Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jobs: Drama Teacher

After I finished high school, I had an entire summer to figure out what I wanted to do in University. Little did I know that it would take another ten years for me to decide on a career, but at the time I was kicking around lots of ideas, and one of them was "something to do with drama."

I'd taken drama classes throughout high school, but I think the only lessons I ever learned were "How to enunciate strangely" and "How to feel mortified." These classes culminated in an absolute trainwreck of a show that I dare not mention for fear of litigation.

But drama WAS still on my mind in 1991, and when a job came up in New Hamburg -- where I was still living with my parents -- I blindly snatched it up.

I still can't believe I ever did this: I was hired as a sort of "summer workshop drama teacher" for children aged six to twelve. During the interview I confessed that I had absolutely no experience with children that age, and they promised me: "There will only be ten of them, and we're also hiring a person with babysitting experience to help you out."

Guess what. When I showed up at the big gymnasium to greet the children there were TWENTY-FIVE of them. And no babysitter in sight. For the rest of the summer it was just me and them.

I only remember brief snatches of the job itself. Every week we'd meet in my junior high's gymnasium -- and sometimes in the musty back room of the old New Hamburg auditorium, where a little Brownie mushroom always got in the way -- and we'd spend a few hours trying to get our show together.

My employers -- Wilmot Township, like, the ENTIRE township -- had suggested a book of age-appropriate plays, and we decided on one that was a pastiche of fairytales and scary stories: Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Frankenstein.

Let me emphasize that I have no natural leadership ability. The children instantly recognized this and they ran amok, but they had a real desire to perform and they seemed to genuinely like me, maybe because I didn't talk down to them or sell them short.

One of my memories is of worrying about the single physically challenged boy in the class, who used a pair of arm braces to get around. There was a role in the play for a lurching "Egor" character, and I was afraid the other children would nominate him for the part. I learned a crucial lesson when he himself said he WANTED to be Egor, and he threw himself completely in the role, apparently relishing a task that allowed him to turn his disability into a performance. That kid stole the show.

Another memory is of playing music during lunch breaks. We had a tape recorder -- the same one we'd used for physical exercises when I went to that school -- and everybody was allowed to bring in tapes of music they wanted to hear during lunch. One day -- either because they asked, or I demanded, I can't remember which -- I played them MY favourite song at the time: "Over the Shoulder" by Ministry. The children declared unanimously that it wasn't music and it sucked.

We finally performed the play at a local nursing home, and all I remember are the children blanking out and forgetting their lines. I stood in the wings thinking "Holy cow, I've totally failed, this is an absolute embarrassment and it's all my fault." At the end, when the audience of parents and grandparents applauded, I seem to remember coming out and pretending to collapse on stage as though to apologize for what had happened, and all the kids ran out and dragged me off.

What I hadn't realized all along was that the play wasn't supposed to be GOOD. The play wasn't important AT ALL. This was really a CAMP where children learned confidence and socialized with other children with the same interests. None of this made sense to me until afterwards, when the parents told me how much their children had enjoyed the summer. I wish I'd understood this at the time.

Anyway, I finished the job and got paid, and though I'd never do it again it was still a fun time and a valuable experience for me (and hopefully some of the others too).

Plus I could put it on my resume.

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