“All the world’s a stage.” -Our own Billy Shakes, As You Like It
“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” -Walt Whitman
Today, in my class, is Theater Day. It’s one of my favorite activities all year. Here’s what we do: first off, we give Mr. Gillmore, who is in charge of the theater, a really, really, really big smile, so that he clears off all the saws and ladders and impact drivers, and lets us use the stage. (Our stage is also our scene shop, because we don’t have a scene shop: so the buildings and backdrops grow where they’ll live. All in all, a magical place, to be sure). Mr. Gillmore is also susceptible to take-out Chinese food. It’s good to know.
Next, I walk my class over, and step onto the stage to explain what we’re doing. As I do, I feel the space itself. The space says, something’s happening. The space says, look here. It’s like the whiteness around the poem, the silence before a symphony; the breath you take (you have to take) before some really good cheesecake. The stage says, listen. It says, we’re about to grow, become. As I said, it’s a magical place.
I start, each time, with Shakespeare’s line: “all the world’s a stage.” How many of us struggle to say what we truly mean? How many of us struggle to feel our own emotions, to know our lines, and to step into our role? How many of us see the whales and dolphins of our ideas go dashing by, and reach out a hand to point, only to find ourselves spitting sea spray instead of saying clearly the direction of those thoughts–or the joy of their movement–or even, perhaps, where they’re headed? Today, this is our stage, and today we’re going to try.
I give the students a paper with prompts on it. The prompts each put them in an imaginary scenario, and ask, “What would you say?” One by one the students walk up on stage; they climb to a place that says, pause, here, and breathe, and try to speak. And then they raise their voice.
Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they find poetry. Almost always they pause, and stumble, and then move forward with a rush, and watching, we realize that stumbling and flowing forward are equally important. The pauses say as much as the words, when both are meant. I’ve had a student, wise and determined, who planned everything out–and then realized, as he watched his friend cry and feel and try, that he’d somehow missed his chance. He’d charted a course. She’d stepped into the unknown, where all possibilities swirl and wait, washed by the raw stuff of living.
The prompts put us in imagined circumstances, but in imagined circumstances we find our own hearts–our hopes, our fears. In imagined circumstances we find our connections. So I wanted to share a few of my prompts (in the comments), and to invite you all, today, to walk up on stage, breathe, and speak–not just for yourself, but for us all.
“All the world’s a stage.”
“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”