The Power of Teachers

Our short run of shows for the Little Women play ended yesterday. It was a warm, sweet, and tender play. The relationships between the sisters really stood out as the heart of the show. I stand in awe of how those women brought that dynamic to life.

It didn’t hit me that the show had ended until this morning. In the middle of a workout, I just started crying remembering the laughs, the frustration, the breakthroughs, and the discoveries we made along the way. Theatre has that impact on you.

Rare in life are the opportunities we have to be vulnerable and creative with a group of near strangers. It is truly one of the oddest forms of creative expression. However, there is a magic bond that forms between the cast which exists for only a brief, shining moment. If you try to hold on to it for too long, it slips through your hand like an alchemist clutching quicksilver.

For me, specifically, this show represents the first real stage experience I’ve had since I was in high school. I had a walk-on part in a production about 15 years ago but that was more of a goof than an actual role. So, I’ve given some thought to what might connect then and now. What ties together these two parts of my life separated by almost 30 years?

The answer is a teacher. In high school, I was a football player. It’s probably the reason I got my scholarship to Darlington. But, I hated it. I was injured, tired, and bored. Somehow, my English teacher David Powell convinced me to try out for a play called The Lark. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never seen a play nor did I know anyone who had.

David encouraged me to explore it as a way to understand some of the literature that I loved, namely Shakespeare. Presumably, he saw something in me that I didn’t know existed. That’s the superpower of a great teacher. Sure, there’s the ability to educate but more than that is the ability to recognize that which is not yet evident. It’s a clairvoyance that borders on the miraculous.

My grandmother was a performer in the years before I was born. She created a children’s TV show for the local station in our hometown. She did vaudeville-style variety shows and made puppets and even starred in a few musicals in our local theatre. But, that mostly happened before I was old enough to see it.

So, maybe it was in my blood. Even if it wasn’t, after that first day at rehearsal in 1992, I knew that I was hooked. I wrote one-acts and acted in plays and even helped direct a production of The Foreigner. But, it all fell away in college. A misguided attempt to “put away childish things.” Still, that thrill of the stage never goes away.

Fast forward to 2020. Like many of you, the pandemic made me look around and think about how I might better spend my time. On a lark, I enrolled in acting classes at the local community college. A friend of mine is a professor there and said they had recently hired a passionate, energetic young teacher to lead the drama program. It was fortuitous timing.

I might never know what Grae Greer thought when a large, 45 year old man with a family and a full-time job showed up on the first day of class. If nothing else, there must have been some curiosity. Whatever those thoughts were, in the following weeks, we would discover a shared love of the language and the performance. We would fall into that rhythm that a talented teacher and an engaged student can find.

We pushed each other. We agreed and disagreed. But, most of all, she welcomed me with open arms and nudged that part of me that went dim some time ago. She poked at it and brought it back to life in only the way that a true educator can do.

Grae and David are separated by a half a lifetime of experience but their willingness to engage me with honesty and curiosity is what each of us should strive for in life. Open, opinionated, smart, questioning, energetic, and with a high standard for excellence, they are the people who we run into in life that ask us to find the better part of ourselves and run with it. In short, they are educators.

All of that culminated in the run of shows over the last two weeks. It was an unmitigated pleasure to be a part of this cast and this show. I can’t wait for the next one. I wish that all of us find a teacher who can show us the way.