that same level, and suddenly rehearsals became productive, and each participant became excited about what lay ahead leading to performance. The lead had set a tone, an important one.

Being a lead can not only inspire one’s confidence, but it also lets the actor lead peers to fruition.


© 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

Losing Our Identity

Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered what your life is really about? When the day may well have been spent trying to abate the confusion, and regain the confidence necessary to go along with the tasks at hand. Have you ever wondered why your mind feels compelled to ask forgiveness for all of your pain? I sometimes wonder what it is that causes me to feel sorry for myself when I look upon worlds around me with vastly different living moments of survival. We all live on one planet but our ideals and ability to function have such a wide range of clarity.

I spent the last 20 minutes trying to fix my vanity mirror. I got so frustrated I was about ready to throw it across the room. Fortunately I problem solved enough to look up the model and see if I could find a solution. I so discovered that there was a certain clamp missing that helps secure the angle of the mirror. I went back to my bathroom and I searched everywhere for the missing clamp because why would I throw something so obvious away – it is about a 1/2 inch long. I had to see it disappear one would think. I’ve come to the realization now it might have been missing from the beginning. I could have pulled it out of the box and ignored the clamp might have loosened from the figure and just held itself in place because I seldom moved it. Do you see how much time I just spent explaining something that is rather urbane to the regularity of my day? That is speaking to how it is I let my preoccupations run my world.

That mirror took advantage of my state of mind, and one could argue I lost 30 minutes of my life trying to solve the puzzle. The bigger question in my mind now is how much does that issue matter in the bigger picture of my life? We seem to choose our battles and mine right now being reduced to that of an object in my bathroom pales to the greater contemplations that run my day. Most of the time is spent worrying about who I am and what my future holds. I’ve done this for so many years that decades have flown by and suddenly I’m left with only a few remaining, if not a couple as a dear friend suggested we both have left in our lives.

I spend a lot of time rehashing the mistakes I have made in my life, wishing I could have do overs in so many realms of my world. I sometimes find I am regretting my actions, and then I turn around and blame the society around me rather than take personal responsibility. I consequentially come to terms with what I am doing in my own head, and though quite often it isn’t easy, I begin with a new day, even though going to sleep at night is a challenge because I am afraid to face the next morning. That is inevitably my hardship, and tonight I grew more curious because I thought about how ridiculous it is that I would care so little about the world around me and spend my night worrying about the loss of a clamp on a mirror, like that clamp represented my sanity.

I think this opened the door to let me think about the bigger issues in our world well beyond my own. I would have to admit watching a movie tonight about the Sudan refugees put me in a vastly different state of mind. My world is worrying about a material matter in my home. In contrast is a refugee spending their night worrying about their next meal, a safe place in the desert to sleep, a fear of being beaten to death before morning. Those are not things I worry about and I am thinking about that tonight.

I don’t concern myself with the color of my skin. I haven’t lost sleep over my sexual identity. I spend a lot of my time worrying about my finances, not that I won’t be able to eat and sleep and have shelter, but more how I match up with my neighbor or a colleague or a person driving past me in a more sleek model of car than my own. Those are my worries, those are my concerns, those are the pains that drive my day, and I have no business believing that we all live relative lives when I imagine a Sudanese child fighting for their freedom to breathe.

So I will go to sleep tonight and think about all these things. I will crawl into my kingsize bed with clean plush sheets and a comforter and hope for sleep that brings someone I want to be close to in my deepest dreams. I will worry about everything that makes me fear my life and will completely forget about the lives of those less fortunate and then I will measure my happiness and express my lost privilege rather than raising my awareness of someone without nearly the provisions I might have to live a healthy and satisfying life.

God, I wish I could find that damn mirror clamp before I go to bed. I would sleep so much better tonight.


© Thom Amundsen 8/2021

The Perils of a Run

I think I watched her run for years. It was not the sort of get away to which people become accustomed. She is someone that pushes life at a rapid rate. She is a person who believes this in a most ardent manner, that we need be strong, always. This persona attracted me to her when we were young adults.

So one day after years of imagining I asked if I might go for a run. She graciously invited me into her world for an exploration of who we might be at this stage of our lives. I felt like I was always trying to catch up, but happily so, I wouldn’t choose it any other way.

When I first began the run I tried to look composed and be as natural in form as she. She was so ahead of the game, I felt honored that she would even give me the time of day. She taught me quite a lot in those early weeks of our run. How to dress, how to live my life in a manner that looked and appeared put together, a reality I had let go of decades earlier. I grew to rely upon her judgment every step of the way. I trusted her skills.

