Monday, March 30, 2015

Lessons Learned from the Director's Chair

Last Friday was Summit Christian Academy's performance of  Pilgrim's Progress -- the second play I wrote, my tenth play I've directed, and my third time directing this particular play. I have to say . . . this show probably gave me more gray hairs than any yet. A bunch of new actors in their first full-length play who didn't understand the importance of memorizing lines early. The week of the performance is not the time to get your lines down! And now they know this. :) Yet they still pulled off two great performances on Friday. The power of prayer, people.

The stress I felt this last week sent me back to the very first play we did in Sioux City: "The King and His Dancing Princesses." About fifteen 3rd-5th graders, in their very first play, with a newbie director and newbie producer . . . wow. I distinctly remember about half-way through thinking, "What made me think I could do this?"

I've always loved acting, but now I think I love writing and directing more -- and this was a surprise to me. I never thought I'd be willing to give up the spotlight, but here I am enjoying the behind-the-scenes much more. God has used this "hobby" to teach me so many things. Like . . .

. . . that I'm not really in control of anything. That was a huge adjustment during that first play I directed: realizing that I could only do so much. At some point, the kids themselves had to step up and make this happen, and I couldn't make them do it. All I can do is try to make them want to do it, and give them the tools to do it. In the end, it's all out of my hands.

. . . that my precious words I've written are not as important as I think. I remember a drama performed at our church in Sioux City that got particularly butchered in content as the actors struggled through. The worship leader announced to the congregation at the end of the service that the piece had been written by me. I muttered under my breath, "Well, that somewhat resembled something I wrote . . ."  I've had to learn over and over to let go of my script; it's not going to come out as I planned it. And that's okay.

. . . that learning a new skill comes from imitation. With my beginning student actors, I usually have to show them exactly how I want them to deliver a line, how I want them to stand or move, how loud and slow they need to speak, everything. They mimic me. And eventually, after two or three plays, they start to feel in their own bodies what it feels like when it's done right and they then internalize the skill. It was an awesome thing to direct my last play with my high schoolers in Sioux City and see just how far they'd come. I've applied these lessons to teaching writing as well. We learn a new skill through imitation and repetition.

. . . that the personal growth of my students trumps a good show. Never have we put on a show that I couldn't find some aspect of the performance I wished we'd done better. But in every show, the students have learned something important. They learned how to project their voice. Or they learned how to focus and pay attention. Or they learned how to sympathize with a character-type very different from themselves. And those things are far more important than whether the final performance was stellar quality or not.

So, what did this last group of students learn? The group that didn't get their lines memorized until the final week? Well, not only did they learn that Mrs. K knows what she's talking about when she sets deadlines . . . but I suspect they've learned something about learning. My suspicions are that they were "going over" their lines all that time; they just didn't do what it took to actually learn them. And I have suspicions that similar things are happening with their schoolwork. They "go over" a grammar worksheet enough to get enough right answers to get enough points to satisfy their parents. But they don't do what it takes to learn the grammar concept.

And now I'm excited at the prospect of watching my students learn how to learn in the last couple months of school. If that actually happens, the new gray hairs from the last week will have been well worth it.

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