When we opened up 15 years ago, I wanted to open up a studio that was different than any other around,I wanted one that became a way of life for people. I am from a smaller town in Alabama and I have the fondest memories of being a part of a community theatre that made me feel like a family, that I was an important part of something. I vividly remember being at rehearsal and adult actors in the cast would be helping me with my algebra homework. I remember one of the seamstresses for the shows would bake me goodies and bring them to me at rehearsal. I remember going out to dinner with entire casts of adults and children and my parents never questioning my safety or who I was with. They were my extended family. I wanted to recreate that here at OBCT.

There are many studios and theatres where kids can come and take classes and do shows and they make lifelong friends and memories. But, I wanted something more. I wanted a place where we could do life with each other. So it has become not just about the kids, but the parents and siblings as well. I have watched our families support each other through bouts of cancer, divorces, births, weddings, you name it. These are the connections you know you can pick up the phone at 3am and call on and they wouldn’t think twice about coming to your side. It’s about being able to vent, shares hopes, dreams and disappointments. We come from all walks of life, different religions, beliefs and stages of life but we share an amazing bond. This is what I wanted my studio to be about.

Yes, we connect kids with their passion and help them discover the gifts that God gave them and that is so important but we also connect families and that is a good place to be.

Gardening and Theatre

This is my favorite time of year, Spring. I love the weather because it’s not too hot and not too cool. It’s just perfect. We have cleaned up the backyard so our kids can enjoy playing back there until the mosquitos come out. One of my favorite things to do every year is to plant things. I plant flowers in pots and I attempt every year to plant vegetables in a small garden we have in our back yard and although I could start my gardens from bulbs or baby plants, I always prefer to use seeds.

Tonight it occurred to me why I always use the seeds instead. I like not knowing when the seeds are going to sprout and how it leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat. I like not knowing if all the seeds will grow or if some will be duds. I like wondering if I have added enough water and if it has had enough sunlight. I like not having control over any of it and just having the faith God will make it flourish if it is meant to be.

Our theatre is like a garden to us too. All the kids that come to us are seeds. We do best with those. They all have a spark of a passion, even if some don’t realize it yet and a raw untouched talent. We nurture them, give them guidance and tend to them ever so carefully, then sit back and wait for wonderful things to happen. What we reap at harvest time, is so much sweeter than any thing we could grow in our real garden though. Not only have we helped kids tap into their God given talent but we have watched them become extraordinary human beings full of compassion, humility and loving hearts.

We have been reminded of this recently. As we look back at the early years of some local graduating seniors and where they began, to what they have become makes us beam with pride and joy. We are so happy to know we had a small part in helping these kids turn into the amazing young adults they have become and what a wonderful harvest it is. So we will continue to nurture our crops and tend to them ever so carefully because that is what we are meant to do.

Not Broken, Beautiful

Yesterday, as I was trapped at home with a sick child, I came across two blog posts that really home for me. One was a beautiful piece about don’t judge someone because you have no idea what might be going on in their lives to make things appear as they do. The other was about a letter a mom wrote to her son about learning how to be compassionate. This particular one went onto explain how the woman told her son that each person he would meet are a gift from God and have been put in our lives for a reason and it got me to thinking. The mother told her child to treat each one he met as that gift from God.

Sometimes, not all the time,we come across kids who just don’t fit in. They might sit alone at the lunch table or they might not play with anyone at recess. They appear to their peers to be awkward, weird or broken. Now we don’t know if they have some medical condition, have lost a loved one, don’t get along with their parents or are simply longing for someone to pay attention to them, but on the outside they appear broken. We just don’t know their story, but there is a place for them in theatre. I know that without a doubt. Like that mother told her son, if that makes your heart hurt, that’s a good thing because that hurt is compassion. Theatre is a way to turn that broken kid into something beautiful. By offering a child to be in an environment with supportive friends, that don’t judge is the first step for many of these kids. Being able to open up and share their story whether it be through song, dance, acting or by confiding in a new found group of friends, it teaches the whole group a valuable lesson. It teaches these kids the value of compassion. I can’t think of a more beautiful gift to learn at any age.

That compassion we feel may compel us to befriend the underdog, stand up for them if they are being teased or just provide a listening ear to that someone.We all have a story to tell. That story will make us a stronger actor with depth and it also can be used to help someone else. Theatre isn’t about competing, or having a winner or a loser. It provides a unique environment in which kids can feel safe and supported to have their story be heard. I think that’s pretty cool. Each one of the kids that enter through our doors, have their own story to tell and we can’t wait to listen. To us, these kids are gifts to one another and us and we think they are not broken, but beautiful.

Counting Lines

An unfortunate thing happens when kids, especially tweens, get cast in a show. As soon as they get their script, they will count the number of lines they have in the show. Then what happens next is very predictable, they complain to their parents and parent in turn calls director or staff member to complain and wonder if it is worth the child participating if they have limited or no lines. We call this in the business, the line counting syndrome and it is a problem for the kid and the parent.

First the kid probably doesn’t know any better than to count their lines. They are just excited to be in a show, and want to be an important part of that show. They can’t help but compare themselves to the other cast members and base some self esteem on how important they think their role is. What I am going to tell you next is the most valuable thing about being involved in theatre. When doing a show, everyone plays an equal part in putting that story together for the stage. Everyone from the lead actor down to the mom in the backstage keeping the kids quiet and getting them dressed. No one person is more important than the other because they each have an important part to play and if they weren’t there, they would leave a huge hole in the putting that story together. Being in a show teaches kids how to work together as a team towards a unified goal, and a team needs every person to make it the most powerful. They need to know they are going to have a great time no matter what they do, make great friends and memories that will last a lifetime. When they realize they were part of the team that made that show come to fruition, that is an amazing feeling.

If you are a parent and you play into your child’s comparison, you are doing your child a great disservice. You might say you are standing up for your child and being an advocate, because if you don’t, who will? Here is where you can teach your child about humility. Everything isn’t always just about them. It’s about the group as a whole trying to accomplish something for the greater good. Also, by you calling to complain to the director two things are occurring. One, you are teaching your child that whenever life doesn’t seem fair, all they have to do is complain and you will be there to solve their problems for them and they get what they want. Secondly, then the director looks at you as a problem parent and that child might not be cast again in a different show, because they have “that” parent. That’s a shame for the kid. How are you teaching the child the value of teamwork and commitment and to not be selfish?

Then I begin to think, how can this lesson in comparing oneself be translated into grown up life? A lightbulb went off when I realized this happens all the time in corporate America. Take for example a top executive in a company. If they are so concerned with climbing the corporate ladder and only looking out for number one, they may rise to the top for a little while but they are not being an effective leader and sooner or later it is all going to come crumbling down. An effective leader is one, who leads by example and gets in there to get their hands dirty. They are a team player with their coworkers and they should do everything in their power to help their team succeed.

Another example is a mail clerk with that attitude. If they compare themselves to those higher up in the company and think their job isn’t important and they are not a team player, mail doesn’t get delivered which means bills aren’t getting paid and the company will be an epic failure. A mom is another example of how the line counting syndrome can be bad. If a mom is not a team player of the family and is always doing her thing, the gym, girls night out, lunch dates and so on and you shove your kid off on a nanny, you are not being a good mom and your children will be the ones who suffer.

Counting lines is so much more than a child just wanting to be treated fairly. It’s about teaching your kid not to be selfish and to think of others first and to be there for the team as a whole.