I would call them ‘my children’ but they are so much cooler than that even with, or perhaps in spite of, the natural tendency toward mortification in all teens.
I’ve directed a few show in my day, everything from Shakespeare to original pieces, but it’s always been with groups of professional actors. You know, if they don’t show up or learn their lines, I fire them. It never comes to that. It’s amazing how quickly someone will step up when you explain that you have someone waiting to take over the lead.
But now I’ve been asked to direct “The Importance of Being Earnest” for my daughter’s eighth grade production. No understudies, no alternates, and a couple of extra parts written in.
Here’s what I’ve got going for me. 11 really fabulous 14 year olds, the fact that they have been educated by a Waldorf school system, and the resources of a creative community.
Waldorf is an amazing way to develop a brain. The kids all knit, woodwork, blacksmith, make stained glass, play musical instruments, sing chorus, study Spanish and German, have physics lessons outside where they use a pulley system or create science experiences, they all learn to write beautifully with real fountain pens, and on and on. It’s amazing to visit the high school and see boys knitting during an English class, or girls outside hammering copper into bowls. And the college placement? Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Rhode Island School of Design, etc, forty percent of the graduates go into the sciences, and I mean they become top doctors and research scientists. There is much to be said for teaching kids to think, instead of memorize. Every kid speaks at graduation and most of them mention that they want to do something to make the world a better place. And they do. One of the kids in the first graduating class was Paul Newman’s daughter, who went on to create the line “Newman’s Own” which donates most of it’s profits to charity. That’s the kind of human Waldorf produces.
In my daughter’s class, there are two, ‘special needs’ students. One is a boy with HDHD, it’s hard for Jay to be still or quiet, but the kids let him know when he goes to far. In rehearsal, this sometimes results in a “Jay, shut up!” but it’s good-natured, and they are all learning something valuable. Jay is experiencing the fact that the world will sometime reprimand him for his erratic energy and he must learn to control it, and the other kids, that the work environment is not always ideal—and that’s okay.
The second kid has brain seizures. Jenny is beautiful, bright, fun, and incapable of learning to read. She participates in most of the lessons, and all of the art, she is well respected and liked by her classmates. I didn’t realize the extent of her differences until I asked her to write down that we needed glasses for the play. One of the other girls asked her, very matter-of-factly, ‘do you want me to write it for you?’ And did so, meanwhile, Jenny had drawn a picture of the glasses, problem solved, no judgment.
The other thing that impresses me, is that these kids get it. They speak to me as an equal, with respect for me and for themselves, they laugh heartily at the dry, clever wit of Oscar Wilde. This is amazing to me, and half the battle as the director.
We’ve worked on speaking distinctly with a British accent, (some get it, one is hysterical) we’ve worked on where in our bodies the character comes from, (the snooty aunt leads with her nose in the air, the cocky young man swaggers from the hips), we’re learning to listen and react, not just act. And we’re making excellent progress on lines.
Now, I’m not expecting a Knightbridge Theatre production, of course. But, even in the early stages, I’m very taken with each of these kids, their efforts and their natural ability to, not only perform, but to throw themselves into it, encourage each other and set aside their teen angst self-consciousness.
And for 14 year olds, that is no small thing. It is a huge thing, and they are all champions.
I did have one problem. The young lady playing Cecily came running to meet my car this morning, her face a mask of panic. “Shari, Shari, I have to talk to you,” she panted. “Do I have to kiss Steven? The script says he kisses me!”
I reassured her that we would stage it so that no actual contact would take place. The terror subsided and rehearsal began.
The best thing about this process is, I’m the one learning the most. Isn’t that always the case? When we set out to teach, or to lead, we must listen and learn how to do that. And the gift is mine, I am the receiver of learning to love each of these outstanding young people more than I did before. I’ve been on camping trips with them, worked festivals, had some of them over for sleepovers, but this is different. I’m counting on them to be their best, to be proud of their uniqueness and their special talents, to learn to love another aspect of themselves.
Or, as Oscar might have said, “Learning to love yourself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
Merry Christmas from me and Mr. Wilde.
Shari, December 20, 2012.