Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

A Musical Past

I’ve been involved in the performing arts for most of my life. Like most children, I got my start in my elementary school’s plays. I was always given a chorus part, since I was pretty much tone-deaf as a young child (as many are). It wasn’t until I had been in band for a year or so that I finally learned how to sing (mostly) on key. By that time, I had set my sights on other pursuits – stage crew.

As with most things in my life, I followed in the footsteps of my sister, who had become interested in technical theatre a few years prior. The first show I had any role of note was my freshman year spring musical, Good News. Sister dear was the stage manager and I was one of the spotlight operators. Again, Samantha had shown an interest in lighting and stage management and I thought those areas were pretty cool myself. I recall the two of us plus the other spot op and lighting board operator doing the big dance number in the lighting booth as the cast performed on stage. It was the fun I had working on this show that solidified my interest in theatre.  

I participated in every production during the remainder of my high school years, eventually working up to serving as both Lighting Designer and Stage Manager of my senior year musical, The Wiz. During that spring, my parents were going through their divorce and the theatre provided a welcome respite from the craziness that I was going through at the time. A refuge, plus dear friends, a favorite Aunt who was choreographing the show and the theatre co-advisor (who I wrote about here) helped me more than I realized at the time.

Through most of high school, theatre had always been a hobby, but nothing I thought about pursuing once I graduated. That began to change the summer between my junior and senior year. Samantha was Stage Manager for the inaugural production of a friend’s theatre company and got me a position as one of the Assistant Stage Managers. Up until this point, my entire theatre experience had come from school. When I started showing up at rehearsals for this production of Godspell, I was amazed by the flexibility and freedom the cast and crew had. We were all part of the creative process and each person was able to contribute. This was a far cry from the top-down approach taken in my high school. It was truly an inspiring experience and to this day, I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with such a talented, creative and welcoming group of people. This was one of the first shows I actually missed after it was over and it got me thinking about not giving theatre up so quickly after graduating.

Fast forward to college: I joined the Penn State Thespians and immediately threw myself as fully as possible into its activities. It was here that I met most of my dearest friends. By my sophomore year I designed the lighting for the spring musical and in my junior year I stage managed the fall musical. After that show I realized I really didn’t enjoy stage managing so I focused my efforts on lighting design. I spent my summers serving as an electrician for Pennsylvania Centre Stage or as a lighting designer for the State College Community Theatre. I had some great designs and some not so great designs. I even tried designing while I was studying abroad in Australia after the designer who had been staffed quit. I guess that went alright, though I never really saw pictures. It was quite the experience trying to design from half a world away and never having seen the show.  

Once I graduated college I tried to stay active in theatre for a while. I even designed a (very) Off-off Broadway production in NYC. But time constraints, going back to school and not wanting to stay out late on a work night anymore started to curtail those activities. I hardly even attend shows anymore either. Perhaps starting a career is what finally shook the theatre bug out of me. I still love it though and off and on look for activities to get back involved. I suppose when the right moment comes, I’ll know and be back lurking behind the scenes again.

Don’t forget!….Our View From Here is doing our second virtual book club the week of June 20th-24th. This time we are reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Read along with us as we “discuss” this book and are joined by guest blogger Erin!

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The Summer I Was 16

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I have always loved summer. I remember from an early point of my childhood making elaborate summer plans.  I’d leave my house early in the morning and romp through the woods, not returning until dinner, and then turning around and heading back out until sunset.

However, there is one summer that really stands out in my minds as one of the best I ever had. It was the summer of 1995 and I was just shy of 17. At the end of the previous summer, my family had moved from the Seattle area to State College, PA, home of Penn State University and where my dad’s family was from.  The transition from Grungeland to Pennsyltucky was eye-opening, but rather uneventful for me. I’d had a good year and made some friends. I was definitely looking forward to my senior year and especially whatever came after high school. However, there was one last summer before the end of high school and I planned to make the most of it.

The first major choice I made was to go to Jazz Camp. This is what music nerds do during the summer. I spent a week learning to play jazz from the Penn State music staff.  It was the first time I ever stayed in the dorms and gave me a taste of what college could be like. We worked hard, but we had a lot of freedom and it was a fantastic experience.

The second major thing I chose to do was to join the apprentice program at the State College Community Theatre. This theatre group worked out of a converted 19th century barn. The talent was pretty much all local and gave people a great starting place in theatre. I was a tech intern – I did costuming, lighting and stage crew. I learned a lot that summer and went into the fall much more confident in my abilities. In fact, that may have been the point at which I seriously considered majoring in theatre in college.

I also got my wisdom teeth out that summer, but I’d rather not talk about that. 🙂

Finally, the most memorable part of the summer was something that most people, especially those on the East Coast, take for granted. I was sitting out on the back porch of the theatre as the last of the sunlight slipped from the sky. Sprinkled through the tree line at the edge of the property were thousands of fireflies. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and only visiting PA in May and November, I had never seen fireflies before. I sat there, entranced, as they twinkled in the warm night air. It was an amazing sight that I feel so fortunate to have seen and really epitomizes that summer for me.

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Our View From Here is doing our second virtual book club the week of June 20th-24th. This time we are reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Read along with us as we “discuss” this great book and are joined by guest blogger Erin!

