Archive for the ‘Longmont’ Category
There is much I enjoy about the iTunes era of music.
I like that I can take my entire music collection with me when I go for a bike ride. I can find the music that matches my mood and workout pace whether I’m riding on the highways or my trainer.
I like that I can bypass poor playlists broadcast on the radio stations. I find that I enjoy only about one in four songs when I am forced to listen to the radio. That’s a pretty poor ratio and a good indication of why the iPod is popular.
I’m even warming up to the Genius feature on iTunes that creats playlists I would not think of on my own. But I’m still an album guy. I like to listen to a single artist for an hour or two at a time.
I like that you don’t have to haul around a big appliance to listen to music. It’s much easier to keep an iPod charged than it is to keep a stock of D batteries or always have to find an outlet.
I like that it’s easy to let our kids listen to our favorite music. We don’t have the worry of the past – that the kids might scratch our albums. So, it’s easy to share music among the family. Joni’s successfully nurtured a new generation of Beatles fans.
But, I do miss the social experience that listening to music used to be.
I was feeling nostalgic today for the old Sunday ritual of listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. I asked my daughter Emma what the number one song was these days. She has no idea. I asked her what the most popular songs are among her friends. “We all listen to different stuff,” she said.
We listened to music together even when we were sitting in our bedrooms listening alone. American Top 40 was a stable of everyone’s music week. You could count on a conversation about the new number one song on Monday morning by the lockers in school.
We used to cheer for our favorite songs to move up the charts. I can still remember Tim Yount going crazy with excitement when Kool and the Gang topped the charts with Celebration. I couldn’t stand that song. But, that was part of the fun – hoping that your favorite song would beat out the others.
The boombox was a school bus must on field trips and track meets. The “dj” would try to play a mix of music that appealed to the most people (except country music fans). Again, part of the fun was lobbying for your favorite songs to be played and heckling the choices of others.
Music was something that brought teenagers together – back in the day.
Today, I don’t see young people crowded around a turn table or a boom box sorting through albums negotiating which song to play next. When I see kids traveling in groups, each has their own mp3 player. Where there once was lobbying for songs to be played there is now silence a set of earphones dangling from each person’s ears. Perhaps one or two pairs of kids are sharing earbuds. But, for the most part, they listen to their own stuff.
The shared music experience today seems to be limited to a handful of kids playing Rock Band on Wii.
Music today is one more example of how we are able to tailor our experiences to our individual preferences without having to take into account what others may or may not enjoy. There’s no conflict. No reason to negotiate. We can all do what we want to do.
There is a lot to be said for the individual play list. It’s one less thing for kids to fight about in the back seat of the car when going on a long family road trip. Parents worldwide have fewer occasions to say, “Don’t make me pull this car over.”
But, the individual music experience is one more thing that fragments people from one another. It’s one more shared experience we can cross of the list of shared experiences. A list that continues to grow.
I like my iPod. I use it every day. I have no plans to give it up.
But, today, I’m feeling nostalgic for the shared experience of wondering what will be the number one song this week. I’m even feeling nostalgic for Casey’s corny sign-off, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Well, maybe not so nostalgic for that part.
So, to celebrate shared experiences of the past… A tip of my hat to my old friend Tim Yount.
This stinkin’ song’s going to be stuck in my head all day.
* * *
boombox by stereo-240 pictures
Casey Casem from wikidpedia
I often ask myself, “What would Irv and Ruth do?”
That question comes to mind when I’m trying to decide whether or not to get behind a community project – especially projects that take more tax dollars.
Irv and Ruth Hayden are lifetime family friends and parents of my boyhood friend and current golf partner, Paul.
Irv and Ruth, like many people from Atwood and my home, Longmont, have a community first rather than me first approach to the world. I contrast this to a friend who I had lunch with recently. He told me he was “selfish” when it comes to public policy issues. He was unapologetic when he gave a for instance, “If it (a tax increase) benefits my kids’ school, I’m interested. If it’s for someone else’s kids, not so interested.” He said out loud what many of us may think but would never dare put into words.
