Blog

Observations of a VTA Chaperone

06
Nov

Not sure what you may have gotten out of your child concerning his/her experience over the VTA weekend – (if it was anything like Devon it wasn’t much, because he was exhausted).

First off – I can’t say enough about Carol Cadby, Mabia Broderick and Tom Mallan and their organization, support, leadership and willingness to be responsible for 40+ teenagers for a weekend! They set high expectations for the students (which they all met) – everyone was expected to attend at least 2 shows and 2 workshops (in addition to participating in the Widow Ranter play and auditioning if applicable). All the students had a chaperone to check in with during the day and there were mandatory meetings that were scheduled several times a day that everyone had to attend. This “facetime” allowed us to periodically check in with the students and find out “what they were up to” and ensure everyone knew what was happening next. I was the “rookie” chaperone (Nina Bonnelycke chaperoned on Friday and coordinated getting all the room keys distributed in addition to monitoring her assigned students) – Susan Millian, Prescilla & Chips Johnson, Lynette McCracken and Mike McDavitt have supported the Yorktown theatre program for years (decades!). All of their children have graduated – but they are still participating – and we should all be very thankful to them for their continued involvement!

VTA is an annual conference of over 40 schools throughout Virginia (large contingent from Central/Northern VA) – I’m not sure of the exact number but I think there were about 2,000 participants. The conference was held at the Reston Hyatt connected to the Town Center – this was a great location because all the events were in the Hyatt and there were plenty of places to eat close by (Panera Bread in the Hotel, Potbelly, Chipotle (boys favorite), Big Bowl (wish we still had one in Arlington), Starbucks (parents’ favorite) and many other restaurants) and also lots of shopping. Of course this also presented a temptation for students to “disappear,” and while I did see lots of Starbucks and Ben & Jerry’s cups, I also saw our students waiting in long lines to see 5:00 & 6:00 shows (unlike the conferences that I have been to when by 3 everyone is on the golf course, sightseeing, at the pool or happy hour!).

There were two “theatres” that were really just ballrooms that they added metal risers, curtains, sound system and lights to (not ideal performance set up). From 8 am to 6 pm on Friday and Saturday, 2 schools an hour performed their plays. In addition, there were 2 or 3 workshops (movement, improv., fighting, etc) going on at the same time.

We had 3 students (Devon, Claire & Danny) who auditioned on Friday afternoon – Ms. Cadby had previously worked with them on their 1-minute audition and they practiced with her on Friday. She also waited in line with them which help calm them and kept them relaxed as they waited outside the audition room with the other anxious participants. Only the students are allowed in to the audition – they have about 10-15 students at a time, and they perform in front of representatives of the 12 different colleges represented. At 5:00 they posted the hand written lists of “call backs” – which really was an opportunity for the schools to pitch their programs directly to students they were interested in and who they thought would be accepted into the school. (The audition sheet includes GPA, SAT scores, so it’s not just the audition that is considered for callback). Our students each received call backs from at least 2 schools. It’s a great experience for the preparation and execution in addition to being able to see what other peers perform.

Here was the schedule for Saturday and Sunday (just reading this will exhaust you!): Sat. 6 am wake up call, 7 am make up, 8 am dressing, 9 am cast call (oops, what happened to breakfast?), 9:50 performance, 11 meeting with “post-mortem” adjudicator, 11:30 put away props, costumes, set, 12:30 lunch with Wakefield – courtesy of TAP – 1:00 on, still have to go to shows/workshops during the afternoon! 7:00 meeting, dinner, evening activities included College shows, Tech “Olympics” (Yorktown placed fourth!), 10:30 announcement of the 4 shows selected as “finalists”, 11 pm Halloween costumes/dance, 12 am meeting (that was a long day). Thank goodness everyone was able to sleep in on Sunday – wake-up call 7 am! 8 am attend 4 shows selected as finalists, 11:30 back to rooms pack up change for banquet, 12:30 banquet/awards, 2:30 pack the bus and leave…so that may explain why you had such a hard time getting them moving Monday morning!

What is the purpose of attending? As many of you know the Yorktown Theatre program philosophy is “It’s not about you” – I believe that is different than many of the other schools participating. Many schools had performances with small casts (5-10; I saw one with only 4) and they had productions with a strong lead performer. Yorktown had a large ensemble cast and performed a Restoration comedy – just my observation as a parent, but I think the size of the cast and the difficulty of the material created a much bigger challenge – and far greater learning experience – for our kids than did the schools who chose to send a handful of their most experienced performers to do a more mainstream production. I truly believe that the participation and the chance to see other shows and workshops is a fantastic opportunity and the competition is secondary.

The best feedback that the group got was the “post mortem” adjudicator after the show – she walked in and said “I want to see it again” and “where did you find that show?” She also said that because one of the criteria for judging a show was a “clear story line,” taking a 2½ hour show and making it 45 minutes was “quite a challenge” and “I can see how the judges may have ‘gotten lost’”. Now that I as a parent have watched the show 3 times I do understand the play/characters/etc., so I understand the comment she made. The adjudicator complimented the selection of a play that was a period piece and was not like the recurring performances that they typically had seen (teenage angst). So you would think that, like Gymnastics in the Olympics, there would be an advantage for “degree of difficulty, but I don’t believe that is one of their criteria. She discussed the challenge of girls playing male parts and suggested working on a change in vocal tone. She suggested slowing down some lines/scenes (the time limit made that difficult – so much pressure to come in at the 45 minute time limit). She also recommended as an exercise translating to current language so actors would better understand the context of the dialog of different scenes. She liked the fight scenes particularly since it was done without using actual weapons. She liked the singing and commented that she heard stronger voices in our play than in some of the musicals that were performed! I thought they were positive comments and recommendations. Ms. Cadby counseled the students to not be disappointed if they weren’t selected as finalists, and they loaded the set and pack the costumes and props assuming they would not be selected. Turned out they weren’t one of the 4 shows selected – which worked out fine – this allowed them to relax on Sunday and not have to quickly have to do the show again.

Typically only the Theatre IV students attend VTA – last year there were only 2 Theatre III students. This year there were many more Theatre III students since there was a smaller theatre IV class. It will be in Norfolk next year and Yorktown should definitely continue their participation and stick to “their principles” – ensemble cast and “big tent” philosophy. I was so impressed with the attitude, behavior and responsibility shown by all the Yorktown students (yes that’s every single one). We never had a problem with students making it to meetings, forgetting their responsibilities or not behaving appropriately – they were supportive of each other and friendly/polite to all the adult teachers/chaperones. I had a great (exhausting) weekend!

Todd Parker
Theatre IV Parent