The Bard, Field trips and Nail Biting

Each and every year, I embark on a perilous journey.  One that defies all things known and makes the impossible possible.  One that is a black hole with a narrow escape.  One that encompasses magical powers beyond the scope of nature.  What is this odyssey?  Why, it is taking students on field trips to see a Shakespeare play.

This year, I enlisted the help of my trusted friend and confidant Suz.  She and I gathered all of the courage and tenacity we could muster to organize this massive undertaking.  She is the reason I made it through the day.

Let me back up in time and explain the path of the most recent journey we were destined to travel.  It was year 2002, and I was summoned to a grand place in the land of Cleveland known only as The Great Lakes Theater Festival.  From this moment on, I was entranced by their powers.  Enamored by their gently use of The Bard’s great words.  Encased in their sheer talents.  I was, to put it mildly, hooked.  As Juliet would say, “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”  Yes, indeed.

From then on, I took students to see these incredible works of art each year.  It was a time to develop young minds, and show (not tell) them how important and timeless the plays of Shakespeare really were.  It was mystical.

But not always.  Many times there were alien students among us.  One particular one did the worst thing possible – he tripped an actor.  According to E.T., his legs needed “extra room” so he put them in the aisle.  Bad, bad alien student.  Another Alf-like creature listened to his iPod through Act I, Scene II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  His excuse?  “I don’t understand what they are saying.”  My response, “We covered it in class.”  One Mork actually fell into a deep slumber during Twelfth Night.   His rebuttal after other students woke him up with furious tapping and shaking?  “The girl is dressed like a guy and it creeped me out.”  Classy.  These are the villains of my days with The Bard.

But, alas, I have held true to my word and provided the non-alien youth with the best gift of all: the gift of live theater.

The cover looks like Twilight meets R&J.

This year’s presentation was Romeo and Juliet.  I was ecstatic for a few reasons.  First, this is actually one in our literature books, and second, I teach it every year.  Double score!  We both got crazy-eyed with happy thoughts and reserved not the usual 40 tickets, but a whopping 80 tickets with visions of Romeo dancing in our heads.

Yikes.  But we had high hopes. Maybe too high as Mercutio states, “True, I talk of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain, begot of nothing by vain fantasy.”

Let me just state that, for the days approaching the trip, it was as if “the mad blood stirring” was a reality.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.

Finally the big day arrived.  We herded 80 students into two school buses at the blistering early time of 7:35 a.m.  We ventured on the hour and a half bus ride to Cleveland.  We gathered all of the students and promptly got them seated in the theater.  We smiled as we sat down in our seats, breathing a collective sigh of relief.

The set. Taken without a flash before the show began.

Intermission came.  Our students deserved halos for their amazing behavior during the first half of the performance.  Brainvomit40 looked at her watch: 11:39.  The buses had to be back by 2:25 for their routes.  Would the show be finished and we be out the door before 1 p.m.?  Enter nail biting.

Throughout the second half (and I must say half, it was technically Acts III, IV, V), I couldn’t focus.  All I could think about was what was coming next.  Here is a look into my mind:

“OK.  She is getting the sleeping potion.  Finally.  Good.  Now she is going to have a monologue and drink it.  Fine.  Now Romeo is going to find out she died.  OK.  We’re good on time.  Crap.  Romeo still has to fight and kill Paris and there is dialogue.  Darn.  OK, he took care of Paris.  Now the death scene.  Geez.  Totally blanked that the Friar’s so many lines here.  Come on already and bring out the Prince to wrap this up!”

By this time, I have no nails left to speak of.  I would be lying if I didn’t confess that we were about to cheer when Juliet said, “O happy dagger!”

The play ended, and we made it on the buses by 1:06.  We made it back to the school by 2:22.  Whew.  I should have been feeling down because it was over, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” but instead I was thinking thank goodness this is once a year.

I still love the Bard, and I appreciate the opportunity to showcase how incredible his words come alive in a live performance.  “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”

To Shakespeare!

Here is another post I wrote about the Bard.  Enjoy!


Comedy of Errors or Sacrifices for the Bard

In the spring of 2009, fellow English teachers and I went to a Shakespeare conference.  Let me say that Shakespeare is like a drug to high school English teachers.  We love him.  He is our lover from a past life.  We are jealous of any teacher who seems to know him better than we do.  We want to live in Stratford-upon-Avon and have his children hundreds of years later.  He is that awesome.

At this conference, it is tradition to celebrate the Bard’s birthday (and death day) with a cake.  No one blows out the candles on the cake, though, because that would be just weird.  Lol.

During these Shakespeare English Teacher love festivals (think the 60s but the dude is not alive and no one has any hallucinogenic drugs), we are usually given some kind of quote from the play being highlighted and we have to think and write about it.  I think some of the teachers go into multiple orgasms with this assignment, and one woman even peed herself with excitement.  Gasp.

I, however, did not get that warm and fuzzy feeling.  Instead, I wanted to crawl under the desk.  As much as I love the Bard, I didn’t want to write about one of his quotes under the scrutiny of all of the other English teachers.  So I sat there.  And sat there.  Even my purple Sharpie couldn’t snap me out of it.  Here is my quote:

“Am I in Earth, in Heaven, or in Hell?  Sleeping or waking, mad or well advised?  Known unto these and to myself disguised.  I’ll say as they say and persevere so and in this mist all adventures go.”

What the hell did this mean?  I looked around the room in horror.  I felt that masterpieces were being written and I was just sitting there sniffing my Sharpie.  Finally, I put my pen to the paper and here is my (pathetic) response:

OK.  I absolutely hate starting writing prompts because I can never figure out what would be the best way to begin.  Yet, I give students a prompt almost daily so they can write some BS about whatever I choose is important for them at the time.

Is it a fraud?  Am I a fraud?  As I look into myself, I was always the “classic underachiever.”  I even had a Bart Simpson t-shirt with those exact words on it.  I thought it was funny, but after awhile, my mom – the queen of reality checks – said it wasn’t.  She went on to say that it was my way to “somewhat” excuse my mediocre grades in high school or to placate my dad when my science and math grades were less than he would have liked (hideous).  Self-fulfilling prophecy?  Crap.  “Allison is horrible at math and science.”  Oh. Maybe that is why I didn’t like math from 10th grade on.  Hey, Jimmy Buffet wrote a song saying Math Sucks. I am not alone, right? Anyhow.

Sometimes I feel like I am a big fraud as a teacher and it is only a matter of time until I am called out on it. Thanks, Mrs. W., for telling me I didn’t know the first thing about grammar or literary analysis or English.  I really appreciate the caring support you gave to a new student – in 11th grade no less, who was brand, spanking new not only to the school district but to the state of Ohio.  Who was she to put those incredibly disparaging thoughts into my head?  I didn’t ask for that.  I really was just trying not to drown in a new town – torn away from all I had known and understood and finally figured out.  I was directly deposited into a whole new set of circumstances and patterns and humans I did not know.  Difficult? Yeah.  A fraud?  Who knows.

So, to this day as a teacher, I have had to prove to myself that I am not wearing a disguise.  I am not a fraud, although some days feel like it. I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. This is what I need to do.  And, I even try to make learning fun – because it wasn’t for me and I don’t want any of my students writing about me 20 years later as to how I crushed their spirit.

The quote from Comedy of Errors?  It is just an adventure.  An adventure in teaching and in knowing, deep down, that I am really not a fraud.  Even these excitable English teachers are not frauds.  Except for, maybe, Mrs. W., who isn’t here because she doesn’t love Shakespeare like us real English teachers do.