That’s not Irv and Ruth’s approach. I was back in Atwood last summer (maybe the summer before) a few days before a vote to increase sales taxes to fund a new swimming pool. Displayed prominently in the Hayden’s yard across the street from my parents’ house was a homemade yard sign. I don’t remember exactly what the sign said but something to the effect of, “Vote yes for the pool. The next generation deserves it, too.”
Irv and Ruth are in their eighties. Only two of their seven children live in Rawlins County. None of their grandchildren call Atwood home. A new swimming pool will not likely boost property values – often an argument made to get people behind a new tax. Irv and Ruth’s support for a new tax will most likely diminish and not boost the size of their personal estate.
There are many other people in Atwood in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who supported the pool tax about which the same things can be said.
Irv and Ruth, and others, don’t use self-interest as the criteria to evaluate community projects and new taxes. It’s not about, “What’s in it for me?” The question Irv and Ruth are asking is, “What’s best for the community.” And not just what’s best for the community this year or next. Irv and Ruth are asking what kind of community do we want this place to be in ten, twenty or forty years from now.
My family is the beneficiary of people who took the long view in Longmont, Colorado. People who I never knew invested in parks, community rose gardens and reservoirs. More recent community leaders rallied the community behind rec centers, museums, and ice rinks. Early residents of Longmont planted trees in our neighborhood that now tower over our home and provide us beauty and shade. Those who invested their time and money to place these treasures in our yard never saw what they grew to become. That’s taking the long view.
It can be hard to look beyond our personal needs and interests. It can be especially difficult during tough economic times. What’s more, not every idea for a community project that reaches the ballot is a good idea. Sometimes the best thing to do is vote no on new taxes.
But, it is the long view – people asking the question, “What kind of community do we want this place to be in ten, twenty or forty years from now – that creates wonderful communities to raise children and grow old. Places like Atwood and Longmont.
I walked out of the restroom in the Albuquerque airport last night and got whacked in the face with a lizard.
The father was horrified. Not the lizard’s father; the father of the boy who was swinging the lizard by its tail just outside the restroom door. It was a rubber lizard. The tailed stretched easily and the circumference of the swing went much wider than the boy intended.
“I’m sorry Daddy, I didn’t mean to,” said the three-, maybe four-year-old boy as he tried to collect the lizard from midair.
“No worries,” I said more to the mortified father than the boy. “Been there, done that,” I added trying to smile and trying not to touch the spot on my cheek where I was grazed. I did not want the dad to feel worse than he already did.
Parents live with one minor fear and one major fear when they take their young children to crowded venues. The minor fear is that their young child will get lost or, heaven forbid, be taken by a stranger. The major fear is that their child will do something embarrassing that disturbs nearby strangers and, worse yet, cause people to whisper, “They’re bad parents.”
A little bit of vigilance ensures a child’s safety. Parents hold their child’s hand or perhaps grab hold of the collar of their shirt when passing through a thick crowd of people. If the child’s still small enough and the crowd is particularly large, parents pick up their child and hold them close.
The embarrassing moments are more difficult to avert. It can happen at any moment in the blink of an eye. You can be standing in an airport waiting for your wife and daughter to return from the restroom.
Your young son is fidgety. He starts picking things up off the floor. The unknown object is headed for the mouth so you quickly grab it and in its place put a toy in your son’s hand. You look over your shoulder to see if you wife is on her way back… wham.
A passing stranger gets whacked in the face with a flying lizard.
It’s every parent’s nightmare. Sometimes it comes true.
It is great having young children. There also is some relief as they grow older. You are able to put your minor worries aside and relax, at least a little, knowing your children are savvy enough to stay safe even in crowds.
On the other hand, Joe was dancing down the streets in San Francisco while on our August vacation. He did a spin move as we rounded a corner and crashed into two women walking toward us…
Yeah, been there, done that.
Hang in there lizard dad.
Ada Grace Creighton was born Grace Ann Creighton on December 18, 2001.
