Thu 29 Mar 2007
Sat 24 Mar 2007
One of the classes that I’m teaching is new to me: Storybook Acting. This is a class that I inherited last Fall. I never thought one could teach acting to 3-5 year olds, but it’s possible if you choose the right book.
I use a standard, creative movement warm-up in a circle–complete with body pats, dancing fingers, and singing the abc’s while touching our toes. In order to mix it up a little bit, I’ve started singing in class. It took a while to brush up on the old hits: “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Row, Row, Your Boat,” and the classic “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. ” The kids usually sing softly while doing the hand gestures and I inevitably end up belting out the tune with all my heart. It’s actually kind of a fun, since I know they don’t really care about my pitch or tone. When I was a kid, we had a cassette player and a whole bunch of tapes from the We Sing Silly Songs series; I listened to these tapes quite a lot and since my sister was much younger then I was, we used to sing along together. Sometimes I’m transported to a much younger time while singing “The Ants Go Marching”, my fingers enthusiastically marching up and down my knees.
It never fails, but I could play the Animal Game for the entire 45 minutes and the kids would be in Hog Heaven. At four, there is nothing better then pretending to be a kitty or a puppy–the two top choices. Sure, I try to throw some rodents in there, maybe a lizard, or the popular snake–but cute animals are really where it’s at. Maybe we should be blaming Disney for the onslaught of cute cartoon protagonists?
Because it’s acting, sometimes I make them act out every emotion in the book–to music of course. The best one is “Bad Mood,” where the kids stomp around and pretend to be pissed. Last week I had them act out the seasons of the year. Sometimes I try to give them real-life characters, like “Mom,” “Fireperson,” or “Shop Keeper.” I’ve also found that giving the kids numbered dots to use has been invaluable. I make them line up in order, sit in a circle in order, and basically command them using their designated number–yeah, I’m a real drill sergeant. Want to split up a pair of particularly aggressive girls? “Sorry, you have the number five dot and your buddy has number three…you can’t sit by each other because then you’d be out of order.” I have some real buttheads, girls that order other, weaker, girls around…telling them that they can’t hold hands with so-and-so because they suck–which I absolutely won’t tolerate in my classroom. This is actually an isolated girl related problem, because the boys I have are oblivious and too focused on tearing it up to get involved with any classroom dramas.
After we do our acting warm-ups, the kids gather around and I read to them. Books I’ve chosen are Superdog, Ferdinand, Corduroy’s Pocket, Petunia, Diary of a Spider, the Dot, and The Day Jimmy’s Boa Constrictor Ate The Wash (yup, straight out of Reading Rainbow). Many are from the library but a large amount of books come from my own personal childhood collection I raided the last time I was at my parent’s house. I get a lot of satisfaction introducing a new crop of kids to books I really loved as a kid. I also spend a lot of time with the voices of each character, really distinguishing each one so the kids understand the power of voice. Sometimes I’ll ask them questions during the book: “What color is her sweater?” “What do you think will happen next?” “What expression does he have on his snout?” “How many starfish are there on the page?” But if I’m not careful the kids will talk through the entire book…
Acting the book out is always really interesting. Sometimes we’ll designate parts, but often this makes the kids feel bad–inevitably everyone wants to be the kitten, even if the kitten is merely a side character. Therefore, they usually ALL play the lead character, while I feed them lines and give them stage directions. There is usually a lot of running that goes on, as kids get caught up in the story. Sure, there’s one girl who often resigns herself to sitting in the corner and picking her toes with her teeth, but for the most part the kids are super involved.
If we’re really on a role, the kids will really start taking the lead. I’m continually amazed by their capacity to perform. One of my best actors is a quiet girl who must come from a family of Amazons because she’s only four but looks at least six. She internalizes every character, downplays the verbal, and really comes through with her emotional rendering of the character. I can tell the class has an impact on her because I’ll hear her telling her Mom, “Today I got to play Petunia…” which is a lot more reflection then most of my students.
