Tuesday, March 2, 2010

v2, d2: "Mr. Will! I can't do this!"

Today was showcase day for the 2nd and 3rd grade acting class I've been teaching for the past 8 weeks.

Okay, "teaching" is an overstatement and a half. I pretty much let Leah take the lead, and I serve in more of a support role. The first ever class I taught in our academy followed a "head teacher/support teacher" model, and I've just sort of stuck with it ever since. Usually, I'm the support teacher, though I took the lead in a couple of junior high classes I taught last year, and those were probably the most fun classes I've ever been involved with. But I digress. (Sur-prise, sur-prise!)

Today was our showcase, meaning parents, siblings, grandparents, and a few friends were coming to the classroom to see what we've been working so hard on for the past two months. I always enjoy showcase days. It always amazes me how ready a parent is to absolutely love anything their kid has worked on. (Heck, we've got at least four pages of scribbles up on our fridge as I type this) Plus, after the show, we get free food at the reception. And usually parents of students bring home-baked goodies. And there's always a veggie tray. So it balances out.

Our class performed a short play simply titled Space Adventure. The full title, not used in any of the press, is Space Adventure: A True Story of what Really Happens in Space. I wrote it specifically for this class. Leah and I sat and brainstormed a story for awhile, and then I sat down and wrote 'er out. I may post the script on here for tomorrow's entry; it's the best written-for-class script I've done since Not-So-Super Heroes. It's also an interesting examination of what happens when two creative minds try to write a short story on totally empty stomachs.

Good times.

Now this particular class has been pretty rowdy from start to finish. Some of it is this age group; a lot of it is these kids. A couple of them are wild on their own; the whole lot of them are insane when they're together. And today started no differently. We could get them to rehearse, but we couldn't get them to stop goofing off completely. They were pretty good, but there were still lots of giggles, and some undue wackiness from the lone boy in the class.

Then, the crowd started assembling just outside the classroom door. And the rowdy kids suddenly got very, very quiet.

"There's people!" one of them said!

"Lots of people!" cried another.

A wave of panic struck every single kid in the class. I've never had a group united in their terror like this before. Usually one or two or three kids will get really shy and nervous, yeah, but all six?

They forgot to goof off. All their excess energy was channeled into fear and trembling and some nervous giggles. Leah and I explained that they were going to be fine, they would be great, and if they got really stuck, one of us would feed them a line. But they weren't going to get stuck. They were going to be awesome.

The kids cowered backstage as the parents milled in, and the I stepped out in front of the curtain to give my hokey curtain speech about translating the alien dialect into English so that our audiences could understand it (went over really well, thank heavens!). Then, I turned it over to the kids. In the first scene, our three human astronauts come onstage and talk for awhile, and I'm backstage keeping the aliens quiet.

Suddenly, one little girl, the most rambunctious and distractable of them all, the child who's never had trouble being the center of attention, whispers to get my attention. I look over, and the girl is ghost-white.

"Mr. Will!" she hisses. "Mr. Will! I don't think I can do this!"

I told her she was going to be fine, she knew the lines, she knew the show, and she kept protesting. For the first time in two months, I felt sorry for the girl. She was really freaked out.

"Remember," I whispered to her as she's standing just behind the corner, 15 seconds from making an entrance, "most of your lines start with 'Oh, yeah!' and your teammates will help you out if you get stuck." No more time for encouragement, it was time for the aliens to take the stage.

She was great. Actually, they ALL were. From a memorization standpoint, it was the best ANY of them had ever done. Their focus was superb. For them, anyway. I honestly had wondered if things were going to fall apart all over scene four. They didn't. For once, they got it all right.

And, in this instance, once is all you need.

Afterward, it was a joy to meet the parents. At least four of them said they were bringing their kids back. I think two of them signed up for the next session right there on the spot. Their girls were all chatting about how they couldn't wait to start again, and the parents conversed as if they were finding new friends. It was really, really nice. I think everybody had a good time.

Teaching is always hard and usually uncomfortable for me. It's not something that comes naturally, and it's not really something I think I do very well. And there have been some sessions that have been nothing but a drain. But I always enjoy showcase days. Regardless of the journey, there's always a reward to be found at the end.