Grace Ann is a fine name. Everyone in the family was fond enough of it. But it was clear from the beginning (at least to me) that it may not fit just right.
I kept my concerns to myself because I could think of no good alternatives. I like the name Grace a lot. Ann is fine, too. I have cousins and good friends with the name Ann.
It was the combination of the two that didn’t work quite right for me. You see, to me, Grace Ann – especially said very quickly – sounds a lot like Greason. Jimmy Greason was my next door neighbor when I was growing up. From the moment Grace was born I think of Jimmy every time I hear Grace Ann said together.
I called my parents to tell them about Grace’s birth. “We have another girl,” I said. “Her name is Grace Ann.” It was an uncontrollable reflex. In the next instant, I just blurted out, “Jimmmmy.”
Again, I did my best to hide my misgivings about the combination of Grace Ann and my peculiar speech reflex.
Joni is fond of the name Grace, too. She has no special attachment to Ann, it just seemed to go well with Grace (clearly we did not communicate well on this point).
Joni, though, was thinking of her own childhood neighbor when it came to names. Ada Wederski was a special person in her life. She very much wanted to give Ada’s name to one of our children. She just couldn’t seem to come up with a good way to work it in.
It became clear soon after Grace’s birth that she would be our last child. There would be no more opportunities to honor people by giving their names to our children. But, that didn’t stop Joni from thinking about Ada.
Some friends of ours, when Grace was about three, had a daughter of their own. Ava Grace, who lived a short but special life, was the name she was given. She was the inspiration Joni needed.
Joni always imagined Ada as a middle name never a first. Grace Ada just didn’t roll off the tongue. But, Ada Grace, that just might work.
Joni kicked around the idea in her own mind for quite a long time. Grace was five years old before we talked about the idea together. Was Grace too old to change names now?
I thought why not. Grace wasn’t yet in school. School is what sets a kids name in stone – at least while they are at that school.
Joni and I agreed it would be okay to make the change. We asked Grace but she didn’t warm to the idea immediately. Joni told her the story of her neighbor Ada and that helped a little. But Grace wasn’t quite ready to change identities.
Scheduling issues and preschool desires led us to send Grace to a different elementary school for kindergarten than Emma and Joe. She would switch back to Central Elementary in first grade.
The second week of kindergarten a strange thing happened. Grace, without consulting anyone, began to sign all of her papers with Ada. That is sort of Grace’s way. She does things quietly with little or no fanfare.
Grace’s teacher was confused. Where did this name Ada come from? All of the school supplies, name cards at the desk, coat hook and locker said, “Grace.” Let’s go by “Grace” this year. We all agreed.
First grade, back at Central Elementary, provided another opportunity for Grace to decide if she wanted to be Ada Grace or just Grace. She still wasn’t sure. Her teacher, Kelly Sanseverino, said, “We need to decide so I know what to call you.” So Grace took the plunge and declared herself to be Ada Grace. And, that’s how all her classmates know her now, as Ada. At Central Elementary, there is no turning back.
Old friends still call her Grace. At home, it’s a mixed bag. I hardly ever call her only Grace. It’s either Ada Grace or Ada for me. Emma and Joe go back and forth. Joni tends to call her Grace in the summer and Ada during the school year. It’s a name that is still taking shape.
But, I like it. It’s unique. It’s a pretty combination, Ada Grace. It makes a connection between generations of people who were special to Joni. And, it saves me the embarrassment of reflexively shouting out “Jimmmmy” when some says Grace Ann.
John and Joni Creighton were married on August 19, 1989 in St. John’s Catholic Church in rural Rawlins County. In twenty years of marriage, they have lived in Boston, Massachusetts; Falls Church, Virginia; Bethesda and Rockville, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado. They have called Longmont, Colorado home since 2001. Both John (1983) and Joni (1986) are graduates of Atwood High School.
John is the son of Robert and Barbara (Wilson) Creighton. He was born in Atwood on October 11, 1964. He followed the family tradition (fifth generation) attending the University of Kansas where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in economics and business administration in 1987. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1990.
