Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’m told it’s just something that people have learned to accept. Earl does not sit still, he does not stay in the room. He does not seem to get into trouble when he vanishes and when he comes back there is no look of noticeable satisfaction that can be found on the face of the teenage male who has just committed a minor act of rebellion. Earl will do the work when asked and he will do it well. Earl is a talented drummer and a good kid. But he wanders. There is always someplace more interesting to Earl than where he is at the moment, which really means that it’s not the destination that appeals to him so much as the distance in between. It makes sense, in that context, that he could do well in our particular After School Matters workshop, which is based on process as it leads to production.
At one point in the workshop, Earl’s response to an accusation of being gay is to shout back “You’re gay, fag!”, for which Ben and I angrily admonish him. Earl backs down immediately and apologetically. He does know better. Later, during a peer interview, I hear Earl proclaim that what he hates most in people is “ignorance.”
I think Earl is going to spend the rest of his life leaping before he looks, and I wish him luck in always finding a safe place to land.
* * * * *
We tell the kids repeatedly that we want them to be respectful of each other when they present onstage; that it often takes an immeasurable amount of courage to speak in front of people on any subject, much less one that is personal to them.
They don’t really understand. Earl and Carlos spend a lot of time mumbling their reactions to themselves, which is not outright heckling but is nonetheless rude and unpleasant. They are at an age where they have not all grasped the concept of the world outside the borders of one’s own skin. They are also at an age where they have not grasped the concept that sound carries very well in an auditorium, no matter how quietly you think you’re talking.
Shortly after I let fly with some variation of the phrase “You don’t get respect until you give respect,” a mantra that I’m unsure they take seriously, the kids are able to shut up long enough to watch and listen as Hillary sits on the edge of the stage and talks about her mother being home for the first time in a few days, after having fought yet another bout with cancer. She loses all composure thirty seconds in and is immediately comforted by three other girls in the class. Hillary leaves the auditorium with her best friend, still sobbing.
The lesson I want the kids to take away from that is to always give the person onstage their full attention because one never knows when you might experience something so raw and personal. You may never know what you missed being affected by while you were goofing around in the third row.
This is not a lesson you can speak aloud. You cannot take somebody’s pain, so raw and fresh and lingering in the room, and exploit it like that. So instead we move on, saying nothing further, hoping that the lesson is absorbed regardless.
* * * * *
Whitney hates “Zip Zap Zop.”
This rusty theater-game classic, in which the players stand in a circle and, with voice and gesture, shoot the individual words in the titular sequence to each other with as much energy and focus as possible, tends to be very popular amongst first-time theater students. But Whitney is having none of it. Some of the kids will be half-hearted, or unfocused, or skeptical of the merits of the game in relation to learning acting, but Whitney is opposed outright. She huffs and barely tries to maintain focus, perhaps uncomfortable waiting for somebody to look her in the eye. She is among the first players to be eliminated and is happier for it when it happens.
Ben has promised a small gift card of some kind to whomever wins the most rounds of Zip Zap Zop. After two days of the program, the only people who have won so far are Ben and I.
I feel a bit like I’m running a hustle, but I also think it’s good for the students to have Ben and I as the kings of this particular hill. They spend all day competing with each other in one way or another, and the pecking order establishes pretty quickly. It might do them well to spend some time in a game in which none of them, currently, hold the title of Champion.
* * * * *
Walid is a joker. Not a clown. Clowns have a sense of when to pull back, when to let the moment ride without you. Jokers don’t know how to turn it off, and so they often hit a point where the act becomes white noise, becomes less potent for the saturation.
When he is asked to free-write for twenty minutes on a topic about which he feels passionate, he writes the word “cookies” repeatedly on half a sheet of paper. When asked to share, he mentions that he likes cookies, apple juice, and blue socks. Ben, who worked with Walid last semester, tells Walid that at some point he is going to learn what Walid really cares about.
* * * * *
Gertrude wants to be on Broadway. I catch her singing songs from Jersey Boys–that is to say, songs from the Four Seasons’ discography–quietly to herself. She laments in words if not in tone her body shape, stating that she knows she will have to look different in order to pursue her dream. She seems to actually deflect or dodge, physically, the sentences Ben and I toss her way about how not everybody acting on Broadway is model-skinny.
* * * * *
Jewel, among the most enthusiastic of our new students, told me at our first interview that she really wanted to be an actress. At today’s journal-sharing, she revealed that what she really wanted to be was a sports broadcaster who dabbles in acting. Jewel is the sort of girl who instinctively finds the center of cameras, whose candid shots look posed even when she wasn’t aware of them. When I make a copy of her student ID for our records I am amused to note in her photograph the head-tilt, the small smirk, the way she tries to compensate for poor institutional lighting by angling herself how she feels she needs to in order to provide the best shot.
She has a lot of energy and a very expressive face. I think that if she’s really serious about getting into sports broadcasting that she will do just fine.
* * * * *
I’m still not sure I know what I’m doing. But so far they don’t seem to realize that.
1 All student names have been changed.