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Ode To The Drama Teacher

I am not exaggerating when I say that I owe my very life to the teachers, coaches and camp counselors (yes, I went to theatre camp – Camp Harand, anyone?) who taught me how to act and, in the process, taught me how to live.

This past October I was delighted to be asked to present two days worth of workshops for CETA (California Educational Theatre Association: http://www.cetoweb.org) at their annual retreat at Asilomar, CA.  We had a blast.  To honor them and the extraordinary work of teachers everywhere, I wrote this poem.

Poem – Ode To The Drama Teacher

And as you stand there: Aghast
Because we’re three days from Opening Night and
Ado Annie still doesn’t know her lines and
The Dream Ballet is a Nightmare and
The Light Board Op just got Detention…

Let us now praise You.

You, the Permanently Fatigued.
You, the Loyal-to-the-Point-of-Self-Neglect.
You, the Keeper of a Thousand-and-Eleventeen Secret Dreams.

You are the one who makes it all Look So Easy.
Who would have expected that the most important Skill you learned getting your BA
Was Juggling?

Juggling Paperwork and Personalities and oh, right – weren’t you supposed to have a
Private Life around here somewhere?

But even though you are Sick to Death of
Spoon River Anthology
You still puddle up every time you hear
There’s A Place For Us
No matter how Off-Key.

And while you still remember when you
Brought the House Down in
Midsummer
You now love This House.

You have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy –
Can embrace their Inner Ethel Merman (and thanks to those English 101 classes you now must teach, you are keenly aware that using “their” in the previous sentence is increasingly considered correct and honestly, it’s really the only sensible answer as writing “his or her” is as damaging to poetry as the participle that dangles.)

And you have created a House where any child – no matter how Flamboyant, no matter how Shy – can dive straight to the Deepest, Darkest, Quietest corner of human suffering and bring a room of teenagers – and yes, you, too – to silent tears.

You have made a Home for the Misunderstood
A Family for the Misfit and a
Safe Spot to land no matter how bad The Mid-Terms are.

Because despite all the Budget Cuts and
The Paperwork and
The Meetings about the Meeting to Schedule the Meetings and
The Truancies and
The Parents
Dear God The Parents and
Did we mention The Paperwork?

Nothing on this Green Earth compares to watching a group of kids
Learn the true meaning of Ensemble.

And nothing compares to the pure joy of watching The Ones whom you knew would Eventually Get It
Finally. Really. Get It.

And nothing nothing nothing compares to The Confidences shared in low tones as they seek you out in
Your Office,
The Choir Room
The Front Seat of the Van on the way home from Fullerton.

You aren’t teaching Drama.
You are teaching Life
Which we all know is a Comedy – a Chekhovian Comedy – but a Comedy nonetheless.

And you aren’t teaching Choreography
You are teaching them to Dance.

And you aren’t teaching them how to be a Character.
You are teaching them how to be Themselves.

So here’s to you –

Making room for Art in a world that seems to have no room for Art.

(Because, by the way, that room has been repurposed as the new Standardized Test Prep Center – you don’t mind rehearsing outside, do you?)

And here’s to you –

Scrounging around for new shows that somehow match the sets you already have
Because some Genius on the School Board has
Recently Announced that not only can you not perform Huckleberry Finn
Or Anouilh’s Antigone (probably because he couldn’t pronounce it) and
Given the flap over theScene from M. Butterfly last year, I guess
March of the Falsettos and The Vagina Monologues are
Out of the Question for the Spring

So Oh Dear God it looks like it’s going to be
Arsenic And Old Lace one more blessed time.

But that’s OK

I love Arsenic And Old Lace.

So here’s to you –

Making room for Another Coffee Mug with
Those Damn Masks on them
Making room in the Chorus for
Just One More
And

Making room for Each and Every Child
To Be
A
Star.

© 2011 Samantha Bennett

If you would like to share or reprint this poem, I’d be honored.  Please include my full name and website address (http://www.TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com) and here is a bio you might want to include –

About the author: Samantha Bennett is a working actor and writer based in Los Angeles, and she’s the creator of http://www.TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com, an organization dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck from whatever way they’re stuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals.

29 comments… add one
  • nancyB October 30, 2011, 8:57 am

    Each of my children shines as an adult because of the gift of faith that their Drama teacher gave them. My daughter does the same for her students and they SHINE!
    A beautiful ODE that I will carry with me and share with others… Thanks for writing it and for sharing it…

    • admin October 30, 2011, 6:19 pm

      Thank you Nancy – and I’m positively puddled up at the idea of these gifts being passed down from generation to generation – how lucky we are! Hooray for you and Hooray for your daughter! xoox S.

  • theresa stuhff December 18, 2011, 5:22 pm

    My daughter is a first year drama teacher and at her first UIL contest her lead actress got “Best actress” and several of her kids got “All Star Cast” and honorable mention. She is awesome! and will get better with time.

    • admin December 18, 2011, 6:35 pm

      YAY! Please extend my congratulations to her and ALL of her wonderful kids — SSB.

  • Bernadette Bellanger December 18, 2011, 7:20 pm

    Bravo! Well said! BBB

    • admin December 19, 2011, 11:47 am

      Thanks, Bernadette! – Sam.

