Gifts Galore

If you're like me, you don't really think you do well with the whole getting gifts for someone. It's just that pressure of what you should get them, what they would actually like, and this one gift could change things for better or worse for the rest of your life (maybe not that too extreme, but you get the picture). Not to mention whenever I give out gifts, I like to give two or three items for them so they'll hopefully like at least one of them.

In the month of June, almost every week a relative of mine has a birthday. No seriously I'm not kidding! First week of June, my "Aunts" birthday. Second week, Abuelos' and "Uncles" birthday. Third, my Cousins' birthday. Fourth, my mothers' birthday AND Fathers Day land on the same day this year. And then another Cousins' birthday on the last week. So sticking to my rule for getting three presents for one person, and also making some of them...that's a lot of gifts....oh boy.....

But as lame as I am with my style of gift giving, I have made a list of things to keep in mind on getting someone a present if you don’t even know where to start.

Make of list of what the person likes

Usually when you’re trying to think really hard on what would be the perfect gift for someone, you forget what they’re likes, dislikes, and input on stuff are. I find it very helpful to start writing down anything about the person. It can be absolutely about anything about anytime, if you think it’ll be useful for your gift, write it down!

Something that’s recently happening in their lives

Like if they’re going on a trip and you get them something new they can take. Or if they just graduated and you get them something associating whatever they’re pursuing. Or say they're getting ready for the glorious joy of tech week and you get them their very own "tech week survival kit" filled with everything they need and desire (I came up with that last one aren't ya proud of me? Isn't that a cool idea? Lol)

Think of what they need

I don’t know about you but if someone handed me something like free dance lessons, that would be a great present in my book. If they have been in real need of something and you know of it, why not gift them with that! And if it is something like dance lessons or etc. what fun would it be if you do it together.

Stalking

This is like second to last thing you should do if other ideas haven’t worked yet. Simply going on someones Instagram feed or seeing what posts they’ve been liking recently can really be helpful. Just be sure that if they ask how you knew they wanted that not to mention the loads of old pictures you found while stalking….hehe….

Just ask

Who really said about not asking them what they actually want? Seriously there’s so much pressure for guessing what they want. Go ahead and ask away! What’s there to lose? You’ll get them what they want in the end after all.

Leave the receipt (Optional)

If all else fails and you're not feeling too confident about your gift, There's no shame in saving the receipt for them. Also no shame of getting just a gift card for them at the end.

And voila! You now (hopefully) have been a great gift giver to all! Whether it ends up being a store bought gift that ties into an inside joke, or a sentimental homemade gift that you found on Pinterest. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be wonderful! And now I’m feeling a little more confident on what I’m gonna get for everyone’s birthday this month so that’s a bonus!

Now trying to eat all that too-much-sweet-cake, that's gonna be the real challenge.

"Sometimes God gives a person wealth and possessions. God makes it possible for that person to enjoy them. God helps them accept the life he has given them. God helps them to be happy in their work. All these things are gifts from God."  Ecclesiastes 5:19

Would You Kindly?

Some of you may know this story, but it is certainly worth retelling. 

In the game Bioshock, you play as Jack, a well-to-do man who is in a plane crash. This plane crash ends with him finding Rapture, an underwater city where basically everything is legal, personal freedoms are all guaranteed, and everything is based on your own merits.  When you arrive, you meet Atlas, an Irish sounding gentleman who guides you through the game. “Push the lever,” or “Go here.” He tells you. Every now and then, he asks you something like: “Would you kindly pick up that item?” You naturally think, 

“Ok cool. He’s just telling me to pick up that item. Awesome. I’ll do that.”

At the end of the game, Atlas makes a different kind of request. He asks you, prefacing it with “Would you kindly,” to kill the founder of Rapture, Andrew Ryan. Now, Andrew Ryan is the reason for the currently failing society of Rapture up to this point. It’s a game, this is the final boss! However, things change when you enter Andrew’s quarters.

You find Andrew playing put-put golf. He’s obviously been expecting you. He asks you a simple question, “In the end, what separates a man from a slave? Money? Power? No… a man chooses. A slave obeys.” He then starts making requests. 