In a short time we were stride for stride covering a lot of ground and our pace quickened with every step. I remember several occasions catching each other’s eyes with a little shock of our speed, realizing gradually we might trip if we didn’t stay focused upon the terrain ahead. As life would have it there are always trails and paths of uneven grade and mastering these levels is part of the beauty of challenging nature’s course together.

We discovered a new balance in our lives that seemed invigorating and we remarked at how wonderful this run had become supporting one another throughout each new journey ahead. We moved so fast though that one day rather than one another’s eyes we looked too closely into the sun, and our vision blinded, steps became unsure. We began to analyze the other side of our run, where in the beginning we loved to expound upon the balance, leaving confusion and insecurity behind. Naturally as life would have it, we became self-aware of recognizing adversity in the knees, the joints and muscles that need tendering in any enduring challenge. The body, can be consumed in a good run, but the mind might handle only so much.

I remember the time I sort of stutter stepped and glanced my hand upon her shoulder for balance, throwing off her cadence and my own. She regained her rhythm and I now fell behind a bit, but she stayed close allowing me to find again my composure. My energy gave her a smile and we immediately thought about the idiosyncratic nature of life and how sudden movement even on a forest path might give our bodies pause, a desire to catch up. I often wonder if I had noticed with more clarity early on what remains vivid in my mind today. I didn’t have to be stride for stride. I could have eased back providing her some space on the road to carry on her will. Such understanding might have kept us both running toward a beautiful horizon that lay ahead.

I stumbled again. This time I reached out with both hands landing on her shoulders hoping to maintain my stride, but letting my foot step upon hers and in a sudden tangle our bodies intertwined, we tumbled upon the soft mossy terrain of a country path. We rolled apart and looked for one another’s eyes, and now too much fear had enveloped us both and we glanced askance of one another trying to figure out how to start again. We decided to wait until the next day.

Increasingly, as we tried to continue our runs, the equilibrium began to slowly break apart, and my reliance upon her grew more and more, and I could see her body language wanting to create separation allowing her the freedom to run again. I was slowing her down, and instead of seeing that, I could feel my own strength overcompensate and with each stride I would suffocate her own motion, until one afternoon exasperated she stopped and turned and looked my way. Her eyes told me she couldn’t run with me anymore, the serenity was being shattered by my own insecurities. I had forgotten long ago the beauty of a run on a gorgeous summer evening and instead began to focus upon the grace of her own understanding. Little did I know then, that now when I find myself sprinting down a pathway, she is nowhere to be found because I forced her to carve out a new trail.

I’ve been running now for some time on my own, and though the balance is there the equilibrium will always lack the beauty of sharing a stretch of nature with the one we love. Instead we try to move forward and find a reasonable gait allows us to keep the run despite constant reminders of once sharing the trail, the path together.

Perhaps serendipity does exist in the miles ahead, yet one thing is for sure – we can’t force ourselves into another’s space. We will trip and feel the perils of a missed opportunity.


© Thom Amundsen 8/2021

In Nature’s Realm

A dear friend is walking this morning. She told me that is where she discovers her peace of mind. Our world is not the same as it once was, certainly not the last week. We carry a lot upon our minds. While weathering the storm of Covid and a confusing political atmosphere, we can be thankful that one aspect of our lives remains fluid, abundantly available, and welcoming. Nature is now our refuge, fresh air, beauty and serenity all await our heart with open arms.

The ‘hoar frost’ has been particularly abundant this January. I noticed it on the treetops nearby as the sun rose in a morning fog – a rather spectacular setting I wish I might have caught on camera to use in this observation, but the camera would not have done the moment justice. What it did do though is give me a moment of pause. I imagined my friend on her own walk experiencing the same many miles away, and yet so close because the elements of nature can draw everyone together with meaning. How many times have we watched a full moon from our backyard, knowing someone hundreds of miles or continents away would soon do the very same? We are all in position to know that nature offers a universal release so valuable during such an improbable time in our lives.

This week I have struggled with the events of January 6th. I watched testimonial after testimonial on social networks decry the circumstances, challenge the motivation, denounce and vilify the actions that turned our world visually upside down. Everyone has right to an opinion, I believe that, I always have. Being able to provide an eloquent answer or solution has never been my forte, so I really didn’t know how I wanted to write about this moment in our history. Obviously I do like to write, so this did provide quite a quandary.

So here is my testimonial. I gathered Mak! together this morning, and we took a walk, and just, well, I’m grateful for the fresh air and beauty of a mild winter day. I appreciate the wonder of a morning breeze upon my naked skin. I delight in the startling nature of my dog’s fascination with a crust of snow on the path. I pray that we can all find peace of mind, and know that our heart beats with the same fierce resilience we all might rely upon to carry ourselves through life’s darkest moments.

Close your eyes and breathe.


