The biggest worry I have about helping direct and manage The Diary of Anne Frank is the potential for depression. We are dealing with some pretty sober, depressing material. And I’m continually aware that I’m working with high schoolers. Not professionals who have the emotional wherewithal to seek help for the sadness that will accompany this play.
Daily, the last five minutes of rehearsal, we devote our time to gathering on a circle and sharing something that gave us joy for the day. Many times, the students talk about good grades, the thrill that an ailing teacher has healed and returned.
Sometimes, the moments are silly. Other times, poignant and laced with a hint of sadness. Those words live in the hollows of the forum. They will never be shared here.
I fret that this tradition I’ve started will become something stupid, a trite game or five minutes of indulging Gracelesscurran before they can leave for the day. I don’t want the kids to think I’m insincere.
But I keep remembering an article I read about Steven Spielberg when he was directing Schindler’s List. He talked about the brutality of the depression that naturally accompanied such difficult material. And Spielberg remembered calling Robin Williams just so that he could laugh. For 20 minutes, Williams told jokes and Spielberg laughed and the claustrophobic depression was lightened.
Right now, the students are going through the tedium of blocking. We are deep into the first act in which normalcy is constructed like a veneer against the horrors lurking just downstairs. But daily we still gather in a circle and share a happy moment from the day.
One by one, we nourish one another with 300 seconds of kindness. And then we return to the tedium of routine, a dullness that collapses our emotions and stretches our fatigue on a barbed wire rack.
But I still have those 300 seconds. Today, I shared that my family might be adopting a dog next Monday. I shared a picture of a fog the Boy wants to name Kitty and the Girl wants to name Leia. Tomorrow, I have no idea what I will give to the group.
But in that shelter, I can feel this tiny bit of growth, a hope against the darkness. And in those five minutes, those 300 seconds, I have my peace. And then, if that isn’t enough, I walk outside and stare at the sky.