To be a teacher is a precious thing.
To be a theatre teacher is a gift.
Once upon a time, I taught a bunch of kids who changed my brain, my life, and my heart.
I taught them theatre during the day. I was also the director of their high school musical. I chose to do A Chorus Line. The powers that be approved my choice.
The administration changed their minds about the show two weeks before these students were supposed to open.
They no longer approved of the show, and wanted to change the script.
They were not allowed to say rape. They were not allowed to say God. They were not allowed to say shit. They were not allowed to say milky wet dreams.
The script I received from the Superintendent was bleeding with red ink.
When I got the script back, I cried. I cried in front of them. Probably not the most professional moment, but it was the most human.
What will we do? They asked.
I don’t know, I said. But, if I teach you one thing, let it be this - know there is a time to smile and nod, and there is also a time to throw a punch. (Figuratively, of course.)
The next day was a snow day. We didn’t have rehearsal.
The day after, they came in with letters. And letters. And letters.
What’s this, I asked?
Our punch, they replied.
They pushed for a meeting with the school administration, and they got it. And they did their homework.
They said, how do you teach us about copyright laws, and then pretend like it’s ok to change this script? And how come it’s ok to read these banned words in the required English assignments, but it’s not ok to say it onstage? And why did you approve the show in the first place if you weren't going to let us do it as intended?
And finally, how are you going to sit there, and tell us we cannot say the word rape onstage? What if there’s someone in the study who’s experienced that in real life, and now, instead of creating a space in which they feel safe, you’re ushering them into silence?
There’s more to this story. So much more. But the bottom line is that the script didn’t change, the students shone bright, and I was the proudest teacher and director in all the land.
I think of these students often, and they've been on my mind quite a bit as we're seeing a group of young, bright, beautiful teenagers at Stoneman Douglas High School demanding the change that even the most powerful adults could not start.
And my heart just swells with pride all over again.
To underestimate teenagers is just...dumb. For if we, the adults, do our jobs right, they are forced to be reckoned with. They are lights that will shine. They are the hope that will bring a better tomorrow.