Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our Town

After three years teaching at Morrinsville College my first school I shifted to Thames High School. It was a good move. I could leave my mistakes behind and the new staff-room was more relaxed. In terms of the economic see-saw Thames was going down while Morrinsville was coming up but it was in an old gold-mining town with a working class ideal about the value of education. The old-timers recounted tales of stamper batteries working round the clock, of how gold from Thames have enabled Auckland to become the Queen City. "There's still more gold there than has ever been taken out," they claimed. The pace of life in the town was slower. Drama and music were valued.

The school was producing HMS Pinafore. The drama producer fell ill, so I stepped into the breach. I knew little about stage direction so was on another quick learning curve. "Do you know how to dance a hornpipe? No! Neither do I. So we'd both better learn." I became hooked on directing school plays.

The following year I produced Shaw's Pygmalion and the subsequent year Wilder's Our Town. These productions were amongst the happiest experiences of my life - the shared, collaborative purpose, the mixing of ages, the triumphs, the disasters, the hush as the lights go down, a stage and an audience, a goal and an ending - curtain down, encore. Watching from the wings there is usually that magical moment when the audience collectively moves from detachment to involvement. In education there are few quick fixes, few magic bullets. The rewards are long term and applause is rare. On the stage the rewards are brief but the applause is heart-warming.

My production of Our Town had Emily’s coffin carried down the hall aisle followed by the mourners. First night, someone in the audience began crying. Others followed, soon there were handkerchiefs galore. Turning from watching through the curtain the girl who was playing Emily said ‘they’re crying for me’. ‘No’, I said, ‘they’re crying for themselves.’ ‘You’re a honey’ she said giving me a whooping big hug. You’re not supposed to embrace students. Gently I disengaged. ‘Now, go out there and wow them.’ I looked round. Prompt, a science teacher, and the stagehands all seemed unconcerned. I’d learnt something about the politics of situation.

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