© Thom Amundsen 1/2021

Grateful Solace

All week the idea of this day has rolled through my mind. Thanksgiving, and what it is that gives us such value toward one day out of the calendar. Despite its origins which do give me pause and help me realize we might be thought somewhat arrogant to an indigenous nation we clearly took advantage for our own benefit. The day nonetheless has become a gathering of family, a day over the years that has the promise of memory and laughs and celebration of an identity we have become together.

I can always remind myself of our family meeting one another in my grandmother’s home in Duluth. She and her husband, Granny and Gramps cherished their family in every extent of the word. I know the dining room table that would fit us all with the children in the next room, sitting on as polished oak they could match with the adults sacred space. To make it one day to the main room, the main serving table of Granny’s wonderful meal was a rite of passage for all including myself.

We were raised in the fashion of an Irish tradition, and anyone who walked into the home on 5th avenue, became another Irish descendant the moment they crossed the threshold. My father alone – Papa – of a Norwegian descent was clearly an Irishman that day, embraced by Nana’s parents like a son – a paramount meaning of love that I have wished I might emulate my entire life. I was lucky, we were all lucky to know unconditional love in every aspect of the word.

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving and we must first acknowledge the state of mind a pandemic has placed upon our ability to celebrate together. No matter the circumstance for some of ‘alone’ and all of its impact, we can still with integrity celebrate the meaning of love. Wherever we stand, however we live our lives in distant or near proximity, only one reality matters – kindness.

We are compassionate souls no matter how much we might choose to fight that attribute in any given paradigm of our own position in life. We have experienced those we do cherish who have passed on to their next journey (God bless) and we will hold a chair for them today because memory alone will always keep them close to our heart. We will recognize those of lesser means who today might have a tear or flood of emotion knowing their isolation and hunger will be overlooked by the many that come before and did once share lives together. I don’t speak of myself in that realm, I am a fortunate man.

Today let’s lift our glass to the beauty of life. Let’s look in one another’s eyes and remember that together we have created these moments for many years well beyond our own mortality. Let us be kind and grateful for all of the people that came before and after who created whom we are today.

Let us love with passionate embrace.


© Thom Amundsen  11/2020

Late In The Morning

It’s really late, it took me this long to decide to try to write my state of mind. We have a holiday fast approaching this week, and society is marooned by this awful Covid 19 virus. We have all made adjustments, trying to understand and convince ourselves that this is temporary. I wonder how my mom and dad might have felt when they both reached 82 and someone turned to them and said, this is only temporary, you have to keep telling yourself that. They both passed within their 82nd year, and temporary to them might have seemed a little ludicrous.

I’m 61 and sort of starting a new life, looking at something that affects us all that is thought to be temporary. Events and lives and needs are getting pushed ahead for months every few evaluative weeks, when once again we all realize we are not safe to go back to a world and lifestyle that we did take for granted. Gone is the typical in many lives as we adjust, as we make good on a promise that we will ride the crest of this wave for as long as it takes.

This is a time when we really do take a moment to recognize what it is we are grateful for. Across the nation throughout the world people have lost their loved ones and in America, there will be an empty chair in many homes, with everyone that remains trying to celebrate that life along with their own, appreciating each other and giving thanks for who we are, what we have become.

This one is different. We are guided by medical staff to stay isolated, to allow yourself to make decisions to keep you and your family safe. I’m a public school teacher, and I chose to stay home this year for a variety of reasons, number one being my health. I am quite healthy but in contrast I have had several surgeries within the last decade that might leave someone wondering about my safety around large numbers of students in my high school. I now sit behind my desk at home, dog laying by my side, and teach those children I would much rather see in the classroom.

Though that’s what I feel there is also the benefit some students are expressing over their ability to focus more at home than in the classroom. There is remarkable truth to that when we think about the amount of distraction young adults could potentially and do experience in a classroom filled to the brim with young adults, teenagers readying themselves to soon step into the world of adulthood.

Tonight these are just my thoughts as I listen to Jackson Browne and his hopeful lyrics and crooning voice in the background. So, maybe I do try to wax poetry in the twilight of my night, but it is what I feel and believe right now. I believe we are all in this together, and that philosophy will never get old even after we get this virus under control.

Our lives all depend upon being able to celebrate life together as one.


© Thom Amundsen 11/2020

On The Issue of Talent and Race

difference


Recently, I shared a news article that highlighted the posting oftwo of our newest appointed City Councilors. The pitch of the article was to suggest we are breaking barriers by electing our first person of color to a political seat in the city’s government.

Ironically and thankfully there was little push back to my share and far more support, though I do have to bring attention to the commentary that did evolve. In order to get there I have to tell a story.

