Monday, March 5, 2012

We'll Call Them Schmecky and Schmole

There is a day time persona that I have created that is a little cold, a little sharp, a little tired. I know it. I use it as both a wall and a weapon. The wall keeps a kid at a distance and allows me to say "I have to cut you from the play because you are failing Biology." I use the weapon like this: "Kid, if you don't start coming to first period, I will kill you with a broadsword from the props closet." (just kidding!)  I'm not the teacher that let kids walk all over me, but the price of that is a reputation that you are...the kids would say, "hardcore." I don't have a bunch of kids that hang out in my room after school. I sometimes get jealous of the teachers that do. But I'm with kids A LOT. I don't usually have a grade to hold over their head. I just want to help them see the amazing musical or play performance that I know they have inside of them. I know how much it will change them for good.

So I have to be fairly strict. Sometimes that comes off as "mean," or "scary." I'm not the sterotypical drama teacher that you see in movies - okay...more Mrs. Darbus than Corky St. Clair if you know what I mean. I require my casts to sign contracts, provide excuse forms for missing rehearsal, sign in, and if someone isn't testing their sacred potential every day, there are 15 kids behind them that will and that "Come to Jesus" is everyone's nightmare. I will make changes after the cast list has been posted, though I haven't done very often because I'm not usually wrong about kids. Sounds kind of hooty-tooty of me. But looking back, I've put thousands of incredible kids (and adults) in plays and I was only wrong once. I was so wrong that time. Another incredible kid bailed me out, so it all turned out okay.

Maybe the Scary Jan comes from years of watching the P.E. teacher leave at three o'clock. I know the English teacher leaves with a stack of papers to grade, but she gets to leave. Go home. Eat at home. Grade papers infront of CSI Miami. Put her laundry in while she grades papers. She doesn't have 50 pairs of underwear (Blog #2) because her laundry doesn't have to wait for President's Day.

See, my second shift is just beginning at 3pm. That's how I got my addiction to caffeine and kids. They know I love them and will help them, still, there is a little bitterness when the student council approaches you and says "Will you chaperone Prom? Because no one else will..." and you are wearing overalls that can stand up by themselves and have been wearing them since Tuesday, 1.9.9.7. But it's because of my second shift, that I grew to love kids and see what they are capable of accomplishing.

Over the years I have been given a kind of intuition about kids by diagnosing their homework, their attitude, their work ethic, their parents. I can see the future in their skills and their DNA then I just start asking God about it. You might think that's crazy, but...He knows what they need and I'm just guessing. So I like to involve Him if He's telling, and sometimes I'm tuned in enough to hear it.

Such was the day I approached Schmecky Schmawson about becoming a stage manager for me when she was in the tenth grade. Schmecky had a brother, Schmole, that was willing to learn how to use a lightboard and I needed the help. Today is Schmole's birthday! 28! Becky's is next month! It's been ten years since I let them graduate from high school. I say that because I thought about failing both of them so that they'd have to repeat a year, but then I liked their parents too much and I was so excited to see what they would do with all that talent. I have not been disappointed! W.O.W.

They aren't really siblings. They are more like BFF's with a side of family thrown in. You know what I'm talking about - everybody has them...your "brother from another mother," "sister from another mister," kind of thing. I have a few dozen children I borrow from other mother's. "Schmole and his sister Schmecky" have been my surrogate children for the past 13 years. I've changed their names to protect the innocent...thought I'm quite sure neither of them is too innocent anymore. ;-) Hehehe....

It was about 2000-ish. I had been watching, diagnosing this girl Schmecky, for about a month. I was on the prowl for a stage manager. She was sitting on the front row. Good sign. Stage managers are smart - they have to be. Smart kids sit in the front. She was beautiful inside and out. She had long blond hair, rosy cheeks and she was nice to E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. But when she needed to do class work, look out! There was no question. School first, plays second. (Great priorities. I knew right away that she would never pay tuition to any university. I was right.) So when I met Schmecky's mom at parent teacher conference, I knew immediately that I wanted both of them in my life somehow. I was not wrong.

I've always wanted to write this historic moment down....and now I will....

