24 Hours to Save the World (or Write a Play)
Sometimes, like today, "For Monday" comes out on a Tuesday. This is usually due to a concoction of too much work, too little time, and a dash of forgetfulness. Even though I'm past my deadline, I wanted to tell you that I don't regret my job. Politically, people tell me I'm ridiculous for teaching. Personally, people tell me it's "amazing that you can do that. I could never put up with that," or "I could never teach. I want to be able to afford retirement." One reason I teach, one thing I love about it, is that I get to do things that no one else can. I am allowed to take certain risks and assemble a team of risk-takers from a pool that few others have access to: high schoolers.
This weekend my high school took a major risk: letting me, along with 40 high schoolers, write, direct, and perform six short plays in 24 hours. I KNOW. It was a crazy idea, I realize this now, and I realized it when I first brought it to the school board. Nevertheless, I did it. We did it. In total, I spent (almost) 36 consecutive hours with students aged 14-18. With about a four hour break. To the average adult, that may sound daunting. To me, as a high school teacher and drama director, it was honestly one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. It was insane, exhausting, and worth every second. So here's how it went down:
Friday, January 27th
I met with 40 high schoolers in our frigid auditorium; renovations are exciting until it is dead of winter and there are holes in the walls. Bundled up, we brainstormed ideas for plays that would be performed the very next night. At this point, nothing had been written or even discussed. We had no plans and no expectations. The excitement and chatter overrode fear and anxiety-- for the moment. We were pumped to begin. Luckily, no one threw out any pitches for a Harambe play (is that joke funny? Am I still relevant?).
Student actors went home (LUCKY). I, as well as a few other brave adults, stayed with 8 student writers at the high school for the next 10 hours supervising, brainstorming, writing, scrapping, rewriting, drinking coffee, and thinking "why did I do this to myself?" The students were thinking the exact same thing. We had only 10 hours to write five to six shows that would be performed the very next day. It was the same feeling you get when you wait until the last minute to do an assignment, except roughly 100 audience members are waiting instead of just one teacher. So, a lot of pressure.
The excitement began to wear off and everyone was getting tired. We had all been through a full school day and knew we still had eight more hours to work. We split into groups to begin the daunting task of fitting entire stories into 10 minute skits.
Saturday, January 28th
PIZZA. A few hours into writing we needed replenished. Frozen Kroger pizza and Red Bull answered our call. six hours to go, with rough drafts just barely being started.
There are two kinds of people at 2:00am: the people who pass out mid-writing session, and the people who go hallway swimming (pushing yourself from one side of the hallway to another using your legs and arms). I regret to confess that I am the latter, and there is video evidence to prove it. At this point we had windows open and were working in subarctic temperatures just to stay awake. There were a lot of gummy bears thrown at a lot of sleeping mouths.
Crunch time. We had two more hours until all scripts had to be printed and delivered, and we still had an entire skit to write. The games were over- it was time to get to work. Fatigue was directing most of our jokes that, at the time, we couldn't stop laughing at. We also listened to Smash Mouth's "All Star" far too many times.
Everyone was too tired to celebrate the insane work we had accomplished that night. As soon as the last script sputtered out of the printer, the writers bolted. Some to work, some to bed, but all of us left with the question: "is anything we wrote any good? What will the actors think?"
The actors came that morning at 8:00am, memorized their lines, and performed just a few hours later. Just like that, in 24 Hours, the curtains rose and the shows began. I hadn't felt that much anxiety in a long time. Standing backstage and watching all of our original hard work come to life was scary. We couldn't blame bad lines or boring plot on anyone else; this was 100% us. I held my breath before a joke and, if it didn't land, started to doubt the whole process. Then, the crowd would laugh at something totally unexpected, and the thrill was back. They were laughing at our work! In a good way!
Of course, it was amazing. It was incredible to see everything come together, and to see the actors take their scripts in their own directions. There were many apologies made to the actors for those punchlines written at 5:00am that had seemed so funny, but were much less funny in the cold light of day. The actors were good sports and had a blast putting on a performance.
We did it. 24 hours later, it was over.
Sometimes, well really almost every week, I question my career choice. Why do I want to be a teacher? Why do I have to be the person to dedicate so much free time to work when my friends never lift a finger after punching out?
It is experiences like this that make it easy to remind myself why I do what I do: because what I do is not about me. I put in the time to make my work great because it's not about me being great, but it's about my students receiving great content. It's not about name recognition and receiving credit, but about my students seeing their name on a script, essay, or project and feeling proud of their work. It is about my students, both in drama club and in the classroom, realizing that they have the amazing ability to create anything they want as long as they can imagine it.
I know: this is Freedom Writers level fluff. Every day is hard. Every day is a struggle. But this weekend I was able to introduce students to a new way of honing and practicing their existing passions through taking control of a script and, ultimately, their self-expression. This opened up doors that many of my students have never been able to step through before. And that, I think, is the kind of difference I want to make.
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