I have been stressing.
Most of you would probably say, “Yeah, Graceless, what else is new?”
However, this stress has been showing up in so many aspects of my life that my quasi-poker face is a “Please Read Me Like An Open Book” face.
I am really, horribly behind on my grading. And every time I set aside an hour or two to grade, something else comes up. Something that requires my attention right there and then. No “if’s.” No “maybe I can put you off later” and no “maybe someone else can do this for me?”
Nope. I have to complete the task there.
Which is fine except that I really am behind on my grading.
No wonder I love snow days.
I buried myself beneath projects. Two of them were required. Two of them, at least, were optional. I could have said no. I could have shoved the idea deep into the recesses of my mind. But I didn’t. I took on the tasks and I don’t regret it. But I am rather weary and wanting to actually grade papers if I can scratch together enough time and energy to do what needs to be done.
We are in the final stages of preparing for the yearly state required writing exam. I’m not worried. I work with the gifted and talented students and my confidence in my students’ ability is so unwavering that I’m rather apathetic in terms of my stress level with preparing them.
The exam is a persuasive essay. My students just finished writing a persuasive essay.
The exam is also editing. I have been teaching them editing since the first day.
Yup. Done with reviewing. Not worried. So not worried.
However, that doesn’t mean that my colleagues have the same security. They don’t. And one bemoaned a lack of easily accessible review materials to include “how to write the essay” materials.
Therefore, the English 10 honors levels colleagues and I devised a plan to create a website in which the English 1o honors students would write analyze, pre-write, write, and revise persuasive essays responding to my state’s education department’s released writing prompts.
Oh my gosh. I helped create the basic website skeleton and helped with setting up the groups. And then, we started. Students who have rarely been grouped together came into the forum (a large meeting area with a stage) and started working together. As a team, they shared ideas, assigned one another tasks, and started writing.
By today, I was hoping they would have the rough drafts of their paragraphs.
The rough drafts are done and the peer editing has begun.
My colleagues and I gave suggestions. The students took those ideas and then started developing their own strategies for presenting information. Students who know how to code are devising their own special takes on their assigned web pages.
We just developed a basic thought process. And, today, I watched the magic just unfurl through a room.
In the hours after school, once more in the forum, I led the rehearsal for The Diary of Anne Frank. I have to admit, yesterday’s rehearsal didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I witnessed some amazing moments, but my anxiety was piqued because of the ten speaking actors, at least one was out, possibly two.
The flu, norovirus, and various other viral miseries are casting huge nets and trapping students and teachers. On top of that, spring sports have started and some actors are trying hard to balance both the play and athletics (I am not complaining).
I realized that we have not had a rehearsal with a full cast since….December, early January?
The panic started setting in yesterday. Light cues were missed, props disappeared, lines were forgotten, actors were absent. I have to admit to a certain level of despair, frustration, and…well…anxiety.
My husband and I spent two hours shopping last night, picking up props that had a certain level of historical accuracy appearance (I’m stretching a bit here). However, I started ditching that anxiety in order to fill shallow, empty shelves with a modicum of something. No more pantomiming. No more pretending. Give the actors something to use, to fill their hands.
Today, we were missing at least two actors. It took forever to get the stage set because the students were investigating the props, oohing and ahing over my purchases. We opted out of doing a dress rehearsal, dropped the lights.
The first lines were delivered. The actor playing Otto Frank started walking towards the stage when I reminded him of his age, his sadness.
The actor immediately slowed, his hand cradling the small of his back, his other hand gripping the back of a chair. Age overcame the student, sadness yoked his shoulders.
He stood at the edge of the annex stage and stared at the destruction, the toppled chairs, the scattered clothing and bedding. A teddy bear laying on its face in the center of the stage.
Act One, Scene One unfolded. Otto started reading Anne’s diary and Anne made her entrance, walked across the pit-stage, perched gracefully on a stool. The lights dimmed, fell into a blue light, and together father and daughter spoke, narrated the German invasion, the Dutch surrender, the anti-Semitism.
The room quieted as the non-performing students settled, took up scripts and read for the missing students. Sounds started pulsating out of the speakers as the sound technician arrived and cued up the sound board. The lights shuddered on and off exactly when they were supposed to and lines that were forgotten were never observed because the emotional intensity was there.
The student playing Jan Dussel (real name Fritz Pfeiffer) fulfilled my dream. He humanized Dussel-Pfeiffer, raking away Anne’s angry perceptions of her roommate. Gentleness, compassion, understandable anger, joy, fear, love…those emotions unwaveringly rained from this young man who had played the antagonist last year.
When he was assigned Dussel, he fretted, thinking he was being type-cast as the “bad guy.” Yesterday, he killed last year’s role. Today, he gave Fritz Pfeiffer a real name, a personality, a goodness that transcended the angry voice of a trapped girl trying to understand herself when she is being hunted due to her religious DNA.
I threw a curve-ball at the actors. Because actors are absent daily, extras fill in and read for missing actors, frequently resulting in silent lapses when the stage-actors were waiting for the line-cues. I needed to push them to improv, to continue to act even if their cues were not delivered. Too often, they stare in the direction of the audience, waiting for the line to be said so that the action may continue.
Therefore, during the D-Day scene, I sent up the wrong actor. In the play, Miep (a young woman) comes to the annex to deliver the joyful news of the American invasion. Today, I sent in Mr. Kraler (Miep’s male counterpart). The Kraler-actor in the ten minutes leading up to the scene went outside the forum to memorize and practice the lines. Surreptitiously, he sat in the audience, just beside the entrance. And when Miep was on her way to the stage, she quietly dropped back, Kraler stood and entered, delivering her lines.
The actors froze, mouths dropped. And then, the magic happened. The lines were delivered in all the right places. They did all the right actions and said all the right things and expressed the joy that the real people would have felt.
It was perfect.
The scene ended and instead of moving into the next scene, I asked for the house lights to be raised. The stage immediately illuminated and the actors who had stood still for Anne’s diary-monologue came alive, laughing, asking about what had happened, how it had happened.
Miep and Kraler and I were celebrating, high-fiving one another. The professionalism, the excellence, the amazingness of this tiny family was unparalleled. I had thrown out a challenge and the actors had overcome every obstacle I threw at them.
They fussed at me, thinking I was playing a practical joke. I explained my logic and their faces suffused with joy.
And then, the Otto Frank actor had to leave, even though we had two more scenes to rehearse (I had to keep them late because we had started late). So I took on his lines, did his blocking. I wasn’t perfect, messed up a few points.
But I stood on the stage under the blinding lights and heard from the distance the student-actor shouting German in a beautiful accent. Frozen under the spotlights, I listened to the harsh words being shouted.
In the play, the Germans never make an entrance. But my co-director and I decided to change this, to bring the arrest to the stage, to have the audience witness the destruction of Anne’s precious voice. And standing on stage, playing Otto Frank, I felt a surreal tragedy, a horrific sadness that was oxymoronically juxtaposed against the thrill of the moment as the student who had literally just been cast came on stage and brought tragedy to the actors.
I watched the student playing Margot cry. As we were waiting for the arrest to happen, she repeated, “I don’t want to die. I want to get married. I want to have children. I’m only nineteen.”
I don’t want to die.
Yesterday, I wasn’t certain. I knew that the play was going to come together.
I knew the project was going to come together.
I know that I will find the time to grade.
But, today, things just didn’t come together.
The English 10 students are well ahead of the teachers’ expectations. And the English 10 students are exceeding the teachers’ expectations.
The actors blew my anxieties off the stage and into a non-existant dimension. We still have a lot of work to do.
A lot of work.
But God, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I get to go back and do it all again.