This past weekend I had a lengthy conversation with a young instructor about how to make the best use of time in light of not having an appropriate gym for rehearsals. This problem is soooo familiar to me, as it is for most anyone reading this post. I’ve gotten so use to not rehearsing in a gym, that I could practically run a rehearsal inside a box. (See pic at left)
I have recently re-entered the world of teaching at the Regional A level for winter guard. It’s been a while for me and although I have remained active by teaching at the independent level, it’s been about ten years since I’ve been in the gym with a high school guard as a full time staff member. Back in December I came to a realization of how important this season would be for my development as an instructor and a judge. After 25 years of teaching, I have found that I can still grow as an instructor and I can carry that growth into my skills as a judge and also as a writer. This is the first year since 2010, that I have taught at the Independent World Class level. It’s the first year that I’m a true consultant at the Independent A program I’ve been with since 2004, and it’s the first year since 2008 that I have taught full time with an indoor high school program. It’s fascinating to to me to see how guards at different levels handle problems related to rehearsal space and time.
In this post, I want to talk about a problem that all programs face and how those of us who have been around forever have learned to manage the ability finish, clean, and train for the written show. In the past two weekends of judging, I have heard from a number of instructors about issues they are facing with space in the gym and fighting the clock in finishing the show. I get it. Rehearsal space is precious and if you are renting; it’s expensive. Lacking space can spiral your perfectly planned show into chaos. It cuts down on the ability to write, fix, and train for the show. All three programs I work with this year has facility issues. All three. One program has the consistent use of a gym, but it’s the size of my bedroom, forcing the staff to stand against the wall, while attempting to visualize what the show will actually look like up top. We move around a lot in that space as it’s the only way to see everything. The second program changes facility venues from weekend to weekend, causing serious logistical planning behind the scenes and a diligent and constant focus on cultivating relationships with facility management (kissing serious you know what), while constantly praying that the facility person the relationship is built with doesn’t quit or die, before the season is over. The third program, my high school program, has gotten the gym at most 10 hours since the season has begun. Ten hours and it’s already mid-February. When we think we have the gym for an entire three hour practice, we really don’t. We have been kicked out by the soccer team, a wrestling tournament, snow but not really snow, and some woman with really big hair. We also have to share this little auxiliary gym with the percussion line, who also has a show to complete and clean. We are not allowed to use the large gym, as the king and protector of gym floors fears sabre marks. One day, while we were folding the floor from a misunderstanding of who got the auxiliary gym, I walked over to the large gym and saw this full size space (big enough to host a regional), completely empty and unable to be used by students who actually want to be in the school on a Saturday. Needless to say, this scenario is frustrating and it’s all too common. There is nothing the guard director, band director, boosters, or I can do to fix this situation. Nothing. We have exhausted our options. So we as a staff have decisions to make. We can bitch and moan about it, or we can continue forward and make the best of it. We have chosen the latter.
1. Don’t bitch and moan about it.
It’s important to know that most programs in the country have similar issues with access to gymnasiums. Unfortunately, with all that we have achieved in the activity, many programs are barely acknowledged by their own schools. In our own bubble we know that we are this great activity of athleticism, but unfortunately many school athletic directors hardly see it that way. “What! You want access to the gym? Where’s the ball?” We can congratulate ourselves all day long for being a sport and an art, but when the school and community doesn’t acknowledge your existence, it doesn’t matter that as an activity we are gaining international recognition. So what do you do about it? The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that your guard isn’t the only one with this problem. It is not unique and it is very common. Don’t waste energy complaining about it. Spend your energy working the problem. Identify what space you do have and make a plan. Additionally, don’t waste the precious three minutes you get with a judge in critique telling them about your rehearsal space woes. Nothing on the sheet states, “Give the guard an extra point for managing a lack of rehearsal space.”
If you feel the need to tell the judge that you have facility issues, then word it this way, “We have very minimal gym time, what would you suggest we work on first once we do get into the gym?”
2. Make a plan.
Alright. You know that you only get two hours of gym space for the week and you know that there is a potential that something could happen to that two hours you do have. So what do you do? You make a plan. You make a plan that starts with the next show you have and work backward by asking questions.
How many hours do we have TOTAL with the guard before the next show?
What are the most important things that we must get accomplished in the categories of staging, choreography, and training?
How can we best use the non gym time space?
How can we best use technology to our advantage?
What will grow the show the fastest, enabling us to get the most possible points at the next show?
People who are successful at managing inconsistent gym space, know that asking these questions are a daily part of their rehearsal thought process. They first and foremost take advantage of the height advantage they get at a show. They have at least two people take videos from different angles so they can go home and take detailed and extensive notes on what is right and what is wrong. I break my notes into three categories: staging, choreographic flow, and training. I look at the show critically as a judge would. Then…I send the video to someone else and explain to them the situation. “I have only two hours of gym time this week. What in your opinion is the most pressing issue?” It’s important that you look at your show objectively and take your feelings out of it. It may be that what you want to work on isn’t nearly as pressing as what the judges think you need to work on. It may be that you really want to fix the build into the flag feature, but the your consultant friend thinks you really need to fix the flow of the sabre feature. It may be that you would like to address the ending, but all five judges at your last show have issues with the performers understanding of the choreography. Listen to your objective voice and leave your subjective voice at the door.