Stop, would you kindly!” 

Sit, would you kindly!”

You do everything he asks, it’s like you’re watching yourself do it. You may not even be holding the controller, you still do exactly what he asks. You discover that Jack has had a psychological ‘phrase’ embedded in his brain as a child. Anything with “Would you kindly,” you will do it. If you’ve watched Captain America 2 or 3, it’s like Bucky’s activation phrase. If someone asks you, “Would you kindly run that way?” You have to run that way.

Looking back at the game, you realize that you haven’t been making your own choices. You simply have done what you’re told and did not even have a choice in doing so. At the end of the game, you break the phrase and are free to make true choices again, but that moment still stings, even after you beat the game. 

Why have I told you this story? Well, I believe this story highlights the importance of choice and its responsibilities. Jack didn’t have a choice in what he did, and therefore, was not personally responsible for what he did. But if you make your own choices, you are personally responsible for those choices.

Are you in a play? You made the choice to sign up. Honor that choice you made by putting in effort to do your part in making the play as great as it can be. Did you recently get a job? You chose to apply and go through with the interview process. You can honor that by, as long as you choose to work there, to give 100% to whatever you do at your job.

I’m not by any means saying that you should only honor what you choose to do. Instead, take special care to take personal responsibility for what you choose to do. God gave you free will to make choices. It’s an amazing gift. Personal responsibility for what you do and your choices in the price for this amazing freedom. Make of that what you will.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” Proverbs 16:9

Becoming 'Elle Woods'

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There are multiple roles I have played in my 9 years of theatre, and many I have cherished and held close to my heart. That said, none have come close to getting to play the one and only Elle Woods in CYT’s Legally Blonde this past weekend. In my journey to find Elle I began to live as she would. There are many things I learned when I began to live my life through the eyes of Elle.

Over the years I have been taught by many directors that the best way to become in touch with a character as an actor is to live your life through their eyes. Many know this as method acting. I took that method in a small dose with Elle. I found when I would adapt her habits of positivity and friendliness or add that extra pep in my step (as Ms. Woods would do), I started to notice my world got a whole lot brighter. I found myself smiling more, was more confident, and frankly I made more friends. I strived to say less negative things, I would try to find the bright side to every situation. When I took on that positive outlook, I became a lot happier.

Not only did I change my attitude, but I altered my appearance for a short amount of time. I would wear less makeup (or at least more natural makeup), as she would do, and it was honestly liberating. I would style my hair in fun curls like hers. It was fun and I was enjoying myself. Through finding Elle, I started to feel as though I was finding myself as well. It was real, it was me, it was joy. Elle is pure and just strictly herself, and I discovered my own version of that these past few months.

It was honestly a challenge, but I greatly benefitted from it. I took a step back to look at the work I had put into this character, and I began to think of all the ways people could benefit from this challenge of looking at the brighter side of life in their regular lives also.

So I challenge you to take a step back from your own life, and to embrace a change of perspective. As our director Tyler always says, “change is good”. Make that change of incorporating some Elle like actions and mindsets into your everyday life. Be positive, smile more, just be you. You may find that you like what you find.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God"  Matthew 5:8

The Simple Show Blues Solution

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” - C.S. Lewis

Have you ever felt a little down or depressed when a show is ending or just wished for one more performance?  

Here is the process:
X    Auditions
X    Cast List Posted
X    Several Weeks of Rehearsals
X    Tech Week
X    Performances
X    Strike
X    Post Show Blues

There is a mix of excitement and sadness that can overwhelm some people.  After a show ends some can feel isolated or anxious about starting a new show.   If you are one of these people, I would like to give you a few tips for dealing with the show blues. 

If you try distracting yourself from the memories, sometimes that only increases the after show blues. Don’t ignore the show blues exist. Focus on what you enjoyed about the show like friendships with cast mates, audiences reaction to the show, and the feeling of being part of a team of cast members working toward a common goal. 

“But Connor, doesn’t thinking about it only make it worse?” Not necessarily. You normally get show blues because the show was a fun and an exceptional experience.  Focus on what made it fun and how it helped you grow in friendships and as an actor.  Remember, this is a cycle that will repeat with each show.  There is the high of opening night and the mix of excitement and sadness when you get to the final night of a production.  It’s okay to feel sadness that a show is ending; however our focus should always be on the positive experiences and memories we are making.

