Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Busy Bees!

Wow, lots to report!

First off, Virginia Larson (who keeps all of us Rimbach folks up to date, and so much more) sent me an email the other day - okay, it was more like three weeks ago - and she had a couple questions, which I think I will answer here.

How would you rate your year?
To this question, I'm honestly not sure how to respond. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences here, and a few that weren't so wonderful, but it's hard to give a whole year some kind of rating. It's been a worthwhile experience on all fronts, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything else. So, I guess on a scale of 1 to 10, it ranks at "great, but incomplete?" :-P

What are the highs?
The highs...I'm really not certain, exactly. I have had a lot of experiences over here that have been truly wonderful. Getting to know my friend Jana and her family, and spending Christmas with them was a warm, welcoming feeling. Laughing about the absurdity of English with my conversation classes is definitely right up there. The opportunity to direct a play, and test myself in that role with Center Stage. Meeting and working with wonderful people at the MLS has been a high point, as well. Making Damn Good Chicken for six people - the first time I'd ever tried something more complex than stir fry for multiple people - and having it work out great was a real triumph, though of a small sort. Introducing my 13th graders to the lighter side of Shakespeare, and hearing them laugh so hard at Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. The list goes on.

the lows?
This is an easy one. Loneliness. Living alone after being in the dorms at Olaf is hard, and living in a very small town makes it harder still. I miss having company in my room, or just down the hall, or across campus. Frustrations with myself and my work have cropped up on occasion, and the mistakes I make in my teaching. Wanting to do and see so much here in Europe (I have standing invitations to both Turkey and Italy, and the funds to do neither), and knowing that I have to turn them down simply because I can't do everything. I know that sounds like a whiny "low" to have, because I still have those opportunities, but it's having the opportunity in front of you, and having to say no because despite only being here for a year, there's simply no way to do everything I want to.

Tips for Luke that would be of interest to all of us?
Ask questions. A lot of information gets posted on boards and the like at the school, boards whose purpose you will be told before school has gotten underway, and many of which will only occasionally be relevant for you. If your German is anything like mine, you may not understand all the details of the info you receive, and you will be reliant on your colleagues to clear up any misunderstandings, and make sure you know what you need to know.

Take the initiative, socially and in pretty much everything else. There are a lot of great people at the MLS, but getting involved in things usually requires you to go out of your way, sometimes repeatedly, to get involved in things, whether it being having drinks with some of the other teachers, or playing in an ensemble, or whatever else might happen. You will have a lot of time on your hands, often enough, and it's entirely up to you to fill it.

So, that's that for those questions. I could probably go on and on (as you have all seen me do, by now), but there is more to tell!

The weekend of St. Patrick's Day was a Blues exchange in Heidelberg, which was pretty fun, and I met some great people, and had a good time. I had started to get kind of down about my dancing, and my level of skill, but my wonderful friend Kendra helped me get some perspective, and felt better. After all, though I've been dancing for about five years, only about two and half of those years have been spent in serious pursuit, pushing myself to learn more, and I need to keep pushing myself to practice and learn and be better.
I also hung out with my friend Lorenz that weekend, since I didn't do any of the classes during the exchange, and had the opportunity to take a nap in the ruins of a castle. It was lovely.

On the following Thursday I made Damn Good Chicken (recipe provided by my once-again wonderful friend Kendra) for the teacher dinner group, and even though I doctored the recipe a bit and was uncertain about some of the quantities required for six people, it all came out very well.

And then. My friend Nicole came to visit me on Friday (Thank you again, Anette, for driving me to Frankfurt to pick her up!) and stayed till Sunday evening. It was the best weekend ever: her visit was everything I'd been missing over here as far as my friends are concerned. On the very first night we laughed so hard and so much that our faces hurt, and they didn't get a chance to recover all weekend. There was lots of hugging (which I miss so much over here) and joking and general foolishness that I don't really get here.

Center Stage is running well, and there is sooo much to do before our performances. I'll be in England for a large part of our Easter break, but I've met with the students all in various free hours, and I think they will do well.

One more opportunity arose on Thursday. Linda Johnke, who works as a set/costume designer at the Mannheim National Theater, called me up saying that one of the three actors working on a show at a smaller theater in Mannheim had dropped out, and that they were looking for another actor. I was, of course, thrilled by the opportunity to act, though there were a lot of time constraints which needed to be worked out. My job and Center Stage are, of course, my main priorities, but I met with the director today, and there should be no conflicts, so I will be performing in a short play called "This Lime Tree Bower." The show goes up the week after the Center Stage show (which I still have to title. >_> Oops), and is a very interesting little piece (it will only be just over an hour long).

Busy, busy bees!

Best wishes to all of you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tension and Release

Today's blog has nothing to do with the kind of tension and release I normally talk about. It's a common topic in dancing, especially Lindy Hop, when we talk about a lot of dynamic stretch and release in the swing out (the basic step) and the rest of the dance.

No, the tension I'm talking about here is the good ol' fashioned heart-in-throat tension that you feel when something really important and decisive is going on.

Some time ago, my closest friend over here, Jana, informed me that she had an audition at the Mannheim Theater Akademie, and wanted me to help her. I of course agreed, and we set about figuring out what to do. We looked through some possibilities, and she selected her monologues and we got to work. I didn't really get involved until closer to the end of the process, after she had the monologues memorized and was ready to start working more stylistically, though we talked about the identities of her characters early on as well.

One of the characters she chose was Phebe from As You Like It, a play I was just in last February, and really love. Thankfully, I learned a lot from my experience with the show, and from my director about playing Shakespeare, and was able to give her a lot of helpful feedback on her Phebe. She had a great grasp of the character, and by the time the audition rolled around, I felt it was her strongest monologue.

I went with her to the audition on Friday, which turned out to be about a 6 1/2 hour ordeal, and involved quite a bit of nerves. The aspiring actors were put together for a movement warmup/audition, then split up to sing and then to give their monologues, one at a time. After the first monologue, Jana emerged looking less than optimistic. The auditioners had interrupted her, something she was not used to, and gave her direction. She had taken that as a sign that her monologue was unsatisfactory, but I assured her it was normal, and that they were also looking for potential and how well the actors took direction, not just a polished performance. I also assured her that she would wow them with Phebe, and yelled "Knock 'em dead!" as she went off to deliver Phebe. She came back looking very happy, and told me that though they'd interrupted her again (as they had everyone else), they had also all been laughing as she continued with the monologue, in all the right places.

I could not have been nearly as nervous as she was when she went back to hear the final decision and to get feedback from the auditioners, but my heart was trying its level best. I was really on edge, and thought I heard her laugh from the room they were in, and eventually she came out with a smile on her face, but was then ushered into another room before I could find out what the deal was (though the smile was promising). Finally she came out and I said, "Well??" She odded her head, and ran towards me, and we both geeked out a little bit. She went to call her parents, and attempted to trick them by saying she had big news in a somber voice, but couldn't pull it off on account of being too excited. We celebrated with her parents and had a great night, hearing all about it.

I mostly share this with all of you because I am very proud of her, and very proud of the work that she did. But it's also to remember that even though my job here is teaching, sometimes you find yourself being apart of something really special that you'd have never expected.

Congratulations, Jana!