In the 80’s, it was hard to find a Broadway show to take kids to. Maybe “A Chorus Line” wasn’t appropriate, but what was? Broadway was for grown-ups. As was Times Square, where we were offered cocaine, impressing the hell out of me. The city! Its dangers! I saw “A Chorus Line” on Broadway when I was a kid, and while I was very excited that I was going into the city to do something so grown-up with my mom, I have no memory of the show itself.
So I watched a documentary on the casting of the “Chorus Line” revival. First, I realized just how unappealing the spartan sets and lack of traditional narrative structure might be to a kid. “The Lion King” it is not. Then I was amazed to discover that the process of auditioning for “Chorus Line” job took months and months. Performing and being judged, over and over again.
You create a character, as a teacher, and mine ended up being kind of British: uptight and sarcastic, distant but polite. Of course, I am uptight and sarcastic, and I am distant and polite. Although I’m also very rebellious and angsty, there’s nothing to rebel against, when I’m the one in charge, and my job requires, and inspires, optimism.
Ever since I started teaching, I’ve had this bit with the kids where they request something they know I won’t grant (a ride home, a cookie, to leave class early) and I say, “Ummmm… [pause for effect, squint]… NO.” They love it. This routine actually evolved from my first-year teacher epiphany that I could take time to consider requests. Now I have those answers loaded. “Do you have white-out?” I never have white-out. Just scratch it out, man. “Do you have a band-aid?” I always have a band-aid. Kids love to be given band-aids. If you have the band-aids, you are immediately a nurturing figure, no matter what a monster you may be the rest of the time.
We had a ridiculous inspirational assembly a few years back. Every inspirational assembly holds the potential for infecting me with Orwellian angst. (Wait, you’re telling the that? What does that even mean? As if the kids are listening as carefully as I.) This particular speaker talked about how much promise the kids have, and blah, blah. Like a dude who’s never met them will convince them of this, when we moan about it every damn day.
To cheer them up and emphasize how full of promise they were, this guy announced he was going to make their teachers dance. As I mentioned, my teacher persona is British, and the British don’t dance. (I learned this in London dancing with Aussies and Nigerians.)
My teacher character doesn’t dance. I, on the other hand, have spent so many hours dancing to Michael Jackson songs that you might wonder if I was at some time in Mr. Jackson’s employ. So the speaker puts on “Billie Jean,” and the only kid who could have forced me out onto the gym floor, the kid I have taught who is closest to being an honest-to-God saint, this kid drags me out. And then I’m imitating the dance moves of our inspirational speaker, saying to myself, “Be a good sport.” The kids scream with laughter. And I don’t know when I’ve felt so weird. Performing, to be sure, and aware of how performing causes personalities to be refracted.