Beginning Acting–My Acting Debut in Third Grade


Let’s talk about beginning acting.

(That’s me, with all the hair, holding on to the young Oliver Twist, circa 1986 I think. Yikes!)

To this day, I have no idea how I got cast as Queen Isabella in third grade. I was a good reader and very expressive. I know we didn’t have auditions or at least I don’t think so. I mean, that was a long time ago.  I sort of remember my costume.  My mother made a crown out of cardboard, blue pop beads from a necklace of hers and aluminum foil.  I wore Mom’s clear-plastic-but-looked-glass wedding shoes (from the 1930’s, this was the l960’s) that cramped my feet something awful but I would never have complained.  Maybe I wore a white bathrobe as my gown.  Heck, I don’t know.

But I do know one thing:  I had wanted to be an actress since I was teeny.  We lived in a huge old brick house in a small town in Kansas.  It had three floors, four fireplaces, a front and back staircase (one for the servants to use, I guess but we had no servants) and two porches.  One porch was on the second floor and enclosed and another porch was connected to the living room.  On the upstairs porch, I spent many late afternoons and Saturdays playing dress up, making blanket forts under the ping pong table and dramatizing any and all books I had read or movies I had seen. There was no heat on the porch and I remember just about freezing off my toes in the dead of winter, and forget playing out there during those hot, hot Kansas summers! I’d go across the street to Lori’s house and have Orange Crush pop and soda crackers and bask in the breeze of her window air conditioner.

Mostly, I just pretended and pretended.

I kept real quiet about my pretending, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy and maybe I’d get in trouble with my parents.  That seemed to be a great fear I had.  I didn’t like to mess up and get those looks from them.  The ones that said, “Oh my. We are ashamed of you.” I still can’t handle those looks from people.

Sorry, I digress…

Acting was a fabulous outlet for me!  It was effortless and such fun!  I still enjoy it.  It is never stressful like directing can be for me. Don’t get me wrong, though.  I enjoy directing even with all of its stresses.  It is just very different from acting.

Deborah Conard Baldwin

I remember ordering a kneeling boy (ironically named Christopher–maybe that’s why he got the part), “Rise, Christopher Columbus!”  I gestured upward with my arm copying the high school girl portraying the Angel Gabriel I had seen in the annual community Christmas pageant.  I guess I thought all important people gestured like that–queens, angels, presidents and the like.  Even today when I direct a young child to gesture in the same way, I am reminded of my performance as Queen Isabella. Hopefully, they look better than I did.

It took me years to become proficient (I think it’s the best word to describe my acting) as an actress.  I think I stunk at it pretty badly until I was way up in my twenties.  When I look at myself in photos from a show I always remember what I felt like at the time the photo was taken and for me at least, it doesn’t feel at all the same on the inside as what I am projecting on the outside.

Some readers who have performed will understand me when I say that acting is a gift you give yourself. When an actor “finds the character”, it’s a huge surprise–like receiving a present one didn’t expect. There is something very mystical about acting and lifting my chubby arm to Christopher Columbus that first time in my life as an actress confirmed it. I was totally intrigued and excited. To this day, I still feel the same way. How many times can a person say that about life?

That’s my  beginning acting story.  What is your story?

Willy Wonka Jr

Top Seven Reasons Drama Education is Important to Your Child’s Life

This is a re-publish of an article I wrote for  I hope it’s useful to you.


Willy Wonka, Jr.  Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies August 2012

When the Litpick staff and I discussed writing several articles concerning drama education, I was stymied.  I have been a drama teacher and director since 1979.

Personally, theatre and the creativity that stems from it is very second nature to me. I forget that other people may not be aware of its strengths in the same manner.

Today’s the day for bolstering creativity in your child!

In a typical school day I taught theatre classes to approximately 100 students, ages eight to eighteen.  Whew!  This included classes in creative dramatics, introduction to musical theatre, film making, technical theatre and a production based musical theatre class. Most of what I taught, I created myself for the students.