I’m currently teaching Story Book Acting to a group of 4 1/2 to 6 year-olds and a group of young 3 year-olds. The younger ones have a much harder time translating the book to the stage. I read my old favorite, Abiyoyo yesterday, and it was the first time the kids were actually audible with their lines and singing. We worked on opposites, big versus small, happy versus sad. These little ones have taken to bringing a book from home–which I love, because it shows their thinking about literature after class–which we read before class starts. At three, they’re still very much enthralled by being read to, where as my older kids are more interested in asking questions about the book, pointing out every little detail in the illustrations, and showing off their stellar knowledge to their peers.
Recently on NPR they had an interview with Nancy Pearl. She’s a Super Librarian, going to schools to get kids jazzed about reading and writing a lengthy book called Book Crush which researches what the hip books are for each generation. I was in awe of her, listening while driving to work. I wanted to call in and shout, “Yes! Yes! I need your booklist, I love getting kids excited about reading!” Which sounds so Sesame Street, I know, (speaking of, I caught an excellent documentary recently about implementing Sesame Street in different countries, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET, which I highly recommend).
After a little searching, I found Nancy Pearl’s website. I’m not sure what I’m going to write to her, perhaps just simply expressing my camaraderie for getting kids involved with literature. Maybe asking her what I should be when I grow up…if it’s possible to read books to kids for a living. Because, when the day is bright and I don’t have a cold, I find reading to kids the easiest part of teaching. The book carries itself, entrancing the kids, keeping them still and engaged. Perhaps this is what it’s all about…oh, sure, the socializing of three-year-olds is important, which is why the Creative Movement curriculum and all the other classes I teach are significant…but just being read to, man, that’s really what it’s all about when you’re young.
Thu 22 Mar 2007
Ryan visited us last weekend…and if one powerful force wasn’t enough, he brought his cream soda drinking, Ambien taking, chain smoking younger brother ‘Karl.’ My house instantly flipped over to the testosterone side, as the boys spent hours playing video games on multiple screens set up all over the house. Sure, I got involved with the Wii, playing a few rounds of bowling and then switching to Donkey Konga–complete with conga drums. But my attention was short, and I found myself hiding in my room reading a book or outside with Hobbes trying to catch a few fleeting rays of sunshine.
Me, pulling the big head trick on myself, with Ryan:
Ryan, thankfully, loves sushi so, just like the good old days, we took in Blue C like it was going out of style:
Having a house full of guys was worth it all to see Josh so happy. Suddenly, he was kicking thirty to the curb and staying up until 2am, shouting cheerful obsentities at the tv screen, eating chips by the bagful, and having burping contests. It was like having six brothers–that’s three boys times two–and I grinned and bared it. After all, we’re still mad that Ryan left us all to marry a Canadian.
In an effort to get them out of the house, we went to the Sculpture Garden in the cold and dismal rain. Here I am hiding in one of the sculptures:
Incidentally, that orange coat I am wearing was purchased six years ago–when orange was at the height of unpopularity. I bought it for 70% off in Breckenridge and hardly ever wore it until I entered the polar fleece necessity of Seattle. Now everywhere I go, hipsters are ogling it, wanting to touch its shiny plastic exterior.
And it wouldn’t be a public place if Ryan didn’t find something to hump:
Sat 17 Mar 2007
I’ve recently felt like a Baby Name Wizard…I spend my entire day with children. Sure, I teach 2-5 year olds, but I also work at a location where on any given day I encounter dozens of infants. This gives me a lot of exposure to names, and what the naming trends are–at least in the pacific northwest. I do a lot of data entry too, so day in and day out I’m entering dozens of baby names into our database. While typing in the name “Huckleberry” for a two-year-old boy I couldn’t help but point out the egregious choice by the boy’s parents to my co-workers. Can you imagine young Huckleberry trying to score with the ladies in college? Oh sure, he’ll go by “Huck” and that’s a fine nickname, but COME ON, eventually he’ll have to tell the love of his life his Mom gave him the unmanly title of Huckleberry…like in Hound or Finn it’s cute in literature or cartoon but not in person. I was voted down by co-workers, who thought the name was kinda cute–the nickname especially. I argued that this was worse then the baby I met last week with the first name of “Scooter.” (C’mon, you have to feel the pain on that one).
