Never Say Never

Ever since I can remember, I loved to entertain people. I had lofty goals of moving to New York, after I graduated from college, and taking Broadway by storm. But there was a war raging inside my soul during my formative college years – a war between the lusts of my own flesh and God. There was a disparity between what I witnessed at the university (including the local community theatre) and img210what God was teaching me through His word. I was a Christian. But I wasn’timg209 living as a Christian. Adults  from the community theatre (and more scarily, adults in leadership positions), invited me to join them for a beer at a bar not far from the theatre or a bong of marijuana at a cast party. On several occasions, these adults purchased liquor for me, a minor. A MINOR. I can remember driving home from theatre activities buzzed or higher than a kite.  All of this was totally unbeknownst to my parents who, if they had known, would have pulled me out of this particular theatre completely. And perhaps, in hindsight, even pressed charges. I was also taught, at both locations, to “use” people to get ahead. After all, it’s about connections, right? So I viewed people as “stepping stones”, and nothing more. I hated who I was becoming, and I yearned for something more…

God.

So, I dived into His word, and it filled me up. And as I was being filled, I discovered a huge monster of hypocrisy in my life.  I LOVED the theatre, but I was growing more and more disenchanted with the type of theatre that I was being taught. For me, the last straw occurred in 1988, when I was told by one of my theatre professors at the university, over salads at a local pizza place, “I look forward to the day when actors can defecate, urinate, masturbate, fornicate and copulate on the stage, or in film.” I put quotations around that sentence because it is EXACTLY, word for word, what she said. And she was verbally supported and backed by a second female professor, who had also joined us for lunch that day.

I was devastated.

This was not the theatre that I fell in love with as a little girl. I went home that afternoon and, to the shock of my parents, declared I was changing my major from theatre to education. I no longer wanted to be an actress.

Now, let me state, I mean no ill-will by mentioning these two professors. Their names are unimportant now, and they are no longer employed by that university (in fact, one of them has since passed away). But unfortunately, their words still reverberate in my head, even today. As I look at the current, depraved state of Hollywood and Broadway, it’s as though their sentiments  finally came true. I also mean no disrespect by mentioning the local theatre. It has changed directorial leadership since my involvement there. Despite my past experience, I still attend their shows quite often, and I encourage my acting students to audition there because the caliber of acting is quite good. And it’s a great learning experience for them, as well (three of my students have starred in shows there, to which I’m totally proud of them). But I also strongly advise my student’s parents to get actively involved themselves. My own parents were completely clueless as to what happened to me during and after rehearsals at the theatre. I often found myself in scary situations with adults that NEVER, EVER should have happened back then. But enough about the past, it’s in the past. Let’s move on to the present.

From 1988 to 1996, I avoided the theatre like the plague. I threw myself into my studies to be a teacher, a wife (married to my husband, John, in 1991) and eventually a mother to 2 wonderful boys named, Travis and Matthew. Theatre was dead to me, until we joined Graceway Baptist Church.

Yes, ironically, a church. And not just any church, a BAPTIST church.

In 1996, our worship pastor, at that time, learned that both my husband and I had a background in theatre. Ray Askren Jr. asked us to direct a children’s Christmas musical called, “The Little Christmas Lamb.” At first, I declined. But my husband encouraged me to say yes. It was through that production, I learned that I could do theatre AND please God. Theatre should be used to expose the injustices (social or otherwise) in the world by sharing the biblical truths of love and forgiveness as sCapture3et forth by Jesus Christ. It should ultimately be used to lift up and glorify God. Through the drama ministry, Break of Day Players, that was born that year, I found my true calling. I discovered that I thrived most when I could help other people cultivate the talents and gifts that God gave them. I also realized that Christians (myself included) are funny,  hypocritical creatures. On one hand, we’re fascinated by the films and plays that Hollywood and Broadway produce. On the other hand,  we regard these bastions of entertainment as scary, evil places to which we are quick to judge and verbally rip apart because we see no light in them. In my opinion, we either need to stop supporting Broadway and Hollywood with our money/time OR we need stop our public derision for these industries, and actually become a part of the solution. Below is an excerpt from my Act Two book:

Humility is a quality that seems to be lacking among most actors these days. It is important that you daily ask yourself, “What is my motive for acting?” Is it for your own glory? Or for the glory of someone else? We will explore the importance of humility more in Lesson Two, Teamwork. For now, I will simply state that as an actor of faith, it is important that we dedicate every performance and rehearsal to the Lord. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31. As ambassadors for Christ, we have a higher standard to uphold. Not only are we called to walk in truth and love in our daily lives, but we should strive to achieve that same goal in our stage lives, as well. We must love our characters, our fellow actors and the audience at large. Shortly after the Kitchen Sink Acting Workshop began, a high school student asked me for some advice. He was auditioning for a role in “The Pirates of Penzance”, and he wanted some tips for the cold reading part of the auditions. I told him to relax, have fun and do it for Christ. He replied, “Thank you, that’s honestly so helpful to hear! And very refreshing to be reminded to be Christ-like during this.” Of course, I gave him a few other pointers about having good eye contact, plenty of smiles, avoid rushing through the reading and using a vibrant, enthusiastic voice (he got the part, by the way). Musicals are big. His presence needed to fill the entire stage, yet blend in with the other actors.