Since I worked for an enrichment program for home school students, I taught a different group of students each day.  Double whew! In another words, creating curriculum plus teaching plus directing productions for nearly forty years equals expert first-hand knowledge.  Oh, I forgot that!

 Your Creative Child

At the beginning of the school year, it was not uncommon for parents to stop me in the hallway and express delight that their child will be taking a drama class with me.  Many parents say, “My daughter is very imaginative and expressive.  She plays dress up all day if I let her, but other than dress up, I don’t know what to do with her imagination next.”

I think I know what the parent is trying to express to me.  They need some assurance that A. this is a normal part of the child’s development; B. it should not be squelched but promoted and C. there are many strengths to being a creative human being.  I smile and encourage the parent to allow the child to continue imagining. I take it from there and the magic begins.

I will admit I am very partial to theatre arts.  Honestly, theatre saved my life when I was about ten years old, but that’s another story for some other time.  All arts classes will nurture your child’s creativity and every art form brings different gifts to the table.  Here are my top seven reasons for drama classes in your child’s life.img_0463


Stage Make up Assignment in Technical Theatre Class  May 2016

Drama Classes:

Strengthen literacy—We know that through reading, our reading becomes more fluid and comprehensive. Not everyone recognizes that in a drama class we READ a lot–plays, scenes, poems and stories to dramatize.  Of course, when we rehearse a piece we read the words over and over again—aha! Then we MEMORIZE them.

We practice a character’s lines using vocal inflection and variety.  Suddenly, the words come to life for the reader. Voila! We sneak in reading skills without any of us being aware of it.  It is that easy, but reading must be continued in order to have consistent success.

Build self-esteem and self-confidence—If a child has an opportunity to share his ideas through drama, he is immediately accepted. We applaud for the student and his attempt.  We encourage positive comments towards the student’s effort.  Over time, the child begins to see his worth within the classroom, within the school and consequently in the world as well. Self-actualization is realized. It is a known fact that many at-risk students attend school only because they can take an arts class.  That’s pretty powerful.

Build a team spirit—I compare a cast in a play to a football team. The only difference is that no one sits on the bench—everyone plays.  Everyone’s actions count to make the goal, the performance.  If a student knows that he is expected to help other members of the cast and crew, he takes on the responsibility.

This level of responsibility carries over into social situations, because by becoming a part of a team, a student can see himself as part of the whole instead of merely one piece. A P.E. teacher once remarked to me that she could tell which of my drama students took her classes.  When playing games, they were the ones who quickly pulled a group together, used their individual strengths and left out no one. How nice!

Aristocrats kids

Encourage tolerance—Through a scene or play, when one experiences first-hand what is like to be the down trodden character, the misunderstood, the shunned, the innocent accused, one’s framework of understanding broadens.

For example, when we dramatize the story of Anne Frank or Helen Keller, we begin to see life differently and the value of everyone.  Life’s issues become greyer in color to us and thereby we appreciate the many perspectives in a particular situation. This is a remarkable attribute.

Provide a safe place to express one’s emotions—Society’s pressures have encouraged us to keep our emotions to ourselves, especially negative ones. I was one of those people.  In turn, some people are the opposite and show only negative emotions because they feel less vulnerable in so doing.

By creating a character and expressing the character’s emotions—happiness, sadness, fear, pride, curiosity, anger, joy, jealousy, etc. these feelings become an accepted part of one’s psyche. One’s acceptance of all one’s emotions, strengths and weaknesses is vital to our growth, no matter the age.

Lastly, there will come a day when your child will thank you for introducing theatre arts to them.  I have never known a student who didn’t flourish from a bit of drama education whether it was from taking a drama class or participating in a production.  There is something very special about the stage and I hope you’ll give it an opportunity to show you.