I said "Schmecky, what would you think about stage managing our musical Once on This Island?" She said "I don't know anything about it but I guess I could try. Could I bring my friend? He couldn't take the class, but he wants to be involved." What am I going to say? That afternoon I met Schmole. He was also beautiful. Too skinny but I could fix that. I always did. Schmole saw that I didn't know anything about lighting and he went up into that booth and figured it out. He and Schmecky set out to stage manage and light a huge musical at 15 years old and that's truly the beginning of two lives as they are now lived.

Schmecky is a professional stage manager with a Masters degree in it, and Schmole runs his own lighting business and teaches (of course!) lighting at the University of Utah. Neither of them ever paid tuition. But that wasn't my fault. They came that way. They had "goodly parents" and they were strong. I can't help look around and wonder where the strong kids are these days. It seems like I am constantly cleaning up a mess, or putting out a fire, or begging kids to test their potential. I've been doing a grade check on the Titanic cast this week and I guess I'm unnaturally discouraged about how kids take their education for granted. Scmecky and Schmole pushed their potential every day and along the way, they made my life a lot easier. THAT is the key! I learned it from them! How can we make other people's lives easier?

Okay. Time to come clean.

Teacher's have favorites. There I've said it.

When you are a single drama teacher and have a load of after-school responsibilities, sometimes you are at the school until two or three in the morning setting lights, painting a set, recovering a sofa for the fourteenth time. There are always a few kids that see your plight, have awesome parents that trust you, and allow their kids to stick around and help out. To save your life. To make sure you get some sleep. Sometimes their parents know that you haven't eaten and they will bring New York Burrito, to the school at 11pm (and they will bring enough for you too!) which you will inhale in your free hand while you paint wood graining, circa 1938, on a table you just made at lunch. Those people get it.

Those are the kids that make your life easier, that took the time to find out who you really are after the school day is over. They don't want anything from you. They just wanted to work hard because that's who they were and if I happened to teach them a thing or two, great. But I think I gave them passion...because that's what fuels the fire of life long learning. I learned so much more from them. Those kids became my little surrogate family.

There are a handful of kids over the years that have stuck around long enough to see that the cold, sharp Mrs. Darbus Jan is just a wall infront of the gooey Corky St. Clair marshmellow center. Real Jan wants to see them realize their dreams. Not just because Jan wants her name mentioned over the pulpit at the Tony's, (waiting for it!) but because Jan really, really loves them and gets a huge kick out of watching them find happiness and success in an arts based career. People say it can't be done. Those people are wrong.

Over the years Schmecky and Schmole and I did many things together. We became more like a production team than teacher/students. We produced many plays together, but the two I remember the most were The Comedy of Errors and Children of Eden at the Scera. We had been nominated to take a play to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival. Becky and Cole were 17. Becky's dad made a full-sized hang man's post and noose that fit into a piece of luggage. That bugger was heavy. But it was so awesome in Scotland! They figured out how to get the entire play's set into luggage, and when they packed the costumes, the props, the posters, etc... off we went. With the help of both of their mothers, we also raised over $100,000 together for the feat.

Children of Eden was fun because Cole got to light a huge amphitheatre and we got to figure out how to build Eden with plywood and paint. That cast was incredible and we made eternal friendships. Cole still lights amphitheatres.

We have a guest bedroom in our house that we call "Cole's room," because we insist that he stay there when he's in town and he does. It's usually accompanied by four hours of "catching up," but worth the lost sleep. That time is never wasted, I adore it.

The downside of being a surrogate mother is terror and fear when your "children" are in trouble or unhappy. They were in northern Nevada when they got in a car accident once and I didn't think I'd survive the ride to Salt Lake just knowing that they were coming into the hospital in ambulances. I learned so much about love that day, and prayer.

I have seen Cole turn the last ten years into gold. I have seen Becky walking around New York City like she owns the place. I am living the dream now through them, yet there they are, still making other people's lives easier. 

Happy Birthday, chickies. I love you so much. Thank you for all you ever did to make those years tolerable and for all you still do for me. Thank you for being the stellar examples that you are. I wish you both every happiness and a life full of love.

Your old drama teacher,
Jan

May tomorrow be a perfect day
May you find love and laughter along the way
May God keep you in His tender care
Til He brings us together again!

                                       (Courtesy of Donny and Marie!)