Written by Bruce Jacklin
We at MTVarts often talk of the power of live theater and how it influences our artsIQ participants? What starts out in a workshop setting culminates into a full theatrical production. Having taught for more years than I would like to admit, I’ve seen first hand that theater makes for smarter, braver human beings. Theater helps connect the head to the heart.
Theater also connects to the importance of reading. A play has the ability to jump a story off the page and bring it to life. This can be a revelation to regular bookworms, but also a connection to reluctant readers. Part of what is happening on stage is very similar to the roleplaying all children do. The difference with roleplaying and live theater is that an audience completes the process of theater. However it is with a live audience that actors subject themselves to the risk of being critiqued. Imagine yourself standing in front of a large group of strangers with a spotlight on you, hanging on to every word you say. This can be a very paralyzing experience. Theater breaks down those imaginary barriers and bolsters self-confidence that will carry through the rest of their lives. Without risk there is no growth.
The selection of our material is no accident. Choosing the junior versions of well known musicals seems to celebrate risk, leaving open the option of success once one breaks boundaries. They also give a message of "follow your dreams". One of my friends used a very good expression; he said, "It is not about an ending that is happy, but an ending that is positive.''
We humbly thank our volunteers, donors, patrons, parents, and friends for their support of MTVarts and the power of community. We are very grateful to be a part of the artistic movement that is embracing our great city.
I am a drummer. It’s not my day job, it’s not my hobby – it’s my way of life. By trade, I work as a Vice President for one of the largest banks on the planet. By spirit, I am a drummer. Why? Well, it started when I was given my first “Country Western” beginners drum set for Christmas at the age of 5. I have to assume my parents were either gluttons for punishment or they just wanted me to beat on something besides the furniture. Because I was born with the blessed curse of constant rhythm in my head. So, I drum. Always.
I describe drumming as a “blessed curse” because it’s both a natural gift I was blessed with and a curse, well, for a couple reasons. For one thing, no one wants to hear you practice – period. For another, the constant finger and toe-tapping can be annoying to other people, to say the least. If I’m in a meeting, in a vehicle, on an elevator, in the shower, I’m drumming. Whether in my head, air-drumming, tapping on a desk to a new or familiar rhythm, or actually sitting at my kit – I am always drumming. I can’t stop it and no longer even care to try.
I’m neither a remarkable player nor quite as gifted as my professional heroes, but I’ve had the opportunity to make music through drums with many other gifted musicians, some famous, some not so famous. It doesn’t matter to me who I play with or how it’s orchestrated as the spirit of music doesn’t care about fame or fortune. While my preference is just to play smaller venues of either jazz or rock-style music with friends, I’ve said “yes” to a variety of gigs, some more odd than others.
In early 2012, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I’d be willing to play drums in the “pit band” for an upcoming summer musical called Grease. I remember thinking that I’d seen the movie Grease probably a hundred times on television since the early 80’s and knew the music pretty well. How hard could it be? I would soon find out...
It turned out I couldn’t just show up and perform like I would an ordinary gig. Not only did I need to know the music and perform it well, I needed to be able to perform it in sync with people who would be singing and dancing to specially-choreographed moves on a stage – none of which I would be able to see, mind you, because I was going to be in an actual pit below that stage. Once that sunk in, I quickly realized all of that would require me being able to actually READ music – something I hadn’t done in over twenty years, going back to high school marching band! The more I dug into this work the closer I got to calling up my friend and making up some excuse for not being able to play with them at all. Then my conscious got the best of me and I decided to just buckle up and do it.
Fast forward six years to present day and I’m now preparing for my fifth summer musical with MTVarts – The Addams Family Musical. Each of the musicals I’ve performed for have been a rewarding experience, but I was extra happy to have the opportunity to play behind a team doing a musical version of one of my favorite childhood shows. Now, I reluctantly admit that I have a tendency to over-prepare when it comes to certain things, and many times feel as though I’m still not prepared enough, regardless of the job. Part of how I prepare is making sure I have all the right equipment for the job and looking for any material I can find to best help me practice. After scouring Google and YouTube for anything related to The Addams Family Musical, I quickly learned how many different people have performed this show, from Broadway to local theatre groups and everything in between. I was very impressed by the work people had put into their version of the show, but even more so by all the great drummers that had performed with the orchestras behind them.
When I received the percussion and drums score for the musical, I started reviewing specific videos of how different drummers performed their parts. One of the things I noticed right away was that almost all of the drummers had found a way to play most of the percussion and drum parts simultaneously. As I took notes, I also took stock of how my drumkit was configured and how many percussion instruments I should add to it in order to come close to what these other musicians had pulled off to properly support their show. For instance, how was I going to play a triangle – an instrument that usually requires one hand to hold the suspended triangle and another hand to hold the striker (metal stick) – and hold two drum sticks for playing my trap set at the same time?
Another quick internet search revealed that some genius, fellow drummer out there had designed, built and sold a product that held a triangle in such a way that allowed you to properly “strike” a triangle with a drum stick, still getting that nice, familiar chime. After exchanging a few emails, I learned this fellow drummer (also named Miller, no relation) had performed The Addams Family Musical on Broadway! The information he passed onto me, along with the purchase of his extremely cool product (aptly called “The Miller Machine”), was genuinely priceless, and his ingenuity and craftsmanship gave me some new inspiration.
I decided that if someone was willing to take the time to create a product to help other drummers perform their increasingly difficult acrobatic duties, I might as well try building a drum kit specifically for the show, as I really didn’t own enough pieces to accomplish my musical goals for the show anyway. Luckily, I wasn’t starting from scratch, as I had a few vintage pieces of an old Gretsch drum kit that I had acquired over the years just laying around in my basement collecting dust – just waiting to be brought back to life. Within a couple months of searching eBay, pawn shops and actual music stores, the extra-large packages started showing up on our doorstep. Needless to say, my wife soon began to take notice.
