Tag: theatre

A Seriously Bad Audition ☺️

I spoke of the moments when an audition can make or break a student’s opportunity to secure a role on stage. I suggested that students will need to be focused and do their best to perform at a high level in the audition that can characterize their effort on stage. That rule holds true for 99% of the students that auditioned for me.

That 1% is a wonderful individual whom I had placed in roles since he was a 9th grader. Each production he would audition badly, but I would always find a role for him because his work ethic set a tone for all of his peers. He contributed a positive and wonderful attitude through every production. His finest, terrible moment would be his final audition his senior year. This last read would secure him the role of Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey.” Truth is all he had to do is walk in the door.

Elwood is a quirky guy that steals the show with his companion, an invisible 6 foot rabbit. Think about that persona and you find yourself looking for an individual who could be strange, eccentric, lovable and hilarious all in one charming character. All those features described my student, and I had watched him for four years develop instincts on stage that emphasized timing and a love for the stage.

When I posted the cast list, he was shocked. He came to me frightened and thought I had made a mistake. I assured him I would be with him the entire way and this was certainly his role to lose. His trepidation spoke volumes of his own humility. That night I think he spent his first evening in shock having his parents to console him and begin the long process of balancing his confidence. Again, he won out over people that felt they deserved the role. A director’s prerogative gave him the role, and I would not have had it any other way. Though I knew the risk, I really believed he would be Elwood by the time performances arrived.

So, how did he make it past the bad audition? He walked in the room. That statement alone describes how a person might fit a character in the eyes of the director. He was already quirky, odd, lovable and didn’t have a clue what he was going after. His monologue was on a piece of paper he had probably looked at an hour before his time slot. But that was just it. I needed someone with a genuine naïveté and he provided that without fail.

Cut to opening night, and this young man now took on the persona of Elwood throughout the entire school day. He made cards of Elwood P. Dowd and handed them to students in all of his classes and throughout the halls all day long. On the card were listed the performance dates and his name. But the beauty part is he didn’t fall in and out of his character – he remained Elwood all day.

He came up to me as he entered the green room, and politely said, “A pleasure sir, I’m Elwood P. Dowd and please have one of my cards,” and stepped into the dressing room with his beautiful wry smile.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2022

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

Planting Seeds in a Theater

As a theatre teacher I have always been fortunate to work with such talent that would often leave me humbled by the opportunities I experienced. I am of the school of finding yourself on stage. On countless occasion I would hear myself tell my students it matters little the set you have behind you, it is going to be what you the actor present in character. I believed a student who knew why they were working on the stage would find more satisfying takeaways than being told where to stand, how to emote.

I always believed that a student finding their way on stage could be much like planting a seed. If given the opportunity to sow their own character the world could become their own interpretation, and from there they could do anything and make anything possible. My favorite saying was you find yourself and you will experience an internal fruition like never before.

I had two students of similar stature. They both wanted to be on stage. They were both extremely talented. They were two years apart and both played leads in their senior year respectively.

I remember the first taking her role and doing with it more than I might have ever imagined. She was such a top level actor everything she did was beyond expectation, and she did it on her own. When asked to stand stage left and look out to the audience, she would make that part of the stage seem designed around her movements, when often times it has to be the set piece that provides the actor motivation. If a picture hanging on the wall was off balance, she would naturally straighten it and incorporate the gesture in her character, never mind that a door being shut caused the shift of the frame. I became spoiled and believed earnestly that give a student a script and they will figure out what to do onstage. But it wasn’t always that easy.

The second student in their senior year had similar talents, but certainly needed more direction. I discovered a need to walk them through their role, often times to a point of frustration on their part, because I believed they couldn’t grasp their character without taking responsibility for finding it within themselves. I learned that is not always the case, and giving this actor lots of direction helped them eventually find their purpose on stage.

In watching actors play out their roles it is easy for the keen eye to see whether they can actually emulate their character, become that character or simply play out the lines on stage. It is easy to see a person struggle to take ownership of themselves on stage. It can be as simple as an inflection in their narrative, the way they deliver a line, versus being simply a character on stage.

These two individuals taught me so much as a director I could never thank them enough. I often refer to my experience with them as being cathartic in how to ready every student for their role. Students have the capability to play roles outside of themselves or simply play the character as it is scripted.