Because I spend so much time with children I have an insight into what names people think are rare but are actually becoming popular: “Max” is a great example of this. Most noted in literature as the protagonist of “Where The Wild Things Are,” I’ve met several little young boys by the name of “Max.” Enough that I feel like I should warn those who want to use what was once a very original name into something else: “Max” is starting to get played out. “Julian” is another example of this…so is “Riley,” for a girl.
I’m not talking about the usual abuse of ‘old’ names like “Emma,” “Emily,” “Hannah,” and “Ethan.” I still shudder when I think of all the little “Madisons” I taught five years ago who are now represented as Madison H. and Madison R. in their first grade classrooms. Now the common doubles I have in classes are “Sophie” or “Sophia,” I currently teach four girls with this name–three are in the same class! I have also run into a quite a lot of two-year-old girls named “Ellie,” “Ellis,” or “Ella.” And let’s not forget the huge “Mia,” “Maya,” trend. Or “Chloe…”
For boys, I think it’s a little easier…sure there are the old standbys of “Jacob,” “Alexander,” and yes, a ton of little “Sams.” But no little “Tylers” and very few “Ryans.”
I’ve met two babies named “Atticus,” already which is unfortunate for more then one reason.
There are many names that are adorable for babies, but will probably be difficult to grow into and present as adults. “Clarabel,” “Daisy,” and “Toby” are good examples of the youthful naming trend. Really terrible renditions of states and capitols are still used like “Indyanna” (baby went by ‘Indy’ for short). ‘Indy’s’ sister went by Tea, but you have to imagine a flick over the ‘e’ so it was pronounced Tay-ah. When entering her into the system, I couldn’t figure out how to add the little flick (kinda like now)…so the child will forever be known as Tea (and cookies).
C’mon people, sometimes you just have to be careful. Giving a kid a name is such a huge, huge deal–I would imagine since I’ve never done it. I love my name, it’s shaped who I am. I would be entirely different if my parent’s had named me ‘Huckleberry’–or ‘Tara’ which was their second choice, (or ‘Gina’ which was their third baby name and consequently taken by my sister).
Fri 9 Mar 2007
A few weeks ago my dear friend Kimberly wrote a really wonderful blog post regarding craigslist postings for free artists-for-hire. Many local companies looking for artists on craigslist more often then not request their services for free. Kimberly wrote: “Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!)” I loved this post. I felt like she should publish this piece and get paid for its wisdom: “Graphic artists, illustrators, painters, etc., are skilled tradesmen. As such, to consider them as, or deal with them as, anything less than professionals fully deserving of your respect is both insulting and a bad reflection on you as a sane, reasonable person. In short, it makes you look like a twit.”
I recently thought about her post when receiving a letter back from The Largest Children’s Theatre in Seattle. This theater is world famous for its incredible production values, stellar children’s theater education, and award winning performances. So, it’s the shit, and I realize that everyone and their Mom wants to work there. They had a listing for assistant teaching positions for their summer program. The pay would be a measly ten dollars an hour, and the job description pretty much stated that you wouldn’t really be teaching but sitting with students at lunch time, handing out snacks, and basically corralling the children. However, I figured it might be worth it to be underpaid in order to get my teaching foot in the door.
