Archive for June, 2011

CreativEndeavors

I’d like to expound briefly on a few creative projects that I’ve been working on this year that some of you may be unaware of. Since we’re about half-way through the year, a few words on these projects might not be amiss. After all, a few of these projects were on my list of resolutions for this year, and an update wouldn’t hurt. So without further ado, let’s start with the one project that wasn’t on the resolution list: X-PRODUCT.

Pronounced “Cross Product”, this is the Junior Human Video team that I have been directing since February. For those who are unfamiliar with Human Video, it is essentially an interpretive dance that conveys the lyrics and message of a song to the audience. Don’t worry; I didn’t know what it was either until December of last year. In fact, let’s start at the beginning of this story.

Once word had gotten around my church that I had been in various theatre productions in college, I suddenly became the expert on these matters. Now, granted, I only ever performed on the stage for these productions, and had little to do with the behind-the-scenes work. And yet, I realize that most people don’t really distinguish between the two. At any rate, the music director at my church approached me about starting a human video group for some of the kids of the church to get them exposed to the world of human video. Having done various acting roles since I was in 4th grade, I thought this was an excellent idea and agreed to help. Of course, I thought I would be helping someone who actually knew what they were doing. Who actually knew what human video was. Who had actually done human video. Ha ha ha, silly ol’ me.

It quickly became apparent that I would be running the entirety of the group. This was a little daunting to me on a few levels. First of all, my one weakness in the theatre is choreography. Every time I did a musical in college, it would take me forever to finally get the choreography for a song down, and even then I was never quite perfect. Now I was to coach a group of 9 to 12 year olds on choreography? God has got a sick sense of humor. Secondly, since I was under the impression that I would be assisting someone else, I wasn’t really comfortable running things. Like I said, I hadn’t even heard of human video until the music director approached me. Finally, I’ve had a little bit of experience in dealing with children through my work as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts, but I was more of a resource and chaperone instead of someone who actually ran anything. So, as you can see, things quickly got out of hand.

Still, I decided that since I had said that I would do it, I would stick through and finish. Our first production needed to be done on Easter Sunday, so I gave myself plenty of time to get the crew into shape, considering that I was new to human video and they were new to human video as well. Of course, you can’t start a group without a good name, so I began to think of what we would call ourselves. Most of the names I had seen for groups were clever and reminded me of the naming convention of Homer’s Barbershop Quartet from The Simpsons: It should be witty initially, but should become less funny each time you hear it. That’s when the name “Cross Product” came to me. I thought it was clever on a few levels (we’re all a product of the cross, we’re doing this production for the cross, etc. etc. etc.) and it gave me an opportunity to be an absolute nerd. With name in hand, we started rehearsals.

To be honest, by the first rehearsal, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that they would be performing the song “End of the Beginning”; but past that, I really had no idea what I was doing (as previously hinted to). I managed to work my way through the first rehearsal, getting a gauge of the talent of the ten children I’d be working with and introducing them to the idea of human videos. I ran this first rehearsal absolutely alone, which I wasn’t really comfortable with on a variety of levels, the least of which was trying to control ten 9 to 12 year olds who are not my direct offspring. Needless to say, I was frazzled and readily welcomed the assistance of one of the parents for the remainder of the rehearsals. As a director, I can’t keep the kids in check and teach them choreography at the same time, so the addition of a disciplinarian definitely helped.

With the introductions out of the way, I had to think of a plan if I wanted this to be a success. I had seen a few different versions on YouTube of the song we were doing, but none of them really possessed all that I wanted to show. It was at this point that I decided to make an entirely original arrangement. Now, trying to teach one kid choreography is one thing, but ten kids simultaneously and in concert with each other is something completely different. So, as I usually do, I fell back on my engineering background. Taking the lyrics a line at a time, I created a spreadsheet that detailed the entirety of the motions of each participant. All said and done, this spreadsheet took up six 8.5” X 11” sheets of paper. Intimidating when you look at it, but it definitely helped me to visualize where everyone was at every part of the song, like little chess pieces that I could move around and control at my will. Part of the reason I made what was dubbed “The Epic Spreadsheet” was so that I could coordinate all the moving pieces, but the more important reason was so that the children would have a script of what they would be doing.

If I learned anything from doing theatre in college, it’s that rehearsals are only productive when everyone is present and everyone knows what to say and do. Juggling the schedules of ten different kids is challenge enough without also having to make sure that my rehearsals didn’t conflict with something else at the church. As such, I figured that if some of the kids missed a rehearsal or two, then they could use the spreadsheet to practice at home. Ideally, this is how it should work even when they do come to rehearsals. As we neared the end of the eight weeks that I had given myself to teach these kids this particular human video, I was nervous because some of the kids had been missing for the majority of the rehearsals. A clock can only work if all its pieces are present and know what to do, if you know what I mean.

The Saturday before Easter Sunday was our dress rehearsal and at that point each of the ten kids had been to at least two rehearsals. I was justifiably nervous. Now, another aspect that I haven’t made clear here was that I would not be out in the audience directing the kids with hand motions. I would be in the choir singing the song that they would be performing. As such, I needed to make sure that the kids could do the choreography without me coaching from the shadows. My perfectionist nature definitely pushed them to execute flawlessly, which I had not seen up to that point. I kept telling myself that it was “passable, but not perfect.”

The next day it was out of my hands. I had done all that I could to teach these kids this human video. From tips about stage presence, the fourth wall of the audience, keeping in character and the “quarter rule” to the actual motions themselves, I had spent the equivalent of two full working days with these kids preparing them for this one-time performance. And, of course, as is the case with every performance, they pulled it off flawlessly. I really wish I had been able to see it like that before they got up there and did it for the whole congregation, but that is the nature of the beast that we call theatre.

Now, during the eight weeks, I learned that there were some in the congregation who had actually had training in human video. Reasonably, I am still questioning why they were not used to direct this group, instead of the choice of a complete neophyte. And yet, after bonding with these kids for eight weeks, I wasn’t going to let this group fade away. We put in too much work to just end it. Now the initial learning curve was out of the way and we could quickly pull together another human video. After a few weeks of a well deserved break, we got back to work on our next production. This time I have an assistant director, a choice that should become apparent to a lot of people in the near future.

Even though the project wasn’t quite what I had anticipated, I stuck to it and have definitely reaped some immediate rewards, along with those that will be waiting in heaven. Sure, there are some things that I would like to change (more parental involvement/commitment would be nice as a start), but I’ll just keep plugging along doing what I can.

Well, this post got kind of long, so I’ll save the next two creative endeavors for next time. See you then!

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