Meet the Artist: Amelia Figg-Franzoi

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Watching rehearsal

I ask my students to write “Meet the Artist” Statements for each show we do, which I then post on this blog: Act Out.  I have yet to write one, and while I do not have the questions in front of me (I’m flying on a plane) I could piece something together.  So here we go…

My name is Amelia Figg-Franzoi and I am the Theatre Teacher and Director at Homestead High School. I once had a mug with a quote that said “Director: A person clinging desperately to the idea that they are in charge.” or something to that idea.  The mug died last spring: it launched itself from the sink to the floor during tech for Arabian Nights.  It’s a funny quote, almost as good as “Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.” The latter holds more truth than the quirky director one.  There are many different types of directors and I swing from type to type… dictator, leader, watcher… but in education the teacher does get the final say so I still hold the reigns more than others.  The quote could hold true if we were talking about finding new things in the script or all the mishaps that take place during a live performance:

  1. Actors throwing up on stage.
  2. Breaking glass on stage
  3. Broken sets and bones
  4. Missed cues
  5. Ripped Costume
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Hiding my eyes from something Joe Schwalb is most likely doing.

The list is endless.  Live theatre is a gamble and being the director for a high school show I put all my faith in my students.  5 minutes before the curtain opens on opening night I ceremoniously hand the show over to the cast and crew, it’s in their hands, their show.  In handing the show over I do relinquish my hold, my power, my reign over the show.  But in doing so I also put my complete trust in my students.  I trust they will perform the show we have rehearsed for six weeks, because lets be honest, they could do whatever they want.  They could all put on a different show, run around shirtless, jump into the audience.  They don’t, thank goodness, but they could.

And maybe there would be more anarchy if I ran the program different than I do.  At Homestead I work with student directors who get to work on scenes and create the show and we also have an atmosphere where actors are able to ask questions and suggest things.  Its collaborative, so everyone feels apart of the show, it is everyone’s.

In high school I was in a professional production of The Diary of Anne Frank. The director was a tyrant.  We couldn’t think for ourselves and the actor who played Mrs. Van Dan would get in fights with him… I didn’t feel apart of the production, I was doing someone else’s movement and acting in someone else’s show.  In professional theatre I learned fast that this happens all the time, but I refused to allow this to happen in the educational setting thus…. collaboration.

I feel this “Meet the Artist” has veered off track… I’m the director for Homestead High School’s spring play Peter Pan and the Girl who Grew up. Notice something different in the title?  Yes, this is the Peter Pan story, but its my version.  For this play I also wrote the show… it’s for my Master of Fine Arts Thesis in Dance from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin.  This isn’t my first foray into playwriting, I’ve also adapted Treasure Island The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Government Inspector are among some other adaptations.  I have lots of passions as you can see, directing, writing .. I love costume designing, sewing and lighting designing as well.  This summer I was in a lighting design class and had so much fun I contemplated getting a second MFA in lighting design.

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Doing a Passe  with my mom and sister

All of these passions started young: 5th grade for acting and 6th grade for stage crew and Tech Theatre.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  And dance you ask?  I was dancing in my mother’s womb, she was a dancer and the gene stuck to me, making me who I am today… crazy.

Ok, really, you have to be somewhat crazy to choose to spend 10+ hours a day with hormonal teenagers doing theatre of all things… I mean those are the craziest of the crazies… pretending to be someone else? I know!  And I love it! We have so much fun… or I do at least.  For Peter Pan we are working with an aerial hoop or lyra as we call it and 3 aerial silk slings.  Oh the bruises we all have!  I’m sitting here writing this over spring break with shorts on and my legs are dotted with marks… where did I get these bruises?  No clue.  But its a challenge working with the apparatus and thats what I strive for each show… something new… before I was hired there were 2 theatre directors so students got two different teachers and directing styles.  Now its just me and I try not to be the same me each show (it’s hard and I’m not sure I am successful in that aspect).  But because it’s always me the students are working with, I like to shake things up and try different theatre approaches: aerial this show, dance in another, puppets in a different one… the list goes on.

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My mother dancing with the Windfall Dance Company

That is where choosing the season comes in. This is one of the hardest things I do… picking shows and hoping there is a cast for them.  Example, I chose Robin Hood for our fall show this season.  Why?  We had no boys, why would I choose this show?  Honestly?  Because I was hoping to draw the men in to the theatre department.  We got a couple, so I guess my plan worked.  But it is hard finding shows for big casts, lots of women and not too “high School Theatre-esque.”

 

Again, I derailed from a “Meet the Artist”…. humm… Peter Pan? I think most audience members will enjoy the show if they don’t come expecting Mary Martin’s musical or the original play.  It is fun and the aerial is impressive.  It’s also the aerial work that is the hardest so we practice that a lot.

As far as the show goes, I can’t pick a favorite character or group of characters because in writing the play I realized that each character is an aspect of me.  I am Peter who always wants to be a little boy and have fun, I’m Tigerlily who can fight her own battles and knows she’s amazing.  Filled with sass and over exaggerated brashness, I become Tinkerbell on some days.  In Wendy I am both the wide-eyed adventurer and terrified child when responsibility is thrust on me.  Hook is embodied in my want to get out and leave, to run away and travel (I’d make a great pirate).  The list goes on… maybe that should be my next blog post… the characters of Peter Pan in Ms. Figg-Franzoi’s personality.

As far as the people in the cast, I love them all!  When I posted the cast list I was glowing for days.  They are a great group of hard working young adults who are just fun to be around and want to be around each other.  The funniest cast member is probably Zach Ginkel (Peter Pan), but that’s just because I laugh at him not because he is actually funny.  Nikko Nelson, a freshmen star-warrior is a very funny, witty and sarcastic human.  She always makes me laugh.  But really, there are too many people in the cast and crew that bring me amusement on stressful days, I just love this place!

I hope you all come see the show April 29 and 30 at 7pm and May 1 at 1pm.

Thank you,
Amelia Figg-Franzoi

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