Several of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama Class for their English IV because they did not think they would have to read. They were wrong; they read Our Town. A few of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama for their English class because they did not think they would have to write. They were wrong. They had journals. What was most surprising was the number of 12th graders who did not think that they had to act…or memorize lines.
As a precaution, the drama class teacher chose the play Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as their final production in the hopes that since the students already knew the plot, “They could always ad-lib.”
The play was cast with some additional dwarves (“Shorty” and “Weepy”) increasing the company to accommodate the number of students in the class. Rehearsals began, but the progress was slow. The principal parts were invested, but the dwarves were not, and their large numbers cluttered the small classroom stage area. They missed entrances, missed cues, missed lines, and when they were on set, they stood swaying or whispered so loudly as to drown out the lines of others. They were collectively the most awkward set of gigantic dwarves ever to inhabit a stage.
Nevertheless, the production was scheduled for appearances at three local elementary schools two days before the winter break. Props were prepared, costumes fitted, and sound cues burned onto a CD. Then, an ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise.
There was a “dress rehearsal” the morning of the show; it was, as all dress rehearsals go, a disaster. “I don’t think you should take them,” advised a student who was watching. I had a sinking feeling; perhaps she was right. But, as the adage says, “The show must go on!”
Our first stop was in the elementary school gym, a cavernous space.
“You are going to have to be loud,” I cautioned, as members of the cast set up the magic mirror. Just then the announcements came on.
“Good morning,” chirped a little voice over the speakers, “Today is Thursday, December 19th…..” The announcements continued with students from the elementary school listing off birthdays, lunch menu details, and finally, the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Guys,” interrupted the most uncooperative dwarf to the other cast members, “listen to them….I mean…they’re so innocent! We can’t screw up now!” The others looked startled. There was no turning back; there was only forward movement, and that forward movement was going to have to be kid-friendly. For the first time since the auditions, they were quiet, and in that moment of recognition, the 22 students in drama class became a theatre troupe. I was certainly not a factor; this was entirely their decision. They had been prepared by their drama teacher for this moment, but they had never truly risen to the occasion. As they watched the audience of elementary school students file in, the gravity of their roles became real. The show was going on…
“Once upon a time….” the narrator began, and each cast member found their place on the gym floor stage. They recalled lines locked in the file drawers of recent memory or ad-libbed as needed. The Mirror told the Evil Queen she was no longer the most beautiful, the huntsman let Snow White run away, the dwarves found Snow White in their cottage, and the Evil Queen tricked Snow White with a poisoned apple.
There were plenty of errors. The sound cue for the Evil Queen (never used before) drowned out her entrance, the poisoned apple rolled into the hands of some smaller audience members, and when the Prince first kissed Snow White on the hand, there was a critique from an audience member who called out, “Now, that was lame.” But when the Prince finally kissed Snow White with “love’s first kiss”, there were cheers from the crowd, and an astonished cast stood together, hand in hand, taking their first (and again, unrehearsed) bow.
Piling on the bus to perform at the next elementary school, the cast was all business. During the 30 minute ride, they practiced lines and advised each other on what should happen for the next show. They were serious.
The next two performances at other elementary schools became more polished as students internalized their roles. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor. The Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were still cluttering the stage, and each time Doc announced the “death” of Snow White, they were unconcerned. While they were not “actors”, they were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not.
So, I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, and later that afternoon there were e-mails from the principals that offered praise.
The holiday season is a time for miracles. Their drama teacher should have been there to witness this one, but for now the videos will have to suffice. The end of 2013 has ended on a high note for those seniors. Heigh-ho to 2014!