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If you've been following my blog, you know that I have been incredibly busy in the theatre world this year. In the last 7 months, I have performed in 5 local productions, including From Up Here, I Hate Hamlet, The Dinner Party, The Laramie Project
and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later
. The Laramie shows were performed in the same weekend, which required the actors to learn 2 full-length plays and collectively, over 100 characters.
For those who may not be familiar, The Laramie Project
is about a theatre company that traveled to Laramie, Wyoming in the wake of Matthew Shepard's brutal beating. Matthew was gay. One night, he was tied to a fence and savagely beaten by two Laramie men. When he was found, Matthew was barely breathing and days later, he died in a Poudre Valley hospital. 10 years later, members of the Tectonic Theater Project
returned to see how things had (or had not) changed since Matthew's murder.
My fellow school counselors may be wondering why I have dedicated so much of my personal time to theatre and perhaps, how I can manage to fit it in at all. Well, my best answer is that theatre helps me be a better person. I can release the stress of my day through my characters, connect with my local community, and immerse myself in a variety of situations, allowing me to better empathize with others.
I love school counseling and most definitely feel fulfilled by my career. However, I truly believe that we must have an additional outlet for our creativity; otherwise, we may be sucked into a black hole of self-doubt, stress, and worry. We need a break from any passion so we can come back to it with a fresh perspective and rejuvenated spirit.
I also try to pick projects that I am excited about, especially since I have to devote so much time and energy to them. The Laramie Project
has been one of my dream shows since my freshman year at Bowling Green State University, when I read it for the Honors Program's "community read." It broke my heart as I discovered more about Matthew Shepard and the town he lived in. It forced me to have an opinion, a stance, and a voice.
Soon after watching a live performance at BGSU, I checked out HBO's film version
of The Laramie Project
, which is extremely powerful and brings the Laramie voices to life in a honest, heartfelt way. I encourage you to watch the film because it sparks great discussion about our communities and nation.
So, when it came time for me to live out this dream, I felt nervous, but prepared. However, I didn't realize how emotionally challenging and intellectually demanding it would be to perform in not just one, but two Laramie shows in the same packed weekend. My nine characters were so different: some blamed Matthew, some used their anger to advocate for others, some didn't know what to think. Looking back, I'm so proud that I was able to remember my lines, my props, and all of the little details that kept the story afloat. Our company of 13 actors worked together to create a production we could be proud of.
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Finally, I wanted to share a powerful video that leaves us with, as Doc O'Connor says in The Laramie Project, "H.O.P.E."
I couldn't help but tear up as I saw Matthew's picture appear. What would our world be like without hatred?
I like to think that, as school counselors, we can help our students stand above the negative actions they see in the news, in films, and in video games. I want to create free-thinkers who can recognize when injustice is occuring.
I want to be the change. I hope you do too.
Here are some production photos from The Laramie Project
and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later,
courtesy of Todd Michaels
It's the first snow day I've had in 2 years, so I'm excited for the unexpected opportunity to relax...and my definition of relaxing is movies, theatre, and blogging.
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These are some of the movies I've been digging lately. All 3 deal with tough topics and can certainly help school counselors reflect on the challenges their students experience. While there are inappropriate parts in each film, there are brilliant clips that students could benefit from as well. For additional movie suggestions, visit my Amazon store
I know many of you have watched Shane Koyczan's powerful visual poem about bullying. When I saw it for the first time, I couldn't help but cry - I became a school counselor because I want to help students who feel broken become whole again. This is the kind of thing that stirs the helper and healer inside of me.
But...the poem also made me think about my own childhood. I had trouble in school, I was made fun of...but...did I inflict pain on others in order to fit in? Did I say something I thought was funny, but really damaged someone's self-worth? The thought haunts me sometimes, because I may never know how I'm truly perceived through another person's lense.
I discuss this with my students, because not only do I not want students to feel bullied, I also don't want students to live with regret. I don't want anyone to be the villain in someone else's memory. I, like most of us, will never know the extent to which my kindness and my cruelty (intentional or not) have impacted others. My hope is that we all take a step back and reflect on our actions, good or bad. Then, and only then, can we become better people.
Right now, I'm preparing for The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, my 4th and 5th shows of the season. These plays discuss the aftermath of Matthew Shepard's murder in Laramie, Wyoming. We have a company of 13 actors who are dividing up over 100 roles, which are, in actuality, real people who were interviewed in Laramie.
