Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A stirring day of being shaken

I attended Stephen Lennstrom's wedding today.

Who is Stephen Lennstrom?

He is someone I coached in acting between the ages of 10 and 14. He was the kid in the limousine for Gray Poupon commercials. He was also in a couple indie features.

Only one of them gets listed in IMDb, EDEN, co-starring Sean Patrick Flanery.

Hey! Sean Patrick Flanery also stars in my screwball comedy THE WHOLE TRUTH! Talk about six degrees of separation!

Anyway, young Stephen had many, many personal challenges when he first came to me, so we went through a lot together as he grew into an impressive teenager.

He didn't just learn to act with me; he learned how to love reading, math, geography and getting good grades!

His mom, Connie, was on board for all the learning "side trips" we took in order to help him become a well-rounded, happy youngster. To "pay" for extra sessions, Stephen helped me with yard work and other chores around the house.

I ran into a wasp nest one day we were doing yard work. He rushed over to help whack them off me, but I ended up with several stings to my face and neck nonetheless. I called the local poison control center, and was told to put ice on the stings, take Benedryl and wait.


"If you go into anaphylactic shock (deadly)," said the strangely non-empathetic, authoritative voice, "It should happen in about 10-15 minutes."

Rather than worry Stephen, I told him to go outside for about ten minutes, come back, and if he could see I was on my last legs, call 9-1-1.

After being outside only three minutes, he came back, calling, "Dead yet?"

"Um, no."

Such a thoughtful kid. Really.

So we sat there, waiting for fate to strike. My fate was to live with ice on my face and neck until those huge splotches finally shrank from being hideous high hot hills hiding my features to just being nasty strawberry-colored blimps for the next couple days.

I dressed casually when I coached. Deal is, all the great clothes and make-up in the world won't make you a better actor. The acting has to come from inside. One can use clothes, shoes, make-up and such to enhance the character, but when all is said and done? Like each of us, at the end of the day we're alone.

Without clothes other than nightwear; left with only our thoughts and feelings.

Part of my coaching attire was a baseball cap worn backward.

One day I got invited to a special event; I opened and read the invitation aloud to Stephen, growling about having to dress formally for the occasion.

"How do you dress up?" asked Stephen. "Turn your baseball cap rim to the front?"

That's the difference between us. He just thought that was funny; I actually took a full second to consider it. Before I chased him with a squirt gun.

Edited to add: I was reminded how this little chase ended. No, he did not have a squirt gun, but he *was* smart enough to grab the garden hose and turn on the water. Game over. ;-)

That's the cool part about being a coach. You don't have to give your coachee a squirt gun, too.

Anyway, those four years were filled with lots more adventures and growing pains, all of them memorable.

His favorite part of working? Craft service.

Craft service is all the snack food - generally a nice layout - near the set.

This kid had his priorities in place.

Here's Stephen in his famous Grey Poupon commercial:

I think I buried the lead in my story.

I don't believe kids belong in show business.

Well, except for a few youngsters I call "Freaks of Nature" who are clearly intended by some force of character to be there. Who love and thrive on the homework and all the other miserable stuff that goes with the life.

Stephen was one of those kids, but I always told him if he ever, for any reason, wanted to be "just a kid," he could feel free to tell me and I would never be disappointed. I would only be very happy that he told me what he wanted to do. That he knew what he wanted to do, because most young people do not.

That day came when he was 14.

True to my word, we celebrated a decision that had been thought out carefully and with genuine foresight. He wanted to be a kid, to devote more time to soccer and sports, and to his faith and religious studies.

When we had our last official session, Stephen had a keen grasp on relationship skills, moreso than people at just about any age. Learning about psychology and character development can do that for you if you're a willing and able student.

Stephen's mom and I kept in touch so I could follow his maturation - and so he would know I continued to care about him.

I saw him one evening a few years later at a high school play I attended to see another of my young actors (I actually only coached a few kids in case it sounds like I had a flock of them). Unbeknownst to me, he sidled in next to me; aware of someone pushing against me-

It was Stephen!

About a full foot taller with red hair that was so huge and long it looked like an autumn afternoon - on fire! He was growing it to donate to Locks of Love - an organization that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair from medical treatments.

That familiar "AAAAAHHHHH!!!!" scream one does with teenagers, followed by big hugs and we caught up. Doing really well in school, helping with school plays behind the scenes (sound) and continuing his spiritual and religious work.

So it should not have surprised me that at the tender age of 22, he is not only getting married, but prepared for this significant life change.

Ordinarily I'd say 30 is a more sensible age for marriage. If that. Not so Stephen and Amy.

Stephen and Amy are on the same page: they have not spent the past two years preparing to get married, they prepared to be married, and there is a phenomenal difference between the two.

In addition to his "straight" job, Stephen is in the process of becoming a minister. Working with adults and youngsters not by telling them what they should or should not do, but by example and by having empathy and passion for helping others and being the most thoughtful, caring individual he can possibly be. His role model is Jesus - has been for nearly ten years.

None of it's forced - that's just who Stephen is.

And aren't those who know him better for having him in our lives - at any age.

I could not stifle my tears at the ceremony - or the reception. Still can't.

Here are some pictures from the wedding of Stephen, Amy and his mom, Connie:

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  • At 11:42 AM, Blogger The Entertainment Corner said…

    Congratulations Stephen and Amy!

  • At 5:52 PM, Anonymous Caitlin said…

    That is so great for him! Congratulations! :)

  • At 6:58 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    I love you Colleen. WE LOVE YOU! Thank you for all the investment you made in Stephen's life... for the time you took and more than that, the desire you had to really know him, to really want him to become who GOD made him to be. You will always be treasured, and always appreciated in our hearts. Connie Lennstrom


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