One day a rather large box arrived with two big marching snare drums inside, one of which I planned to convert (check out the videos below) to a floor tom as the final piece of what was becoming my new Addams Family drum kit. That evening, while unpacking my new acquisitions, I finally explained to my family the full breadth of my project and the work I was about to perform on one of these drums. No stranger to theatrics herself, my wife's interest was peaked... she’s really the primary reason I’m involved with the theatre to begin with, so it didn’t take too much convincing to get her support. Not only did I have my wife's full support, but she said she’d like to document the process - so began the videos below, documenting my crazy drum-building antics.
While the final documentaries are still being processed, I can report that the project has been a success. I now have a complete drum kit comprised mostly of vintage drums, with some inspiring new touches (thanks to the Miller Machine), all painted in a flat black lacquer that would make even Morticia proud. The real success, however, is simply having the opportunity to once again volunteer with a group of inspiring people – those souls, present and past, who have made my experiences with theatre and the arts not only a rewarding one, but one that provides my drumming spirit the outlet it constantly craves.
Video One: ADDAMS FAMILY - DRUMS PROMO
Video Two: CONVERTING MARCHING SNARE TO FLOOR TOM
To me, being able to have my family with me in MTVArts has been a blessing. It all started with Mom and I doing a show together and eventually Mom dragged Dad in, and now, here we are. Theater has given the three of us something in common in our public lives. We have been able to talk about shows and what we like about them, our opinions on certain songs, and on how we like to play our characters. Also, personally for me it has been nice being in this show with both of my parents because this is my last show with MTVArts before I move away for college and I don’t know when I will be able to return to the stage with them.
Because of how my mom and dad have chosen to parent, not only do I get to hang out with my family, but they also have no problems letting me hang out with the other teenagers and young adults of the cast. I am so thankful to my parents, but as a teenager, I would go crazy if they wouldn’t let me hang out with all my friends. However just like the Addams family, at the end of the day it still is family first and family last, and my family is amazing. Now we just need to convince my older brother to get on stage!
I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am to be in the MTVArts production of the Addams Family the Musical with my husband and youngest son. Truly, in our case, “It’s family first and family last and family by and by.” Our theater story didn’t start here, though. Jay and I met in our college production of The Pirates of Penzance. I was new to the college, coming in mid-year, and was invited to a closed audition – meaning only the acting and music directors would be there. I was on stage, ready to sing, when in walked a handsome college guy. Well, I thought, I might as well make him feel uncomfortable and sing to him since he crashed my audition. Little did I know, he was the student director and my future husband. We did several college shows together, but after college, fell out of the drama scene. Twenty plus years later, our son decided to try his hand at the dramatic arts. In the summer of 2017, MTVArts did Bye Bye Birdie. Mark, an incoming senior, had the opportunity to do a show that both my mother and I had done as seniors in high school, as well. It seemed a perfect summer experience for mother and son. After this, I was asked to be the mom in How I Became a Pirate, and did I happen to know a man who could play the dad? This show ushered Jay into MTVArts.
One day you are a young college couple in love, the next you are couple who has raised two young men and you are looking at the soon-to-be empty nest. The feeling of the parental mission accomplished is deep and satisfying but what’s next for the family? I have been focused on work so long that I even turned my hobbies into work. My side job as a self-defense instructor allows me to spend a lot of time at the gym and at the shooting range and call it work. These are good things that I really enjoy, but realized I was spending all of my time working or at the gym or basically not with Kerri. I watched her going off to rehearsal and was really happy for her to have new friends and fun but I was missing it.
When she asked me to be in the How I Became a Pirate play I could say I jumped at the chance but I didn’t. Good theatre is hard work and a lot of it, even for those of us who are providing the background as the chorus. I very much respected the work MTVArts was doing and if I was going to be a part of it I wanted to do the best I was able to do.
Well, I did take the chance and it has been hard work, and a lot of it (especially for someone who stumbles through dance practices as badly as I do!) but it’s been good. Very good. Good people, good experiences, good time spent with Kerri and now Mark in the Addams Family. Family is first after all.
My daughter leaned toward the stage in wonder as she watched the flying monkeys, dazzling witches, smoking wizard, and the straw man who could talk! She was three years old and experiencing the wonder of live theatre for the very first time. It was the year 2009 in Mount Vernon, Ohio and a moment that the two of us will always treasure. Even now, eight years later, she remembers that show. Over the years, Mount Vernon’s community theatre has continued to ignite her imagination and has brought the experience of Broadway to our small town.
At MTVarts, everyone is a volunteer. Countless hours are put into these shows to bring beauty to life for the enjoyment of our community. Why would so many busy adults give up so much of their time to something like theatre? Who needs theatre? We need threatre.
Opening night! It is usually quite a stressful time for me. The long months of planning by the production team and the many, many hours of often tedious, detail-laden rehearsal are over. The orchestra has worked hard over the dress rehearsals to get everything together. At this point, my score is usually layered in pencil markings—noting repeats to be taken during complex scene changes, blocking details, and etc. As the crowd arrives and the house crew does their thing, I usually find myself in the pit, reviewing my responsibilities, contemplating what can happen. What if an important prop is not in its correct location? How efficient have the scene changes been? Where are the critical costume changes that might need more time? Finally, will this group of actors, most of whom do something else for a living, balk at the sight of the crowd in the house and drop a line, forget their lyrics, or skip a verse? Are the new people prepared for this?