I love to adapt the line from A League of their Own, the quintessential Tom Hanks’ line: “There’s no crying in baseball.” It’s nonsense. It’s foolish. It’s perfect. And I don’t play baseball.
Normally, I use this line in my classroom, sardonically claiming that “There’s no crying in high school,” especially when I proudly watch my students succeed, climb over the obstacle, and stand with their heads lifted and exultant. I feebly wipe away the moisture beading in my eyes and claim that I am having an allergy attack.
Yesterday, we finished auditions. I took on the task of writing up the cast list and, sitting at my kitchen table (as far from the Boy as possible), I carefully typed up each character’s name followed by the actor.
Last year, for The Curious Savage, we barely had enough actors fill all the roles. Additionally, our female actors were amazing, so the director and I talked about choosing a play that would allow the actresses shine.
We looked at The Miracle Worker. The Diary of Anne Frank. And then we talked about how few students auditioned and concluded that choosing a play with a small cast was the safest decision.
Tuesday rolled around, the first day of auditions, and my co-director (I have been promoted to co-director) and I sat in the forum and watched, aghast, as student after student entered. More students tried out on Tuesday then both days of auditions last year.
And they were fantastic. I had them read the scene when Peter and Anne fight over her essay about her being “Mrs. Quack Quack.” They read the Hannukah scene just before the family accidentally betrayed themselves because they were ignorant to the thief tucked down below in the building, apparently stealing a radio. They read the scene in which Peter and Anne comfort one another just before they were arrested.
Group after group rose to the challenge and I found myself so close to tears. Over and over and over again, the grief rose. Over and over, Anne was determined to find hope, to find a quiet moment with Peter. Over and over, the stage directions narrated the sound of cars screeching to a stop, the pounding footsteps ascending to the attic.
Wednesday, we had our second round of auditions and we read the scene when the Franks first arrive at the Annex. The students read the scene in which Mr. Van Daan was discovered stealing the food. And, again, they paired up as Peter and Anne stared out the skylight and Anne encouraged Peter to find the goodness within the world. Just before they were arrested.
My co-director and I took two and a half hours working our way through nearly thirty amazing actors. Discussing the dynamic that was fostered between them. We worried about type-casting, about repeating characterization from last year. Eventually, we settled on a small collection of names. Mourned the names that were not on the list. Rubbed our eyes and pretended that we were not miserable about the fact that we had no choice but to turn away some incredible talent.
Last night, I wrote up the cast list. And I proudly typed up my son’s name, even though I did not make the decision to cast him. I recused myself of that part of the process and did my best not to exercise any influence.
This morning, I posted the cast list and waited, anxiously, for the tears, for the lauding laughter. I saw the contrails of my son’s shadow as he nearly dashed down the hall, gasping with joy. I hugged a couple of girls who were given cameo roles and were thrilled. I felt terribly grieved that a great actress wasn’t cast.
This afternoon, the cast, co-director, and I gathered in a circle on the forum’s stage. We introduced ourselves, swapped a few silly jokes, and then started reading. The room steadily hushed, the announcements ceased.
Even though this was our first reading, the students were already hitting the emotional marks. I chortled with laughter when Mrs. Van Daan flirted with Mr. Frank. I exulted in Peter’s discomfort over his mother’s behavior. I empathized with Anne feeling as though nothing she did was right.
And I felt the tears well the last time Anne said that “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Earlier today, a history teacher lent me something that somewhat shattered me. He is the curator of a museum housed within our school, and an artifact is a Jewish star of David. From Auschwitz.
Gently, I extracted the star from its protective housing, laid a piece of paper over it, and made a rubbing. At first, nothing seemed to be there, and then slowly, the six points came out in negative relief. And then, the stippling of the stitches. And there, on a student’s desk, I had three rubbings, each one sharper than the rest. Each one emphasizing the tragic history that I am now trying to help the students tell.
My maiden name is German. And when I was in my early twenties, 60 Minutes did a report on Dr. Mengle’s journals from Auschwitz. On the top of one list were two sets of twins who also bore my maiden name. My family emigrated in the mid 1800’s. However…my name was in Auschwitz.
My name was in Auschwitz.
And today, I gently ran a purple crayon across a piece of paper that covered and protected a star of David that was assigned to a prisoner in Auschwitz. Today, I held fabric likely impregnated with the atomic structure of death.
The atoms of hate.
And I held it. And I know that I likely left behind skin cells which are now a part of this precious piece of fabric, this significant piece of history.
My atoms are now within something that was carried through electrified barbed wire corridors and were under the smoke pouring from the crematorium.
And I am the bearer of hope. I am the legacy of compassion. I will not be defeated and I will not be silenced.
I will help the students tell Anne’ story. Tell her Holocaust story because they will see the documentary that tells her concentration camp story. I will do everything I can to help this production be something more than just amazing.
Hope will defeat hatred.
And in this three month journey, I am going to break my rule. I am going to cry. I am going to weep. I am going to mourn. And then I will lift my head every time and will shoulder my sadness and choose hope.