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If You Teach Shakespeare You will Want to Check out this Book




Today I’m blogging about someone else’s book!  Surprised, huh? Lately, I’ve been considering creating another blog specifically about books focused on theatre and writing reviews about them.  Should I do so?  Would that help anyone?  We’ll start with this one.

A Pinterest Friend

This review began because of a pin on Pinterest. Wouldn’t you know it?    I saw this fellow’s pin and thought it would be helpful to me and my writing.  Brendan, the author, and I emailed each other several times since that pinning. I was not asked to write a review.  I offered it to Brendan. Although I don’t walk around calling myself an expert on youth theatre (because that sounds so pretentious to me–I’m just a hard working, really old teacher-haha), I can confidently say that I am well versed in drama education and youth theatre in general.  And besides…more press for someone’s book can’t hurt, right?

Playing with Plays

Playing with Plays is the publisher of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kids. This great little book is packed with three versions of Shakespeare’s beloved play. Each version of the play is around ten minutes in length.  More importantly for a teacher, it has three different cast sizes!  Oh my, that is very useful!

As a drama teacher of over thirty-eight years, I continuously sought quality resources for my students. Each year, I perused publishers’ books for new approaches to classic plays.  Playing with Plays has figured out what is needed for teachers like me– fresh approaches to teaching drama, etc.  Several times I have taught with the book, Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare which is a bit misleading.  The stories are those of Shakespeare’s plays not some other stories that Shakespeare authored.  I think Playing with Plays is a better introduction to the plots for students and young readers.

Brendan calls his versions “Melodramatic Modifications to Shakespeare’s Plays”.  I appreciate that description and think that’s a fair depiction of these playlets.  Brendan isn’t trying to be Shakespeare, but has created clever versions of the Bard’s play that is palatable to all students of various ages and abilities. Oh, I like that too!

I appreciate that  Brendan  has high-lighted the particular lines from the actual play.  For a child or beginning drama student or Language Arts student, this is tremendously helpful– a reader can clearly discern which lines Shakespeare wrote and which Brendan penned. Yeay! Also, a teacher could lift those lines very easily and use them in a class discussion. Anything to help our teachers; that’s what I say.


Integrity of the Story

I have read A LOT of plays, produced, directed and acted in many plays and musicals.  I’m a purist.  I don’t appreciate classic literature to be bastardized.  I dislike parodies or “skits” of fairy tales, beloved plays or musicals.  As an artist, I know it is difficult enough to get butts in seats and to encourage audiences to appreciate the work, as is.  Sometimes all people know is “that really funny middle school play version of Red Riding Hood.” Can you imagine? Ugh. I appreciate that Brendan hasn’t done that with Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he has plucked the most important pieces of the plot.

Playing with Plays created other Shakespeare plays:  Rome and Juliet, Macbeth (my person favorite0, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing and several more.  You can purchase Playing with Plays scripts in bookstore and on line at

If you have a chance, check out his website, too.  There is a lot of helpful information for anyone teaching Shakespeare.  I bet you find something there you can use in your next lesson. That can’t be said of every educational website.

So, check out Playing with Plays.  I think you’ll be glad you did.




Notable quote from Bumbling Bea



Ms. Phillips sighed loudly and said, “Since this rehearsal is a bust, I think it would be best if we just played some drama games for the rest of the time.  Michiko and Beatrice, I want you to go out in the hallway and practice Michiko’s part together.”

Bumbling Bea appeared out of nowhere.  I hadn’t figured on my alter ego showing up right at that moment but as I have mentioned before, I can’t control her. “I can’t, Ms. Phillips,” I stammered. “I have to go home early today.  My dad is coming over today.”

There was no way I would help Michiko with her part!  Well, Bumbling Bea wasn’t going to help Michiko.  We were in to the lie too far to back out now.  Michiko drove me crazy!  I was sick of her attitude and bizarre costuming idea.  I couldn’t take another minute of it!  I guess Michiko knew this about me, because before I could say anything else she had grabbed up her violin and backpack and sprinted for the door.