Speaking of blending, there might come a time when your values and morals will be compromised as an actor. Decide now what you will be willing to do for the sake of theatre. Will you use foul language, pose nude or take the Lord’s name in vain? I hope not. I sincerely hope not. But these are real concerns in the world of secular theatre today. Do not be surprised if you end up suffering ridicule or persecution for choosing to follow the precepts of God. Jesus is hated in this world. And so, you will be hated also, if you should choose to listen to His voice. Only you can make that decision. It is between you and God. But as for me, I will serve the Lord.

Do you love to act, yourself? Then use that gift for the full glory of God. But I must warn you to be prepared to face the fiery darts of temptation that Satan will throw at you. Put on the FULL armor of God. Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Declare, this day, whom you will serve.

Do you have a child who wishes to pursue acting? Encourage them, despite your fears. Equip them with God’s word, despite your misgivings. And most importantly, pray for them because it is a warzone out there. To be frankly honest, it doesn’t matter whether your child wishes to pursue a career in theatre or medicine or engineering…

A roaring lion is on the prowl, “seeking someone to devour”.

NOTE: I realize that this blog entry might offend, surprise or insult some folks, but that’s not my intention. I’m only sharing my personal story, which I believe everyone has a right to do.

Tips for Keeping a Commitment

Students are busy people. Drama students are no exception! They’re constantly juggling rehearsals, learning lines, working backstage, preparing for auditions, performing in shows (often all at the same time) on top of the rest of their daily responsibilities! It’s pretty rare to see a theatre person only working on one project at a time. While multi-tasking can be great, it can also lead to stress, burnout, and schedule clashes. And eventually, it can lead to broken commitments.

commitment

7 Tips to Keeping a Commitment

1. Get a planner and use it.

Some schools even provide students with planners for free so, there’s no excuse. Get a planner, and use it! Don’t assume you’ll remember everything. Write down all your commitments (school, part-time job schedule, lessons, rehearsals, show dates and doctor appointments). Writing things down cements the commitment in your mind. Color-code each commitment if you have to. Don’t forget to schedule in time for things like homework, chores, and social events.

2. Keep a “To-Do” list in your planner.

Check things off as you accomplish them. It’s so satisfying to see all those tasks accomplished!

3. Plan ahead.

If you’ve got rehearsal the night before a big assignment is due, don’t leave that assignment until the last minute. Missing rehearsal to complete an assignment lets down the rest of the cast and crew. For bigger assignments and larger tests, it can help to break down your tasks into smaller chunks and assign yourself due dates. For example, for a large written assignment, you could break down your steps into research, outline, first draft, revise, final draft. Spread those dates out between now and the day the final assignment is due. Put those dates into your planner and stick to the dates. It’ll help you reduce stress in the long run.

4. Make sacrifices.

Which is more important, performing in a show or going to a school dance? Do you have enough hours in the day to be head of costumes AND sing in the choir? Will your part-time job allow you to take off  work to run lights during the week of the show? Only you can make these tough decisions. You can’t do everything. There are just not enough hours in the day. Decide what the most important thing to you is and focus on that. Know what is an acceptable reason and an unacceptable reason to miss rehearsal.

Acceptable reasons: illness, death in the family or a previously planned (approved by the teacher/director) commitment or vacation.
Unacceptable reasons: last-minute tickets to an event, feeling tired from a previous night’s social outing, allergies, headaches, getting stuck in traffic, finishing an assignment you procrastinated on, or you “just didn’t feel like going.”

The only acceptable reason to miss a show is because you are sick or injured enough to go to the hospital. Pretty much any other reason is unacceptable.

5. If conflicts do occur, be upfront and honest RIGHT AWAY.

Tell your teacher/director about conflicts as soon as they occur, even before auditions happen, if possible. It might affect whether you are cast in the show and what role you get. But it’s not fair to the rest of the cast and crew if you get cast, then inform everyone that you have to miss every single Monday rehearsal because of soccer practice.

