This year, I was invited to take a new position in the school, and the teacher whose vacancy I filled used to direct the spring play.
I don’t direct, unless you consider me directing my children to do their chores is considered direction.
I consider it more of a domestic coercion. It doesn’t work. My house is generally in three stages of messy or wreckdom.
I had no intention of helping with the spring play. I was in one play, A Comedy of Errors, aptly named because I managed to forget most of my lines and then mess up other things as well. The amount of mistakes (pun intended) was unfortunately not comedic.
I did a few one acts with student directors. Nothing else.
My life on the stage ended. And I was happy about that. I get too nervous when people are staring at me. I’m happy in the back of the room watching the world do its turning thing without having to be in the middle directing traffic.
And then, this year rolled around. And I was invited to take a new position. And the students still wanted to do the spring play. But I had no–and I really do mean NO–directorial experience and some pretty humbling acting experience. So I firmly said no.
But my new supervisor loves the stage, was an actor in his college years (if I remember correctly). But I was strong.
No means no.
And then a student sorrowfully spoke of how he was looking forward to the play. And I felt my resolve crumble. This student is the young man I wrote about in the yellow-uddered-yoga-ball. He is a remarkable young man. A selfless, giving young man.
I walked down the hall and told my supervisor that I would happily help him with the spring play. That I would help with directing even though I had no experience. That I would serve, if anything, as the person who made sure that ceiling tiles didn’t fall on students’ heads.
Of course, the space in which we are performing doesn’t have ceiling tiles. But that’s beside the point.
A play was chosen.
My supervisor did the blocking and I stared and sort of learned.
And then we held auditions.
And we chose the actors.
We had run-throughs.
And I realized that I was completely over my head and had no idea what I was doing. And felt completely and utterly useless and second-guessed all of my decisions.
Because I am kind of good like that.
We started doing blocking-rehearsals and I was profoundly bored because I didn’t know how to read the blocking and I had no idea what was going on. So I sat in a chair and stared and listened and learned and nursed a headache but refused to give up.
I knew that somehow, I would make some kind of connection that would work.
The students quickly learned that I was the ceiling tile patrol woman and had no real directorial power. I could have been upset, but I knew that I really didn’t have any authority. And I also undermined my own sense of authority because I was a bit too playful at times and enjoyed the camaraderie that existed in the group.
And then, in the last couple of weeks, something shifted. I finally understood what was happening and started talking to my supervisor who is the director.
And when we were at the conclusion of the scene, he invited me to give suggestions. And I did, and the students listened, and the scene ran just a little better than it had before.
I suggested that certain points were wooden, and gave more suggestions. And he took those suggestions and ran with them.
And they worked too.
The lead actress was struggling with some fairly heavy-duty emotional lines in which she discussed regret and sacrifice and how the noblest of sacrifices can also be repaid with the heaviest of sadness and loss that one’s own life would be lost by giving one’s self to others without thought. So the student director and I were asked to take the actress out in the hall and help her go through her lines and intensify them. We were really asked to get her to cry, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t tear down the walls enough to get her to the point where tears would scatter down her face.
But we were able to provoke a soft-spoken young woman to shout in anger. And I considered that a success.
Earlier this week, during a humorous moment, a dozen loose batteries are spilled out of box and a young woman playing a mentally ill patient dives enthusiastically for the batteries. Another young woman, playing the lead nurse, falls to her knees and helps the “mental patient” scoop up the batteries and place them in the box. The patient doesn’t speak, but the actress’s expressions communicated all the lines she would never say. Her joy, her excitement at the discovery was more beautifully delivered than any Shakespearean monologue.
My supervisor leaned over, mentioned that he was truly impressed by the acting unfolding in front of us. And then he said that maybe, next year, we should consider doing either The Miracle Worker or The Diary of Anne Frank.
I have read and taught both of those plays. I know the history behind the plays, know the real stories. I have seen chunks of the plays, have studied the set designs. I actually think I could do something more with these plays other than just give a few suggestions.
I might even be able to do real directing.
Before, we had been looking at plays I had never seen before and because of how saturated my schedule is, I really don’t have the time to read. But I don’t want to disappoint my supervisor because he is a fabulous man who gives everything so that the students and his teachers are happy and cared for. He trusts me to use my best judgment to do what is best for the students while meetings the standards set by the state. But he doesn’t want me to sacrifice the integrity of the work I am capable of doing by putting the state’s standards ahead of my students’ needs.
Every year, about this point, I seriously think about leaving teaching. I am weary and I am tired and feeling incredibly discouraged, that I am wasting my time and whatever talent I may or may not have.
This year, I am not questioning. I am planning out next year already.
And the possibility of helping with The Diary of Anne Frank or The Miracle Worker is incredibly invigorating. If I was to begin the process of earning my MFA, I would not start the courses until the fall, which is six months after the play is presented. Additionally, I am pretty certain that if I do go for my MFA, I will be doing it part time. I know I could do try to go full time. But I also don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of my work or the integrity of my writing because I am trying to cut corners. I won’t be able to have the university pay for my MFA. However, my county will cover one college course a year and my National Board stipend will help cover the other.
I can still help my son pay for his semesters at the community college while I pursue my own dreams.
And I can still help with the plays, hopefully.
Because in helping direct the plays, or at least in learning how to direct plays, I have learned more and more about characterization. I have looked at the plays as a writer and a literary analyst. I have learned and once more saw how much I love learning.
I will always be a student. No matter my age, no matter my stage of life, I will always want to learn.
But now, I am getting ready to take on a new role (no pun intended) and I know that my first work will not be stellar or life altering…except for mine. And I think I’m okay with that. I won’t win an Oscar. I won’t win anything. Except maybe some self-respect.
And that’s perfectly fine with me.