In the case of my students I had one that I might give a seed and ask them to plant it and she would create a garden naturally. In the case of the other I might give them a garden seed and their first question would be where it might best be planted.

Everyone has a different approach to finding themselves on stage.


© 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

I Cried Tonight

seniors
photo collage – Lezlie Vermillion

 

While rains fell, I swam in the beauty of a summer shower,

the cloudy afternoon turning toward nature’s setting hour,

I think we all have our own conception of a romanticized storm

with its electrifying resonance, makes us each somehow conform.

 

This year has been a challenge to breathe, only in quiet we grieve.

Stale of a pandemic – a somber reminder of how isolate we believe

our lives would become in a manner of short-lived sordid silence.

We all stayed home together using a prescribed social distance

 

meant to keep alive, those whom we loved, could now only imagine.

We missed the dear lives we grew to know and watched a time taken

away in throes of mortality, the fear, the protective nature we live

only to suggest we are experiencing a historic timeline. We give

 

hope to the many children who walked inside the solace of a stage,

so many years did they play the roles whose time will never age.

I watched upon my seniors today, in pictures, experience in a way,

some tasking for ‘break a legs’ in a world asking survival each day.

 

Tears in my eyes as I live this constant reminder of a virtual  end,

careers, scripted lives, now faithful their realities eventually mend.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020 – the year of the pandemic

Moving Toward Happiness

Moving Company
a review 


Recently walking past a housekeeper with my bags, we left our hotel on the 23rd floor of a room in Manhattan. I nodded good-bye and thank you, and she smiled for a moment but I wondered how long the grin remained the second we went around the corner. I didn’t stop to think about what goes through her mind on a daily basis as she cleans up after me and everyone else that nods to her along the way.

In The Moving Company’s current production of The 4 Seasons, at The Lab Theater, the lives of three human beings caught in the trappings of their own seeming mendacity of hope suggest an essential value we often like to avoid. Like the housekeeper we know exists, yet they are gone when we disappear in our own lives, the three characters in this fictional hotel experience life through the poignancy of summer, fall, winter, & spring, and inside each season, the human condition speaks to the turmoil we all experience no matter our level of responsibility or status in society.

These three clean up after us daily, they unplug our used toilets, gather our soiled linens, and bathe in our afterward when the season wanes and they are left alone with their own simple lives. Each character has a question and while driven by the music of Vivaldi, their actions speak to the pain that exists when hope is just out of reach, when the light disappears, when happiness cannot be attained within the mundane reality of trying to survive. There is a rhythm to their world, and the music allows us to imagine their truths are as complicated as anyone’s own. The everyman is brought to life.

The Moving Company speaks to the reality of a generalized world, while exposing our current political turmoil and the hypocrisy of the haves when measured against the have nots. The judicial system is brought into question, while the seeming confusion of how leadership is chosen by ignorance is explored in the eyes of three normal lives.

We walk past the housekeeper every day, and the spirit of always seeking the beautiful despite the disdainful existence of their lives is played out on stage with a quiet humor. The talents of Heidi Bakke, Joy Dolo, and Steven Epp  play out the illusion we choose or do not choose to maintain when carving out our own lives. The balance of live theatre under the direction of Dominique Serrand once again compels and demands an audience to think, rather than simply walk past the reality of our own existence. In a world where hope is easily forgotten, is it still attainable? Will we remember two or three hundred years from today about the purpose of our lives?

The Moving Company raises the question with a blend of delightful humor spread thin by the painful struggle within the human condition. We are left entertained yet in a constant with silent wonder.



 

‘The 4 Seasons’ performed by The Moving Company

The Lab Theater – November 1 – December 2, 2018.

‘Speechless’ by The Moving Co.

speechless

Last night we went to see the play ‘Speechless’ performed by The Moving Company at The Lab Theater in downtown Minneapolis. I wanted to see the show (Best Play of 2017 – StarTribune) because it is being produced by former members of Theatre De Le Jeune Lune, namely, created by Steven Epp and directed by Dominique Serrand. In reading a preview I was further intrigued by the premise, no words, only movement interwoven in the music of Brahms, Schubert & Tchaikovsky.