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I first read The Laramie Project my freshman year at Bowling Green State University, because it was the Honors Program's "community read." It broke my heart as I discovered more about Matthew Shepard and the town he lived in. Matthew was gay. One night, he was tied to a fence and savagely beaten by two Laramie men. When he was found, Matthew was barely breathing and days later, died in a Poudre Valley hospital.
Members of Tectonic Theater Project interviewed the people of Laramie and created a moving play based on those interviews. Ten years later, they came back to see how things had or had not changed. "The original will move you, the follow-up will shock you." More on these productions will be posted soon!
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I recently added a new school-wide program to my website. It's a friendly, good behavior competition my school started to improve cafeteria behavior. For more information on this program, click here
In other news, Elementary School Counseling.org was featured in the January/February issue of ASCA School Counselor
! The article, Get on the Blogging Bandwagon
, was written by Darrell Sampson, the founder of From the Counselor's Office
Check it out!
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While catching up on my blog reading, I came across a Corner on Character
post about "the path that leads to awesome." Within the post, Barbara highlighted an adorable, hilarious, and heartfelt video
's "Kid President" that inspires viewers to make the world a better place.
I was incredibly moved by the video and instantly thought of dozens of ways that my students could benefit from its message. But, like the obsessive video scavenger I am, I HAD to discover what SoulPancake
was all about and, of course, if there were more videos school counselors could incorporate into their own programs.
So, here's what I found out:
was founded in 2008 by actor Rainn Wilson and his friends, Joshua Homnick and Devon Gundry. As described on their website, "SoulPancake
sprang out of their desire to create a space where people from all walks of life could discuss and question what it means to be human - a place to wrestle with the spiritual, philosophical, and creative journey that is life" (FAQ
is not just video - there are also print, web, and live event formats.
One of my favorite aspects of the site is the "activities
" section. There are various writing or multimedia prompts (i.e. "List the one thing that you'll never give in to.") that visitors can participate in. These activities are a wonderful springboard for school counseling services; you could easily modify an existing prompt to meet your specific needs. If you trust their little hands, you could even provide your students (in individual or small group sessions, ideally) with a camera so they can respond to challenging questions in a different way.
As for the additional videos for school counselors, I found plenty of clips to spice up a lesson or two. I added some of these SoulPancake
videos to my YouTube channel
- organized by topic, of course! ;)
You can view my "Brighten Your Day" SoulPancake
playlist in its entirety here
. You won't be sorry! I promise! These videos are meant to energize, inspire, and ease the burdens we carry. Lighten the load. Enjoy!Here are two of my favorites:
In addition to their website and YouTube channel
also published a book
. You could use this to spark conversation, encourage friendly debates, or to help with your own self-care.
Wow...big discovery today. Thanks, Barbara!
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For the past few months, I have been rehearsing, and now performing, Neil Simon's The Dinner Party
at The Village Players Theatre. The play, which is set in Paris, is about the complexity of relationships. 6 individuals are invited to a dinner party not knowing who the other guests will be, but soon find themselves face-to-face with their ex-spouses. As you might guess, tempers flare and old wounds are reopened. I find that every show I work on teaches me something that I can bring back to my school counseling program. In this case, I can better understand why relationships of all kinds go wrong. Many of our students come from divorced households and come to us for answers, which we can't always provide. Sometimes, personalities change, people change. Children, unfortunately, have no say in what happens, so they must be flexible and "go with the flow" as their parents make all of the decisions - decisions that affect more than just their adult relationships.
What I love about The Dinner Party is that each couple's marriage failed for a different reason and even when they think they're past the conflict, it bubbles back up the longer they're together. I see this with more than just romantic relationships. Friends hold grudges and make biting remarks, finding the vulnerable spot in their pal's armor. Why do we do this? We protect ourselves ("The best defense is a good offense."), show our disappointment, hint at underlying issues, and more. The sad thing is, we tend to be so involved in our own feelings that we forget the damage we're inflicting on the other person.
My husband and I were discussing The Dinner Party after he had a chance to see it. We began to analyze the flaws of not just each relationship, but each character as well. When we arrived at my character (Mariette Levieux), I found myself coming to her defense. I even started raising my voice - "What?! She was supportive!" Once I realized what I was doing, we both laughed. I was too entrenched in Mariette's point-of-view that I had a hard time admitting her own faults...and she's fictional!
As school counselors, we need to teach our students how to self-reflect and take a breath before jumping into an argument. We have the right to feel how we feel, but just because we're hurting doesn't mean that the other person isn't hurting as well. Relationships, regardless of their nature, are not one-sided. We must understand who we are in order to function well in a friendship or, in this case, marriage.
