LADEELEROY

2004-05-13

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"IT'S RUINED! THE PLAY IS RUINED!"
 
  It's always risky to write about your job. I know. If you've been a reader for sometime, you know I know and I know you know I know.

Because, if you don't watch yourself, there's a possiblity that, later on down the road, you're going to smack you forehead with your hand, let the hollow echo reverberate for a moment, and then say, "I knew I shouldn't have done that."

This may be one of those entries for me.

So. I work with children.

Precious, precious children. Our future. Half of our DNA in a smaller package. Our hopes that somehow, we will carry on through their actions, their plans, their achievments.

Don't talk negatively about the children. The children are innocent, fragile. They are defenseless. They should not be exposed in this sort of media.

I totally agree.

BUT-

Yesterday we put on our END OF THE YEAR PERFORMANCE. (-ance,-ance,-ance <---- I don't know, I'm really stuck in reverb mode today.) The END OF THE YEAR PERFORMANCE (-ance, -ance, -ance) is my moment to shine. To teach the children about writing plays, learning lines, building sets, blocking, all those things that one would expect from an after school program that focuses only on art and drama.

For the last three weeks, I've been leading them through improvisation excersises, forcing them to sit in circles and repeat lines over and over and over again. Painting giant card board cut outs in the shapes of vegetable houses, little houses for the pigs, running my hands through my hair and biting my upper lip to restrain myself from crushing the little people's hopes and dreams that this would be THE BEST PERFORMANCE EVER (-ver, -ver, -ver.)

And yesterday was the time it all came together. Sets were ready. Costumes were stapled in all of the right places. Chairs were set out for sitting purposes. I willingly stepped into one of the roles after one child had been struck down by strep throat. Many parents were sitting and posed with video cameras or balanced small napkins with pretzel shaped sugar cookies on their knee while they sipped at dixie cups that contained high fructose corn syruped punch. Others stood, smashed into the corners of our tiny classroom, sweet, eager smiles on their faces.

That's when one of the kids came up to me. "Leroy. My Dad's not here. He promised he'd be here, but he's not. Can we wait until he comes....pleeeease?"

Cue: Hearts cracking at seams.

I told him that I'd try my darndest to stretch out my introduction. Try to razzle dazzle the crowd with the children's awesome ability to answer questions I had prepped them on ten minutes before the parents had arrived.

"Name one type of theater."

"THRUST!"

"Correct. And how many sides does the audeince sit on in a thrust theater?"

"THREE!"

"Excellent!"

"You there, small 1st grader, name another type of theater..."

"ARENA!"

"Awesome! And you, small kindergarteners... where does the audience sit in an Arena theater?"

"ON ALL SIDES!"

"Yeah! Goooooooood job!"

"You, child with the cutest lisp ever. Name the other type of theater that we learned about."

"Protheniumths."

"Prosceniums. Yes! And where does the audience sit in a proscenium?'

"They thit in tha fwont!'

"That's right in the front! Great job!"

I glanced over at the kid who was waiting for his father. He was not paying attention to what was going on because he was searching for his absent father, hoping that, through the window, his car would magically appear. The clock said that we were 15 minutes past the time we had said we'd start. I could not stretch it out any longer.

"And we now present to you..... FRACTURED FAIRY TALES."

Clap clap clap.

The performance begins. The opening scene goes well, but is briefly interrupted as the little boy stands up, walks through the crowd and perches next to the window and begins to sob.

Loud sobs. The kind where it is undeniable that there is a child in the room crying. However, my little actors kept on pushing through, speaking louder to try and cover the wails that were coming from the corner of the room.

I slipped through the parents and perched myself next to the sad kid. I put my hand on his back and told him, "I know that you're disappointed, but I really need you to come back to the stage. Hansel and Gransel is about to start and you're one of the main characters."

This didn't do any good. His trying to muffle his sobs didn't do any good either, as stuffing a yellow t-shirt in ones mouth does indeed make the amplification less, but seems to heighten the pity factor ten fold.

"Er. Leroy. It's almost time for the Four Little Pigs. You're in that one. I'll take care of him for a bit.," my co-teacher said as she took his hand and led him to an ajoining room.

Oh! That's right. I had forgotten that I was going to take the place of one of the fourth graders for this sketch. Knowing that sad kid was now in good hands, I quickly slipped my way through the parents and approached the "stage."

The "stage" was actually the carperted area of the class room. One could tell it was the stage because I had the children all sit along the carpet's edge, creating a sort of boundary effect.