Except she dropped something.

A note.



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Notable quote from Bumbling Bea


As I took Peter’s place on stage, there was another rustling and gasp from the cast and Ms. Phillips.  Michiko had whisked off the scarf on her head and stood smiling happily.  There on top of her usually pretty blue black hair was a thin plastic cap.  I think it’s used by hairstylists to hi-light hair.  My mom’s had her hair done that way before.  The cap thing was jammed all the way down on to her forehead.  A few wisps of her hair had slipped out and around the cap.  She looked like a sear urchin, an anemone to be exact.

“You know, Pocahontas was bald when she met John Smith.  The children’s heads were shaved because of lice! Well, what do you think?” Michiko asked proudly.

“Bald and naked! How absolutely embarrassing.” I said.

To purchase my award winning book, Bumbling Bea go to

Notable quote from Bumbling Bea




Peter drifted up on the stage near me, scratching his arm so hard welts appeared making faint pink stripes right down to his wrist.  Then I noticed little raised bumps, like drips of honey, creeping toward his neck.  At one point, they stopped and leapt toward the opening of his tee shirt which Peter kept pulling away from his neck at the same time he was striping his arm with his scratching.  He was very busy.  I’m no expert, but  I think that’s an allergic reaction to something…Like an allergic reaction to poison ivy?  But Peter said his grandpa told him he probably wasn’t allergic to it! Probably


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Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Set Design and Set Construction


The Giver  Fine Arts Guild, 2014













I think a powerful, creative, unique set design is vital to a production.  Depending upon the production budget (there’s that word again-it’s going to come up a lot in these blog posts), the set can be as elaborate as possible or simple.

If a director has the freedom to choose what she wants, always keep in mind that old adage, “Less is more”.  Personally, I think a set can distract the audience from the production if one isn’t careful.  On the other hand, a simple set can be distracting as well especially if one’s actors aren’t skilled in creating the atmosphere themselves.  A skilled actor should be able to imagine the setting and demonstrate that through character and movement.

Set Designer

But back to designing the play or musical’s set.  First, you need to know whether a designer has been hired or volunteered to design your set.  If so, then you are generally stuck (and I do mean stuck) with that person.  I’ve worked with good ones, lazy ones, entitled ones and very creative-but-can-not-get-it done ones.  If you are lucky, the designer will have ideas of his own and share them with you and vice versa. As I mentioned in the previous post, have your concept board handy to share with him.

If you are expected to design your own set, start by researching on the internet.  As you find ideas (probably from other companies’ productions of the show), you might want to make a copy of them.  Note:  I am going to say this one time.  If you are capable enough to direct the show then you are capable enough to come up with your own ideas for the set.  It is just tacky to lift (steal, copy or what have you) someone else’s design.  It isn’t polite, it certainly isn’t unique and it isn’t right.

I expect the designer to create a model of the set for me.  In fact, I require it.  Most humans are visual thinkers and consequently it helps the actors (and everyone involved for that matter) in their visualization of the show. As well, it aids me when I am blocking.  I remember directing Something’s Afoot and its first musical number is crazy busy.  Character are entering and exiting one right after another.  The model helped me to keep straight everyone as I placed little spice bottles with each character’s name in the right places.


The Diary of Anne Frank   Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies  2012

Ah, the set budget!

Set, costumes and prop budgets are the most challenging to estimate. If you are in charge of the budget, you will first need an inventory of the company’s set pieces (flats, platforms, stair units, etc.) .  Are you thinking of using a scrim?  Does the company own a scrim?  If not, will they purchase one for you?  Would you rather have a stylistic set?  That’s a good idea, especially is there is little  money for the set. Is the production a period piece?  You need to consider that question, too. There’s many more questions to ask yourself, but you get the idea….

