Today has been a magic day at school. It's good to acknowledge these days. My plans came to fruition.
Since December last year, as I'm sure have many of my colleagues around Melbourne, I've been planning for our VCE students to see a performance of Eagle's Nest Theatre's production of The Crucible.
Big deal, some may say. But I hate organising such events - or 'incursions' as it says on our school's official forward planning form. (Nothing like a raid to get the heart started. ) And I always feel responsible for the success of such ventures. A couple of years ago, I took a group of students to see a performance of Stolen at the Malthouse. Our team of Year 12 English teachers had spent a good six weeks or so battling against our students' racist attitudes prior to the performance. The performance in itself was excellent, but the ensuing Q and A was a disaster. One of the performers 'paid out' somewhat on the non-indigenous audience and it was just the spark our students needed to reignite their racist flames. That young performer perhaps undid in a couple of angry comments - and fair enough - all the effort we'd put in to quell the endemic racism of many of our kids back then. It was really disheartening, and I, as the organiser of the excursion, felt that somehow I'd let the side down.
But today, everything worked, despite the limitations of the space we were able to offer the performers. They basically had to work in our 'theatre', which is really just three converted classrooms, one of which forms an endstage. I'm thinking there must have been twenty actors on that stage, many of whom were lined up, seated, not quite out of sight behind the curtains. There was no special lighting on the stage; no sound effects; no son et lumiere tricks. No, just a group of enthusiastic skilled performers who generally embraced their roles with gusto. The house lights were left on during the performance, which may have assisted with students' behaviour. But I think our kids were seriously engaged.
We've been studying The Crucible since the beginning of term. The students have already completed two pieces of writing on the Context. They've also watched the film. So today, they were generally looking forward to seeing a live performance.
For me, it was extremely rewarding to see about a hundred of our Year 12 kids suspending their disbelief and really getting involved. During the scene where Abigail pretends to see a bird in the rafters, many students stared around in horror to see what all the players were looking at. I even 'teared up' a bit at the poignant ending.
But the greatest part of the entire performance was how I felt about our kids. These students generally have not been exposed to any live performances, other than rock concerts and Big Days Out. They haven't seen any live theatre since an anti-bullying production in Year 8. Yet they were an excellent audience. I think I told one kid to put his foot down off the seat of the kid in front of him, which he did without demur. And the production took the best part of three hours. Our students missed their recess and three quarters of their lunch break, yet they quietly, respectfully watched the entire production. It was terrific to hear the genuine applause as the players took their bows at the end. Furthermore, the actors approached me at the end of the play to tell me our students had been just about the best audience they'd had since they'd been touring the play around the schools. I felt really proud.
Last period I taught - I use the term loosely; I was a bit worn out - one of my year 12 English classes. The students were full of chat about the production, quoting memorable lines and laughing at how they'd all jumped when Abigail started screaming. It was very gratifying for their teacher. Me.