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2018 November 6

Back from Goleta

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Yesterday I came back from a weekend trip down to UCSB to see my son perform in a play.

Originally, I was going to stay in a bedroom in Goleta that I reserved through AirBnB, but the host cancelled at the last moment (Thursday, when I was taking Amtrak down on Friday).  The reason for cancellation was a good one—her mother had died and she had to fly to China for the funeral—but it left me scrambling for housing.  Weeks earlier, I had tried the UCSB faculty club and a few of the local hotels, but they were all booked up—they still were on Thursday.  I checked for other AirBnB listings, but the only ones within 3 miles of campus were all booked.  Finally, I ended up at the new Hilton Garden Inn at the corner of Storke and Hollister, at a much higher room rate than I would have had if I’d booked there originally, instead of trying AirBnB.  The AirBnB cancellation meant that trip ended up costing me $550 more than I had expected. The reason I had so much trouble getting a room turned out to be that last weekend was the “Parent and Family Night” for UCSB, so there were many more people wanting to be in Goleta than usual.

I took a different route to UCSB this time: Highway 17 express bus, Amtrak 4796 bus to San Luis Obispo, and Pacific Surfliner to Goleta, though the return trip was my usual Coast Starlight from Santa Barbara and Highway 17 Express.  The Amtrak buses are marginally more comfortable than Greyhound, and the King City stop and lunch break is at a MacDonald’s instead of a convenience store, but the bus part of the trip was still uncomfortable.  I had chosen the Surfliner because it has a much better on-time record than the Coast Starlight—even though my margin for getting to the Friday night performance was tighter with the Surfliner, I felt that there was a better chance of making it.

Indeed the Surfliner was only a few minutes late, and I caught a taxi from the Goleta train station directly to the UCSB campus.  The taxi was a bit pricier than I expected ($20 for the 3.2-mile ride), but I got to the Studio Theater on campus before the house opened.

My son was performing in the Fall 2018 One Acts, which are capstone projects for the five students in the directing concentration of the Theater Arts BA.  He was cast as Roderick in The Ballad of 423 and 424 by Nicholas C. Pappas, who is a faculty member at Moorpark College, a community college near Simi Valley, about 76 miles from UCSB.  It turns out that the director for the play, Stefan James, had been a student of Pappas at Moorpark and had pushed to have the play included in the fall lineup.

All five of the plays in the show were good—well directed and well acted, but The Ballad of 423 and 424 was clearly the best of them.  OK, I’m a parent and I’m likely to be biased, but it really did have the best script. I’m hoping I get a chance to see some more work by Nicholas Pappas—he packed more humor and more pathos into a 15-minute one act than I’ve seen in many full-length plays.

he Ballad of 423 and 424 was the last play on the program, traditionally the place for the strongest or funniest piece, so I was hopeful that it would be particularly good.  All I knew about the piece going in was the description of the parts that had been on the callboard and the description on the Playscripts licensing site:

When a new neighbor moves in next door to one of the most popular and reclusive novelists in the world, she knocks his entire obsessive routine out of balance. In this opening-and-closing-door ballet of love and loneliness, will either be brave enough to answer the other’s knock?

It turned out to be a nearly perfect part for my son—he was completely convincing as Roderick, and his body language and timing were just right. There were more laughs for the play than for any of the other comic pieces and more tears from the audience in the sad moments.  Even seeing the performance three times (Fri, Sat, Sun), I still teared up at saddest scene.

At opening night his performance was praised by several people after the show, including the head of the BFA acting program (Daniel Stein) and the playwright himself, who had come to UCSB to see the performance. After the second show, he also got praise on his comedic timing from a man who had been in comedy for 30 years (the parent of one of the other actors).  As a parent, I was very gratified to see his excellence recognized by others—I’ve not just been fooling myself that acting is something he has gotten really good at.

Of course, he’s been acting for 18 of his 22 years and has been in over 80 classes and productions, so he’s had some time to polish his craft.

I was not able to take videos or even still photos during the performances, but I did get a few posed shots after the performances were over, before the stage crew struck the set.

