A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Creating Tradition--"Fiddler on the Roof" at Aspire Part 2

This is the perfect musical for us--a well-written piece of theater and one filled with challenges... As important as anything this is the perfect first musical because it is a beautiful story about community at its best.
--Chris Traber, director of Aspire's "Fiddler on the Roof"

From the moment the young actors and actresses danced on stage singing Tradition I knew that Aspire's production of Fiddler on the Roof was going to be something special. There was something in the cast's energy and professionalism that struck me immediately. Keep in mind, these are middle school students--roughly aged 12-14. They were incredible. I watched all five performances of Fiddler. (Confession time, my daughter was in it.) I felt their intensity every time they came on stage. I got chills every time I heard them sing Sabbath Prayer. I was amazed every time I saw the bottle dance. (No tricks, ten kids were really balancing bottles on their heads and DANCING!) I was touched every time I heard Far From the Home I Love. And I wanted to cry every time I watched the actors, portraying the Jews driven from their village, proudly raise their arms to the last strains of Tradition.

In short, I laughed, I cried--I was impressed.

The play itself is beautiful. In my opinion, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best written poignant, funny, and entertaining plays ever put on Broadway. For that I give credit to Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerome Robbins--respectively original writers, composers, director and choreographer. Still, to put a production of this magnitude into the hands of 12-14 year-olds (and their fearless directors) and come up with the show they did is an amazing accomplishment. And Aspire has only been in existence for a year!

The leads and their understudies were incredible, but every single actor contributed their best. They knew their lines, they knew the dances, they were acting the whole time they were on stage, and they looked like they were having fun. There was so much energy and emotion put into all the scenes that I almost forgot that I was watching middle school students. (Except that most of the male leads were shorter than the female leads. And yes, the line "When did he grow to be so tall..." brought a laugh every single time.)

Watching the actors cry and celebrate together after the last performance I knew that they had done more than put on a great production. They had achieved what Ms. Traber had hoped for when she chose Fiddler on the Roof for Aspire's first musical--a sense of community and the beginnings of a wonderful new tradition.
Photos courtesy of David Wolf Photography

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Creating Tradition--"Fiddler on the Roof" at Aspire (Part 1)

How do you unite a group of students from 13 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and bound for 3 different high schools? This was one problem facing brand new Aspire Middle School in Lacey, Washington. As a school for the performing arts, Aspire has worked to achieve unity through drama, dance, and music. To celebrate the unity and sense of community in their new school, Aspire chose "Fiddler on the Roof" for its inaugural musical production.

Through their portrayal of the sometimes humorous, often tragic lives of Jews living in a small town in Tsarist Russia the students have learned about tradition and community. Through hours of after school and weekend rehearsals the students are learning to work together to become their own community. As the characters and scenes took shape, new friendships, and talents have been formed.

Tonight (Thursday, June 10th,) is the opening night for "Fiddler on the Roof". The show is being performed at at Timberline High School on 6120 Mullen Road SE in Lacey. Performances will be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (June 10th, 11th and 12th) at 7:00 and at a Matinee on Saturday at 2:00. You can buy tickets on-line through Seat Yourself. Seating is limited and close to being sold out so if you are buying tickets at the door I suggest you come early.

I'm calling this blog post "Part One" because later I'll post my review of "Fiddler" as well as quotes from the cast and crew involved later. (Along with more photos.)

The selection process for incoming students at Aspire has been a source of controversy in this community. I would urge you to go see "Fiddler on the Roof" and see how these students have risen above the controversy and come together to show their unity, not only for their school, but for all of Lacey.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More Than Just Skin Deep--Creating Strong Female Characters

**NOTE This blog post has pictures of BEAUTIFUL, NORMAL, UN-PHOTOSHOPED, REAL teen aged girls to illustrate my point***

We’re all bombarded with it—gorgeous women, dressed in almost nothing, perfect bodies, perfect skin, perfect teeth, Photoshop perfection. It’s hard for a woman to feel like anything more than a freak compared to those images, much less to feel beautiful.

Advertisers, television producers, and Hollywood directors have gotten the message loud and clear—SEX SELLS. But what are we selling to a fourteen year-old girl, just growing into a woman and struggling to be accepted and more important—struggling to accept herself?

The message they're getting is harsh and painfully clear.


A news story in my community brought this into focus for me. A fourteen-year-old girl, trying to hold onto her boyfriend, sent him picture of herself—naked. The story came out when that picture was sent from cell phone to cell phone around the four middle schools in town. The community was outraged and the boyfriend and several others were charged with distributing child pornography.

Less than a week later a Superbowl commercial showed a popular model, sitting i

n a bubble bath with her cell phone. She took a picture of herself and said, “I wonder what would happen if I hit ‘send’.” The next images were of men, dropping things, neglecting whatever they were supposed to be doing to stare at their cell phones.


Double standard? Conflicting messages?

I recently read a quote from a General Authority in my church, Elder M. Russell Ballard, (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—Mormons).

He said, “Popular culture today often makes women look silly, inconsequential, mindless, and powerless. It objectifies them and disrespects them and then suggests that they are able to leave their mark on mankind only by seduction…”

As a writer of young adult stories, targeting teen aged girls, I’m increasingly conscious of the message that my stories send. As a mother (I know that comes into this a lot,) I am especially conscious of the messages that are being fed to my almost-teen aged daughter. I find myself searching as I read for what makes a strong female character.Where is a woman's power? Is it sex appeal? Is it seduction?


My own case in point, in my first attempt at a YA novel, I worked hard to make my main character well-rounded. She worked in a nursing home, did community service, and she was a good friend. Then in

the name of word count I cut a bunch of those scenes out. After reading the story, a member of my critique group told me that the main character and the villaness, (a woman who used sex appeal to get what she wanted,) in the story were just alike and she couldn't figure out why the hero of the story would like either of them. I tried to defend myself by saying, “but the main character is hot.” Guess what? It wasn’t enough.

So, I went in search of strong female characters who didn’t rely on sex appeal. Some of my favorites, Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES, (they tried to make her sexy, but she just came off as tough and everything she did was for her family), Hattie from HATTIE BIG SKY (homesteaded without the help of the rich and handsome rancher next door and showed compassion and love towards her and Mardie from THE RING (female boxer who learned to accept herself for what she was).

One of my new favorite character is Terra in Justine Chen's NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. Terra is born with a port wine stain on her face. She works hard to maintain a perfect body to balance out the imperfection she sees in her face. The story is about learning to accept yourself for who you are. By the end Terra finds beauty in herself as she is and beauty in those around her, even in her overweight mother.

So what makes a woman strong and beautiful? Is it perfection? Is is sex appeal?


I submit that what makes a woman strong and beautiful is what's inside--self-reliance, compassion, and intelligence. And reality--zits, flat chests, big thighs, bad hair, and all is far more beautiful and far more interesting than Photoshop perfection could ever be.

So as I create my characters I will build into them courage and flaws and

character and compassion. Hopefully, the message my stories send will give teenager girls a sense of how beautiful and strong they already are.

Help me out. What are some of your favorite strong female characters? What makes them strong? What makes them beautiful?