6. Don’t lie or vanish.

You don’t want to be known as the person who is unreliable. Your present choices can affect future opportunities. For example, if you commit to run the spotlight for the upcoming production, but then drop out a week before tech rehearsal, not only are you letting down the rest of the cast and crew, but your teacher may think twice about letting you work on a future show. Your reputation is important so, don’t let it haunt you. Be committed.

7. Remember that you are not the only person in this show.

You are part of a team. When you miss rehearsal, it affects everyone else. It’s like the butterfly effect, one change creates a series of changes that alters life as we know it. In this case, “life” is the time spent in rehearsal. If you miss rehearsal, time has to be spent to re-teach you the stuff you missed; you might miss out on important notes or big changes; or you might be removed from the scene altogether.

I hope these tips will be beneficial to you. Thank you for your rapt attention!

Chrysler Building

Have you ever set out to accomplish something great only to be discouraged, and never finish it? Or worse, never try. That happened to me today. I set out to accomplish an outstanding feat today – mop my entire kitchen floor. As always, I prepped for the job first. I swept the floor free of the scattered crumbs and shed dog hair. I grabbed my bucket and filled it with hot, soapy water. I fetched the mop from its rightful place by the back door. I plunged the mop head deep beneath the surface of the foamy water. As I squeezed out the excess water from the mop’s sponge, the head promptly broke off from its metal pole. And I found myself standing there – my mop in two pieces.

My initial inclination?

Quit. After all, the floor wasn’t THAT dirty.

But I didn’t. I hunkered down on all fours, my hands and knees, determined to scrub that kitchen floor till it shone like the top of the Chrysler building. And it does. As I sit here typing,  with dishpan hands and sore knees, a sense of accomplishment and pride began to fill my heart. Despite not having the right tools, the determination and stubbornness within me inspired me to continue on. I had seen my mother scrub her kitchen floor sans mop many times. So I knew I could prevail as well.

Where is the application within this serendipitous anecdote?

Never give up. If you have a dream that’s worth chasing, then chase on, my friend. And if you feel you don’t have the right tools, don’t lose heart. God will provide. He will equip you with everything that you’ll need to succeed in this life. Remember…

Where your talents and your passions meet, that’s where your true calling lies.

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“Is It Kosher?”

Advice to the Christian Stage-Mom or Stage-Dad

There is a notion among some church goers that Christians should live completely separate lives from the rest of the world. While I can see some validity to this notion, the very fiber of my being cries, “Are you kidding me?!”. This kind of thinking is wrong on so many levels and counterproductive to the will of God. Christ calls us to be salt and light. How can we be salt if we stay in our containers on the shelf…and how can we be light if we hide ourselves under a bushel? We cannot, and should not, withdraw ourselves 100% from the world. We are to be IN the world, not OF the world. It’s a fine line.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” John 2:15-17

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:13-19

While we are commanded to be IN the world, we are also warned to NOT FALL IN LOVE with all it has to offer us, or allow it to CONFORM our very thoughts and intentions. We are to CLING TO THE TRUTHS OF GOD as written in His word, and PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD (Romans 6:10-18) so we can withstand the fiery darts of Satan. And then, we are to expect persecution when we DO STAND UP FOR CHRIST.

*uncomfortable pause*

Persecution? Wait, what? Why?

*nervously wrings hands*

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18

Living IN the world is not an easy task. In fact, it is a daily battle. This brings me to the true subject of this blog post: Christians in theatre. I often have parents of faith express their concerns to me about their children’s involvement in theatre. Secular theatre will often ask Christians to compromise their values and moral principals. I can write this with authority because it happened to me as a young, college student in the 1980’s. The question that I hear the most is: “How can I help my child through this scary and often compromising environment?” Here is my advice:

  1. 1.  Pray for your child daily as Hannah prayed for her son, even after he was born. Ask God to place a hedge of protection around your child, and grant them the wisdom to know right from wrong. And the courage to stand up for their beliefs and convictions despite how unpopular they might be. Don’t just pray FOR them, but make sure you pray WITH them, as well.
  2. 2. Schedule weekly bible study sessions or discussion times with your family. Be intentional when you make these plans, and then make it happen. Use this time together to discuss any questions, concerns or prayer requests that might arise during their time spent in secular rehearsals. Children are sponges, and they will soak up everything they hear and see around them. Encourage them to discuss their observations with you. And empower them to be strong in their witness for Jesus. Remind them of the verse, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” from Proverbs 13:2
  3. 3. Get involved. Yes, get involved. If your child lands a role at a secular theatre company, volunteer to build sets. Sew costumes. Work in the box office. I don’t care what, just get involved. Get to know the adults and teenagers that surround your child, sometimes on a daily basis. Make your presence known. And make it a positive presence for the glory of God. Let them see Jesus through you.
  4. 4. Encourage their dreams. God gave them certain gifts and talents, so let them express them in a way that can glorify Him! My mantra has always been: “Where your talents and passion meet, therein lies your calling.”