John worked on Governor Mike Hayden’s campaign staff in 1986 and 1990. For the past 20 years, John has worked as a public leadership consultant with a focus on public opinion research. He worked for The Harwood Institute for Public Innovations from 1991-1999. John founded his own consulting firm in 1999. Most recently, John agreed to write for the community section of the online edition of a major national newspaper.
John is active in Longmont, too. He was elected to the St. Vrain Valley School District board of education in 2007, the same year he succeeded his father as president of the High Plains Bank Holding Company.
Joni is the daughter of John and Betty (Rooney) Mickey. She was born in Atwood on May 20, 1968. She was a member of the Atwood High School state cross country championship team in 1986.
Joni attended Kansas State University and graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1994. She worked in the emergency room of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, as a floor nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland and as a research nurse in Boulder, Colorado.
John and Joni have three children, Emma Cloe born on May 26, 1997; Joseph Paul born on August 7, 1999; and Ada Grace born on December 18, 2001. All three children were born in Boulder, Colorado. Emma, Joe and Ada Grace hold the distinction of having two grandparents serve as Mayor of Atwood – Bob Creighton, 1983-1991 and Betty Mickey, 1999-present (Betty is the first woman and longest serving Mayor in Atwood history). The children enjoy visiting Atwood where they take swimming lessons most summers.
* * *
Submitting to The Rawlins County History Book
“Atwood must be the happiest place in America. Everybody’s so kind. People help each other. Lessons are learned. It was a wonderful experience. I appreciate that person so much…”
“Where’s the dark side? Where’s the pain and suffering? Where’s the betrayal?”
These weren’t the exact words but do capture the sentiment I heard at a dinner party earlier this month. A good friend was having fun teasing me about this blog. The conversation was actually pretty funny.
I promised my friend I would try to come up with something with more of an edge. But, so far, I’ve failed. I tried. But, the words just don’t come to me. The sentences don’t string together.
Atwood is not the happiest place in America. It’s no more or less happy than other places I’ve lived. But, it is the place where I first learned what happiness is.
Atwood is a place where sometimes school children are mercilessly teased and bullied while grownups look the other way. It is a place where people who are different are sometimes ostracized. Intolerance exists. It is a place where some people fail to follow through on their commitments and where mediocrity is too often tolerated. It is a place where some spouses are unfaithful and friends betray one another in ways small and large. And, it is a place where some people object to civic progress.
Just like every other place I’ve lived.
Atwood also is a place where people are generous and kind. It is a place where people go out of their way to help neighbors (even annoying neighbors) when help is needed most. It is a place where people who are scarred can find refuge and comfort, accepted for who they are. It is a place where children are nurtured and loved. It is the home of accomplished business people, inventors, scholars and artisans. It is a place where strong marriages last 50 and 60 years and where friends support one another in ways small and large. And, it is a place where people rally for the good of the community.
Just like every other place I’ve lived.
I agree that moral depravity and human heart ache make for a good read. Most best sellers contain one or the other or both. I’m just not that good at writing about these things.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. The hardships I’ve faced (knock wood) have been of the minor variety. That is why I am inspired by people who are able to overcome major hardships.
Beyond that, I believe we have a choice in life. We can see in our experiences positive lessons and new opportunities. Or, we can see roadblocks and the negative. I am impressed by the people who make it a point to see possibilities. That’s why I try to live by the standard: the glass is half full.
My wife, Joni, even got me a shirt to represent this attitude. I found the hat later. When I put them together, I have a full glass.
I don’t always live up to the standard of seeing the glass half full – at least not as often as I’d like. I can spot the negative and spout out the cynical comment with the best of them. But, I’m hopeful that I will continue to see the glass half full more often than not.