When I was twelve my family traveled to the East Coast, where we stayed with my cousins. God love my cousins but I really didn’t know them and I certainly wasn’t aware of their cultural views. One night my cousin of same age and I took a walk about the corner store where we encountered some black kids hanging out, just being teenagers. I asked my cousin if he knew them and he said no and in doing so dropped the ‘n’ word, that being the first time I had heard it in direct context as it impacted my life. I felt immediately nervous and couldn’t get past it the remainder of the night. I clearly knew my cousin’s views as we returned from the store and I felt fear for the first time in my life.

The next day, our family toured Harlem. I turned to my mom in the back seat and said, as a naive 12 year old, ‘those were the kids I saw last night.’ She told me of course they could not have been, and I said to her, ‘yes, mom, the same black kids on the corner.’

My mother then turned to me and said, ‘Listen to me, you didn’t see those kids last night and you certainly didn’t see those ‘black kids’ on the corner, you saw kids last night, and they were different kids from a different neighborhood.’ The point she was making of course is that I saw kids, playing on the corner, just people, the significance of color in my mom’s mind and her lesson to me was that it didn’t hold any bearing. She was telling me they are human beings just like anyone else in our world.

So why do I struggle today with the reality that yes, the skill set they bring to their position ought to be precedent?

I raise this issue because when my mother told me that story, it was 1972 and we were in the midst of racial turmoil. The Civil Rights Act was meant to begin to create an alliance between people of all walks of life. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. did say, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” So yes I agree 100 %.

The issue I cannot agree with is that nearly 50 years later, we are still fighting to acknowledge that people need to be judged by the content of their character. It seems we still live in a society that will not allow that mindset to grow.

We must continue to grow. Congratulations to our two newest members of the City Council – May your contributions be filled with promise and fortune to continue to move this beautiful community in the right direction.

A Reminder

Over ten years ago, I dropped my son and daughter off to school, in tears, as I was saying good bye for a month of treatment. It was probably the hardest day of my life. My son was twelve, my daughter almost 16, and I was nearly 50 years old, and wondering if in that moment was I the child or were my teenagers? The phenomena of addiction is something that a person cannot predict when in the throes of its powerful grip. What can  be predicted though is the outcome if the right choices are made.

I was triggered tonight watching a cop show where a father was taken away while his eight year old cried in confusion, not understanding what was happening. It made me think of my son, and the quivering he had one morning in family group when he admitted his fear of his dad not coming home. That was one of the first moments I realized the brevity of my actions. The second was celebrating my daughter’s 16th birthday in a sterile guest room of the treatment center.

There are two directions I might go to help define the impact my actions had on that fateful day. My arrogance might have driven me away from my children, but I realized how important they were to me. I realized their unconditional love, teenagers having no idea what was happening with their father but still loving him, and wanting him in their lives meant the world to me, and yet, I still didn’t get it.

I went through weeks of intensive therapy to understand just why it was that addiction had taken over my life. I recognized the people closest to me were the ones I was pushing away. I understood eventually there was nothing more I wanted in my life than a second chance with my kids. I realized addiction had consumed me.

Not everyone gets the same opportunity to right their lives. I’m not perfect by any stretch, but I do understand the difference between good and bad choices. I made some bad choices and fortunately found the resources to find a way toward recovery. It is not easy, but seeing a crying child tonight helped to again see how lucky I am, and how important it is for all of us to understand the critical scope of addiction and our need to say strong while making good choices.

Just some thoughts watching television create yet another example of the power that illusion has upon the fragile nature of our reality.

A Terrible Week

I found myself crying a lot this week. I don’t mind a good cry, it can be rather cleansing. However, this emotion I experienced had layers. It had begun early in the weekend, the truth of a sudden turn in my life had reckoned itself to such a degree I felt for the first time I was unable to turn back. I realized pain, and sought some way to reduce the impact of my fears. But I couldn’t, the foundation had been laid down, and I was now faced with never being given another chance to redeem myself. I think the most difficult aspect of that reality was that I was confused with what was real and what now is illusion in my life.

Never is illusion an easy outlet to define. The term suggest we are ill in our own state of mind, to such a degree, we are compelled to create something out of nothing. In doing so, I remained stuck in my own quandary over how I lost someone I really loved. Everything in my life became one-sided, and I had no recourse. I was no longer connected to the security of our passage of time, and I was forced to imagine life without her.

And then it happened. Something bigger than any of us could ever predict. I lost two people in my community that recognized a certain culture buried in backlash and discrimination. Two people died under unusual circumstances. I watched someone I was very close to unravel, and it was difficult to experience. At the same time, I kept wanting some explanation in another part of my life that leaves me today, extremely alone.

I didn’t find relief, and tonight as I write these passage, there is still no peace.