Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jazz Hands PLEASE!

The year after I graduated from college, I was head of the Drama Department at a local middle school. I didn't have a teaching credential, but the district was desperate - so they issued me a an emergency credential. A few days later I was the head of a department, teaching at a school where there were two full time security guards walking the halls, waiting to be called by walkie talkie into a classroom for any sort of altercation. There were plenty of altercations: The day after the Columbine incident, a confused sixth grader brought a butcher knife into my classroom and I had to call those very security guards.

It was an interesting year. Since I was now a teacher, I thought it was my duty to buy jumpers and button up shirts at the Disney Store. I wore a plaid Tigger jumper on the first day, then I burned all of my new clothes when I got home. Just kidding, I didn't burn them: But I never wore them again. This was a school full of kids who were really just trying to survive. The kind of kids who do not wear Minnie Mouse on their collar. The kind of kids who really need a theater program.

It was a little tricky: When your seventh grade sound tech is supposed to run all the sound effects and music cues from the booth and he doesn't show up for the performance, because the county has decided that he needs to meet his two year old daughter - it causes problems. It's also a complicated thing, getting mini- gangsters- in- training to sing "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" and wave their fingers around doing jazz hands, at the same time. Apparently, that's not a terribly cool thing to do in front of the rest of the school...

However, there was one event which changed my life forever. It made me look at Performing Arts and teaching in a way that made me forget that I had ever longed to move to New York and live in a tiny apartment, eating noodles and auditioning for Broadway productions.

There was a girl in my class, who obviously did not want to be there: She sat in the back row, arms crossed, every day. She wouldn't cause any problems, really, she just never participated in any of the activities or assignments. This Girl just...sat. So, although I found myself constantly warning my students to stop using the "F word" and telling them not to show the class which kind of underwear they had chosen that day and for goodness sakes, please stop pelvic thrusting at the costume mannequin: This Girl was the only one who was going to fail Beginning Drama.

I requested that stay after class and asked her what her problem was (hopefully I asked in a kind, professional manner, but I was pretty exasperated at this point). She shrugged. I told her that she had better memorize a monologue for our final project and perform it for the class, or she was going to fail the course. She shrugged, again.

This Girl showed up for the final and was the last to take the stage. She did her monologue in a tiny whisper of a voice. She did not look up. Her hands were clenched into little balls the entire time. But, she did it. I congratulated her and excused the class for summer vacation.

When the final bell rang, two of the special education teachers came into my little blackbox theater classroom.

They explained that This Girl was a selective mute. She did not speak to anyone - not even her parents. Her first spoken words in years were on that stage in front of over 30 of her peers.

I've witnessed some genuine miracles, with the help of Theater. I've spent many years writing, directing and producing plays. I paid for my Theater Arts degree with the help of my husband, but a lot of my bills were paid with professional acting, directing and theater teaching jobs. Through all of my experiences, I have learned that Theater is magic: It really is.

That has been something that I've always known...

October, 1985

I will go to Drama class on thursday. We are learning how to do commercials. We are doing Hershey’s syrup commercial. I can do it now! I memorized it already, this is it:

For really delicious chocolate milk I follow an old family recipe, hershey’s choclate and milk, that’s recipe. Just squeeze that good old fashioned hershey’s syrup into a big glass of milk and drink up! Hershey’s has been this thick, rich, chocolate flavored syrup for over fifty years! Good old fashioned hershey’s syrup, in a no mess bottle. Mmmmmm good!

Do you like the commercial? I do! See, I told you I memorized it! Pretty good, haw! I have a good acting expierience, so, I can memorize quickly. At my old school, I used to make up plays and produce them for my class. I did: Hellen Keller, the live doll, and some more but I can’t remember them. I tried out for the play of Icabod Crane in the legend of “Sleepy Hollow” but I didn’t make it! I tried out for it at the same place as my Drama clas, Kirk Community Center. There is a haunted house there on the twenty fifth of this month!

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