My Theatre Arts students performed the play “Cinderfella” today — a great little version of Cinderella with the gender roles all reversed. It was written by Ed Kavanagh and appears in the book The Cat’s Meow, and this is the second time I’ve staged it with a student group (the first being about 15 years ago at the St. John’s SDA Academy).
Here’s my current group of stars all done up in costume:
I have to say that organizing high school drama productions is one of the most fun things I’ve done in my years of teaching. Back when I started at Kingsway, there was often talk about how great it would be to have a drama club, but there were so many extracurriculars going on at Kingsway, and no drama course in the curriculum, so somehow I never got into it. I did direct one production there, a play called The Dalton Gang, which was so much fun it left me with an urge to do more.
During my one year teaching at PAA in Alberta, I got to teach a theatre arts class. We didn’t put on a big play there, but we did do a night of short skits, which was fun. Then when I came home in 1992 and starting teaching at the St. John’s SDA Academy, Jennifer and I started an after school drama club which was, hands down, the most fun I’ve ever had as a teacher.
We had a great group of students, including a core group that was pretty much with us from Grade 8 till they graduated, and it was great seeing those kids’ talent develop over the years. We did lots of smaller productions, we entered the Improv Games two or three years in a row and did the high school drama festival at least once. And we put off one big play every year, including The Thread that Runs so True, Anne of Green Gables, and The Mouse that Roared. The last year I taught there, we got really ambitious and did Narnia, the musical.
I have such great memories of those performances and I think the students do too. There’s nothing like the hard work of preparing a play and then the adrenaline of actually performing together — well, I guess it would be the same for a sports team or a choir or band, but being completely unathletic and unmusical, this is the closest I’ll ever come to it.
I’m actually not a great director — my best years doing drama were when Jennifer and I were doing it together because she loved to direct, and I could do what I loved, which was sort of a combination producer/stage manager — making sure everything ran smoothly behind the scenes and backstage, doing all the ancillary stuff to make it possible to get the actors out there doing their parts. We were the perfect team.
Since then I’ve done it alone, without backup. After I left teaching I coached drama as a volunteer one year and we did Improv Games, a Christmas play, and the drama festival, all of which was fun. Then I ended up here, at the Murphy Centre. Extracurricular activities are pretty much out of the question here — it’s hard enough to get our participants to show up for classes, much less after-school activities — but in my second year here we added a Theatre Arts class.
It’s especially great working with these students — although this setting has its unique challenges, because the absenteeism and the degree to which our participants are crisis-prone often makes it hard to get everyone together for a practice, and I can always count on at least a third of the class having severe social anxiety, so they have to be backstage crew because they flatly refuse to get out on stage.
But when they do accomplish something, it’s wonderful because some of them are young people who’ve never had the chance to do something like this before. Others are kids who did used to be really involved in drama or music or whatever when they were younger, but when whatever life crisis hit to get them sidetracked from school, they usually gave up being involved in that kind of thing, so it’s great to help them recapture that, even just a little.
I’m not really a “theatre person” myself — I’ve never acted except as an extra; I have no theatre training and, like I said, I’m not even really a director — so I often feel underqualified to do this stuff. There are drama teachers out there who are real actors themselves, and students are learning great things from them, and I always feel inferior by comparison. The only qualification I have is absolutely loving it, and I’m sure that when I finally retire from teaching, the memories that will linger with me longest are of the plays I’ve helped to stage and the students who starred in them.