Thursday, March 31, 2011


I was motivated to audition for Tartuffe while watching a rehearsal for the previous SHAPE production (Bye Bye Birdie).  I had arrived at the theater a bit early to pick Kyra up and so I took a seat and watched the director work with a couple of actors on stage.  He had a clear vision of what he wanted, he communicated it in a straight forward manner, if they didn't understand he demonstrated it and what he was asking made the moment better.  I thought to myself - I'd love to work with him.

As much as I love working with this director (I'm willing to sing solo in public for him) not everyone feels that way. Kyle shared with me a bit of conversation that he had with a co-worker whose son was in Bye Bye Birdie.  This son (a teenager) has done theater in a number of places and really likes it but does not plan to do another production here at SHAPE.  Why? The director - not because he is not excellent at what he does or because the productions lack in quality but because of the way the director treats the actors.

The actors are not mistreated nor abused.  We are held to a high standard and pushed to get there.  The director does not coddle us.  He says what he wants, he says it plainly.  He does not waste time cajoling us and praising us.  When he gets angry it is because someone is wasting everyone else's time - punctuality, learning lines and remembering blocking are all musts.  Failure to support the work of fellow cast members is not tolerated.

Maybe this style of direction isn't for everyone, but I know that I appreciate it and find that my skill improves when I get clear direction.  Kind words are nice but they don't help me grow, they simply make me settle for where I am.  Without a doubt my performance has improved from when we started rehearsing to what people see on stage.  That improvement didn't happen because I was coddled and praised, it happened because I was challenged and pushed.  I am grateful for it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Opening Weekend

 Tartuffe opened on Thursday evening to a small but enthusiastic crowd.  It was alot of fun to sit backstage and listen to the audience enjoy the performances of the cast.

It is amazing to think of how far we have come from rehearsing on an empty stage with five chairs in street clothes.

Throughout the weekend we enjoyed performing the show and sharing it with our audience.

On Sunday, judges from the Tournament of Plays (TOPPER - military theater equivalent of the Tonys) came to see our production.  Of course Murphy's Law was in full effect.  One of the wall planters fell off the wall when a door slammed and the table that I lean backward over (alot) broke.  Fortunately the table did not fall apart completely but it forced us as a cast to reblock the end of the second act as we went along.

The judges were complimentary of the production overall.  They said they enjoyed it and laughed throughout.  They appreciated our work as an ensemble.

The two comments they made specifically about my performance were that I wore my dress well - I looked natural moving around in it (and believe me I do move in this dress - walk, run, up and down steps, bending over forward and backward) - and that my Southern accent was believable.  One of the judges even asked a fellow cast member if I was from the South.

The comments from the judges were nice but in the general scheme of things unimportant.  I think I am most pleased that our director has enjoyed our performances and so have the audiences.

I have two evenings off now before we do a run though on Wednesday and then begin our closing weekend.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Guess Who

From the very beginning, church has been an important part of our family life.  We miss very few Sunday worship services, not out of a sense of legalism, but because church is where we desire to be.

When I was working at Christ Church and St. Stephen's it was no contest to answer the question - guess who in our family spends the most time at church?  However, the answer to that question has changed.

Now I help with Sunday worship (I make announcements, set up the offering, say a prayer, etc) and serve on the Parish Council.  Kyle is participating in a small group study.  Kyra attends worship and occasionally youth group on Tuesdays.

Guess who in our family spends the most time at church?  Allen.

I realized this a few weeks ago when I was delivering Allen's dinner to the church yet again.  After school Allen runs track.  After track on Tuesday he goes to youth group called Club Beyond.  After track on Wednesday he goes to small group Bible study.  After track on Thursday he has practice for the worship band.  On Sunday he arrives at church early to set up the equipment and sound and then plays for the worship service.

I am so pleased that Allen truly desires to be in Christian community and serve in this way.  None of this is duty nor drudgery (nor is there a girlfriend involved).

Being involved in church life can get overwhelming.  For some it can turn into legalism.  I hope it never becomes that for Allen but continues to be a way he lives out his faith and desire to know and love Jesus.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tacky isn't just American

On Saturday Kyra went to London with a friend (they saw Wicked - you feel sorry for her I know).