 “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr Seuss

I love this quote because it perfectly describes how to deal with show blues. God gave us those wonderful memories and experiences. My hope is that we can learn to cherish these memories and experiences and find joy in the process.   We spend several weeks investing in the performances and hopefully feel proud of the result of everyone’s hard work.  Being part of a theater group is a great way to learn, grow, and use previous experience to improve or future theater experiences. 

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalms 118:24

Oklahoma is OK

When Mr. Taylor announced that we would be doing Oklahoma! as our musical this year, my first reaction was “wow, I love Oklahoma!” (Referring to the song, completely ignorant to the fact that Oklahoma, in its original state, is one of the worst and most boring musicals that a High School could do). My second reaction, after learning this information, was complete and utter terror as this was the first year in five that FMHS was entering itself into the Dallas Summer Musical High School Musical Theatre Awards. This is the big leagues, we’re competing with 78 other high schools in the area to see who has the best musical. Think of it as the high school equivalent of the Tony’s.

The first day of rehearsal went something like this. We showed up to the choir room, got our music, and learned every single song in the musical in less than three and a half hours. I was mind blown, I had never been a part of anything that was able to do something that incredibly efficient. The first couple of weeks of rehearsal went by and I was slowly starting to love this poorly written musical, Mr. Taylor was turning it into something beautiful. We got to the first run-through of the whole thing and I couldn’t help but giddily laugh at how amazing Oklahoma (the song again) was. The passion and volume that our chorus poured into the classical piece of music just blew my mind. I was falling in love with Oklahoma!

Final dress finishes and I am ecstatic. I get to be a cowboy for real this time in front of thousands of people. We put everything that we had into these four performances and it showed, we sold out the 889 seating auditorium every night without fail. When the DSM judges came to watch the show, they came backstage after the show and just talked with our techies and directors for several hours even after all of the actors had left. That should’ve been the first indicator that we were on track to having the best musical in the DSMHMTA. DSM nominations came out after about a month, and low and behold, we were nominated… FOR 15 OUT OF 16 AWARDS CATEGORIES (we weren’t eligible for choreo because we paid a professional to do it for us). Everyone was completely blown away, Oklahoma, was the most nominated musical in DSM history.

Three months later, we hopped on buses to drive us down to Fair Park Music Hall where we would start rehearsing on the DSM stage for the awards show the next day. I sat next to my girlfriend and we fangirled over how excited we were to perform on the Fair Park stage. We pulled up to the beautiful 92 year old theater. The guys ran, very quickly, up into our dressing rooms, after the two hour drive in the traffic, it was a welcome sight. We turned the lights off and rested for about thirty minutes before Mr. Taylor came in and told us that we needed to get ready to perform Oklahoma onstage. We begrudgingly got into our costumes and went downstairs to the backstage where we met the ladies and waited for our turn. Finally, Big Fish finished their song and it was our turn to sing. When I say that Fair Park is big, I’m not kidding, this theater is enormous, the size of three FMHS auditoriums. I was so shaken to be singing on the stage that I almost forgot to sing my part. We got to the final O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A and our sound overpowered to the back of the seats on the balcony. Even the conductor was into the song. We finished Oklahoma, got our stuff from the dressing rooms, and went right home. (Every single one of us, including Mr. Taylor, was asleep on the bus).

The big day, award day, the day we had been looking forward to for several months was finally here. We got to the theater much faster than the day before, there was no traffic, and we all put up our fancy dress and costumes for later, we wouldn’t have to do anything until 1:15 (it was 9:12 when we got to Fair Park). Bored of just sitting in the dressing room, Brandon, my best friend, and I started to walk around. We got to talk with John Fredrickson, the best male actor in the country. We met Stark Sands, the original actor in the musical Kinky Boots. We made a ton of new friends with the Heathers cast. And we got to talk to Mr. Taylor for several hours about theatre and the future. We hadn’t even started singing and I was already learning more from this experience than I had learned in a long time. We performed again for a rehearsal, nailed it like always, and got into our nice clothing for the red carpet. I can’t say much about the red carpet because Brandon, my girlfriend, and I only stayed long enough to see the Flower Mound kids walk it then we left to get into costume for the show.     