Additionally, don’t waste time. Make the kids move fast and eliminate the chatter both on the floor and among the staff. Get rid of the dramatic speeches, temper tantrums, and push ups. You don’t have time for that nonsense. Turn your cell phone off and focus. Have a notebook in hand to take notes, because if you don’t know when you’ll get in the gym next, you will want to remember the problems that are popping up in the time that you do have.
3. Stop saying you don’t have time to train.
I hear this a lot in critique. “We just simply don’t have time to train.” One of several things is happening when you make this statement. Either the person making the statement doesn’t understand that they can train when they aren’t in a gym, train even when they are limited with gym time, or they simply doesn’t use time wisely. If you know that you only get two hours of gym time this week, but get four hours in a concourse, then you clearly don’t want to waste time while you are in the gym standing in a basics block and stretching to Adele. Have the guard arrive early even when not everyone can be there. Training with some of the guard is a whole lot better than not training at all. While working on the show reinforce already understood concepts such as posture, method of travel, breath, and performance. If the majority of your time occurs in hallways and band rooms, then use that time to not just clean the choreography, but to focus on very specific issues that were spotted on the video from the previous show. If your movement judge stated that the guard has issues with jazz runs, then work them during the non gym moments. If the equipment judge says that you have issues with negotiating concepts of blending, then take time to work on and discuss how to use peripheral vision and focus on blending the timing of others around them.
Non gym time is also the perfect place to work on concepts related to mental concentration and focus. So much happens around non gym rehearsal spaces. People come and go. Janitors walk through your basics block. Gawkers like to make fun of the performers. Rehearsals constantly get inundated with noises and unexpected distractions. Make the kids focus. “Ladies, keep eye contact with me. Ignore them.”
Be creative with your non gym space because if you aren’t, your competitors will and I’m your competition. I once had to spend three hours in a hallway where we only had room to do spins on weapon and dance basics. Soooo….I took advantage of that time. I saw it as a gift. I put the entire guard in a line and worked on plies and tandues. Then I spent two hours on right/left hand spins and single/double tosses. Yes, even singles and doubles do a world of good help your quads. I worked on posture. I worked on dips. I forced them to look at the person in front of them and use the same level of energy as that person. Want to know what happened? We got better by points. POINTS! Keep in mind that those who win don’t waste time…no matter what situation they face. Winners ask questions, listen to feedback, and make plans.
4. Know where your hits will come from at the next show.
If you don’t get enough gym time, then you must be intellectually and emotionally prepared to know that your score will be impacted in all five captions. There is no getting around the fact that the kids are unable to do run throughs at every rehearsal and spend time on the performance tarp that the performance actually occurs. This impacts their ability to understand space. It impacts their confidence in knowing how to manipulate the equipment while on the move and to fully understand major moments of effect that may impact them. As an equipment judge I can often spot a guard who doesn’t get consistent gym time, because the performers look as if they are uncomfortable moving through space with the equipment. The reality is that to be successful you need to be in a gym and the kids need to get comfortable with the drill and staging. When the kids can’t do run throughs, then they aren’t able to fully build their stamina. They will fumble with props when they don’t learn how to move in and around them. They will often having longer recovery times than guards that do have consistent rehearsal spaces. Judges will comment on all of this. These issues are not your fault or the fault of the judge, so take your ego and emotion out of it and work the problem.
Use video as much as you can. Watch the last show video with the kids and ask them to look at their role in the drill. Do mental run throughs. Ask the kids to listen to the music over and over and over to visualize the performance space. Do run throughs with music with just the body and then with just the equipment. Even when you don’t have gym space you can do run throughs. It’s not perfect, but it’s helpful.
When you do get gym time I offer this to you. Start your gym time with a full run through without any equipment. I have been doing this for years and it works very well in getting the kids focused on movement and staging when they haven’t been in a gym for a while. Do this twice. It gives the performers a chance to get their mind focused on their responsibilities within the stage and gives the staff a chance to identify the problems that the performers are having. It also highlights movement deficiencies. I’ve been saying for years that you can write the best equipment book in the history of equipment books, but if the kids don’t understand their bodies and they don’t understand the drill, then the equipment book is pointless.
Finally, it’s important that when thinking about what you have to do to finish the show, you must not mix up concepts of time and space. If you have six hours of time this week to rehearse and only 2.5 hours are in the gym, then that’s space issue. If you only have three hours this week to rehearse, but you have all three of those hours in the gym, then that’s a time issue. How you manage time and space dictates success and the confidence the kids exhibit while at a show. I encourage you to be creative in how you use time and space, but also think outside the box in terms of when you have practice. Can you practice on Sunday afternoons after church? What about later on Friday nights? Be realistic and realize when time and space inhibits the guard overall. That’s when it’s time to make tough decisions and go down a class or change your competitive goals. Either way; be smart and creative, because if you aren’t your competitors will.
For those of you who are struggling with these scenarios or it’s your first year as the director of a guard, I highly encourage you to find a mentor. Mentors use objective eyes to help you work these problems and are a great sounding board. You can find a mentor at http://marchingmentor.com/ through Marching Roundtable.