Photos courtesy of Frank Venda
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The Village Players
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Check out my counselor confessional
at Scrapbook of a School Counselor
!Thank you, Tabitha, for the opportunity. It felt great to take the time to write out my feelings. If you haven't already, consider submitting your own essay!
I do have to say that I'm lucky to be in a school with AMAZING coworkers who have my back each and every day. I also work in a district with fabulous school counselors who are not just role models, but friends as well. That helps you feel connected too! :)
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In October, I wrote about
my love of Preschool Gems
, a Twitter feed
run by Leslie McCollom that is both hilarious and heart-warming.
Now that things have started to calm down (*knock on wood*), I had the opportunity to read Leslie's book, which is a compilation of her best tweets. I have to say, reading her preschoolers' quotes in book format makes them even more adorable, if that's possible.
Leslie divides her book into sections, such as "Life's Not Fair," "Snack Time," and my personal favorite, "The Dark Side." Reading these treasures one right after the other caused me to laugh uncontrollably, gasping for air and coming back for more.
I also couldn't help but share my joy by calling out to my husband - "Hey, listen to this one!" Unfortunately, I said that every 10 seconds, so it probably would have been easier to just read it together.
Perhaps more than the tweets themselves, I was particularly moved by Leslie's introduction. She describes children (and what it's like to work with them) perfectly. As she puts it, they are in constant search of "instant gratification and pleasurable sensory experiences" (pg. ix), which, to be perfectly honest, can make them seem like little monsters. However, the more you look and listen, the more you recognize the depth of their compassion, creativity, and individuality.
Leslie started her Twitter feed as a way to preserve the precious gems her students gave her each day. I know the feeling well! Every day, I laugh with my kiddos as they say the most surprising things, but then quickly forget what they said, despite every attempt and promise to myself to remember. Here are some of my favorites from my own personal collection that found a way to stick in my brain:
- "Mrs. Rex, you are a vegetarian? So, if I touch you with meat will your skin burn?"
- "When I grow up, I want to be a lifeguard princess."
- "Sometimes, I think that odd numbers are boys and even numbers are girls."
- "Mrs. Rex. That's like T-Rex. But, you're not a dinosaur. You're a girl."
So, if you're having a bad day, try reading a little bit of Preschool Gems
. I promise that you will laugh out loud and feel completely refreshed and rejuvenated in the process.
Are you an author? Do you have a book that you would like me to review on my blog? If so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd be happy to check out your work and spread the word to my readers.
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The past few months have been an unexpected whirlwind of activity. In addition to the typical hectic nature of the school counseling profession, I have been happily overwhelmed with three community theatre productions this season. The second show, I Hate Hamlet
, just closed, which is both calming and sad. I Hate Hamlet
is about a television actor who moves to New York City to perform Shakespeare...in particular, Hamlet
. I played the wildly romantic (and incredibly bubbly) girlfriend who wants nothing more than to see her boyfriend achieve theatrical glory in, as she puts it, "the most beautiful play ever written."
This role (and this show, for that matter) was a wonderful, intentionally over-the-top opportunity. I loved every minute of the rehearsal process, because I was able to push myself past my comfort zone and enter the world of comedy. Typically, I am cast in more serious roles, so this was a welcome departure and learning experience for me.
As I prepared to write this "what I've been up to" update for you, I stumbled upon a review of our show. Prior to reading this review, I had received amazingly positive feedback; audiences loved I Hate Hamlet, including other local actors, who are a difficult crowd to please. So, when I read this negative review, my heart fell into my stomach. I let someone else's words affect me so deeply that I began to question every little detail of my performance and our production as a whole.
I have to say, theatre is an incredibly intimidating art form. You put yourself out there day after day, just waiting to be judged. When I began to act, I struggled with an embarrassing amount of self-doubt and anxiety - I was never comfortable with my performance and constantly wondered what everyone else thought about me as an actor. I was worried that I didn't fit in. Over the years, I have been able to let a lot of those negative thoughts go, which is why I was so surprised and angry with myself when they came screaming back.
In a way, I am grateful that I stumbled upon that review. It reminds me that I can't have such little self-respect that I let random (and often times, unfounded) feedback get to me. Have you ever had a parent claim that you have "done nothing" to help their child, when, in fact, you have gone above and beyond to do so? Have you ever found yourself defending every facet of your school counseling program because one individual is looking for someone to blame? You can't let the 1% (negative feedback) taint the 99% (positive feedback). Easier said than done, of course.
School counselors are sensitive, empathic individuals who want to make others happy. It's hard to hear a complaint and not instantly think: Of course! They're right!
As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman (right), "the bad stuff is easier to believe." But...we have to start listening and absorbing the positive stuff too.
