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I Would Eat Her Heart in the Marketplace!

2003-11-19 - 12:40 p.m.

I am one of the many Americans who dreams of a day when public schools are given the tax dollars that go to multinational corporations every year to market their products in the countries where their sweatshops are housed. I would love for teachers to be paid a salary so grand that people have to fight one another for a job teaching chemistry to third graders. The possibility of "may the best person win" being attached to finding a teaching position, rather than "what's the best we got" is one that warms my heart.

And of those teachers, I think drama teachers should be paid the most, not because I am myself a theatre person, but for the sake of kids trying to learn. You see, the overwhleming majority of drama teachers are not people who set out to be teachers. Granted, I'm sure a number of science teachers dreamed of a lab at MIT populated with hot PhD candidates and the Nobel committee being kept on hold until the cold fusion generator can be recalibrated, but at the same time I have known many science teachers who love what they do, and who find gratification in seeing the eager faces of children ripping open lesser vertebrates and splaying their formaldehyde-scented organs on their desktops.

Not so with almost every drama teacher I've known (college-level being a partial exception), who was, almost universally, an aspiring actor, with dreams of the day when Miuccia Prada and Karl Lagerfeld would be at one another's throats on who would design his or her Oscar/Emmy/Tony outfit. When those dreams die, they leave a corpse that leaves the once-aspiring actor more and more bitter, until the only way to calm the anger is to unleash it on the students.

A number of drama teachers I've had have acted this way, picking favorites based on who reminded them of themselves as budding actors, or who is most likely to mention them in an Oscar speech one day, or who has the most dextrous lips for ass-kissing. They throw hissyfits when lines aren't memorized, or when blocking is forgotten, as though their own acting past had been immaculate (and thus so deserving of the opportunity that always seemed to miss their door). They constantly remind the students that they are privileged to participate in the arts, and that the teacher has a right to remove that privilege any time they see fit.

It's true that kids who get to perform in school plays are extremely privileged. I just wish they weren't. I wish that appearing in a school play was a right that every child could expect, with teachers who were not simply talented, but dedicated to the goal of filling the world with young adults who know and love theatre.

As is, children go into rehearsals with teachers who are untalented, bored, lazy, peevish, manipulative and always, always bitter.

Like my stepsister's drama teacher, whom I would love to see in the role of Goody Nurse in The Crucible, so I could see her hanged at the end.

This hippie-haired gorgon is the kind of drama teacher who plays favorites unabashedly, which is just as annoying to my stepsister, who is one of her favorites, as it is to the kids unlucky enough to wind up on her shitlist. She's the kind of drama teacher who goes up on-stage before a show and apologizes for the quality of the production, as these are only middle-school kids and not very dedicated at that (this is something my own freshman drama teacher did, and boy did I hate him for it). She's the kind of drama teacher who will never cast a fat girl as a princess, or a short boy as a hero. She's the kind of drama teacher that decides to do a Shakespearean comedy, then butchers it until the greatest words in the English language have no meaning or coherence.

I know this for a fact because I helped my stepsister run lines. She, of course, had no idea what the words meant, because her teacher had not taken the time to explain them, not smart when dealing with Elizabethan English in post-Reagan/Bush America. When I tried to explain them, I discovered that a number of her lines referred to events or exchanges that had been removed entirely from the play. It's hard to explain "the forgeries of jealousy" when said forgeries had been 86ed before you could say "exeunt omnes."

Now, in case you haven't noticed, I'm an English major, and I have always had a special place in my heart for the Bard. I've loved him since I saw the fifth grade class at my school do The Taming of the Shrew. I don't know whether it was the rhythms or the characters or what, but when I saw Kate, Petruchio, and the whole gang, I was hooked. Since then, having studied with Shakespeare-grand-poobah Phyllis Rackin, among others, I have come to admire him for his juxtaposition of the comic and the serious (not necessarily the tragic, as there are serious moments in the comedies as well), his deliciously crafted villains, and his ability to play to various social and political perspectives in an audience. I quote Much Ado About Nothing in everyday conversation, for fuck's sake. I am that guy!

So I am of course livid when I see that the play has been taken apart to the point where all the language can do is sound pretentious, where actors are unable to make the phrases mean what Shakespeare meant them to mean. These kids are forced to recite the lines blandly, without feeling. It is a perversion of theatre, and a dishonor to the man whose writing has had an affect on our language rivalled only by the King James Bible.

Fortunately, I was able to help my stepsister, to give her a sense of how Shakespeare's plays should be performed. I helped her understand that the comedies were written primarily to make people laugh, and that the humor still stand the test of time provided it's done correctly. We wound up talking about Shakespeare for a while, and in the end she said she wished I could be her director. I wished I could, too.

Tonight, however, I will just be her audience, and after the production we will get together and bitch about her stupid teacher. If she dares to apologize for the kids again, I think I'll go onstage and let slip the dogs of war on her ass.

In the meantime, stepsis of mine, wherever you are, break a leg, baby. Break a leg.

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