Goodbye, Miss Kathleen: Reflection on a Teacher

“Goodbye Miss Kathleen,

From the young girl in the 22nd row

Who sees you as something more than what we know,

More than just our sophomore hero.”

Knowing the subject of this post in high school taught me some important lessons…and not just the ones I got from her classroom.

Kathleen Nolan taught a few religious studies courses at St. Joseph Hill Academy high school. She was a soft-spoken woman, probably in her sixties, with short mouse-brown hair and spectacles. She was rarely seen not wearing a sweater-and-long-skirt ensemble. This God-fearing educator was also fighting for social justice…as well as a long battle with cancer.

It was she who first told me to “keep things in perspective.” She was also one of the select people who found amusement (rather than annoyance) in my histrionics. At the innocent age of 15, I admired Ms. Nolan’s strength and tact, and yet her existence also confused me greatly. I couldn’t wrap my head around why such a gentle person had to suffer in such a manner. I remember crying over her more than once. Her cancer ultimately went into remission, but she still retired the following year.

Through my fleeting experience here, I learned that bad things would happen to good people. But I also figured out that if we spread charity and decency…and maintain optimism…happiness is still a very tangible goal.

I’ve sadly come to accept that I will never see Ms. Nolan again, at least not in this lifetime. I guess it’s often impossible for teachers to know whether or not they made a difference in their students’ lives. I think everyone fails to recognize just how many people drift in and out of his or her life; that doesn’t diminish their significance, though.

So…do as Ms. Nolan did…and be good to others.

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Critically Thinking- Spring Awakening and Sex in Art

I have never been a fan of the popular musical Spring Awakening.

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Granted, the recent Deaf West Broadway production had a fascinating angle and I was curious to catch it. As a whole, though, am I missing something?

Let’s leave the subject matter out of it for a second: strictly music and lyric-wise, Spring Awakening is a fairly mediocre piece. Unless I’m really dense, which is entirely possible…the lyrics are a bit nonsensical. “My Junk” is all over the place, while words like “oh, I’m gonna be your bruise” feel very forced. Not to mention the Act 1 finale is literally made up of 10 words repeated over and over. How this score managed to beat Grey Gardens for the Tony that year is beyond me.

Look, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the internal rhymes and insightful syntax of Sondheim. And various styles speak to everyone differently. Who am I to judge what is great art?

Okay, moving onto the book and characterization. I get it; Spring Awakening is about generation gaps and emotional repression and the struggles of growing up. But I blame the OBP’s marketing team for people thinking that its content is “teenagers having sex.” Because that’s what they emphasize in like half the promotional material. As we all know, sex sells. Perhaps if more emphasis had been placed on the show’s underlying themes, folks like me wouldn’t make that assumption.

But at the same time, I’m brought to my other point. I almost feel as though the direction of the piece (or at least the OBP) decided to milk those teenagers having sex. Did we really need to see Lea Michele’s bare chest, Jonathan Groff’s ass, or Hanschen’s “self-loving” out in the open to understand the action and its implications? It appears to be gratuity for the sake of gratuitousness. Basically: if you want to tell a meaningful, compelling story, focus on that and not how graphic you can get onstage.

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. Feel free to challenge me on any of my opinions here. In conclusion, though, I want to add that I don’t think the entirety of Spring Awakening is a lost cause. There’s some good stuff to work with here- I just don’t think it was executed correctly. As occurs frequently to artists when they try to create a game-changer. Ain’t life a bitch?

Eight Musicals That No High School Should Be Doing

And select community theatre groups, also. (An unrelated note: this blog has almost reached 4000 visits!)

Let’s face it, friends: as good as high school productions can be, they have their limits. Most of those limits have to do with budget, while others involve the talent pool at hand. That being said, there are some shows that could make even the LaGuardia School look like a ragtag troupe performing in a basement.

Brief disclaimer: I am not writing this post to bash anybody’s productions or act like the elitists I despise. Rather, I’m doing this as a calm smackdown, a warning to directors who both overestimate and underestimate their own power. It is strictly based on personal experience and what I know about theatre. The purpose of a non-professional director is twofold: you’ll want to showcase your fellow thespians as well as produce quality material…with respect. And, barring a miracle, selecting one of the following shows can fast plunge you into a world of trouble.

  1. Boublil and Schonberg’s Miss Saigon…This is one of those shows in which budget and talent pool both play an important role. The helicopter scene alone should bankrupt any school’s theatrical finances. In addition, unless you’ve got a bunch of Asian-American actors in your drama club, you’re going to commit “yellowface.” And ain’t nobody got time for that.
  2. Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures…See above about Asian-American actors. But the second reason this show is a bad choice for amateur theatre groups is because- wait for it- all the roles are played by men! We’ve all heard the old cliche about no guys in the school play. Finally, this piece also caters to a very specific audience; that means that even successfully producing it doesn’t guarantee an emotionally invested audience. Leave the bowler hats and chrysanthemum tea to the pros!
  3. Sheik’s Spring Awakening…Despite my general distaste for this show, I do have a legitimate reason for including it on my list. As you probably know, the piece is replete with explicit content, and not many schools are liberal enough to be 100% cool with that. As a result, putting it on will force directors to bowdlerize the material and sap any of its impact (or, as I call it, shock value) right out.
  4. Menken and Schwartz’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame…I will never forgive Disney or whoever for not allowing the stage adaptation of the masterful animated movie to grow more. Alan Menken himself may not have wanted this to get to Broadway, but I did. It needs to be there. And in a similar vein, the lavish visuals and complex choral arrangements that the show calls for are simply too demanding for the average amateur producers. Maybe someone will prove me wrong on this one.
  5. Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat…It pains me to include this one, but I respect the importance and beauty of the show too much to let it be done poorly. Although the score and period sets are elaborate, I actually think a good amateur group could handle them. The problem here lies in the ethnically diverse cast. Attempt the work without that, and you’re gonna commit some blackface- uncalled for in the modern theatrical world.
  6. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I…I’m probably going to get some flack for this one. Again, it would appear (sadly) that there is an even greater dearth of Asian performers in most American talent pools. Even the definitive King of Siam, Yul Brynner, was not Asian. However, the fact that the most recent Broadway revival of the show was able to fill every ethnic role proves that it can be done. It’s just more likely to be done when casting is done professionally.
  7. Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George…Oh boy. This is probably Sondheim’s most difficult score, both for the orchestra and the singers. As a result, I’d hate to see East High’s band kids struggle their way through “Putting It Together” for four performances while a pubescent Georges cracks on the final note of “Sunday.” Don’t torture your students. Pick a tamer Sondheim show.
  8. Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera…Yes, folks, outside of the NYC area, high schools and community theatres are permitted to stage the grandest mega-musical ever spawned. That, of course, doesn’t mean they should. Between leading ladies who must sing an E6, an enormous chorus in period costume, and a falling chandelier, this work will bleed seasoned novices (oxymoron?) bone-dry on many levels. Worse yet: young performers not ready to hit Christine or the Phantom’s notes risk doing permanent damage to their voice.

 

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