‘Tis the season for gratitude: whether you and your loved ones share what you’re grateful for around the Thanksgiving table, send out thank-you notes after receipt of a gift, or simply say “Thank you” to those who help you throughout the day, the holiday season brings a heightened awareness of the kindness of our fellow humans.

Ideally.

Sometimes you’re in tech (yes, even we technological minimalists at the American Shakespeare Center slog through the dreaded “tech week”) and everything is stressful and you’re doing the work of 5 different people and everyone is tired and you’ve all hit peak snark and the whole house of cards trembles on the brink of collapse and all goodwill flies out the nearest window.

Because the final week before a show opens is incredibly nerve wracking for everyone involved, it’s all the more important to spotlight the good in one another. My high school drama teacher, Ms. Lotko, had a solution for this that I still practice with young actors and that I will now share with you: the “Secret Star.”

Secret Star has the same basic organization and function as “Secret Santa”: at the beginning of rehearsals everyone on the production team – director, crew, actors, everyone – draws a name out of a hat. Once you have the person’s name, it’s your job to get to know that person throughout the production process. At the beginning of tech week, and continuing through to opening night, everyone is encouraged to find clandestine, sneaky ways to encourage and build up their Secret Star. This could mean leaving them notes to find or enlisting the help of others in delivering kind words or handmade gifts.** Nobody should spend money to buy things for their Secret Star because presents are not the point. The point is to show, in a personalized and thoughtful way, that each person’s contribution to the work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Sometimes the Secret Star offerings get more elaborate leading up to opening night; others prefer to just keep it simple. Students are instructed to keep the identity of their Secret Star a secret until opening night, just before places, when all is revealed in a joyful pre-show celebration.

You might think this extra obligation would stress students out more (“What do you mean I have to plan to give someone else a positive experience? I still have lines to memorize!”), but surprisingly enough it’s usually a welcome distraction from show nerves and a wonderful morale builder. Because guess what? The performance means nothing if the journey leading up to it was terrible, and there is never a bad time – or a wrong way – to express kindness and gratitude.

I will now lead by example: Your work still resonates within me twenty years later. Thank you for everything, Ms. Lotko.

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**think along the lines of origami, hand-picked flowers, a macaroni necklace, or a doodle; encourage your students to get creative on a budget of ZERO. The goal is personalization, not bling.

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