Friday was the Grade 7 Assembly. I am the Grade Level Leader for Grade 7. One aspect of international teaching is that you may find yourself in positions of leadership and responsibility that may otherwise take years to achieve or don’t present that “in your second year you’re a veteran” pressure to put yourself into the mix. In America, most often in larger school districts, others either already hold those positions or you are obscured by various other colleagues who are equally, if not more qualified.
I also want to preface this slice of life post with the observation that as a bookish quasi-techie nerd, I’ve always admired the theater geeks, but never found myself among the ranks of the dynamic theater director. Every teacher recognizes though that being a teacher involves being part-time theater director anyway with classroom readers’ theaters or whatnot. But the job of teacher also involves being a part-time motivational speaker, actor, comedian, president, diplomat, detective, judge, jury, counselor, webmaster, graphic designer, materials supplier, secretary, artist, publisher, editor, first responder, party planner, travel agent and tour guide (of the field trip), repo “man” (of recess) when homework is due, not to mention researcher / scholar. You try to master them all, but a few may not play to your strengths. You do your best to fake it–and it’s up to others to believe.
So, I thought I could take on the one-hour production (performed in front of the entire middle school student body, staff and some parents) with the organization I usually apply to sorting files on Google Drive plus the every day task of putting students into small groups plus editing student writing.
The students split naturally into friend groups and for this assembly, that made sense because we needed them to come up with something they’d all enjoy doing. They proposed the theme and their individual acts, which we organized in a Google Spreadsheet. Each group met with a homeroom teacher to edit or review their proposal.
I had booked the theater at least 3 weeks in advance for various times to rehearse as well as the date and time of the final performance. You do this through the school’s HelpDesk ticket system which requires various aspects of the venue to be requested separately: the theater itself, the light and sound system and the all important, in Indonesia, air conditioning.
The stress really kicked in after the first dress rehearsal one week prior to the performance. There is nothing like potential “public humiliation” to motivate me, but it didn’t seem to motivate everybody equally. Audience games had not been thought through so people were not 100% clear on the rules to their own games. Scripts had not been finalized so a few people did not knew who would be speaking first. Media had not been prepared for teacher approval–pop song lyrics force this issue.
K-Pop is a popular genre in Southeast Asia. Especially at our school with a high percentage of Korean ex-pat students. So costumes had to be vetted, involving much intense discussion. In the days leading up to the big performance, the K-Pop group took every opportunity to rehearse in the theater as they had written extensive notes, down to the second, for the sound and lighting guy. We have spotlights, colored lighting and smoke machines. Serious business.
On the day of the performance, the movie intro of all of the students triggered one shy soul to sob, not wanting his image on such a big screen. The movie was edited minutes before homeroom. We were still honing our setlist. During a final dress rehearsal, it became clear that one duet had not fully practiced their rendition of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus–nor had it officially been vetted for lyric approval. The roadies were still working out the blocking for all the props for 3 different games, 2 dance performances, various musical acts and one “commercial” for a product that was half body spray half insect repellent spray. Miraculously, but not surprisingly, the superstar, rock-solid emcees were ready with their smartphones in hand, glancing occasionally at their deivces to introduce each number.
At lunch, 15 minutes before the start of the show, I saw one boy bouncing vigorously. He continued to do so with animated excitement on his face while he informed me kindly that one of the musicians was afraid that this person’s act was potentially getting axed due to time constraints. I saw girls with hair straighteners. Contingency plans were devised in the event that the show ran over time: The acts could kick off the PanDance (Panda Dance) that evening–which took some convincing.
And . . .
The show ran smoother than I could ever have hoped. I was so proud of the Grade 7s.
Unbeknownst to them, I had had a meltdown the night before. Involving tears. Utter exhaustion. Doubts. Finally mourning the recent loss of my grandma. I was reminded of this blessed post by Laura Simpson, best friend of actress Jennifer Lawrence, which included the following description of the night before she appeared at the Oscars with her best friend:
I had a complete meltdown. Somehow the night before the Oscars I managed to get into an argument with my best friend, my mom and my boyfriend. I think I cried more in the 12 hours before the Oscars than I have in 10 years—I was really getting into the drama of the evening. I somehow managed to make an entire event having nothing to do with me all about me and my precious feelings.
Another perspective from the almighty Williams Shakespeare, describes the way international teachers seize the opportunities presented to them when they step out of their areas of comfort:
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
We couldn’t have done it without the help of my amazing colleagues as well. I’d like to thank Mr. Jeremy (assistant stage manager and director of the “Harlem Shake” segment woohoo!), Mr. Chris (team leader for the roadies and general backstage master), Ms. Tricia (THE dynamic theater director who came in during the final rehearsal with stage direction that was PURE GOLD) and Ms. Sam ( crowd control during the performance).
Is this our cue? But I think I forgot to thank a few people . . . Thank you Mr. Ruspa–our brilliant (and only) sound / light guy! Thank you Mom! Thank you Dad! . . .
Reluctantly escorted off stage left . . .