I’ve quoted from the book Rain of Gold, by Victor Villasenor. It is appropriate here again. The quote that stands out in my mind is made by Dona Margarita. Dona Margarita calls a family meeting. This is a woman who has lost several children to war. She is nearly blind. Her grandchildren are crying with hunger. They have no home. No money. With all these hardships, Dona Margarita says to her family, “We must open our hearts so that we can see the possibilities in our predicament. If we do not look for the possibilities, we have nothing.”
I think this is true.
Still, in good faith to my promises to my friend Nathan, I will continue search my memory banks for a sinister tale and hope that I can turn it into a good read.
I am passionate about community and democracy. That’s why July is one of my favorite months and the 4th of July is a favorite holiday. I’m such a geek about these things that, at times to my children’s chagrin, I read them portions of The Declaration of Independence each July 4th.
We all know that those who signed The Declaration of Independence did far more than declare our nation’s freedom. They set an example. They demonstrated the hard work that is required to build a nation – and for that matter to build communities. It takes a lot of effort to find common ground. The Founding Fathers spent week upon week in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia.
I am grateful for the sense of community my family has found in Longmont. When we arrived in town, we were made to feel welcome in countless ways by generous neighbors. The circle of people with whom we feel connected expands with each passing year. For my children, Longmont will be one of the most cherished kinds of community – their home town.
Community is among our most basic human needs. Psychology studies suggest that a sense of community ranks among the biggest factors affecting people’s happiness, behind only family relationships, financial security, and meaningful work. Community even ranks ahead of health.
While those of us who grew up on the High Plains boast about our independent nature and are skeptical of psychology studies, we know that much of what we cherish in life requires community effort.
I’m passionate about community for its own sake and the happiness it bestows upon my family. But I care, too, because healthy communities are a prerequisite for a healthy democracy. This is true at all levels of democracy – national, state and local.
Recent social science research suggests that today people tend to define their communities more narrowly than in the past. To understand why, we must consider the foundation for a healthy community: shared values.
To greater extents, we all live in value enclaves. We tend to associate with people who see the world in narrowly similar ways as we do. Our patterns of association are reinforced by niche media – talk radio, cable television, internet, all forms of print – whose primary purpose is to diminish the reputation of “the other side.” It is as if an industry has been built on hatefulness.
Language that disparages people who hold different views serves one central purpose. It conveys the message that “those people” are not part of our community. They do not share our values. They are outsiders and should be shunned.
There is nothing quite so damning as labeling someone an outsider.
Conventional wisdom today seems to hold that it is impossible for a nation as diverse as ours to find common ground. We are and will continue to be hopelessly divided.
I disagree. In my work, I have the good fortune to talk to people from all walks of life. There are a core set of values that are important to us all. Among these values are security, opportunity, family, dignity and personal freedom – not to mention community.
The question is not whether we still hold values in common. Rather, are we willing to make the effort to discover and focus on our shared values? Or, will we allow civic sloth to prevail.
That’s the rub when it comes to community. Like any relationship it takes work to keep it healthy. Sometimes, a lot of hard work. And, while it’s always easier to be lazy, there’s typically a high price to pay in the end.
I submit that the future of our democracy depends as much on our willingness to focus on common values and build healthy communities as anything else we might do.
We need this foundation to sustain democratic decision making. The alternative is an all too familiar stalemate in which we ignore the most crucial issues and focus on petty differences.
We will always have disagreements within our communities. There will always be those who insist on being contemptuous in their speech and behavior. But, the ability to disagree – even passionately – in a constructive way begins with a firm commitment to our commonalities.
It’s worth the effort.
* * *
This piece was originally published in the Longmont Daily Times Call in July 2006.
Don Beamgard stepped up for Atwood Scout Troop 121 when we needed someone and when he didn’t need to. It wasn’t the first time he stepped up for Atwood and it wouldn’t be the last.
I thought a lot about Mr. Beamgard this past week. I went with my son Joe to Ben Delatour Scout Ranch (BDSR) near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado this past weekend. The last time I was at BDSR I was a Boy Scout myself. Silas Horton and I swam in the lake in the background of the picture for about 10 seconds before we decided it was too cold. We agreed our best option was to fail the swim test and be banned from the lake for the rest of the week.