  • David H. Kuykendall December 19, 2011, 6:37 am

    I’m a retired drama teacher and this really hits home!! I am sending it to all those friends I have out there who are still dedicatively teaching those classes that make differences in kids lives. I always lived through those to whom I taught to build and paint scenery, to act from within, perform to the max, rely on their improve skills. And sometimes they come back, look at the albums of show pics on my FB page. It was an honor; and these days when I ride around and help build scenery at neighboring high schools, I see that there is a continued passion for the craft that I love.

    • admin December 19, 2011, 11:46 am

      Oh David you’re making me puddle up! (When I think of all those flats I’ve painted…) Hooray for you and your generosity – Sam.

  • Judy Mintz December 19, 2011, 7:53 am

    How true! How incredibly, movingly, awesomely true. And I’m speaking as one of the students of one of the teachers. And while that was over 30 years ago, I think of him still, and remember him fondly as one of the greatest teachers a kid was ever lucky enough to have. So here’s to Mr. D of Lexington High. His memory will live on until all of his students have passed.

    • admin December 19, 2011, 11:45 am

      Hooray for Mr. D and all of those who benefited from his talent. Thank you so much for writing, Judy! – Sam.

  • Steve Tassie December 19, 2011, 11:42 am

    I’m a trained drama teacher, but I have yet to get a job where I actually teach drama. This poem has renewed my desire to keep trying.

    • admin December 19, 2011, 11:44 am

      That’s wonderful, Steve – and YES the world needs your teaching! – Sam

  • Thom December 19, 2011, 11:56 am

    Due to budget cuts, this year may very well be my last teaching middle school drama. So thank you, I needed this.

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:21 am

      Oh Heavens. Heartbreak. You and your budget are now on my prayer list — please let me know if I can help in any other way. – ssb.

  • Kelly Martin December 19, 2011, 5:09 pm

    As my students would say, OMG! Maybe they don’t say that any more, but that’s what I am saying to your Ode to a Drama Teacher, OMG! I just finished directing a run of A Christmas Carol, and I am so exhausted! BUT I am also torn between the ‘never-again-they-don’t-appreciate-me-blues’ and ‘dear-god-it’s-over-and-I-miss-them-so-much-depression.’ What’s a drama teacher to do? So, I guess I better start thinking about next year….
    Dam you Sammantha Bennett!
    Arsenic and Old Lace eh?

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:20 am

      Yep – I know it! It’s easy to get exhausted when you love what you do, because of course you don’t notice how tired you are while you’re working but only once it’s over. Then it hits you like a tidal wave of tired and you’re a noodle. So rest yourself, OK?

      And here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: consider making a Protocol Sheet/Checklist/Project Calendar of all the “this-happens-every-time” elements to putting up a show. Not only will it be a tremendous help to your successor, but systematizing your work flow will reduce your stress and also mean that maybe you can (gasp!) delegate some of the tasks?

      Also, the whole act of taking all that knowledge capital that’s inside your head (how to do the program…when to assemble the concessions committee…etc) and on to a piece of paper will help you & everyone else realized exactly how much you DO and ways in which you might get some help.

      But maybe you already do this — anyway, it’s just a thought — ssb.

  • TJ L December 19, 2011, 7:55 pm

    My drama teacher does so much for us. I wouldn’t be half the person I am without her

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:13 am

      I love it that you say so! Give her a smooch for me, too, OK? – ssb.

  • Susan Williams December 19, 2011, 8:33 pm

    Samantha, you have it! What a beautiful piece! I knew I should have gone to
    asilomar….thank you!

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:13 am

      We sure had a good time up there – what a wonderful group of people make up CETA! Best to you – Sam.

  • BobbyAnn Loper December 20, 2011, 8:41 am

    I have always told people that “Theatre is my church”, meaning that during the process of getting that show up, there is ample time to teach good values: no lies, get the work done on time, have respect for and help everyone. Putting a show on also uses all of the skills learned in the other classrooms: reading, writing, math and their uses. Why it has been taken out of so many schools just dismays me.
    sign me, Old Costumer

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:12 am

      I know – the skills gained while working in the theatre are manifold & indispensable. Perhaps the biggest lesson being this: BE PRESENT. (Still working on that one…) – SSB.

  • Joe Russo December 20, 2011, 9:26 am

    Where were you hiding during the 30 years this was actually happening here?

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:09 am

      In the light booth : ) – ssb.

  • C. D. Jarmola December 20, 2011, 10:07 am

    Thanks for helping me remember why we do it. Best job in the world. And thanks to the best director ever – Linda Patton – who started me on my own drama queen path. I doubt she will ever have even a fraction of an idea of how much she touched all our lives.

    • admin December 20, 2011, 10:09 am

      Honestly, CD, I wonder if ANY of us have even a fraction of an idea how much we touch the lives of others….

      And now surely you’ve touched mine — Thank you so much for writing. – SSB.

  • Ann Barczay Sloan April 4, 2012, 8:53 pm

    Love, love, LOVE this poem, Samantha — the Truth of it rings forth so beautifully. Such teachers, such experiences of being touched and validated at our heart’s core are profound and priceless.
    Blessings,
    Ann
    P.S. It’s been way too long since we last connected!

  • admin December 20, 2011, 10:14 am

    Thanks for the link! I love it that people want to share this work. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy …. – ssb.

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