I put together a nice packet, detailing my ten plus years teaching theater and six years of teaching dance. I included pics of me with small children and big children–expressing the range of ages I’ve taught. Perhaps they would be so impressed with my experience they would consider taking me under their children’s theater wing. A month later I received an email informing me that I did not qualify to be an assistant teacher. However, I had “quite a lot of experience” and would I be interested in being an intern? I quickly scanned the email for the most important part: pay. Really, the teaching internship was written in a very titillating manner–design curriculum! Explore concepts! Set up directing projects!–and yet I skimmed this to read the inevitable: 40 hours a week would be rewarded with a weekly stipend of $120-140. Yes, this breaks down to $3.20 an hour at the most.
I was so close to emailing a sarcastic response, something along the lines of, “I’m so GLAD my ten years of experience qualifies me for a below minimum wage stipend. It EXCITES me to think I could spend forty hours a week making the same wage as an illegal alien picking fruit. Of course, I understand that 20% of your teaching interns go on to work within your non-profit company. Perhaps this glimmer of hope justifies forgoing my mortgage payment for the summer.”
OK…I’m a poor sport.
Thu 8 Mar 2007
Every morning on my way to work I pass the Museum of Flight located adjacent to Boeing Airfield. It’s located in a gigantic glass hanger bay and includes several real aircraft in the parking lot that one can walk around in. My sister-in-law scored us some free passes and on Saturday afternoon we headed over to the museum. Here I am pretending to be President Nixon exiting the concord:
Inside the museum we browsed the many airplanes from various stages of history sitting in retirement on well carpeted ground.
Josh in orbit:
I really enjoyed the tribute to the many female pilots during World War II.
Handy cheat sheet in case any of us end up stuck on the runway:
Sun 4 Mar 2007
I have to invite everyone to a show I’m currently in at The Market Theatre. As many folks may know, improvisational comedy tends to be overrun by young, white, men. How about an evening of improv with a cast that just happens to be female? The show runs for almost the whole month of March, Fri and Sat, at 8 o’clock.
I may not be on the poster rocking a toga, but I am making an appearance every Friday and Saturday until the show closes–why just last night the audience was treated to me improvising as a latin lover, a barking chihuahua, and Santa Claus. Check out Unexpected Productions for more details.
Thu 1 Mar 2007
We continued on our second day of snowboarding with a nice dusting of fresh powder. So many calories were burned that by lunch I craved french fries with a vengeance–salt tends to be the taste of choice in high altitude. This was the day that Josh made the shocking discovery: He had put my bindings on backwards. This explained the weird knee pain I had experienced the previous day–as well as my general discomfort. With the bindings corrected I marveled over the incredible response time I was getting from my board. I also noticed I had not put a stomp pad on my new board which explained why I continued to almost biff it everytime I exited the lift. Everyone on the mountain was in a cheery mood–and the place was packed.
We went bar hopping in The Village that evening and somehow adopted an injured local. We accidentally took his table at a really excellent local bar we’d discovered. He asked us to join him and that’s when we noticed his bandaged up left finger and blood stained hands. “Jay” told us that he had sailed right off a cliff completely unprepared and tumbled down sharp jagged rocks to a shattering finish. He sliced open his finger from base to tip resulting in thirty-two stitches. “I could see tendons and tissue oozing out and then there was my bone,” He described, nauseatingly. “I also broke a few ribs…and I think I cracked my collar bone.” Jay carefully lifted his shirt to reveal several ribs protruding from his back at an odd angle. This was when we slowly realized that Jay was delirious and seriously messed up.
“Why aren’t you in the hospital? Doesn’t Canada have an amazing healthcare system?” I asked. Jay explained he was from New Foundland and health care goes by province…but we were skeptical. When we asked what he did for a living he said, “Oh, I don’t work.” We got the feeling he was flying really low under the radar. Every few minutes he seemed to lightly black out, or put his face in his hands, or pause to wince in pain. “Dude, can we do anything for you?” We asked. “Oh, that’s ok,” Jay said nonchalantly, “I’m going to medicate myself with a lot of beer and a lot of this…”and with little fanfare Jay pulled out an ENORMOUS ziploc bag filled with weed. Josh and I played it cool but our friend Ruben exclaimed, “Jesus! That’s the most weed I’ve ever seen in my life!” I made the connection: Jay was like so many locals we knew in Colorado making his living off drug dealing in order to live the snowboard lifestyle. He slipped his bag into the cargo pocket of his pants and we plied him with beer from our pitcher.
