I had the pleasure of attending last week’s one-act performances, including The Astonished Heart by Noel Coward, Slop Culture by Robb Badlam, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, and Dogg’s Hamlet by Tom Stoppard. Dozens of our students participated as actors, directors, and members of the tech crew running the lights and sounds and changing scenery.
This isn’t the first collection of high school one-act performances that I’ve seen; in fact, most of the high schools where I have worked perform short works. I love the short form in stories, films, and plays. Perhaps it’s rooted in my love of poetry—one must be judicious in words and details in order to make a vibrant world come alive for the expectant and curious audience.
But several aspects of this production have stuck with me over the last week. First, the plays that were chosen—particularly The Astonished Heart—deal with subjects that are beyond a high school student’s years. The play deals with marriage, infidelity, and death with complex characters who struggle with madness and jealousy. Yet at moments I forgot that I was watching teenagers. Their clothing, their movement, and their delivery were mesmerizing. The same was true for the other plays: Dogg’s Hamlet had brilliant comedic timing, while The Monkey’s Paw had the perfect blend of mystery and creepiness, and Slop Culture delivered wonderful sarcasm.
Second, the mechanics of the evenings were enjoyable. One often does not consider the work of the tech crew, yet they handled scene changes with grace and speed. A handful of students read poetry of Susan Griffin, Edger Lee Masters, and Anne Sexton between the plays while another student played the guitar. The audience barely noticed the flurry of the crew’s activity because the reading and music were so good.
Theater is about exploring realities in an unreal way, yet requires the very real skills of cooperation and teamwork. What was evident to everyone in the audience was that each student involved saw his or her role in the production as part of a larger group and message. Our students needed to first understand their own character, lines, movement, timing, etc., and then consider how to work in conjunction with everyone else. Theater—like growing up—requires looking beyond oneself in order to see the world. What a treat to see such performances on our own campus.
This week will also be an artistic one, as yesterday we began the 20th Marin Academy Literary Festival. While we are thrilled to have distinguished writers on campus—Gary Snyder, Rebecca Foust, Robert Pinsky, Aimee Suzara, and Founder of Lit Fest Joe Coulson, to name a few—I’m also proud to show off the work of several of our faculty members, alumni, and students. As a former English teacher, this is, without a doubt, one of the best times of the year.