Kyle wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to tour without whiny kids.  He decided what he wanted to do was go see a monastery on the coast of Belgium.  It is called Ten Duinen Abbey.   The actual abbey no longer exists, it is in ruins and has over time been the study of archeologists.  On the site there is a museum which is fairly decent that explores monastic life during the abbey's most prosperous times.

While it was a good museum and mostly interesting, I doubt we will take any guests there.  It wasn't extraordinary and worth a special trip in comparison to other locations accessible from our house.

What was notable was our experience of visiting the abbey's ruins.  Amongst the bricks and stones was a bunch of colorful plastic.   The plastic took the form of bunnies - extra large and large, seals (red) and Franciscan monks (also red).

Incongruent is the word that comes to mind.

I do need to note that the abbey was a Cistercian monastery so even the giant red monks didn't really go with the setting (as if giant red monks have a natural habitat).

The children did enjoy climbing on the plastic but that really seemed to be its only value.

On our way out we did stop by the visitors' center to see if these giant plastic things had any particular significance.  There was a written explanation.  It was an art installation called PET THERAPY.  PET is some acronym for recycled plastic.  The theme was caring for the earth and taking care of living things.

 There was a significance to the forms of a bunny, seal and monk and a reason that the bunnies were multi colored but that the seals and monks were only red.  I don't remember because I pretty much got the sense that they were making up reasons for the significance of these details as they were going along.

I found that giant plastic kind of distracted from the ruins but I did take comfort in the fact that apparently Americans aren't the only ones who are tacky.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Update on Dunlap Activities

Lack of blog posts = we've been a bit busy

I may have a bit of time this week to delve more in depth to the list below.  In the meantime, here's a bit of what has been happening lately:

  • Tartuffe opens Thursday.  I've been in rehearsal and spent my days helping with the set.  I'm not helpful with construction, but I can paint and have done quite a bit.
  • Allen has started running track.  Each student has been allowed to choose three events.  Allen's choices 200, hurdles and 1500
  • Kyra has been invited to apply for membership in the National Junior Honor Society.  Her interview is this Friday.
  • Kyle has been working numerous hours.
  • The sun has been shining more than not over the past week. I have certainly enjoyed the blue skies and dry air.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As Promised

I promised to take a photo of the publicity sign for Tartuffe.  This board faces all the traffic entering the front gate of SHAPE.

Opening night is in less than two weeks.  I'm definitely getting nervous.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Battle of Somme

Our recent excursion to Normandy included a good amount of history.  We saw the Bayeux tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror becoming king of England, we visited sites along Omaha Beach and we drove through some of the contested territory of the Battle of Somme.

Canada maintains a site that includes the trenches of the French and English allies, no man's land and German trenches as well as several Commonwealth cemeteries.  The site is staffed by Canadian college students and visitors can receive free private tours.  We walked amongst the trenches, across no man's land and stopped at three cemeteries on the property.

Over the years parts of the trenches have caved in, so they are neither as wide nor as deep as they were when they were in use.  Visitors can still get a sense of how many there were, how they zig zag and how far they were from one another.

At this point along the front, no man's land was quite wide.  The allies had alot of territory to cover when they decided to go on the offensive against the Germans and there was no place in which to take cover.
On the site is a memorial to honor the Newfoundlanders who died in horrendously huge numbers.  At the time Newfoundland was not a part of Canada but was a separate dominion of England.

Also at this time was a practice of creating battalions and regiments of friends and neighbors.  This was great for inspiring loyalty and camaraderie amongst the troops.  The downside was that when that unit suffered mass casualties entire communities were devastated.  Our guide told us that it took the Newfoundland communities that sent troops decades to recover from the loss of their young men.

The caribou monument honors all the Newfoundland men who fought and died in the Battle of Somme. It sits on a man-made hill and is landscaped with plants native to Newfoundland.   The hope of those who created it was that this bit of home in the midst of a French battlefield would be a comfort to the men who lost their lives, their friends and their families.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Musee des Beaux Arts

On our recent trip to Normandy, we stopped for a few hours in the city of Rouen.  Rouen is where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake and it is home of the cathedral which Monet painted in several colors and in shifting light.