I stayed on top of the water this year canoeing with Joe and his good friend Jackson. We took our swim tests before we left Longmont. Thank goodness. The water felt just as cold as I remember.
Back in 1979, Mr. Beamgard spent three nights with our scout troop at BDSR. He was relieved by Jerry McKee (the high school basketball coach at the time) who also spent three nights as our chaperone.
The previous year, 1978, our scout troop went to the Dane Hansen Scout Reservation in Kansas. We had a hard time finding an adult who could spend an entire week with us at camp. Our dads were working and, in those days, moms didn’t stay with scouts at camp.
It was decided, somehow, that we could go to camp without adult supervision. Hindsight 20-20 (or even 20-60) that decision wasn’t so terribly wise. One of our troop mates was picked on by boys from another troop. He got in a scrap and his nose was seriously broken causing several years of problems.
We had a hard time keeping track of time without an adult to help us out. As young teenagers are prone to do, we got caught up in our own games rather than camp prescribed activities. One afternoon we decided to use our campsite water buckets to hunt and capture ground squirrels. It was a great game – except perhaps for the squirrels.
We forgot to show up for dinner that night where we were supposed to lead the camp in prayer. A counselor came to find us. We threw on our uniforms – sort of – and marched into dinner like Bill Murry’s squad showed up to graduation in the movie Stripes. We tried to get the other campers to join us in the song, “Be Present at Our Table Lord,” but no one did. By the second verse, Paul Hayden put everyone out of their misery when he called out, “That’s all the words we know, sit down and eat.”
The Camp Hansen organizers discouraged Troop 121 from coming back the next year. That was okay with us. The chiggers made us miserable. But we did want to camp the next summer.
Everyone must have agreed we would only be allowed to go to camp again if an adult went with us to supervise. The next summer, camp was up in the air until almost the last moment when, finally, Mr. Beamgard (who was an Eagle Scout) and Mr. McKee agreed to serve for half a week each. Neither man had a son in our troop. They stepped up out of kindness.
I don’t remember a lot about my week at BDSR except for the frigid mountain lake and Mr. Beamgard’s stories. He was a World War II Vet serving in the infantry. He sat at the picnic table of our campsite and kept us at rapt attention telling us how he earned his Purple Hearts. He told us stories about running down hills in Europe and diving into his fox hole thinking he’d escaped harm until his uniform pants began to turn dark red with blood. These are the types of stories young teen agers love not fully comprehending how real the stories are.
As a boy, I heard many stories about Mr. Beamgard. He was not only an influential community leader but he loved to have fun – and poke fun.
My dad arrived in Atwood and learned that Mr. Beamgard was an avid ping pong player. Dad enjoyed ping pong too and challenged Mr. Beamgard to a game. The story goes that Mr. Beamgard said he could win wearing over boots and a rain jacket. Dad said, “I’ll take that bet.”
The match was staged in the basement of the Methodist Church. Apparently, the score was not even close. Dad retired from competitive ping pong after a humiliating defeat. Dad’s only prize was a story that he told every time we ate at a Methodist Church potluck.
Mr. Beamgard was a proud Democrat. He also was a supporter of our hometown politician Mike Hayden. For Mr. Beamgard, hometown would always trump political affiliation. But, he faced a dilemma like other Atwood Democrats when Mike ran for governor in a crowded Republican party. Should he switch parties to help Mike reach the general election?
Mr. Beamgard never considered the option. He was a Democrat and would never put R next to his name. But, he did promise to recruit at least 10 Republicans around the state to vote for Mike in the primary. He challenged other Democrats to do the same.
Mr. Beamgard served as Atwood’s Postmaster for many years. If I was out and about early enough, I would stop and watch Mr. Beamgard raise the flag outside the post office. He did it with all the formality we were taught in scouts.
