I don’t think I could teach full time, but I teach after-school and Saturday enrichment acting classes throughout the school year, and in the summer I run a camp for tweens. At first I sort of dreaded the idea of spending so much time with middle schoolers, but the theatre gave me total artistic control over the camp. That’s a hard one for any artist to turn down. This camp may in fact be the only chance I have to direct whatever the bleep I feel like.
The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me to be able to direct whatever I want (staying age appropriate, of course). Because it’s a camp, I’m not a slave to ticket sales, so I don’t have to think about what will sell to the masses, meaning I can do things that are more artistic, or even a bit weird. In fact, the theatre seems to like the weirdness my staff and I bring. They think it offers a creative balance to their normally very standard child programming.
Last summer, we chose to do Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a story about a girl from Hiroshima who dies of cancer due to radiation exposure from the atom bomb. This year we decided to undertake an African folk tale, with my teachers writing the script themselves. The play includes a giant elephant we make out of 8 kids, where the elephant eats people and then later barfs them up. A barfing elephant. Sweet.
Middle schoolers get a bad rap, I think, because many of us remember this as our most awkward and embarrassing time of life. So I thought teaching this age would be equally painful. Turns out, it’s the best age I’ve ever taught. The kids are old enough to memorize lines, learn staging, and have creative input, all things I struggle with when teaching elementary-age kids. But they are still young enough to be silly and enthusiastic. I don’t see the lethargy and attitude the high schoolers so often have. They aren’t too cool yet, and they are fun to mess with:
Student: Can I sharpen my pencil?
Me: No. Absolutely not. No sharpening pencils here. Totally not allowed.
Me: Hahahaha….um, sorry. Yes, yes, of course.
I really never saw myself as someone who would enjoy working with kids, but having a group of people who are so enthusiastic and willing to join my artistic vision is a true blessing. I leave you with a few choice quotes my students have imparted upon me:
“Helen Keller’s really misunderstood.”
“Fundraising is obnoxious.”
“Have you ever confused a bird with whistling?”