If  I have a designer, I make it my designer’s job to create a line item budget.  Generally, designers (costumes too) ask for a color pallet from me.  It’s fairly easy to share my choices using my concept board that  I made at the beginning  of the project.

I have had many opportunities to direct on a great looking set.  However, some of my most favorite are simpler ones like The Giver (photographed above).  It was understated, perfectly suited the play’s message and met the budget requirements.  Recently, I directed The Wizard of Oz (my first time ever, I know–better late than never).  I didn’t want to regurgitate the movie in any manner.  For countless hours, my designer and I discussed how to create the set on a very limited budget, build it with inexperienced students while giving the audience something to imagine and enjoy.  The tornado and its metaphoric moments within the story was our thrust.  We used bicycle wheels, barbed wire and fence posts to create the Witch’s Lair.


The Wizard of Oz  Presser Performing Arts Center  July 2016

If you take the time to pre-plan every aspect of a production, it will save you time later.  Trust me, I have gone into rehearsals thinking I could be spontaneous and think out details as I rehearsed.  Admitting this, that’s a ridiculous thought to me!  I can guarantee you I still have spontaneous moments.  That’s part of my nature.  But everyone working with you will appreciate your forethought and I bet you find that people are more confident if they can rely on your somewhat established concept right from the first day of rehearsal.

See my next blog post on stage properties.  I’ll have plenty of tips for you there!

For more advice, check out these posts:


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Selecting an MTI Junior or Kids Musical–A Dream Come True!


Are you selecting an MTKI Junior or Kids Musical?  They are a dream come true!This year, my co-teacher and I are directing a musical that is NOT a MTI show. In case you aren’t familiar with the initials, MTI stands for Music Theatre International.   I knew MTI was good, but boy, I didn’t realize how excellent until now. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that I highly recommend sticking to MTI shows. You ask the reason why we ventued out of MTI? We weren’t unhappy with their quality or professionalism. A lot of it had to do with the students who enrolled in our class this year and their level of talent. MTI has a plethora of musicals with new ones coming out all the time. Their website is:
Several years ago, my artistic director at Presser Hall Performing Arts Center and I ventured to Atlanta to attend the MTI junior theater festival. What a treat it was! It was wonderful to be around other educators that spent most of their school year in the “trenches” teaching middle school students. One of the most exciting parts of the festival us the announcement of new musicals ready to produce! As you may know, I have a very extensive resume directing numerous plays and musicals. It is just what I do. But a quick list for you: Fiddler on the Roof (4), Aladdin (2), Suessical (4), Willy Wonka (3), Music Man (4), Alice in Wonderland (4), Aristocats (3), Annie (1), Sleeping Beauty (1) Lil Mermaid (2), Honk (2), Mulan (1) and School House Rock (2). Whew!
I could speak about the festival in length, however as I mentioned above, this is my endorsement for the MTI Junior and Kids musicals. No one asked me to write this blog post. But I know that many teachers and directors are considering their next musical and maybe this list will be helpful.
So, why these particular musicals? First of all, this company does an excellent job of considering their consumers. Not only are their junior versions, but also kid ones. Juniors run aroun 70 to 90 minutes in length, with Kids around 45 minutes. I use both types every year depending upon the length of time I have and where I am directing at the time. If MTI could receive a grade, I would definitely give them an “A”.

The kit includes the materials mentioned below:

Director’s prompt book–I’ve directed productions for nearly forty years, so I can definitely label myself as an expert. And even with all these experiences, I still need help from time to time. Their prompt book is excellent! The sound and light cues are listed, props, costumes and set suggestions as well as suggestions in the directing of the show. The book’s page numbers are the same as the casts’ so that alleviates confusion. Measure numbers are listed, generally the cast libretto is exactly the same as the director’s. There’s a page that one could copy for auditions, and even guidance for novice directors.
Piano score–It includes cues as well.