In reading the synopsis, “SPEECHLESS follows five brave souls as they navigate through grief, loss, and disbelief” -The Moving Company, I found I was immediately drawn by the history and creative nature of Jeune Lune and these players’ ability to demonstrate an avenue of experimental theatre often missed by many, but for those that dare, the reward outstanding. Last evening was no exception.

The night began with the company of players, five actors walking out into the stage, and intermingling with the audience while the lights slowly fade, their expressions all appearing earnest and welcoming, almost lonely in their need to connect, to only simply, say something. One actor as they centered, slowly opened his mouth for a certain utterance, and then simply backed away in pained disbelief. They all then lighted accordingly began their performance with the music moving their soul.

What transpired over the next 90 minutes was rather incredible in this relevant statement upon our society and its loss of ‘hope’ as would be one of the only tangible motifs I could easily draw conclusion upon. Throughout certain movement and precise acuity the actors then told the story of a society lost, grieving, finding relief, looking for motion, looking for someway to seek comfort inside a world of crumbling and disheveled chaos that only continued to unravel. Everything they touched seemed to fall away and even shatter in literal testament of the destruction their lives would now endure.

Yet, the beauty of ‘Speechless’ is that as their world tore apart, they kept finding ways to mend, even realizing that while the best of their world lay in fragments if they brought their energy together, there then, people could somehow find some new grounding to within the magic of the human condition piece together their lives.

Through a remarkable array of dance, acrobatics, layered meaning and finally the utterance of body and soul that had me imagining Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ the players slowly found themselves together and with the meaning of hope, they did discover spring again, and planting seeds finished the night in a spectacular rainbow of meaning that showed the audience, once again, love is everything.

This is certainly a special piece of theatre playing through the 10th of June. If you are curious, I assure you, there is reason to find out why. Go.

There’s a Song About It Too

IMG_1082

I think it’s the Counting Crows,

well now I know it is,

just being stylish,

setting the tone,

the moment when everything matters,

inside the look of a photo.

 

I woke to this image in the morning,

it represents something,

a journey I suppose,

where all eyes come together

to find some peace,

waking only to see ‘Omaha.’

 

I went to sleep with that last night,

having visited our future,

a couple of kind young souls

that inspire my chances

to watch them grow,

seems silly now, they’re both young adults.

 

I woke up this morning,

looked at the sign out my hotel window,

remembered how blind I’d been

the night before to purpose and reason,

and suddenly came to terms with a world

far beyond just my own sense of matter.

 

To them, the two students I cherished,

one being certainly the breath of my oxygen

with an energy driven toward happiness,

a positive soul,

a wonderful heart.

 

And he,

a magical young man,

with talents beyond the norm,

pick up a guitar,

stand in for a character,

draw a line and give it purpose,

 

They walk the sands together,

shaping the mold of steps

left behind for others

to notice, to understand, to wonder,

their’s is a special opportunity,

the human condition in genuine smile.

 

I drove miles to observe and then wake to Omaha,

and tonight I’m at peace, a sweet simplicity in awe

My America (written for contest)

To understand, My America, I wanted to embody a lifetime of experience that could speak directly to my concept of living as a white man in the Midwest. I was fortunate to grow up with conscientious siblings all of whom were driven by values instilled by parents just trying to keep up with the norms of their day. My folks raised five kids, most of whom came of age in the sixties, experiencing the death of JFK, RFK, Shirley Chisolm running for President, the assassinations of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., and countless other life changing events wrapped around the atrocities of the Vietnam War. My sad claim to fame was that in 1972, Kent State had occurred on my birthday. These events all of them tragic had a huge impact on who I am today.

 

I love America, I truly do, I am a patriot by all accounts, thankful for my freedom and the many men and women that sacrificed their lives to help maintain our free society. However, there are times when I am made physically sick by the actions of many, all of whom could find more peace in their lives by just opening their eyes. There is a systemic method of discrimination in our society that permeates every aspect of our lives. Interestingly, as a white person in this time, it seems I would be just fine if I ignored everything around me that is hostile or demeaning to my way of life. I wouldn’t have to deal with it because I am of the color of skin that these realities do not impede. For me personally, that is a problem, it always has been and is resultant in my writing this story.

