A Modern Day Play – The Joke Was on Me

We, as teachers, always focus on what could make us greater, and we are not the only ones: children, parents, educators, politicians, all of society shares the same concern when it comes to education. The teacher is constantly in the spotlight, scrutinized, evaluated, judged. The pursuit of performance becomes the rule, but we forget something along the way.

We forget the student. We shouldn’t, though, because one thing that makes a great teacher is great students. Two weeks ago, a new student arrived in my 3rd-grade class. She stayed for only two weeks, because her mother was only visiting MPA. I welcomed this new child, trying to figure what we could do to use this new energy and take advantage of her presence, even for such a short period of time.

After 20 minutes spent in the classroom with my current 3rd-grade student, Akal Dev Kaur, and her temporary classmate, it was obvious that we had to do something related to theatre, because the chemistry between the two kids was too great to be ignored, and they seemed to love acting together.

However, I must confess my very old hatred for theatre. Give me Anna Karenina, the 4 volumes of Twilight or the complete works of Fernando Pessoa, and I am in heaven. Ask me to read a play, or worse, to go see a play, and my eyes start bleeding. I don’t enjoy theatre. I don’t get it.

I studied literature for 10 years, carefully avoiding any drama class, any theatre colloquium or anything related to a stage. I can only watch dance, classical ballet or contemporary dance, puppet theatre and sometimes live music –sometimes.

And yet, here I was, asking my two students to work on a Shakespeare project. They were so excited about it that I thought, okay, I can do it. We started to read texts about Shakespeare, we drew big posters about Shakespeare’s greatest achievements and we decided to write a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, entitled A Modern-Day Play.

So far, so good. We were still in the realm of the classroom, in my big fat comfort zone made of books, pen and paper. I thought “Okay, I can do this.” But then, the children asked me for costumes, and then accessories, and then they asked me to perform in front of the entire school. In less than a minute, I found myself far from any kind of comfort.

I spent the week trying to clear my mind, shifting between terror and disbelief, thinking “Oh my God, what am I doing? Me? Directing a play? A play that is going to be performed in front of the entire school? You can imagine, readers, the inner drama that was going on and on in my mind.

Anyway, things literally went out of my control, and the children were so serious about the play, so enthusiastic, that I couldn’t share any of my fears. They came to rehearse almost every day after school, they worked hard to write parts of the play, found themselves costumes, music, ideas and kept coming to me with more and more things to add and improve the show.

I tried to be as great as they were, doing my share of the work, creating accessories with the help of our art teacher, Harpreet Lahoria, organising rehearsals with the help of Akal Dev’s and Siri Aadi’s mothers, and planning the show with the help of our Principal of Academics, Kirandeep Kaur.

And there we were, the night before the performance! The kids were rehearsing for the last time at 7 P.M. with their costumes, giggling and jumping around, having the time of their life, and I was totally freaking out. I thought that, being done with school, I would never feel those butterflies in my stomach again. Well, bad news, they were still around!

I got up earlier than usual the day of the show to do an even longer Sadhana, praying that I wouldn’t be sick on top of having to manage the play. It was raining outside, and I kind of regretted that such perfect weather would be spoiled by the stress awaiting me.

I was so wrong. It was a perfect day. I set up the stage in the Center section of the Academic building and prepared our accessories. The entire school sat, friendly, waiting for our actresses to be ready. And then, the miracle happened.

Akal Dev and Siri Aadi performed in front of us with ease and strength. We laughed at their lines and their mimics. We enjoyed every minute of it because it seemed that the two of them had so much presence and energy, and I felt so grateful that the school was so open to it.

And, like in a dream, it was over in a minute and I had to stand and bow, with my two incredible students, in front of the crowd, and, instead of being self-conscious or blushing, I felt so proud of them, of their being so brave and bold and fierce. I couldn’t help but admire them.

Their appetite, their desire, their strength gave me the endurance to go through this process and learn something from it.

So, we are not great alone. We are great when we live surrounded by great, inspiring people. And if your child complains about his teacher, ask him: what do you do for your teacher? What kind of student are you? And it is not a matter of being quiet or smart or obedient. It is a matter of expressing who you are. Akal Dev and Siri Aadi were so much themselves that I had no choice but to serve them. And, because of that, what I needed in order to serve them was also given to me.

-Meherpal Kaur