Once More Taking the Stage

I used to do a lot of theater, finding it a fun outlet for my energy. My best performance may have been back in 9th grade when I was a killer Evil Eye Fleagle in Jericho Junior High’s production of Li’l Abner. My last production was a year later in the high school’s One Act Play Competition when the 10th graders staged Fumed Oak by Noel Coward.

Afterwards, I recognized I was nowhere near as talented as the other guys so shifted backstage where I did the lights or program or even acted as student director (basically assisting the faculty director) on other shows. I even got to direct the 11th grade entry in the One Act Play competition, going so far as to cancel our entry when it was clear the cast wasn’t taking it seriously. That got them to change their approach and we went on as scheduled.

Other than the skits that open the annual Mystery Trekkie Theater, I really haven’t done any performing. The sole exception was agreeing to participate in Shore Leave’s Fandom of the Opera, a lovely parody that proved once more I was a limited actor and even more limited singer.

As a result, I was a little surprised when I was asked by my colleague, Gabe Lewin, to audition with other faculty for the high school’s fall production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. This is a one-woman show written and performed by the immensely talented Anna Deavere Smith based on interviews she conducted with people related to the Rodney King case. He cast me as Stanley K. Sheinbaum, the Harlem-born President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners during this time. I guess there was a touch of typecasting to this but I agreed and was one of three faculty to perform with the students.

I hadn’t had lines to memorize in so long that it proved a challenge and it wasn’t until tech week that I felt comfortable with my two pieces. Meantime, our school hadn’t mounted a drama like this in so long the students were unfamiliar with the theater culture and approached the production like their school work. There were some who thought they could show up when they pleased or figured dropping out was easier than learning their lines. However, through Gabe’s unyielding efforts, he managed to coax people to take the work and their contribution seriously.

We did our dress rehearsal last Thursday with the principal in attendance and it was finally on that day that I saw just how talented many of the kids are. Many were inspired, others – notably those filling in when some did drop out for good – rose to the occasion and did themselves and their school proud.

For many it was a glimpse into the recent past for the first time and with Ferguson, MO still in the headlines, the connections were glowing with neon radiance. Each night before we went on stage, we held hands and had a moment for open comments. Several talked about learning a lot about one another and making friends. One of my students even said she normally didn’t do extracurricular activities but was glad she did this since it made her like school. Another said that last year she was living in the Philippines and a show like this was not possible. She was grateful for being here and having a chance to participate.

Our modest audiences were gripped by the drama, the video footage from 1992, and the amazing performances from the students.

I am incredibly grateful for being a part of this and very proud of all the students. On the other hand, I am also happy to have those hours back for other school activities.

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