During my educational time at a large university in Missouri, a professor once told me, and I quote…

“I look forward to the day that an actor can defecate, urinate, copulate, fornicate and masturbate on the stage.” R. McKenney

It is a scary world.

*solemn pause*

But we, as Christians, are not called to hide from it. We are called to CHANGE it through “salt” and “light”. Above all, remember this verse.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Line, Please!

As I painfully deliberated about the subject of this blog entry, I decided to discuss the one thing that can drive directors to the brink of insanity: line memorization. I’ve had some actors show up to their SECOND rehearsal with ALL of their lines (and everyone else’s, for that matter) completely memorized. And I’ve had other actors who desperately needed their lines written on strategic locations around the set DURING the actual performance like on a table top, a clipboard or even…their arm.

*grimaces*

Yes, their ARM.

*sighs*

At any rate, how do actors learn their lines? Well, first and foremost, they need to be committed to the performance that lies before them. If they go into a production half-heartedly, then it will show. They won’t feel obligated to give their best efforts, either for themselves or for the entire team. It’s sad, but it’s true.

While I’m not an expert on this topic, here are the three ways that I have witnessed how people learn:

  • Visual Memory – This is that one person who was blessed with a photographic memory. They can see a passage of text, read it a couple of times and BAM! It’s etched into their memory like the words on the tablets of stone that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. All it takes is the visual stimuli of the printed words themselves. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice!
  • Audio Memory – This person is more stimulated by what they hear rather than what they see. They memorize faster when they can actually hear the words spoken. If you are one of these people, perhaps making an audio recording of the entire script would help. Ask the cast for their help.
  • Muscle Memory – Did I just write, “muscle memory”? Yes, I did. And yes, there really is such a thing. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, muscle memory is “the ability to repeat a specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition.” Did that definition help? No? Well, pooh! I’m a muscle memory learner. I rehearse my lines in conjunction with any movements I might make on the stage, and it helps me memorize my lines faster.  I set up a miniature version of the stage in my living room, and I repeatedly run through the lines while I run through my blocking. The recollection of my muscle movements on the stage helps me solidify my lines in my head.

No matter how you learn, the key to memorization is repetition.

*pauses*

No matter how you learn, the key to memorization is repetition.

*rolls eyes*

Run through your lines when you’re in the shower, while you’re brushing your teeth, during your drive to work, whenever you’re on hold with someone from Mediacom or standing in a line at Star Buck’s. Shoot, I even run my lines as I fall asleep at night. And don’t worry, you don’t have to say your dialogue out loud, thus making yourself appear like you’re one Fruit Loop shy of a bowl of cereal. Just silently mouthing the words will still embed them in your memory without undue fatigue to your vocal chords.

A game to encourage memorization among an entire cast is the “ball” game. The actors all sit in a circle facing each other, and the actor with the first spoken lines should be holding a ball. It can be any type of ball.

*frowns*

Except a bowling ball.

*shakes head*

A bowling ball would be a bad idea. Anyway, whenever someone speaks a line, they should be the person holding the ball. When that person is done delivering their lines, they will toss it to the next person who has a line. This game forces everyone to pay attention and know the natural progression of the dialogue, so they know who speaks immediately after their lines. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.

But no matter what, your lines need to be so ingrained into your mind that you could recite them in your sleep, if needed. Remember, your fellow actors are depending on you to successfully deliver the goods. Days before a show, no one likes to hear the infamous words…

“Line, please!”

 

It’s All in the Name

I’ve often been asked “how did you come up with the name, ‘Kitchen Sink’ for your acting workshop?” I realize it doesn’t sound as professional as the “Cheryl Weston School of Acting Technique” or the “Act to Play Theatre Workshop”, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi to it. As I considered a list of possible names, it occurred to me that there are scads of acting techniques or “methods” to choose from nowadays. It seems everyone has an opinion about it. Even the actor, Dustin Hoffman has his own “online” school for budding young actors. As I thought about the plethora of acting classes available today, the old saying “everything, but the kitchen sink” quickly sprang to my mind. And it occurred to me, “what’s wrong with the kitchen sink?” Why does it always get left behind or forgotten? Sometimes, all we really need…is the one thing that is the most versatile, trusted and solid. Hence the name, “The Kitchen Sink”. Odd name. Solid education that is wholesome, creative and fun!