2013 August 30

WEST theater classes fill up fast

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:08
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Today was the first day of registration for WEST Performing Arts classes, and by 9:00 a.m. one of the teen classes was already full:

WEST Ensemble Players: Inspecting Carol & Much Ado About Nothing
Day/Time: Thursdays, 6:30pm – 8:45pm
Dates: September 12 – May 15 (30 weeks; see website for details)
Location: West End Studio Theatre
THIS IS A FULL SEASON (Sept. – May) enrollment
8 Monthly payments of $120 (see website for payment schedule)

Sorry, this class is full

How, you may wonder, did that happen? Well, WEST classes usually fill up quickly, but this was a special case. Earlier in the week, there had been an e-mail sent out to families of teens who had been in the WEST Ensemble Players last year:

The fall schedule has posted online at WEST. Please note that the official start of registration is Friday, August 30th. Again this year, WEST Ensemble Players will be a small class with an expected maximum of 12 students for the fall and possibly 15 students for the spring. The students expressed a desire to stay together as a group last spring. I know lives and interests and plans change, but I would like to extend a priority registration to the students from last year’s WEST Ensemble Players classes before this class opens to the public. Please note the classes were created keeping in mind a full season curriculum. This year, we are asking for a full September–May commitment. If you don’t feel you can commit to this, we can add you to the class for one semester only if there is space available.

If you are planning on joining the WEST Ensemble Players class, please email me directly so I can secure your place in the class.

We jumped on the opportunity, and it looks like everyone else from last year did also.  There is a slightly different feel for a group that works together often—the difference between a pick-up game and a team.  I’m expecting great things of the WEST Ensemble Players this year!

This is my son’s senior year of high school, so his last year with WEST.  Because he has finished all high school graduation requirements except a year of English, half a year of econ, and half a year of civics, he is taking this year to concentrate on his fun subjects:

  • 3 theater classes: WEST Ensemble Players (which filled up before registration opened to the public), Dinosaur Prom Improv (a closed troupe, with the same players as last year) and Page to Stage (a slightly new endeavor for WEST in adapting literature to the stage—with students doing the scriptwriting and directing, as well as the acting). WEST has opened up a couple more intermediate improv classes, probably in the hopes of replacing graduating members of Dinosaur Prom next year and possibly of forming a competing troupe, but since he is already in Dinosaur Prom, he doesn’t need another weekly improv outlet.
    Update—2013 Sept 31: Page to Stage filled up on the first day without any pre-registration, so the teen classes at WEST are indeed in high demand.
  • Two computer engineering projects: extending the Arduino Data Logger he wrote last year (many new features) and the Bluetooth light gloves project.
  • Group Theory as an online class from Art of Problem Solving

And some not so fun ones:

  • AP Chemistry through ChemAdvantage (I won’t be teaching him myself).  This one will not be painful, but is not a big interest.
  • Econ at home (Fall semester)  He may be able to work some of the financial planning for the light-gloves project into this course, as he will be doing a fairly detailed business plan and cost estimation for manufacturing the gloves.  Again, not too painful, but he probably wouldn’t bother if it weren’t a high school graduation requirement in California.
  • Civics at home (Spring semester) Possibly painful, certainly boring, but a high school graduation requirement.
  • English: writing in the fall (a combination of the Page to Stage class, college application essays, and tech writing), dramatic literature in the Spring (with the trip to Oregon Shakespeare Festival).  The writing parts will probably be painful, but we’ll try not to have any make-work writing, but only writing that clearly needs to be done and has a genuine audience.

He’s also looking at some possible community service: being a TA for the Python class gain this year, possibly starting an Arduino/microcontroller club (his consultant teacher wants to see more socialization among the homeschooled computer geeks), and doing a workshop in a few weeks with me to encourage home-schooled middle schoolers and high schoolers to enter the county science fair.  It isn’t obvious whether he’ll enter science fair this year himself—he’d like to have a 7th year at state, just to have done it every year possible, but he doesn’t have any big projects right now other than the data logger (which he took to state last year) and the light gloves (which are an ambitious engineering project, but not the sort of “save-the-world” project that the state judges like—and they generally prefer science to engineering).

We met with our consultant teacher yesterday, and she approved this plan.

2013 April 7

WEST summer 2013 season

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I just signed my son up for all the summer acting that WEST performing arts is offering to teens this summer:

That’s almost 7 weeks of acting (July 4 is a holiday), at 5–7 hours a day, 5–6 days a week (the teen production is longer, but less intense than the two conservatories).  The acting classes will cost $2265 (plus tickets to see the shows), or a bit less than $10/hour for the classes.

All three of the classes are scheduled to be in the West End Studio Theatre, which I’ve not seen since they did some remodeling in the fall (all his productions during the school year have been in the Broadway Playhouse, an older, smaller space). The West End Studio Theatre is much more flexible, as it is basically just warehouse space, and they can set up the stage and audience seating in various configurations—they even did arena seating for Hunger Games last year.

The collaborations with Shakespeare Santa Cruz have been going on for several years, but the one with Theatre Témoin is new.  I think that it will be good for my son to learn the more physical style of acting that they will be teaching, as he tends to focus more on the verbal part of acting than on his physical acting (not exclusively, of course).

