I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. 
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do? 
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. 
Hugh Fennyman: How? 
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

                        –Shakespeare in Love, Tom Stoppard

My first love is the theatre.  I wanted to be an actress from the time I knew what it meant to want to be something.  Writing came later; the first art of storytelling I learned was the art of telling stories live, with and in front of other people.  This is probably why I continue to be a collaborative storyteller who works best when other people are working with me.  But that’s not what this post is about.

I’m a middle-school drama teacher.  I’m qualified to teach language arts, but right now, I don’t.  It’s all drama, all the time.  As if middle-school isn’t dramatic enough on its own.   I work at a Title I school, a “focus school” with high poverty and low test scores.  Most of my kids have not enjoyed the kind of childhood that I did, and many of my fellow teachers have their worth determined by state tests.   But not me.  Kids aren’t tested on their knowledge of the arts.  Nobody really cares what happens in my room.  As one parent put it to me this year when I called home to tell her that her daughter was struggling, “Sorry, but your class isn’t important.”

This is insulting.  But it’s also a huge blessing.  I am not beholden to any curriculum.  I can develop my classes the way I see fit, based on the state learning standards.  So I try to make my classroom a place where kids are supportive of each other, where they can take risks, where they can be kids, and where, once we’ve built up a level of trust, real-life drama can be safely explored and productively harnessed.  Sometimes – often, even – that works.  Sometimes it’s not so easy.

Last night, we finished our production of Romeo and Juliet.  I’ve put on lots of plays, with lots of kids, but this group was particularly challenging. There were times I really didn’t see how it could possibly come together. But it did, because under positive pressure, kids do astounding things. They got onstage in front of 700 people yesterday, and they performed Shakespeare.  Twice. 

How does that always happen, in the theatre?  How do things come together? Is it magic?

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.


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