The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Much Ado About Drama

Vinny's wisdom sometimes blows my mind. To process it... I must write it.  I hope you will read it. 

Wednesday night, I was preparing for a discussion I was supposed to be semi-leading on arts in education, and I thought that Supertramp's "The Logical Song," would be a good intro.  Vinny heard me listening to it and was captivated.  He has been watching it over and over again on YouTube since. 

(The rest of this will make much more sense if you listen to the song before or while you read it).

We had a pretty interesting discussion about the song that night, but right now I want to talk about what happened tonight.

      He hands me his tablet. "Mommy, can you help me find the song about the guy who thinks life is a miracle and then gets sent to jail for being crazy?"  Um... what?  Eventually, I figured it out. So, he's watching it and he says, "When I grow up and become a director, I'm still going to think everything is a miracle, but don't call the cops on me, okay?"  This was just too funny.

     Then, we're eating dinner and he says, "Why doesn't he know who he is? Doesn't he have a name?"
I decided it might be interesting to take this deeper.  "I don't know. Who are you?" 
"I'm Vinny."
"Are you?  Or is Vinny just your name?  Is it really who you are? Aren't there other Vinnys?  What makes you... you?"
"I'm an actor."
"Well, isn't that just what you do? Is that really who you are?"
"I don't know.  Maybe that guy's confused because he doesn't know what he wants to do when he grows up."
"Maybe. Or maybe he already grew up and still doesn't know what to do."
Vinny then thinks for a minute and says, "He really should be an actor, because then you can be whoever you want whenever you want."

     And with that, Vinny told me who I am.

     What is life without acting?  How does one survive life without the magic if?  How do you not tell so-and-so off for being such a you-know-what unless you are able to imagine what you would do if you were that person in that person's given circumstances?

      At Bible study a couple of weeks ago, someone brought up the golden rule ("Do to others what you want others to do to you"), and then someone else said, "I prefer to think of it as, 'Do to others what you think they would like done to them,' because not everyone is like me."  Wow. What wisdom in that statement. I stored that thought in the back of my memory until earlier this week, as I was frantically grading an intro level character analysis assignment that my drama students did last week. The final question on the page was, "Do you like your character?  Why or why not?" 

      A few students had asked me what that meant. "What do you think it means?" I replied. 
       One student responds, "Like, would I be friends with this person?"
       "Sure," I replied.
       Another student suggests, "Or maybe it's more like, do I like being this person?"
       "Sure," I replied, again.
      "Well, which is it?" the first student inquires.
       "Yes," I replied with a sly grin.

      They gave me that look that students give you when they really dislike the fact that you are making them think. 
     As I graded the papers, it became clear that many of the students do not "like" their characters yet, and for understandable reasons. They were only at surface level at this point. We'd only really begun identifying consistent traits. Now that we've begun to dive deeper into their characters' backgrounds and histories, they are starting to "get" their characters. As they process their characters' circumstances with their own individual personalities, they react in ways they find surprising themselves.
       One student, a rather sweet and gentlemanly boy, was initially bothered by Benedick's utter disdain for women. I know this kid and his family rather well, and I'm not surprised he dislikes Benedick's attitude. This kid is surrounded by amazing women, so it is no surprise he treats women well. As I've pushed him to understand his character and to create a background for himself, he's started to get into it. At the end of rehearsal yesterday, totally out of the blue, he looked Beatrice in the eye and called her a wh****.  He was kind of joking, but I am fairly certain it stemmed from a character development exercise I'd used to begin class. He caught everyone so off guard that he rendered most of the class speechless.

     It is easy to dislike those who do things we don't understand. It is harder to try to understand them. Even when we do, we might not dislike them any less, but it just puts us in a place of looking at the world, at life, and appreciating circumstances.

     So, what do you do when all you've ever learned tells you to be sensible, logical, responsible, and practical, but you just don't feel like being dependable or clinical or intellectual? Do you become cynical?  Do you let them make you presentable?  Give in like a vegetable?  

Or do you become an actor? 

     I'm raising my kids to be actors.


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