"Snow Day (A Day Off)"

As a high school student, I had a fairly constant refrain:

We need a snow day. Give us a snow day. Please.”

Now, this was not me praying or placing a sock under my pillow or attempting to bewitch the skies to make storms appear, this was me on days when school should have been cancelled due to inclement weather even though it had not been.

Some context:

I grew up in Binghamton, NY where most of our snow came from major storms across the interior or from large Nor’easters. So when we had a big storm - even though we knew how to move snow well (it’s upstate NY after all) - we had a snow day.

In high school I moved to Rochester, NY, which sees more snow each year than Binghamton does, mostly due to constant lake effect snow. Because of this, Rochester (for some reason) prides itself on moving snow so well that there’s no reason to ever have a snow day.

Um. What?

Let’s even put aside the obvious fact that big snow storms or large amounts of black ice are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially when you have students driving themselves and their friends to school. There’s another big reason that Snow Days are crucial: Mental Health.

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1. Morale

As someone who grew up being guaranteed 2-3 Snow Days each year, I can tell you that there is no bigger boost to morale in the bleak mid-winter than a surprise day off. And not just for the students, for the teachers as well.

As soon as I was living in a place that refused to have a snow day, the effect was clear and obvious. When the weather was terrible and the snow was pretty and the winds were whipping, what I saw was:

1) Sadness at being in a place of obligation, 2) Frustration at being teased with the potential of a day off, 3) Anger at the seeming lack of value placed on student and teacher lives, 4) Distraction at the weather itself in the large windows of the classrooms, 5) Anxiety over the amount of work that still needs to be done, 6) Longing for the day off that others most certainly had, 7) Annoyance at those who chose to stay at home, and more…

These are pretty damaging effects to inflict upon an entire population of people. And why? To proudly say you never close due to snow? Sounds more like recklessness to me. Not to mention that the flexibility for up to 4 snow days is built into the school calendar.

So, what about the positive effects of having a surprise day off?

So much joy, for so many reasons. Anxiety lifts. The weight of obligation takes a day off with you. You can feel free to be distracted. You aren’t constrained by schedule. And there was a follow through on a promise of something positive. People tend to return the next day refreshed and ready for more. Morale boosted.

 

2. Breaks

Whether or not it is true, the Fall always feels like it has more break time built into the calendar, especially in comparison to the Winter. To be fair, Fall does have:

Labor Day to start, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if your school observes, Indigenous People’s (or Columbus) Day, Veteran’s Day, Parent-Teacher Conference Day(s), Thanksgiving, and a Holiday Break surrounding multiple holidays and lasting between 8-12 days. And because the calendar year changes during that long break, it feels as though the semester has ended, even though it doesn’t truly end until the end of January.

Winter feels like it has far fewer breaks. Some places have two week-long breaks (one in February and one in March/April), and other places have only one week-long break (usually in mid-March). Otherwise, there’s a small smattering of random days off.

Why is this important?

1) We all need some time to refresh. Time to be away from one another. Time to do something we enjoy and want to do. Time that isn’t structured by obligation. Time to sleep. Time with those we love.

2) Winter is dark. Darkness begets sadness. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not only real, it’s far more prevalent than most people realize. Having a break where you can spend the daylight hours in the presence of the sun is a huge boost for the mind and body.

3) Work and stress. We start off this time of year coming down from the high of the Holiday Season. Happiness and lights and decorations and candles etc. that have been adorning our homes and places of work and business…all suddenly disappear. Anxiety sets in. Then, of course, we send students into immediate mid-term testing. And then start a new semester. Sadness and let down add onto stress and extra work, and everything feels overwhelming.

When breaks are scarce, what can help? Yep, Snow Days.

 

3. Competition

Our competitive culture in this country is grueling. We ask far too much of the general population on a regular basis.

Now, when I speak of competition I don’t necessarily mean against other people. Sometimes it’s competition with ourselves. Or for something instead of against someone. For grades. For accomplishment. For recognition. For honors. For college. For pride. For our parents. For our teachers. For anyone who expects more of us.

And it’s often too much.

This is part of a much larger complex due to our over-bearing vulturistic capitalist society, which is something I won’t be going into here. And a snow day will not fix this system. But a day off can help ground us and remind us of who we are, what we are, why we do what we do, and that there’s so much more to life than the expectations of others. This is necessary.

 

Why are we talking about Snow Days…?”

Well, friends, I had one this past Tuesday.

Those who have been reading my blog regularly will know that I have not yet had a day off in 2019, and am not scheduled to have one (of my very few this winter) until this coming weekend. So this was a surprise day off. And let me tell you, it was glorious.