There used to be a joke that Mr. Beamgard kept up with community news by sneaking peeks at people’s post cards. We received a post card from an Atwood neighbor who was away on a long vacation. At the bottom of the card was a postscript written in small letters: “Don, please give our regards to June.”
Don did more for Atwood than a young boy can even begin to appreciate. He and his wife June were the energy behind the Beamgard Learning Center, a regional school located in Atwood for severely handicapped children. They both sang in the church choir and were leaders in the congregation.
And, like most Beamgard men, Don served a term or two as Atwood mayor. Dad, also a former mayor, rode on a parade float for those who had previously held the office. He was the only non-Beamgard on board. In an effort to fit in, he wrote on his name tag, “Bob Beamgard.”
Don Beamgard was a civic man. He gave countless hours of service to Atwood, to his church, civic clubs as well as to his state and country. He was indeed a member of the greatest generation.
Like many folks who are active in community life he ruffled a few feathers. That’s what happens when you’re passionate and want to get things done. I appreciate now more than ever people who are willing to stay involved in community life year after year after year.
I will remember Mr. Beamgard for the many roles he played in our community. And, I will also remember him as the person who saved our trip to scout camp in the summer of ’79.
This is a cautionary tale about the perils of scaling up.
Our kids and their 300 block Pratt Street friends captured magic in a bottle last summer. Three Mahoney kids, three Creighton kids, Sonia Frasier who helped with sets, Emily Shulte from next door, Jackson Brown – a short bike ride away – and “Big” Anna their baby sitter (also from next door) formed an acting troupe known as the Pratt Street Players and staged a production of CATS in our garage.
The performance greatly exceeded the standing room only crowd’s expectations. The show included sets, lighting, costumes, props, programs, pre-performance hors d’oeuvres, and several highly choreographed dance numbers – all the work done by the kids. No one had an official job but all of the work got done.
There was no rehearsal schedule. The kids would simply knock on each other’s doors or see each other in their yards and call out, “Do you want to practice CATS?” Some rehearsals lasted twenty minutes. Others went on for hours. At lunch, during the full day sessions, kids would run home to eat and then return on their own. The day-to-day enthusiasm for the upcoming show was palpable.
The kids had so much fun experiencing the thrill of success, of accomplishment, that they wanted to grow the show. They wanted to share the experience of performing with friends from more distant parts of town and do multiple shows to a much larger audience.
As parents, we were supportive. “It is fine to expand the show but you’re still in charge,” we said. “You need to organize things. We’re not going to get involved.”
That word, “organize,” is where things started to go awry. Some of the kids recruited to join the Pratt Street Players lived too far away to ride or walk to our house on their own. Parents began to ask about a schedule – when should I drop off my child for practice, what day and time, when will they be done?
Joni and I began to consider the prospect of ten or fifteen kids in our backyard. “We’re not going to run a restaurant this summer,” we cautioned. The implication is that rehearsals would have to end before or begin after lunch.
The kids did get organized just as they were asked to do. They assigned themselves job responsibilities, made out practice schedules, printed them up and handed them out. They were diligent about making phone calls to notify troupe members of changes in plans. They did all the right things to scale up.
But, it is summer time. Schedules change. Kids decide they want to go swimming or go to a movie rather than practice CATS. Parents make plans for weekend trips and vacations. There are already many scheduled activities – swim team, triathlon practice, camps. Families aren’t necessarily in the mood for one more.
The spontaneity so critical to last summer’s magic was squeezed out by a rigid rehearsal schedule. Job descriptions led to disagreements about who should do what and complaints about “that’s not my job.” There’s been disappointed when kids missed practice and guilt when the organizers want to reschedule.
The feeling of “Pick Up Theater” has been hard to recapture.
The kids are undeterred. They plan to forge ahead with their performance the first week of July. I’m confident they will have fun.
As a parent, though, it’s a bummer to think that we required structures that ultimately hampered the creative process. How often are we guilty of doing this? How can we, as parents, learn from this experience?
It is an important reminder about the costs of imposing formal structures on creative endeavors. It is an important reminder that there are consequences of scaling up.