Lynn on the Suckiness of High School Drama

Brain Farts’ blogger Lynn’s reminiscences about high school drama got me thinking about my own experiences in that department.

While most of my (now-obviously-sketchy) performances at variety nights with bands and in plays and such were of my own choice, mostly — including the jazz-fusion version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, and a narrating job for Les Miserables — there was one performance I was forced into which I abhorred as much as she did hers.

In 12th grade, I opted NOT to study chemistry, because the main teacher was close to senile and I was just not good at chem: a non senile teacher might have been someone I could learn from, but after one semester in 11th grade, I found had learned nothing in his class, and I knew I wouldn’t be going into the sciences in Uni. So I dropped chem from my classlist and filled the space with drama. Yes, drama.

Now, I think one of the most wonderful jobs in the world must be high school drama teacher. I mean, what kind of work is that? Seems pretty easy to me. Not to complain, because the teacher was good. But I think she had a pretty easy job.

Anyway, at the end of term, the class put on a variety night. My main monologue scene was that I was that pianist from Fame. I came out and talked about what it was like to be a musician, and then I tooted my horn a little. I didn’t want to do something purely musical, but my teacher wanted it for variety in the “variety” show, so I did it.

That was not the horror, though. The horror was having to sing and dance on stage, in a scene from Grease. I hate musicals, and most especially trite retro ones; the amount of passion with which I hate Grease surpasses how much I hate things like cowboy music and Britney Spears by whole orders of magnitude. I hate some things more than I hate Grease — heroin dealers, organized crime bosses, sweatshop owners, people like that — but in terms of pop culture, I think Grease might be near the top of my list of things that make me yell “Destroy! Destroy!” in that voice that echoes down to me from childhood viewings of Dr. Who.

In any case, the casting of that scene was just one more way in which it was demonstrated to me that many teachers are really half-polluted by the thinking of the high school kids they work with. In other words, the casting was not based on singing or dancing ability, but on looks and popularity. Never mind that looks hardly matter at a distance of twenty feet away, or that popularity isn’t a guarantee of ability by any means — the most popular kids, which in my high school was synonymous with the people with the lowest intellectual ability, got the star roles. Never mind that, I was relieved, even though one of them absolutely could not sing. (Worse than me, even.)

No, what horrified me was that the rest of us had to suit up like T-Birds and chicks and dance about, singing, “Tell me more! Tell me more!” I swear, a class of twenty-some of us, singing that crap. It was awful. Me, I had long hair, which certainly didn’t fit the era the play was set in; so I had a ponytail, and looked like a beatnick who’d been kidnapped and brainwashed by the T-Birds. And I had no leather jacket — the costuming instructions were to wear your leather jacket or letterman jacket, of which I guess having neither was incomprehensible. I borrowed the jacket of my friend Rob, but it hadn’t been cleaned in a long, long time and kind of smelled.

And I had to sing, and dance. And not just any song, but that damnable “Tell Me More” song.

I should have stuck with chemistry.

Ah well, at least in college I did something more substantial. I was in a crazy musical about infants and elderly people (I was, as you may imagine, a great crotchey old man, but a middling baby) and I composed stage music for a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, for which combined efforts (the two plays staged within a few weeks of one another, and I directed the choir and then often left after the show for a rehearsal for the other show) I got an acting award. The funniest part is, the music I actually composed for the play was never performed: it was too hard and the singers couldn’t handle it, and at the last minute I had to rewrite something much easier. (Unfortunately, my plans to adapt that score to string sextet have become impossible — the manuscript and all copies were lost during my last big move in Canada, and it’s now unrecoverable. I never got to hear it at all.)

We ended up using improvised Gregorian chant (plus some avant garde Gregorian shrieking, at one point) with long perfect-fifth drones among the choir. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but it was performed in a little church and we singers were off to one side, performing as the play went on in candlelight; pretty damned cool, from what I remember.

Much better than stupid Grease.

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