I quickly stepped over the row of kids, but suddenly felt a surge of pain run up my femur. I had whacked something with my knee. I had whacked something very hard with my knee.

I had whacked a kindergartener in the back of her head with my knee.

She began to cry. Hard. I didn't know what to do. Do I leave the stage and tend to this crying child? Do I adhere to the rule that I had set before "No matter what.. on with the show"? Do I start the entire show over? What do I do?

I stayed on stage. I watched with one eye as one of the older children comforted the kid I'd just accidentally whacked while I kept the other eye on the action on stage as one of the younger children struggled with a line.

"I... will...... build.... my..... um..... um..... my......um...... I .... will..... build...um..... my house..... um... out .... of ......... um.....build it out of... my house.... um...."*

(*All lines have been changed to protect the innocent and those inflicted with stage fright.)

Finally, the scene was over. The kid I had whacked earlier seemed to be okay, face was a little swollen from crying, hopefully not from brain swelling, and I quickly went "backstage"(aka behind a piece of cardboard) to set up for Hansel and Gransel.

I did not know what the prognosis was for the sad kid with no Dad present. I had hoped that my co-teacher had worked her ability to make all things that felt awful feel better on him.

When the scene started, I was relieved to hear all pairs of feet on stage. Then, sad kid delivered his line.

During rehearsals, his line had always been spot on: "This HOUSE ISN'T made out of CANDY! It's made out of VEGETABLES!"

This time, however the line was delivered: "thishouseisn'tmadeourofcandyit'smadeourofvegetables" and was followed with a loud, unscripted sigh.

The other actors on stage pumped their energy up in order to make up for what every person in the audience knew: this child was, against his will, being forced to act.

That scene was over and then it was time to wrap up the play with our closer, Jack Be Nimble.

One of the highlights of this scene is that it involves many incredibly cute kindergarteners in incredily cute costumes. I knew it was cute. I knew the audience would think was cute. Cute was what I was going for.

Two little girls, dressed up as "Ladies of the Town" made their entrance. One of the little ones was the child I had, moments ago, whacked accidentally with my knee. On their way up to the stage, an argument broke out about who was going to say their line first.

Cute?

I was hoping that the result would be cute. Maybe they'd somehow work it all out and hug each other with their little arms and say something like "Let's just say our lines at the same time!," in their cute little voices. However, as seconds passed by, it was obvious that the argument was not goint to solve itself.

"Both of you just go up their and say your line!" I whispered in the most encouraging tone one can manage with a whisper.

This triggered the little girl that I had whacked earlier to launch into a burst of tears. She turns to the audience, says her lines between globs of tears and scrunched cheeks, and stamps back to her mother, where she totally breaks down.

"Oh great! Now the play is RUINED!," one of my second graders said as he stood up to face the audience, small hands clenched and pressed against his temples, "It's RUINED!"

"It's not ruined, please sit down," I whispered as I grabbed his leg to drag him back into his seat. "Cool out. Everything's fine."

Everything, however, was not fine. Jack Be Nimble was still delivering his lines, but it was impossible to hear him over the crying sounds that were coming from the little girl whose one moment of acting glorly had been squashed by both her teacher's knee and her acting partner. I didn't look at any of the parents. I just focused on stage, biting the inside of my lips to keep the laughter that was building up from exploding all over the place.

It was one of the funniest things I've ever been a part of. It was just so bad that it was hilarious. Kind of like when you get sent to the principal's office for making fart sounds during library time. You know you're in trouble, but you can't help but laugh when he says things like "passing gas."

Finally the show was over and I needed a cigarette. Instead, I was greeted with the parent's joy in the performance and focusing on making all the sad children feel okay again.

"You did such a good job and I'm proud of you for going through with it even though you didn't want to. I'm sorry your Dad didn't make it. I'm sorry that you didn't get to say your line the way you wanted to, but you still did a fantastic job."

"Can we do it again next week?" That question was posed to me by two pairs of tear stained eyes.

Cue: Knee-jerking negative reaction.

The last 25 minutes raced through my head as I tried to logically find the perfect answer. There were so many tears, so many frustrations, so many times when things were out of my control and did not live up to my expectations.

"Yes. We'll do an encore performance next week."

So now we are. We'll do one and make sure that the parents that forgot or missed it will be able to come. We'll make sure that a video camera that works is on hand. We'll make sure that everyone knows when their line is going to be said. We'll make sure that LadeeLeroy is not any where near the craniums of small children during the performance.

I'll make sure to have a small flask hidden in my car and a cigarette waiting on the dash.

I'mlookingforwardtoit.

 
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