2013 March 26

Summer Classes 2013 | West End Studio Theatre – Santa Cruz, CA

Filed under: home school,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:25
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The children’s/teens’ theater group that my son performs with has released their summer camp schedule: Summer Classes 2013 | West End Studio Theatre – Santa Cruz, CA.

They have 15 different camps this summer, ranging in length from 1 week to 3 weeks (with two having a 1-week/2-week option), and ranging from ages 4–7 for the youngest group to ages 14–21 for the oldest.  Most of the summer camps are done by grade range (grades 1–4, 4–10, 6–12, …), but the youngest and oldest groups poke out of the normal K–12 grade range, and use age ranges instead.

The grade and age ranges are usually fairly large (6 or 7 years) and the classes accommodate kids with a wide range of acting experience, from first time on stage to 40 previous productions.  The teen productions often have many of the same kids in them (the theater-obsessed kids), but there are usually a couple of first-timers also.  I’m always pleased to see how well the kids incorporate newcomers, make them welcome, and get them to perform at a fairly high level.

There is no auditioning at WEST—the teachers assign parts after observing the kids for a few classes and getting input from them about how big and what sort of part they want (some prefer having a lot of lines, others prefer having less to memorize, some like mainly verbal roles, others prefer primarily physical roles, …).

Casting is often quite complex, with one actor playing several roles, or multiple actors playing the same role.  In some of the larger classes they do two casts, with the leads in one casts having bit parts in the other cast.  One particularly memorable production was of Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy,  which had only one cast, but almost every role was played by 2 or 3 actors and almost everyone had multiple roles, using costuming to maintain continuity.  I doubt that it would have worked in a more serious play, but Hitchhikers’ Guide is surreal enough and comical enough that it worked quite well.

This year, there are three summer acting camps that my son is eligible for:

(He’s also eligible for the tech class, but he’s done that one before and decided he’d much rather be on stage than doing tech work.)

He’s decided he wants to do the comic production and the Shakespeare conservatory, but he’s not decided about the physical theater yet.  Personally, I think that the physical theater would teach him the most, as his acting has almost always centered around the lines and the verbal delivery (even his improv work tends more toward the verbal than the physical).  He’s worked with the Shakespeare Santa Cruz people several times now, but not with Theatre Témoin, whose collaboration with WEST is new this year.

But summer theater is at least as much about recreation as it is about improving skills, so I leave the decisions up to him.  He may think that 7 weeks of intensive theater work is too much for this summer, as it won’t leave much time for recreational programming.  (It would give him a good excuse for not working on college application essays for those weeks, though.)

2012 April 17

College theater programs vs. Tao of Acting

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Yesterday I was looking for colleges that might be a good match for my son, to get him thinking about what he wants in a college, so that we can visit a few next year.  Currently, he wants a school with a good computer science program (one in which he can get into research early), good modern physics (he wants to learn quantum mechanics and other 20th century physics, not just the 17th–19th century physics that first-year classes cover), and he wants to do a lot of acting.

I know about many good computer science programs, and I can find reasonably good proxies for the quality of physics teaching (though with the over-production of physics PhDs for the past 4 decades, almost everywhere now has competent physicists as instructors).  I know almost nothing about acting though, and so I turned to the Internet for information about theater programs.

I found several (at times conflicting) lists of the “best” colleges for training actors.  One find particularly resonated with me, Dr. Ken Plonkey’s blog and his free e-book Tao of Acting.  He says that for professional actors, nothing matters as much as experience, and that one should take training courses to learn specific skills (dialects, sword fighting, …) and for networking, but one should do so while being an actor, not before attempting to become one.  He feels that most of the college programs in acting are a waste of time and money, in that their graduates have less chance than actors who spend the same amount of time perfecting their craft in amateur theater.  Note: Dr. Plonkey’s bio page says he is retired from heading the Theatre Department at Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University Pueblo), so he would normally be expected to favor colleges as training grounds for actors.  I wonder if anyone who believes in college majors in acting has written a rebuttal—I didn’t find one in a brief search on-line.

Now, I don’t think my son currently aspires to be a professional actor (he doesn’t buy lottery tickets either), but I believe he does want to continue acting as a serious amateur.  The lists I’ve found for “best” acting programs are mainly conservatory-style programs, where the students do almost nothing but theater.  Some allow 7–10 hours a week for liberal arts, which is clearly not enough leftover time for someone who wants to major in computer science and study modern physics as well.

None of the “best” programs seemed to have any time for students not majoring in theater.  So I’m still looking for colleges that have a lot of opportunities for non-theater majors to act.

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