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They say there’s always magic in the air

Just last week I had a conversation with one of my cast-members about the differences in pay between stage and television actors.  He offered a shocking example of comparable salaries.  In 2003, when Bernadette Peters, a highly sought-after and respected headliner on Broadway, starred in the Gypsy revival, she earned $20,000 per week.  It was the highest reported Broadway salary at that time.  In comparison, an unknown regular on Medium earned $20,000 per episode.  (Bernadette Peters later accepted a significant pay cut to keep the show open longer, and shortly after, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane beat Ms. Peters’ record, each earning $50,000 per week when they returned to The Producers in 2004.)

Choosing a life in theatre is not guaranteeing financial stability or “success.” Part of what makes theatre so thrilling for me is the remarkable people I meet in this field, who have all chosen a career for the love of the work, and not for the paycheck. Similar, I’m sure, to the non-profit and educational fields of my fellow bloggers.

I am, for the first time, making a living wage doing something I love.  I don’t have any dependents and I live with two fantastic roommates, which helps.  Luckily I really enjoy having roommates, especially these two. And I am actually grateful to have the experience of not having enough money while I was living in New York City.  I had to cut out different things from my daily routine and really decide which items or activities on which I spent money. I found free or discounted activities and this group of women has been very good at locating the best happy hours in the city!

However, I have memories of New York as a cold and somewhat lonely place. Particularly compared to San Diego, which is warm and full of the good friends I’ve made in the four years that I’ve been here.  I think that view of the city and that time in my life has a lot to do with money. While I lived there, I worked in a Malt Shop and Barnes & Noble, not making enough money either place and stage managing for free. I wanted to go out and do “New York” things and meet new people, but I was on a very tight budget.

The plan was to obtain my MFA and then move back to New York and “conquer the city,” being in a position to make enough money stage managing, without having to have another job.  Enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries, but also to go out after a show with my cast without worrying if it costs too much. One of these days in the not-too-distant future, I will move back to New York to pursue the dream of working on Broadway and rediscover my romantic love of New York City.

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Teaching: Not My First Calling

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I sort of always knew I’d be a teacher, although it’s not where I originally started out. I was planning on working professionally in technical theatre, mainly stage management and lighting.  I was a theatre major in college, I worked at the campus concert/sports arena, did any freelance theatre/concert work I could get, and had even started looking into touring companies for my post-college employment. However, by the time I got to the end of my undergraduate degree, I was rather burnt out on theatre.  Too many semesters doing academic theatre in which everyone was doing what their professor expected of them to get the best grade possible plus years of working as a grunt in any place that would hire me wore me down.  I left school with a degree that I didn’t think I’d be using anytime soon.

Due to a friend’s recommendation (and later reference), I ended up serving in AmeriCorps for two years.  I worked with low-incidence special education students and loved it. During that time, I also tutored some of the general education kids in English.  Around the beginning of my second year, I started looking for a grad program for teacher certification because by then, I knew that teaching was where I needed to be. I found a program that combined my Theatre major and English minor into a dual-certification program at New York University. Two years and two student teaching placements (one elementary, one secondary) later, I was certified to teach in New York State.

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I was hired by the New York City Dept. of Education at a huge job fair in February, three months before I graduated.  Now, the way the NYCDOE does their recruiting is that the main administration hires teachers and then puts on a series of job fairs for those new employees to meet potential principals.  I had a job, but I didn’t have a school. After a snafu at the main office, I was placed in the wrong area of the city at an elementary school.  After multiple calls to my recruiter, she got me into a high school, but still in the East Bronx instead of Manhattan/West Bronx, which would have been much closer to where I lived in New Jersey.

Anyway, I showed up to the comprehensive high school on the first day of school. No one had any idea I was coming.  I ended up sitting around for two days, shuffled back and forth between the English and Special Education departments.  Finally, halfway through the first day of school, I was sent to teach self-contained English to students with learning disabilities. Not having an official training about teaching special education, I was making it up as I went along. I had no curriculum, no textbooks, few novels, and fewer resources. If it wasn’t for a veteran teacher who took pity on me, I would have been lost during that first month.

After two years, I decided to return to the Seattle area where I had grown up. Armed with glowing recommendation letters, I applied to several districts, including the one that I had been in. However, due to a unforeseen and completely out of my control incident, I was unable to get my teaching certification in Washington before the beginning of the school year. Turns out that only one person at NYU can sign off the paperwork stating that you have completed an education program, and that one guy was out of the office for six weeks because of an emergency knee surgery. I got the papers signed before I left the state, but it took another eight weeks to go through Washington state.

Fortunately for me, an English teacher at the high school less than a mile from my house retired at the end of the September. Turns out he’d been on medical leave the year before, returned in August, and shortly realized he couldn’t do it.  I applied, interviewed and started on October 15th. Unfortunately, it was a non-continuing contract, meaning the school district was under no obligation to keep me the following year.  I started the next school year without a position, but then took a long-term sub position that turned into another non-continuing contract. A letter from the superintendent in February informed everyone that while there would not be any layoffs that year, no non-continuing contracts would be renewed. I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school and get that Special Education endorsement that I had been thinking about.

So, here I am, at the start of another school year. I have my certification in English, Drama, and Special Education, four years of teaching experience, and no job. A large part of that is due to the state that the economy is – one of the first things cut was education.  While people aren’t being laid off any longer, no one is really hiring much either. I have had three interviews and no offers so far with another two or three coming up. School starts either Sept. 1 or 8, depending on the district, so the jobs are starting to taper off.  If nothing else, I can sub or get a job in a tutoring center somewhere.

I had hoped at this point in my life, I would be at a school somewhere, well integrated into the school culture, and involved in after school activities.  Hopefully, I will have excellent news in the next couple of weeks – that I have found the school I want to be at long-term and I love my new job.

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