We were really glad to hang out with a local–even a damaged one–because it gave us a little more street cred in the bar. Jay very nicely bought Jill and I a pair of shots and inquired about where we were from. When Josh and I revealed we grew up outside of Portland, Jay raved, “I’ve heard Portland is really great…like Vancouver BC.” We agreed that if Seattle and Vancouver BC had a baby it would be Portland. At one point we had Jay laughing so hard he winced in pain and had to put his head between his legs for a full two minutes to keep conscious. “It’s been a rough week, I had my wisdom teeth removed six days ago,” Jay revealed. Josh and I were going to chime in about how much it hurt us to have our wisdom teeth removed when Jay continued: “My wisdom teeth grew straight down and ended up shattering all my back molars. They got infected and I woke up with this huge egg shaped lump on the side of head right by my ear. I live in the middle of nowhere and I had my roommate drive me all over the place to try and find a dentist who would help me. Finally this lady opened her clinic at 5am so she could operate on my mouth. She had to drain the lump and she showed me what came out: fluorescent green goo that smelled super bad. The dentist said if the lump had ruptured it would have infected my brain and I would have died. She had to remove all my back molars because the pressure of my wisdom teeth had shattered them…look.” He opened his mouth and sure enough he was missing a significant amount of teeth. He was also missing his front tooth–which may have happened that day due to his accident but we didn’t want to bring it up.
I turned to Jay, looked him in the eye, and confessed, “You are the most bad-ass person I’ve ever met.” Jay shrugged it off and then our huge nacho plate arrived. It was so big we asked Jay to hold up his gigantic bag of weed up for a comparison. We snapped a priceless shot of the marijuana bag plopped next to the nacho platter, (I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m not posting the incriminating pic). Jay kept wandering away and coming back to our little table. We decided to move on and Jay reccommended The Amsterdam, another local place with ‘the prettiest waitresses around.’ We all ended up on the patio of The Amsterdam under a heat lamp. The chairs were damp from snow, and Jay nobly donated his neck gater for someone to sit on. Josh used it to wipe down the wet chairs and we all sat down.
The plastic menu was covered with slutty pictures of the waitresses. Jay pointed at one and said, “She was voted most beautiful girl in Whistler last year.” As soon as she showed up we all crowed, “Is that you on the menu? You’re famous!” She shrugged: “I’m on a menu.” We ordered specials and noticed our little buddy was growing quiet. “I’m just really angry right now,” Jay confessed. “I can’t believe I jacked myself up so bad.” He wandered away from the table and when he returned he appeared more sullen. He pulled out a huge wad of cash–something like 200 bucks–and counted it slowly at the table. “I’m going to get a cab…I can’t wait for the bus,” He rose painfully from the table and we shook hands with him and wished him well. Josh said, “wait, don’t forget your turtle fur.” Jay picked up the neck gater and threw it over the side of the patio, “I don’t need it, the thing is covered with my blood anyway…practically soaked it.” (Josh tried not to wince, the memory of him carefully using the bloodied turtle fur to wipe down the chairs). We watched Jay cross the square and then lurk around in the shadows for a few minutes. He was obviously making a few side deals to further fund his cab ride to the next town over.
The night was deflated without our wounded local friend, but we continued to bar hop. I realized that I ate nothing that evening but nachos, french fries, and buffalo wings. I vowed to make up for it the following day with salad and fruit. Exhausted, we turned in at eleven to prepare for another day of hitting the slopes.