PLANNING & FAQ
SETUP AND TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS
-A desk or small table on which to set my audio equipment.
-3 chairs of any kind.
-Electrical outlet near stage or extension cord.
-Turn on the stage lights and dim or shut off audience lights.
-A standard WIRED microphone connection.
I have my own professional grade wireless headset microphone that connects to any standard microphone jack or cable.
I usually will not use the auditorium’s wireless system. I just need the house PA to plug in and use my microphone. An exception to this is if the auditorium has a Shure brand wireless system that I can connect to. Also, keep in mind that the person introducing me will need his or her own microphone.
To delegate the whole thing to the tech person or theatre person just tell them the following:
“On stage right, our performer needs an electrical extension cord for power and a 1/4 or XLR connection to the house PA for sound. For lights, a basic downstage wash is fine. The house should be dark at performance time, the main curtain opened, and, if possible, the traveler drawn.”
Our performer has specifically asked that all students and staff turn off their phones, tablets, and laptops. Audio and video recording is strictly forbidden.
Born in Michigan and raised in Massachusetts, John Morello has been on stage as an actor, comedian, and performance artist for over 20 years. At one time a high-school dropout, he now holds college degrees in Theatre Arts and Communications.
John survived a high-risk adolescence while witnessing those around him struggle with addiction, depression, and the despair that can accompany poverty in a small town. To help himself and others better understand these struggles, he created the one-man show, Dirt; a show which began as an experiment in a tiny theater that has now been seen by millions across the world.
His performances have been critically acclaimed by the New York Times but the reviews he cherishes most are the letters from students and teachers. As an author, he has published a graphic novel and a collection of poetry and stories titled, Buckshot Words.
He is a dad, loves music, and now lives in Worcester, Massachusetts; the city where the rocket and the smiley-face were created.
Please welcome John Morello.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS & PROJECT IDEAS
Questions contain plot "spoilers." Only use AFTER show.
Do it Right.
KEYS TO A GREAT ASSEMBLY
II have been on stage for over twenty years and I have performed about one hundred shows a year, specifically for schools for nearly fifteen years. In my travels, I have been to the tiniest back rooms of VFW halls to huge auditoriums and casino ballrooms. One of the frustrating things for me as a performer is the number of problems that could be avoided with just a little planning. It is equally frustrating for the audience, regardless of age, to be put into a situation where they cannot possibly derive any knowledge or entertainment because of a simple disregard for their comfort and environment. Below are some basic considerations that will help make the show work well in your venue. These are somewhat specific to my theatrical one-man show “Dirt,” but there are principles contained which apply to all events where there is a speaker and audience.
1. A Stage
There needs to be a clearly defined and clearly visible area that is only the performer’s. If there is a band concert or school play also working what will be my area, some movement of chairs, music stands, and set pieces may be necessary.
2. Gymnasiums can be tough
A gym is where you conduct a pep rally. A gym is where you scream, yell, and run around. It is not where an audience gathers to focus and connect with a performer. The show may not have the same impact nor am I always comfortable as a performer in a gymnasium. However, I can make it work if you:
i. Have everyone seated on one side.
ii. Use chairs instead of bleachers if possible and don't ever expect students to sit on the floor.
iii. Provide a decent sound system and try to minimize the noise from large HVAC blower fans
iv. Control the lighting when possible to make the "stage" area lit and the audience (house) dimmed.
3. A decent sound system
Please make sure everything works before I get there, especially if your school has electronic equipment that has not been turned on in a while. I travel with my own wireless headset microphone and mixer, so I just plug into whatever PA the school provides. All I require is a standard microphone cable (XLR or 1/4”) and a power supply for my system. It can be helpful to have a custodian or AV person available to help me get things set up if the soundboard is hidden or complex.
The performance or stage area should be lit so the person performing and his facial expressions can be seen. The audience area should be dark. Remember we are creating that old dramatic idea of the “willful suspension of disbelief.” If possible, just use the same lighting or presets that you would use for the school play. It can be helpful to have an AV person available if the lighting board is complex.
When seating the audience, give them plenty of time to move from classes to the show. The show “Dirt” is an hour long. If you block only an hour of time and it takes ten minutes to seat the audience, that leaves me only a maximum of fifty minutes.
6. Teacher & Student Behavior
I can count on one hand the number of serious audience behavior problems I've encountered. Nevertheless, please make sure the teachers or administrators sit WITH the audience. Students should not be allowed to use their phones, and please do not allow TEACHERS to operate their laptops or phones during the show. Apart from disrespecting the performer and distracting the audience, it’s sending a subtle message to the students: “I’m not paying attention and neither should you.” Also, please have principals and SROs lower the volume on their walkie-talkies.
Have a teacher or administrator introduce the assembly. There needs to be someone to set the tone. Even if you are planning on students introducing me, a teacher or someone in authority needs to address the audience to settle things down first.
Do not allow a free-for-all as the students are being seated. I’ve seen students running into the auditorium, yelling across the building to their friends, throwing things, kicking their feet up on the chairs, and standing around the back wall. In my experience, if you allow the students to settle in like this, it will take at least ten minutes of valuable time to get them focused.
9. Noise & Environment
If the auditorium has a band or music rehearsal space nearby, please do not allow the band to rehearse during a show.This may seem comical that I have to write this, but trust me, please. It’s happened. Recently the audience and I heard all of Beethoven’s Ninth during a show, drums, tubas, gongs, and all. No teacher or administrator asked the band to stop. Also, please do not allow school announcements during the show. It can ruin a poignant moment in the show when the audience hears “THERE WILL BE NO GIRLS’ SOCCER PRACTICE TODAY” blaring from the speakers.