Like the adventurous kids that we are, Brandon and I stayed backstage and watched the beginning of the show. Stark Sands sang like an angel, the leading actors, actresses, and supporting actors and actresses all sang a gorgeous song together and the crowd went wild. Now let me tell you, imagine the loudest, most enthusiastic applause that you’ve ever received, now multiply that by 20, that was the DSMHMTA audience. Even from backstage, Brandon and I could feel the overwhelming energy just radiating from the people, it was magic. Backstage was another kid named Jack. Jack had never performed outside of his school, in fact How to Succeed in Business, his school’s nominated show, was the first musical he had ever been in. The entire time that he watched and listened, his eyes lit up and shined like stars. He was a kid in the largest candy store in existence. After Stark Sands finished singing Not My Father’s Son, Jack had tears in his eyes and mumbled something that sounded like “I get to perform on the same stage as him.” That hit me hard, and I will never forget that moment. Brandon and I were called back to the holding dock two songs before Oklahoma. We said goodbye to Jack and wished him luck, then we got ready for our chance to perform our hearts out.

The whole cast of Oklahoma! was sitting in the loading dock, the energy and focus emanating off of us was electric. As they were announcing best featured actress, we all leaned forward and put our hands on Simone, the nominee in question. When they announced that she had won the award, we all went crazy. We hadn’t even performed yet, but it was still incredible to all of us that Oklahoma! was actually winning awards. The next couple of songs and awards flew by until the stage manager waved us onstage behind the curtain. We got into position and Chandler, our lead actor, held his hands up, his final blessing to all of us. The curtain raised and there we were, dressed in prairie clothes, standing completely still in front of thousands of people. This was our time, this was us. The orchestra started to play and we were ready. I don’t think that I have ever sang as hard as I did that night. We shook that entire building, we were Oklahoma!

We finished our song and went offstage, quickly ran to our dressing rooms and yelled like madmen. We had put it ALL out on the stage, not some of it, or most of it, we took everything that we had left and we threw it onstage for the audience to do with it what they would. We quickly changed into our dress clothes, minutes before intermission was over. During that short period, we won two more awards, best supporting actor and actress. We took our seats and watched the rest of the show.

At the end of the night, we walked away with SIX wins, one of which being best musical. We shattered the previous record of four wins (also set by FMHS). Oklahoma! had put our everything into the musical and it paid off, we had given our best and the judges deemed us worthy of best musical. On the buses home, Chandler Sinks stood up with tears in his eyes and thanked everyone for being able to have the best senior year that anyone could ask for. He spoke for what seemed like hours about how everyone cared so much about the show and it showed. He said that he was leaving the department in the most capable hands he could have ever dreamed of leaving them in, referring to the sophomores like Brandon and I. When he sat down, we gave him a standing ovation and I swear that was better than all of the applause from the audience at Fair Park.

In the end it doesn’t matter that we won six awards, it doesn’t matter that we won best musical, it doesn’t matter that we got nominated fifteen times, what matters is that we put everything that we had into that musical and it showed. We got rewarded for our hard work. We got out what we put in. No matter what you’re doing, put your 110% into it, and if it’s your best, it doesn’t matter what happens because you gave it everything that you had to give it. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. What happens happens, don’t be devastated if you don’t get exactly what you want. My choir director has a wonderful saying that he says every time that we audition, “don’t be tied to the outcome. Not everyone will get exactly what they want, and that’s fine.”

While sweeping DSMHMTA was one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever been through, it was the experience of going to Fair Park and meeting Jack, the experience of singing Oklahoma in front of thousands of people, the experience of watching my friend, John Fredrickson, win best actor for the second year in a row. What made those two days amazing was the experiences, not the awards. Theatre is a memory, make those memories, create something that you can look back on and say, “I remember that, it was the best day in my entire life.”

Live for the experiences, not the accolades.

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." - Matthew 6:31-34

Your President

Matthew Black