So, my challenge for all of my lovely readers is this: Do your best and give yourself a break. You can't be in 10 places at once, despite every attempt to do so. Know that you are doing the best you can for your students - everything else will fall into place.
On that note, here are some production photos from I Hate Hamlet
courtesy of Todd Michaels
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As a school counselor, I often feel like a sponge. I soak up the chaos around me, attempting to clean up the emotional spills. By the end of the day, I have absorbed more than I should have. I rarely take the time to ring out the excess before cleaning up another mess, so all I am is a soggy sponge... and let's face it, that is no use to anyone.
This, perhaps, overdramatic interpretation of my feelings leads me to an amazing novel and, dare I say, equally amazing film: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The main character, Charlie, is an introverted, intuitive, and intelligent high school freshman who is able to see those around him for who they really are.
Like many school counselors, Charlie absorbs others' pain. He wants to fix their problems, provide a shoulder to lean on, and give them hope for a better tomorrow. In doing this, Charlie sees the cycle of pain, which is hard to ignore; there is always someone experiencing heartache. However, when you open yourself up to this reality, you must be prepared to protect yourself. Don't be the saturated sponge, working to clean up a spill, but only spreading the mess around. We must take care of ourselves in order to take-on the world. Charlie, unfortunately, has not mastered this skill.
When I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I knew I had to blog about it. Watching these thoughtfully-crafted characters experience the world made me think of my students. I have students like Charlie, who need time and support to open up. I have students like Sam, who have experienced some form of trauma and desperately need to connect. I have students like Patrick, who use humor to hide the depth of their struggles.
I also thought about my own experiences in school - those times when I felt completely alone, the times I just wanted to blend into the background. I think when we leave high school, regardless of what that experience was like, we forget how claustrophobic it felt. Life revolved around a petri dish of students, all floating within the barriers of the container. The moment those walls are removed, you finally see the world for all its possibilities. It's the fresh start you thought you'd get in high school, before you realized that your middle school years followed you.
| |The Perks of Being a Wallflower
is a powerful reminder of the only world our students know. They haven't experienced life outside of the dish yet. In smaller elementary school settings (like mine), a student may only have 50 other students in their grade. What are the odds that 1 of those 50 would be a perfect friendship match? For some kids, our school pond is a little too small. The end result? The kids on the outside, the wallflowers, are reminded that they are different and, in some cases, believe their future will never improve, even after high school.
If nothing else, this film reminds us to look beyond the surface and see individuals for who they are. We all have our baggage, our struggles, our own journey that shaped our present.
Have you ever had one of those days or weeks when paperwork gathers in piles, student referrals pour out of your mailbox, and the twinkling light of your phone's voicemail blinks with urgency? Wait. Of course you have. You're a school counselor!
On those difficult days, I'll admit that I've closed my office door after dismissal and cried. The build up of emotions, the pressure, the responsibility...it all boils over and once it does, it's hard to stop.
Well, this week was one of those weeks. I spent most of my days in a panic, racing to see all of the students on my list. I knew that it'd be impossible to fit everything in, but somehow, I thought I'd be awarded Hermione's time turner and magically I could do 10 things at once. Unfortunately, J. K. Rowling did not write my school day. Boo.
So, what makes me feel better? I, of course, vent to my husband (poor guy), but I find other outlets that allow me to take that built up energy and use it for something positive. Currently, I'm rehearsing my second play of the season, which has been a wonderful way to express myself. More on that later.
Also, I discovered something pretty amazing: Preschool Gems
. As described on her website, "Preschool Gems
is a Twitter feed
run by Leslie McCollom, a writer and educator living in Portland, Oregon who posts wacky and brilliant quotes from her young students on the internet for your enjoyment."
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I find myself laughing out loud and feeling that joy heal my heavy heart.
You can get daily quotes on the Twitter feed or buy the book
I thought I'd share some of my personal favorites.
From the Preschool Gems Twitter feed...
| || |As you may remember
, I am currently in a play called From Up Here
. It's an amazing show about a high school student (Kenny) who brought a gun to school. He is scheduled to make a public apology to his peers - the same peers who bullied him every single day. My character is Caroline, Kenny's aunt. She comes back home, but has trouble handling the heaviness that her family is struggling to manage.
So, what does this have to do with my blog? Well, I like to think that since I started writing in January, we've become a, for lack of a better phrase, cyber family. Since I've been so busy with my everyday school counseling responsibilities, my school's cross country team, and this show, I haven't kept up with my site. Thank you for being patient!
Here are some pictures from our production of From Up Here,
courtesy of Frank