posted Sunday April 26th, 2015
Sophie took the stage one night last week in the junior high cafeteria. With a microphone in one hand and a large sparkly “slipper” (her nanny’s prom shoe) in the other, she performed a short monologue. She rushed and held the microphone too high, so I’m not sure anyone else could understand what she said, but I’d heard the piece so many times I got the jokes about being a bag lady ditched by her carriage, missing her tiara, waiting for her prince.
In any case, Sophie was charming — so proud of herself — that she got a big round of applause from friends, family, teachers and even her elementary school principal who stopped by to see her. Satisfied, she came down from the stage to sit with us for the rest of the performance.
A happy ending to my tale of trying to find a meaningful drama experience for Sophie at school, right? Well, no. Not really. Not at all.
Let me take you behind the scenes. Considering the amount of time she had to prepare and the instruction she got, Sophie deserves a Tony for last week’s performance.
First I must pause to heap well-deserved praise on the staff, teachers and administrators at Sophie’s junior high. As we near the end of her first year there, I am truly in awe of how accepting and accommodating they have been — opening arms, classrooms and the junior varsity cheer squad to my little girl. She still hasn’t made any really close friends, but she loves being a part of the Best Buddies club (it warmed my heart to see her best buddy in the audience last week) and word has it that she danced with at least six boys at the school dance Friday.
She still hates the dress code, and complains about going to school like any tween would, but I know there’s a lot she loves.
An after-school drama club was the cherry on the sundae — the result, in part, of my griping that there is no drama elective at Sophie’s school. The gifted academy on campus does offer one, but I was told in no uncertain terms that kids from the general population cannot sign up, even though the gifted kids are invited to take gen ed electives.
Sophie was thrilled to join the drama club, thrilled when she learned a couple weeks in that she had been cast in a scene with another girl. And then nothing happened. Trying to hold back (not my strong suit) I didn’t say anything. Sophie went to drama club each week, accompanied by her nanny, who reported that while most of the kids practiced a play, several others sat waiting for something to do. Including Sophie.
With a little more than a week to go before the scheduled performance, I finally emailed the teacher who had kindly volunteered to lead the drama club. She wrote back that Sophie had lost her first script, admitting that that acutally wound up not mattering because the other actor in her scene was pulled to take the place of someone who had dropped out of the main play, leaving Sophie with nothing to do. She could send a monologue for Sophie to perform the next week, the teacher said kindly, or Sophie could make posters and be an usher.
After some consideration, we took the monologue — a 33 line script that would have been hard for any kid (or adult) to memorize in a few days. I don’t know much about drama but my friend Kim taught me long ago that monologues are the toughest thing to memorize. I edited the monologue down to about 10 lines, got the teacher to sign off on it, and we (the nanny, Sophie’s aide and family members) helped her memorize it. My mother provided a costume (it’s nice to have a dance studio in the family) and the shoe was the final touch.
Sophie finally rehearsed in front of the teacher leading drama club the day before the performance.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that there is a Drama Club, delighted that Sophie was allowed to join. And I get that it was the first time the school had tried it and that there are always going to be growing pains. I’m sure Sophie will want to join again if the club keeps going, and hopefully she’ll get a role next time — or at least be included in some meaningful way.
But I have to be honest: for as grateful as I am, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t like that this time, at least, it was all for show. I winced when the drama club leader got on stage last week to praise the kids for working so hard for four months.
I can’t stop thinking about that drama elective at the gifted academy. Here’s the thing. Sophie is learning some relatively complicated math in school, which is good for brain development, but it’s unlikely she’ll use it in real life. The fall of Rome, which she’s studying in social studies, may or may not come up in casual conversation. If I had to guess now, I’d say that Sophie’s destined to do something in life that’s related to the stage. Yes, as has been suggested, I can sign her up for all kinds of after school classes and camps (her schedule is currently packed with them).
But still, I wonder what she’d get out of actually taking a serious drama class at school — one where she receives instruction and coaching, one where she takes part in the group activities. And what would the rest of the class get out of that?
Sophie will never come close to qualifying for the gifted academy. The thought is laughable. But I’m serious when I say that for as much as I find myself doubting her abilities and potential at time, I can’t help but believe that Sophie’s more than qualified for a junior high drama class, no matter where it’s offered.
And so next week I’ll be off to talk with administrators, to see if we can capture more than a Cinderella moment.