MY DAY: Leaving the jungle….

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It’s been nearly a week since Epiphany Lutheran Church’s production, TARZAN, took its final bow.  My students, who were in the cast, are experiencing the typical post-production blues.  I just read a Facebook post from the director who is also feeling the weight of this production’s departure.

I’ve felt the weight of post-production blues 85 times as a director/conductor, and 40+ times as a performer.  I’ve never had the weight of a show’s final curtain as an audience member, and it’s been peculiar to experience this.

The only thing I invested in the show, personally, was helping students prepare for the audition, and only a few times, assist them during their lessons with their music.  Other than delighting in watching my students, as well as the others in the cast, orchestra, and crew, give this production so much punch, that was really my only connection.

Yes, the story-line, which I will address in another blog post, was compelling, and personally magnetic for me given the strong ties to the world of adoption.

IMG_5311Professionally, I was simply drawn to the talent, work, guidance, teaching, and directing of Megan Wean Sears.  The fact that her productions are exceptionally strong, and artistically outstanding, plus the fact that my students return each year, often bringing others with them, cements for me, the integrity, and soundness of Megan’s work.  My students and their families adore her, and that makes me respect and love Megan, even more.

And for the record: I never even met Megan until last Sunday afternoon when we exchanged less than 15 seconds of conversation.  In fact, for the past three years, I always thought parent production volunteer, Kristen Russ, was Megan.

Following a production’s closing curtain, I engage my students in a postmortem assessment.  The standard questions are:

What were the three things you enjoyed most about this production?

What were the three things that were not as positive about this production?

What did you learn the most about theater from this production?

What did you learn the most about yourself, or about life, from this production?

Last week, I went ahead and proposed the postmortem discussion with one of my little piano students who was a Nugget Ape and Flower in the show.

Readily, she dove into all the things she loved about the show, ignoring the threeIMG_5312 question/answer proposal. When I asked little Sarah what she learned the most about theatre, she promptly stated, “my part was just as important as Tarzan or Jane’s part.” Finishing up postmortem, I asked what she learned the most about herself, or life (and you never know what response you will get from an eight year old!).

“I learned that I am needed and that I matter.”

This week, I’ve conducted postmortem discussions with the remainder of my students from the TARZAN cast.  Generally, from other non-Megan-directed productions, students will say, “it was fun.”  Then, they launch into multiple reasons why they did not enjoy the experience.

From my students in the TARZAN cast, not once have I heard, “it was fun” quoted.

I did hear “it was the best thing I’ve experienced,” “I learned so much about life,” “I loved all the new friends I made,” “I discovered how closely we are related to apes,” “I did not want it to end,” “I cannot wait until next year.”

And, the unamious answer I heard, “Even as an ape, I never once felt that my part was not important.”

Like Sarah, all my other students felt they mattered as individuals.

IMG_5313Yes, I believe my students did have fun, but it went so far beyond what my other students experience in other teen summer productions.  This particular crew of students was not heading off to Kings Island all the time, or doing all sorts of extracurricular production activities to promote bonding, and that strong sense of building relationships.  The bonding, lessons of theatre-life and production, and education were conducted during the rehearsal, thus carrying through outside the rehearsal.

Like her mother, Kay Wean, who proceeded her for many years as Epiphany’s director, Megan understands the crucial art of successful leadership by selecting, recruiting, and delegating the artistic, musical, and technical responsibilities to the best people, and not just her theater pals.  Yes, I am certain she is dear friends with many of the people with whom she shares the daunting task of mounting a full production, but it is evident that those friends are quite artistically, and professionally adept at their jobs.  She’s much like President Lincoln, who, when elected chose only the best men, even his rivals, for his cabinet secretaries.

Having followed Epiphany Lutheran Church’s productions these past 25 years due to the involvement of a college friend, Nancy Southerland, who at the start of this theatrical endeavor, was Epiphany’s director of music, I’ve always marveled at the enthusiasm generated from entering the parking lot to exiting the parking lot.  From ticket sales to ushers to ticket takers, guests are always embraced with warmth, and genuine delight.

Due to having so many students involved in these summer productions, I also hear stories from their parents who become involved as volunteers in various ways.  They, too, always seem genuinely eager to participate, and appreciative at the end.

One thing I believe I appreciate the most from the anecdotes, is the professional element that is involved in every aspect of a production at Epiphany Lutheran Church.  The volunteers take their responsibilities with a tremendous amount of professional weight as though this is their full-time career at which they make a living.  And, the results are always astonishing, but not surprising.

This is exactly how community productions, church productions, and school productions should be lead.  Epiphany Lutheran Church, in my book, does not fit into the category of a church production, nor a community production.

Epiphany Lutheran Church is always a damned good production company that exceeds categorization.

Epiphany Lutheran Church, and especially the crew under Megan’s tutelage as director, and even more so, educator, grasps the understanding of theater arts, never failing to mix in some Disney magic, and hospitality.

It is not only a ministry, it’s a blessing.  And I am fortunate to be one of those who have been blessed for many years!

When you have a deep, touching story and plot, an outstanding director who never once abandons the writers’ intent or ignores even the smallest detail, surrounded by an equally talented team of professionals and volunteers, it is so easy to be embraced by the magic, the artistry, and the love that is embedded in every inch of the production.

Thank you, Epiphany Lutheran Church, for taking so many of us on this summer’s wonderfully touching expedition into a clever, magical, beautiful, and musical jungle!

Like Jane Porter, I’m having difficulty making it up the gangplank.

TARZAN photographs by Lynn Mallare.

An addendum…

Why is the non-theatrical components of Epiphany’s summer theatre work so important to me?

This is why:

Paula Simmons

Paula Simmons

“I just finished marching band camp last night and we have a circle ceremony at the end of it. I had three or four kids who said, ‘I felt like an outcast, I felt like I did not belong, I did not think people cared about me until I joined this music group.’ When you hear a student say that, you know that music touches their lives, you know that music makes an impact. When they say, ‘if I were not in this group then I don’t know where I’d be,’ that makes your job as a teacher that much more important.”

– Paula Simmons, Band and Choral Director of Elwood Jr. Sr. High School

Paula Simmons is the teacher/director who taught me far more about music!  I had Miss Simmons from 7th grade through my graduation, and post-Elwood, we worked together on marching band contests, marching band shows, Variety Shows, and especially, Ball State’s summer music camps.

This lady sums up not only what I believe as a teacher, and director, but what she demonstrated, and taught me as her student.

To my recent post-grad students who are preparing to leave for college to become band/choir directors:

This is exactly what I’ve been describing in our after-lesson life chats!  This is what you may never hear addressed in a college course.  You cannot start to learn this after you’ve begun your first teaching assignment; you must embrace it now, understand the process while recognizing that it is very much a part of your current life.  Know this, and have it in you BEFORE you begin your teaching career!  You will never build a program by celebrating your best students. You will build, and succeed only when each and every student believes they are the best they can be, that they matter, and that they are just as important, and vital to your program as soloists, section leaders, other student leadership personnel. Know I am proud of you, and know you are loved….

About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
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