There are no small parts, only small 6th graders.
Maybe you’re like me and you’ve got a short stack of tickets, whose perforated edges are perfectly intact, whose dates have passed and whose stages remain dark.
Swan Lake at the Opera House. Wu-Tang Clan x DSO. Shakespeare in Love.
Maybe you’re like me and you’ve got a child heading to a new school, whose principal is emailing, whose bike racks are beckoning and whose doors will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Maybe like me, you’re finding connections between the disparate things around you in lieu of our perennial practice of populating fall calendars during the dog days of summer when you’d be better off getting dragged behind a motorboat.
The sets and costumes are all cued up for Shakespeare in Love, the Bloomfield Hills High School stage production, directed by Mary Bogrette. Mary first welcomed me into her middle school cafetorium over 25 years ago, which I’m told is the statute of limitations for addressing teachers by their last names.
It’s hard to believe I was that awkward kid from the wrong side of the tracks inspired to unlock raw talent by an idealistic young teacher. Hard to believe because of the notable absence of talent or tracks, though not for lack of awkwardness or inspiration or locks.
Mary’s engagement and encouragement made an indelible impression on me. The confidence and composure I developed have long outlasted the VHS copy of me singing You Can’t Take That Away from Me in a key (keys?) that would have made the Gershwins grit their teeth — each other’s teeth.
Or maybe I was objectively every bit as amazing as my mom said.
In any case, my son is heading to 6th grade, Mary is starting her 30th year teaching (3rd in high school) and the only local performances we’ve been treated to lately are the melodramatic monologues of anti-maskers.
What’s it like teaching theater far from the theater? Hard, according to Mary, but worth it. Different degree of difficulty, but as worth it as ever.
Last spring, some students zoomed to Zoom and flipped for Flipgrid. Others opted for online office hours. Then there were those who went incognito until some Instagram investigating turned them up.
With Shakespeare in limbo, furloughed professionals from the West Coast to the West End volunteered to work remotely with high school drama students.
“Theater people of the world united.” Good thing, considering the Bloomfield Schools recently made the “unanticipated” decision to start the year remotely, with “robust plans developed for in-person, distance, and virtual teaching and learning.”
For Mary, robust includes Acting, Acting 2, Acting 3 — “script analysis, design considerations, construction of a set, designing and creating costumes and make-up, directing and rehearsal of a play, all of the technical considerations (lights, sound, special effects) of theatre production, performance for a panel of evaluators (theatre professionals and university professors) and performance for peer audiences” — Musical Theatre and Theatre Production courses, with a new International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (so spelled), not to mention the eventual extracurricular productions of Music Man and Into the Woods…
Friends, we’ve got trouble
Right here in Detroit City
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “C”
And that stands for COVID.
Into the woods, indeed. For all the severe summertime semantics about the “essential” nature of teachers, this virus was bound to spread unimpeded through our threadbare social safety net. Symptoms may include congested unemployment insurance, emaciated wage growth, shortness of parental leave, sniffling childcare, swollen prescription prices and, let’s say, diarrhea of public revenue for failure to properly tax capital gains.
It doesn’t take a pandemic to create anxiety this time of year for even the most august educators. They’ve been on the front lines this whole time.
School districts, for their part, should remove every other desk and keep them gone to rein in class sizes; postpone further standardized testing until we determine the final digit of Pi; quit trying to teach 16-year-olds to derive at 7:30 in the morning; and cease contracting for lunches with companies that specialize in feeding prisoners poorly profitably.
Bit dramatic? You know who to blame.