Cross Curricular Lessons-
-Oh yeay! It is always good to have some other department involved in your production. Although I haven’t had the chance to use them because I teach in a very nontraditional school, the lessons are great.
Chorus books–I believe ten copies are part of the kit.
Individual scripts–Trust me when I say, the MTI scripts are the best in the market. The student’s script includes several pages concerning the particular production, a page about stage directions and how to write in one’s script, a page for autographs and several blank pages at the back of the script for cast notes.
CD’s–These are a Godsend for youth theatre. There is usually one CD that is labeled for performance and one for rehearsals. Or both might be included on one CD. Oh my gosh, I don’t know how much time it has saved us having these CD’s. Because music cues are included, students can learn their cues right along with their songs. Plus, you are guaranteed of a well paced production because there is no inconsistency in the meter of the songs–no cast member can slow down the show by singing their song too slowly. Lastly, there is even an “orchestra warm up” at the beginning of the show! Sometimes I use that to signify to the audience that the production is about to begin.
Family Matters booklet: If one’s child has never been involved in a production, its a pretty heady experience. This little gem of a book answers questions about what to expect during the rehearsal and performance process. This would have been a lot of help to me when my own children were performing in productions. How does one deal with your child once the production is over? That’s a toughie, but this book addresses it perfectly.
Choreography DVD--Who does this? This is an excellent idea.  Usually, the DVd includes major numbers in the show as well as a step by step rehearsal aide, too. Tremendous help.

So there you have it! I hope you’ll consider an MTI junior or kid musical in the future. I can guarantee you your show will be successful.

Advice Concerning Double Casting in Youth Theatre

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. If you are looking for advice about double casting, its success and pitfalls, you have come to the right blog!

Willy Wonka, Jr. (Mr. Wonka with two Oompah Loompahs before they had their green wigs cut short!)

I have gobs of experience on this subject having directed mostly successful musicals and plays with adults and children for over thirty years. Trust me when I say, you too can double cast a production and come out of the experience as a sane human being. I really think that double casting youth theater productions is the way to go. So here’s some advice:

1. You should alert those auditioning that you are considering double casting. That doesn’t mean you are required to double cast, however. You are merely thinking about it. Actors don’t like to be surprised. They spend so much time thinking about the outcome of their audition, it is only polite to warn them. Some people won’t be involved in your production if they don’t know in advance that you are double casting.

2. After you have double cast the show, I strongly suggest you label the casts. This year, I am double casting three roles in Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. (Chava, Hodel and Tzeitel). In one of the schools in which I teach, we have so many talented young women, my co-teacher and I thought it was the best way to go this year. We have labeled them cast “A” and “B”–not the most creative labeling we could come up with, but you get the idea. Frankly, I enjoy labeling the cast with some word from the title of the musical such as “Guys” and “Dolls” or “Alice” and “White Rabbit”, etc. You get the idea.

3. Double casting keeps the egos out of the way, in my opinion. If you divide the strength of the cast between both casts, you are more likely to have a terrific outcome. I have seen many a talented student who lacks confidence who feels bolstered by the students around him with more experience and so forth. Sometimes that’s all the one who is a little more unsure needs–the other students’ confidence rubs off on him. Plus, when one of the double cast actors are absent from rehearsal, you have another person to fill in for them.

4. I don’t worry whether the two actors are the same size when it comes to costuming them. I think that’s costume designer’s problem and no one should be denied a part because she isn’t the same size as another person cast in the role. Some of us just can’t help that we are short or very tall. 🙂

5. Usually, I have the double cast actors observe each other’s rehearsals. Even if I have to review blocking solely for the second cast, that’s my choice. When I stage a musical number, the actors learn the parts at the same time, side by side. The same thing goes for vocal rehearsals. If all goes well, the two actors can rehearse with each other, checking their blocking, going over lines, etc.

Sometimes rehearsals get tricky what with two casts, two sets of notes, two sets of problem solving but I promise you it’s worth it. Several times in my career, I have been double cast myself! And look–I’m here to share my experiences with you.