Much to Allen and Kyra's dismay (probably Kyle's too) I wanted to spend at least a little time in Rouen's Musee des Beaux Art (art museum).  According to our guide book it displayed works by several artists that are favorites of mine (Caravaggio in particular).

The last art museum I was in was the Louvre.  Its collection is of course spectacular, but so are the crowds.  Kyra and I spent much of our time there shuffling along trying to get close to the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa.  It was difficult to move and certainly difficult to stop and appreciate the art.

The art museum in Rouen was a different story.  Here are a few photos of the crowds we battled to see the art work.  I think there were more guards in the gallery than visitors.  Our family of four was about 50% of the crowd for the time we were there.

Without crowds to fight it was easy to appreciate the art up close and from across the room.  We could move easily from one room to the next and linger or not as we chose.

On my own I would have stayed longer, but because it was so empty I could quickly move from piece to piece and see what I wanted to see thus making the visit only slightly painful for the kids.

I found the time spent in this museum far more enjoyable than the time I spent in the Louvre and would certainly recommend the museum to others.
Monet up close

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Our Set

I'm a bit delayed in this post, but I've fallen behind on a number of things.

Last Sunday SHAPE players finished their run of Bye Bye Birdie.  On Sunday afternoon the stage at the theater was decorated for the needs of that musical - moving walls, wing curtains, benches and other sizable props that could be moved on or off stage by a couple of people.

As we have been rehearsing Tartuffe simultaneously, we have been moving our chairs, table and settee on and off of the Birdie set while imagining a significantly wider stage and walls, stairs and doors.

On Monday evening when I arrived for rehearsal I no longer had to imagine.  There was stage where there had not been stage.  There were walls, doorways (doors arrived Tuesday), steps and a much wider stage.  I wish I had before and after photos to show you.  You'd be impressed.

This doesn't mean the set is finished or dressed by any means.  The walls have been cobbled together from previous productions.  It was fun to listen to my fellow cast members tour the set noting which panel came from which production - this one is from Anyone Can Whistle, this from Scrooge, is this one from Annie?

It is helpful to have a set and know the width and depth of the stage.  It is also a bit scary, it means our debut is growing ever closer and I'd like to be alot more prepared for it than I currently am.  Hopefully as the set gets finished and polished so will I.

The next few weeks will be fairly full of Tartuffe, so my blog may become a bit one note for a while.

Publicity poster update - I still don't know if I am a roadside banner but I am a large placard (4ft high by 3ft wide) just inside the main gate. (I will get a photo of myself by it)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Customer Service

A friend reported that NPR (tried to find the story to link to it and could not find it) recently did a story on how customer service was quite bad in Belgium.  She wanted to know if it was true.

I guess the short answer is yes - customer service is not like we are used to in the US.  In the US we are spoiled with numerous options for spending our money.  Stores cater to our whims, our desired shopping hours, our attitudes and changing tastes.

Here in Belgium, many stores are closed on Sunday and Monday.  There are limited options when it comes to making purchases and stores certainly don't feel any need to cater to the consumer.

I would not say that cashiers, receptionists, or customer service representatives are rude they just are not in any hurry to help.  They are usually polite but they also take their own sweet time.  Clerks will walk away from their station even if there is a line of people.  Grocery stores frequently have limited lines open.  Bank tellers will ignore a line of customers to attend to email or a phone call.  I have not noticed any employee going the extra mile or even the extra foot to assist a customer.

At this point I am used to it.  I allow an hour for a trip to the bank.  Sometimes it only takes 20 minutes and then I am pleased.  When I go grocery shopping in the Belgian store, I go on a week day first thing in the morning.  I am used to long wait times for repair people and odd service hours (closed at lunch and early on Friday).

This doesn't mean it doesn't frustrate me from time to time, just that I am growing more accustomed to it. My latest experience was with the language center on base.  I enrolled in the advanced French class and asked to purchase the accompanying books.  I was told not to buy the books as the class might not be fully enrolled and thus cancelled.  The books once bought could not be returned (even if unused).  I returned at the end of the week to see if the class was fully enrolled (it was) and to buy my books.  The books at this time were sold out and the language center had no plans to order more.  I was told to go find the university book store in town and see if they had any.

Frustrated - yes.  Surprised - no