 

When I was a young boy, I took a trip to New York with my family. I was 12 years old. One night a group of us went to the corner grocery store. I noticed a number of black kids playing about outside the store, and I asked the person I was with if they knew any of them, as the market was only a couple blocks from their home. They immediately responded with, “I don’t mess with any (n-word).” It was at that moment I was struck with fear. I had never felt this way, I didn’t know how to feel. I was raised in the whitest of white America in the Midwest and had never experienced any aspect of the African-American culture, beyond my readings about MLK and X, and my mother’s insistence we recognize authors of color in all of our studies. I was scared for the first time in my life of something I had no control over, I felt threatened without knowing why. It wasn’t until the next day that I could understand my fear was based upon the person I was with and not the people at the corner store who left me feeling curious.

 

The next morning our family was given an auto tour of Manhattan and several surrounding Burroughs including Harlem. As we drove past The Cotton Club and I noticed the streets were filled with black people, I said emphatically to my mother, “That’s who I saw last night mom, black people.”

 

She looked out to the gatherings of people going about their morning, turned to me, and provided me a life changing suggestion. “Thom, those aren’t black people you’re seeing, those are people,” and then she smiled and continued to finish her Tareyton cigarette, like Katherine Hepburn standing with a foggy backdrop, showing logical purpose.

 

Fast forward 30 years, and I am a teacher in a high school classroom. I finish my licensure and am fortunate to be given my first theatre program. During that summer, while working on the coming year, I scour multi-cultural scripts, the only one I know firsthand is Raisin in the Sun, and I keep it on my shelf for future consideration. I can’t find anything I like or understand. I’m having a hard time maintaining my goal of becoming the ‘multi-cultural teacher of the year’ if all I can produce are mainstream script ideas. I call a friend at a local high school with a unique demographic and ask for her suggestions.

 

She states calmly, “I’ve never used a multicultural script.” And I think about that for a moment, and I’m suddenly thrown off wondering how that could be possible. When I asked her why not, her response was my first lesson of a new cultural awareness that I suddenly realized had nothing to do with race and more to do with talent.

 

“I cast only the right person for the character or role,” she stated, and I was in the moment humbled. I suddenly felt like a racist, because rather than focusing on the content, I was centering my aim upon the color of every students’ skin that would eventually audition to be on my stage. Years later that lesson echoes in my mind every time I hold an audition. However, I wish that solution could remain that easy.

 

In today’s world there is a greater need to understand diversity and how it works in our society. Gone are the days of suggesting that issues only apply to one minority. They apply to everyone, and right now as I write this I am questioning my own ability to be an open minded citizen of America that recognizes and respects every culture that I have the opportunity to encounter in my daily life. It’s not easy, but I didn’t come here to whine.

 

In recognizing My America I try to look to the future, given the present turn of events since our last election. We are in the middle of a crisis, that one group of people would suggest is overstated, while another group will cry out, ‘when will it ever be enough?’ Today, my focus is on racism and how it permeates our society to a greater level than even I was kept sheltered from in my formative years, beyond the television and books. Through my family’s eyes, I did experience Civil Rights and I did value its importance on our society. Today it seems all those battles in the 60’s have been summarily dismissed and we are faced with re-tooling our ability to open our minds to an incredibly diverse and beautiful world of people.

 

I don’t have the answers, but I do certainly have the passion and that desire and hope remains with me in every waking moment. My dreams are what fuel an idealism that allows the world to imagine being one.

 

In the words of John Lennon and Malcolm X, with liberties to merge ideas:

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the sixties, that’s his problem (Lennon) … I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation” (Malcolm X).

While Eyes Were Walking

So many waves of opportunity

we stepped inside without knowing

only hopeful,

perhaps somewhere, sometime,

we might,

we could possibly

land here.

 

There were smiles all around,

we wondered in silence if it was real,

could this be

this way that provided a happy

medium,

a place to stay,

stand near.

 

Well I took a chance and noticed

you stood nearby me to, we were together,

create we did,

a memory to serve our time,

forever,

in this place in life,

sans fear.

 

I do know I will recall this time,

we danced the fire of magic in sphere,

circling our lives,

stand before a stage of peer,

always,

we can return here anytime

time is dear.

 

To the class of 2016, and all of their future believers.

©Ammo 2016 All-Night Drama Lock-In