10. Leaving early?
Do not allow students or teachers to leave before the end of the show. The presentation is meant to be seen in its entirety. The stories and messages are intertwined and come together rather powerfully as the show builds to its climax and end. It is distracting to the audience and me to see people walking around and doors opening during the show. I can understand that some students have work-study or commitments. Simply have them sit toward the back and leave in an inconspicuous way.
11. Create a good “vibe” before the show
Try not to yell at the students or condescend by calling them “boys and girls.” Keep things upbeat, respectful, and try not to telegraph too much about the show or throw me under the bus. Examples I have experienced: “OK, settle down. You know kids, every year thousands of young people DIE because of drugs and alcohol. And now please welcome your speaker.” One time, I was doing a show before a prom and the principal announced. “Before we begin I need to announce to all Juniors going to the prom that, because of some miscalculations in administration, you all owe an additional $50 in fees for your prom.” How do I, as a performer, follow that?
12. Preparation & Business stuff
Please review the technical requirements and have them taken care of before the performer arrives. Also, If payment is due or paperwork needs to be processed it is the sponsoring school's responsibility to have things done before the show. If at all possible try to reserve business conversations for after the show and after I am finished talking with the students.
I hope this helps you plan, and I look forward to a great show in your community.
-How far will you travel?
Anywhere in the U.S., Canada, and English-speaking Europe.
-Is there a limit to the audience size?
I have performed for audiences of 5,000 and groups of 8-12 people. I ask that whoever is sponsoring the show consider what usually “works” best in their school.
-What is the cost to book the show?
Call the office for current rates: 413-267-5557. Or email Booking/Operations Manager.
Booking fees are priced per performance. The rate is adjusted for multiple shows in a day or multi-day time frame within the same area. Financial aid from partnering non-profits is available and anyone wishing to book a show, regardless of budget, should call, e-mail, or fill out the online booking form.
-Is there an age limit?
Yes and no. I would not recommend the show for students below 6th grade. Not because there is anything inappropriate (my daughter is 8 and she's been in in the audience) but because conceptually, the show is more abstract than a “D.A.R.E.” program or a motivational speaker. I also perform quite a bit for college age audiences as freshman orientations find the show a perfect fit. The show is adjusted depending on the age of the audience.
-We are a private school, civic organization or religious group and our funding is limited. We want to book you but we do not have the entire amount. Can you help?
Most likely. There is a space to mention your special circumstances in the online booking form.
-Are there any technical requirements I should know about?
Yes. They are minimal but important. Please read the planning and resources page.
-We have 1500 students and our auditorium holds 500. What do you recommend?
A few options. You could do just 1 or 2 grade levels, and then have me back every year or every other year. Or you could do multiple shows in the same day at a discounted rate.
-Do you perform just for students? What about parents?
I perform for all ages. The show was originally created to be performed in an evening theater setting but I adapt it depending on the audience age. I definitely recommend getting the parents involved as much as possible. Sometimes I will do a student show in the day and then a parent show at night.
-How long is the show? Can you shorten the show?
The show is roughly 70 minutes. I can shorten it to 60 (maybe in a pinch 45-50) or extend it to 90 by either cutting some parts or having an extended Q&A or debriefing afterward. I cannot shorten the show too much because there is an element of plot and character development in it. If your periods are 45 minutes then you should block two periods for the show.
-Why do you talk about drugs? Are you an addict?
I am not an addict. I have never been in prison. I do not conduct a “scared straight” type program nor do I believe fear works as a long term motivator. But I do believe that love and compassion can help people be their best. I talk about drugs because I grew up with my immediate family and friends who were addicts, some of whom were taken from me.
-Is there religion or politics in your show?
No. Not at all. None. Zippo. Zilch. Those two things unfortunately often divide more than they unite. The show stands on its own. That said, I often perform at Catholic schools and synagogues and sometimes the rabbi or priest will let me know that they are celebrating a certain event or emphasizing a certain theme for the school (Forgiveness, Redemption, Kindness etc) and they will ask if I can incorporate the theme or idea into the show. I am always more than happy to do that the best I can.
-What is your background and training?
I am not a psychologist or drug counselor or teacher. Although I have found myself in those roles, I am an actor and comedian. I hold a BA in theatre and communications from Evangel University, and I have spent 6 years as a touring comedian. I sometimes consider myself a “performance artist” if I’m trying to impress artsy people. Or if my mothers’ friends are asking I refer to myself as a “doctor.”
So what DOES “dirt” stand for?
Dirt is not an acronym like D.I.R.T. It “stands” for nothing. It’s just a provocative name for the show I decided on back in 2002. I chose it for several reasons.
1. First and foremost I noticed myself using the word or the image in just about every character.
2. The poem “I Am Dirt,” which is read in the show as Pi’s entry in the town poetry festival, was written long before the show was conceived. I wrote it when I was contemplating the thoughts and feelings of a young addict.
3. It was the name of the album I was listening to by Alice In Chains. Their lead singer passed away from a drug overdose, an event which many fans saw coming in his lyrics unfortunately. To this day that album takes me to a strange place.
4. Something I found out later was that I inadvertently used the title of a monologue section from a character by Eric Bogosian in HIS one man show “Sex, Drugs, And Rock & Roll.” There is really no similarity whatsoever to the show or character. Total coincidence and maybe a little sponginess on my part. Eric Bogosian was a big influence on my acting and showed me that the possibilities are limitless for what can be done by one man on stage.
5. My dad may have been the biggest influence on why the show is called "Dirt." He was a WWII veteran who, as B-24 gunner, flew 25 dangerous missions over Europe. I was over his house hanging out with him and I asked if in the war he had any good luck charms. He showed me his dog tags with a St. Anne medal attached to it. But he also told me that, for good luck, he and his crew would grab a handful of dirt and put it in their pockets before they took off. When they landed, they would empty the dirt back out on the ground.