It reminded me of the importance of these days to our physical and mental health, not only as students in a high school or a college, but as human beings living in this world. Sometimes we just need a day off.

One more high school anecdote:

One of my best friends in high school would occasionally not show up to school, generally with no warning. But everyone in our friend group knew what this meant: She called these “Mental Health Days.” At the time I did not understand what this meant and why this was important - and I am very lucky that was the case for me - and so we all made fun of these self-proclaimed days off. But she had it right.

We cannot work ourselves to death with obligation. We need to take care of ourselves. And when we don’t, we need surprise days off to remind us of why we need more self-care.

With my Snow Day this week I actually did 6.5 hours of work, which doesn’t sound relaxing, but it was wonderful. I took care of things I wanted to and needed to, which ultimately helped my personal mental health. I lifted the stress of other obligations and it was totally worth it. And then I rewarded myself with 5 episodes of Game of Thrones…

I mean, it was a Snow Day after all!

So, here’s to all of those with a sock under their pillow and those attempting to call forth the great snows of the northern winds: I see you and hear you, and wish you many a Snow Day in your future!

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

One of the most eye-opening tips I’ve ever casually received in my career thus far came while doing a show called My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. It’s an absolutely delightful, folksy, and heartfelt autobiographical musical written by the Canadian husband-wife writing team (and the kindest people) David Hein and Irene Sankoff - yes, the same people behind the international smash hit: Come From Away.

It was October of 2010 and we had been rehearsing the show at JCC Centerstage in Rochester, NY in a setting where the show was being workshopped with David and Irene as we went through the script. For a new writer like me, this was an incredible experience. The show’s director and a wonderful mentor of mine - Ralph Meranto - told David and Irene after one rehearsal that I was an aspiring musical theatre writer. They immediately showed interest and asked questions. As I said, kindest people ever.

At the end of the conversation, Irene asked, “Do you follow Ken Davenport’s blog? If you don’t, you definitely should. There’s a lot of great information. We read it religiously!”

This one suggestion set me onto a path over the next few years of attempting to acquire and consume every bit of knowledge that I could about writing musical theatre. And that is why this tip was so important.

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Why Is *THAT* A Musical?

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, or even asked this question myself, I would have a very large number of relatively heavy and annoying coins.

But I do wonder - How often do people hear about a new musical or see a marquee and think this question to themselves? I mean, what makes a story ripe for adaptation into a musical? Why do some musicals seem like no-brainers, while others make us scratch our heads and think, “Huh. Really? That one?”

The Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop answer to the question of what type of stories should be adapted into musicals is a relatively simple and subjective one: If you think there’s more within the story that should be told, and that music will enhance that storytelling, then it is likely adaptable into a musical. But if the story feels complete in its current form, and it doesn’t seem like music will enhance the piece and its purpose, it should probably be left alone.

Despite the subjective nature of this statement, I do think there’s truth to it. If you look at the types of stories that have been most successfully adapted into musicals (and most musicals are adaptations), the use of music in the storytelling has heightened the plots and characters, and filled in some invisible hole that helps the audience interact with the material.

This is the reason, I think, that certain stories see multiple attempts at musical adaptation. For a couple of examples, we have 2 adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, 2 musicals of The Wild Party, and countless musical versions of Shakespeare’s plays (most of which have not worked well). Some stories feel as though they could be told well, or better, in musical theatre form and therefore multiple adaptations appear. Some are good, and some aren’t. Some use the original author’s intents, and some leave them behind.

Successful adaptation is a tricky process - and I know this from adapting one of the most-adapted stories in musical theatre, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Approximately 5-6 musical versions of this story exist, but none of them has had great mainstream or commercial success. Yet. But why? What goes into this process?

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"Get Your Education, Don't Forget From Whence You Came"

Lin-Manuel Miranda has often spoken about origins: His own, his family’s, his musicals’, Alexander Hamilton’s, etc. He has written about them in lyrics, including the one above from “Alexander Hamilton” and his well-noted “we were that kid” rap in the 2013 Tony Awards opening number: “Bigger.” It’s a common theme of his interviews, whether he is the interviewee or the interviewer. Clearly Mr. Miranda seems to think our origins are important.

And I agree.

Particularly when it comes to the arts and educating young people. I firmly believe that our experiences and exposures as children have an incredible and lasting impact on how we interact with art for the remainder of our lives. And this includes formal and informal educations, extracurricular activities, time experiencing art with family and friends, exposure to all forms of entertainment, financial abilities, general access, community practices, and much much more. Every experience in life involves art in some way, and every exposure is another puzzle piece in a child’s education.

