Of Teachers and Tragedies

March 22, 2010

By Brittany Howard, Arden Professional Apprentice

I come from a family of teachers. Literally, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents—they are all teachers. So, growing up, I was determined that I would be something completely different. Even though I always had a knack for working with kids, I pushed that away, put on a stubborn face, and said, “I’ll never be a teacher.”

In the past months, the Arden has taught me many things (including how to remove fake blood from just about anything), but there is one lesson for which I have the most gratitude. I now know and respect why all my relatives have devoted themselves to education. There is a unique kind of gratification that comes when you get to be a part of bringing a great play to a theatre full of students (even if it is at 9:30 in the morning).

They live and die with these characters, experience every emotion, ponder every confusion, and deal with every anguish.  I get goose bumps when they gasp at Mercutio’s death, or when they cry out, “No!” as Romeo drinks the poison. I’ll never forget the day that a theatre full of children chanted, “Peter! Peter!” as Peter Pan fought Captain Hook.

These students all know how these stories end. They know that Romeo and Juliet don’t live happily ever after. And yet—they allow their imaginations to be captured, and they fall in love just as the characters do. And when every wall and foundation begins to crumble—they too try to hold the cracks together.

Children see hope where adults see inevitability. They see romance, where others see tragedy. They see boy meets girl, and despite the fact that many students have already experienced the harsh realities of this world, they still see the possibility of a happily ever after. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Why wouldn’t you want to remember a time before you’d heard “That’s Life” so many times that you started believing it?

Teachers do their best to show their students a world of possibilities, and the truly great ones open the gates even wider.

I was lucky this past week to be able to accompany Evan Jonigkeit (Romeo) to the Camden Creative Arts High School for a small class with their acting students.  The theatre classroom was a tiny space that was shared with a dance class (only separated by a dividing wall that did little to block out the music from the other room). And I at once felt jealous and pitied these students. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and went to a tiny school, but I at least had a full stage. However, these students were learning things about theatre and being challenged in ways that I didn’t experience until college. I was amazed that this tiny school still managed to create so many opportunities for their students.

So I’m thankful for teachers, my full family included. I’m grateful for every educator that works to give their students a better chance at success. And the Arden is indebted to all of you who donate to the Arden for All program, which allows us to go out and teach in Philadelphia and Camden and brings over 5, 000 students through our doors free of charge.

And I’m gratified that every time I start to stress about how I’m going to make ends meet—a student matinee arrives to remind me that just because you’re told a story goes a certain way, that doesn’t mean you have to sit in your seat and wait for the expected ending.

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