Going To The Theatre As A Subversive ActivitySaturday, April 04, 2009
In the early 70s I was a high school teacher at a private school for wealthy American and other foreign kids in Mexico City. I was idealistic and I had teaching in my blood. Both my mother and grandmother had been teachers. This seemed to be my career, too. My bible was Neil Postman and Charles Weintgartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969). In many ways I was at odds with the school principal who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and she was enamored with Richard Nixon.
One day my students, ninth graders, were vocally complaining about the stupidity of the coming student council elections. Their complaints sounded much like the modern beef about politicians these days. It was about promises being made and never carried out and how the student council really had no power as democracy was not evident in a school ruled by an irond hand principal. In spite of everything that I was accused of having done, including the corruption of youth, much later, all I told my students was, “If you don’t like the methods being used for the election of student council officers, change the system. Look up how governments were changed in my country of Argentina.” My ninth graders made the motion of participating in the election proceedings and some ran for the only office available for ninth graders, the office of treasurer. But I knew something was up as they would whisper in corners and stare in my direction when I passed them by the school corridors.
The day of the elections we had an assembly. Just before it all started a couple of my students went up to the principal and told her that they had a relevant announcement to make. They went up to the microphone while a few other students surrounded the sound system controls. The two students then explained they were going to read us the school constitution. The principal smiled. After reading it they set it on fire. We all watched in shock as the told us that the constitution was no longer in effect and that the 9th grade had taken over the student council. At that point the school principal was looking in my direction in a most unpleasant way. I remember how funny it was to see all those 12th graders who were running for president and vice president protest. They demanded a return to democracy. To make matters worse for myself I was called into the principal's office and blamed for the coup. She said, "This is not right if you believe in democracy." I was perhaps to young and also too stupid to check myself before I answered, "Only if you believe in it." I was not fired.
A few weeks later I had written on the board the following:
While performing the part that is truly ours, how exhausting it is to be obliged to play a role which is not ours: the person you must really be, in order to fulfill your task, you must not appear to others to be, in order to be allowed by them to fulfill it. How exhausting – but unavoidable, since mankind has laid down once and for all the organized rules of social behaviour.
I asked my class if they could take a guess as to who might have written the above words. The principal suddenly walked into the room unannounced and said, “Probably Fidel Castro.” She had pegged me for a communist.
When I told them all that the writer was no less than Dag Hammarskjöld the ex Secretary General of the United Nations the principal turned around and left the room.
It was somewhat in that spirit of duplicity that I invited Rebecca to attend Studies in Motion – The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge tonight. I told Rebecca that her ex-ballet teacher, Andrea Hodge was the movement rehearsal director, that Crystal Pite was the choreographer and that Kim Collier was the director. I told her the story of Eadweard Muybridge but I did not reveal to her that 11 of the 12 actors would take all their clothes off many times during the play.
We watched a bit of Rigoletto at Opera Sushi before going to the Playhouse. The owner chatted with Rebecca and noticed how she has grown. I told him we were out for an evening of theatre.
In the end Rebecca said to me, “I have been entertained tonight. I really liked the play. And like you say, Papi, it is a play I will not forget.” Perhaps we need not see Beau Geste (my personal right of passage from boyhood to that transition into adulthood). Rebecca has just about grown up.