So how do we best serve young people? What kind of education do they need or should they have? What if some want to pursue the arts and others just want to enjoy them? What about those who have fewer resources available or greatly reduced ability to access art? Where does it all begin?

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No Rest For The Wicked

(…and I’m not talking about our green friend over at the Gershwin!)

January 2 - March 10:

  • 67 Days

  • 3 Days Off, working 7 Days/Week

  • 2 Shows as Musical Director (Bring It On, Legally Blonde) and starting a Third (Rent)

  • 5 Casts (Bring It On) over 2 weekends

  • 70+ Cast Members (Legally Blonde)

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (regular work schedule)

  • I Repeat - 3 Days Off

March 11 - April 14:

  • 34 Days

  • 5 Days Off, working 6 Days/Week

  • 1 Show as Musical Director (Rent)

  • 2 Casts over 1 weekend

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (still)

  • I Repeat - 5 Days Off

For those of you playing at home, that means in the first 101 days of 2019, I am scheduled to work for 93 of them with a total of 8 off days.

We need to discuss work and overwork in the artistic world.

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Shut That Window 'Cause...

…it’s getting DRAFTY IN HERE!!

Yes, okay, I hate myself just a little bit for that one too. But I thought it was cute. Anywho…

Today I want to talk about the [grueling] process that is drafting. And I don’t mean in a graphic design sense (drawing is not a strength of mine). I mean it more in the sense of: sitting down to write a thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time and have really wanted to write but haven’t had the time and/or motivation to do so but you’ve finally found the time or at least have now cleaned the entire apartment four times and done your taxes and solved world hunger so I guess now there’s nothing left to do but actually write the thing which you should want to write anyway since it’s your passion and you chose to do this with your life so why are you stalling oh wait Facebook is calling and oh look that rhymed and so I can get into a pointless argument with someone whose face I can’t see instead of forcing terrible first draft dialogue on unwitting characters oh wait they blocked me so I guess I really do have to write now. Darn.

You know. That kind of a sense.

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Sometimes I'm Down, and Sometimes I'm Up

New Year. A time of celebration, reflection, planning, and new beginnings…right?

For some people, I do believe that is the case. But it’s not the case for everyone, myself included.

Personally, I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s Eve and all of the traditions that go with it. It seems a bit much to party and eat and drink so close to the holiday break, and the idea of “resolutions” always gives me a feeling of dread like I’m just going to fail all my new endeavors. Perhaps not the best head space to enter into a new calendar year with.

So what to do?

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"But I Can't, I'm So Busy!"

Busy-ness (not to be confused with the Business) is - if everyone is to be believed - the Number 1 Cause of Nothing-Ever-Happening. That’s right, simply being busy.

But Michael, everyone I know is busy. I mean, I know I’m busy. All the time!

I hear you and I understand what you’re saying, but I’m going to let in you on a secret that I was given which has truly changed the way I think about time and productivity. You ready?

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"Survival Is Paramount!" ***DUN DUN DUN***

Alright, a touch dramatic, I agree. But it’s true, isn’t it? We really can’t pursue any kind of career or interest if we aren’t living. So perhaps the drama is warranted?

Okay, let’s see. What are we told as children are the basic needs for survival?

Food. Water. Shelter.

And in order to acquire these things in our modern society, we require money. Which means jobs.

***HOORAY!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PAY US FOR THE ART WE LOVE TO CREATE AND THEN WE CAN JUST AFFORD TO LIVE AND CREATE ART AND BE HAPPY!!!!*** Wait, no? What do you mean, “no”? I have to get a what?

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Why-Oh "The Glamorous Life"?

Ah, the Glamorous Life: The picturesque life of the Theatre Artist living their dreams in the Big City. Fun, Freeing, and Fulfilling! Right?

Well, sometimes.

As amazing as spending your life doing what you love can be, there’s so much more that comes along with living as a full-time theatre artist. And most of it is rarely or never talked about! Sometimes it’s Glitz and Glamor, but other times it’s Rejection and Ramen. So why not discuss it all?

Join me as I explore the everyday, behind-the-scenes, and real life stories of what it takes to make this journey happen. From the triumphs and joys, through the mundane and taboo, to the sorrows and frustrations. What is it like to live as a theatre artist? What kind of unique experiences do you have? What is the good, the bad, and the could-really-use-a-touch-up? Read, watch, subscribe, and come find out!

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