Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You're a Good Man

Charlie Brown, that is!

Today our dual language (American Sign Language and English) school put on its own version of this Peanuts inspired musical. As all of the 1st through 6th grade students joined together to sing/sign the 'joy through a child's eyes' closing number "Happiness" I became flooded with emotion.

Clearly I am beyond the beyond when it comes to expressing that mixture of pride and power that this small moment in time captured for me. All of my precious little ones were up there happily smiling as they gave their all to the following lyrics:

"Happiness is two kinds of ice cream, knowing a secret, climbing a tree. Happiness is five different crayons, catching a firefly, setting him free. Happiness is being alone every now and then. And happiness is coming home again."
I kinda lost it sitting there in the, not dark enough to hide my tears, school auditorium. Have you ever been so moved by something that you had a visceral connection with that you found yourself sobbing out loud while simultaneously trying to cover the fact that something so seemingly innocuous has moved you to such a state?

But as I watched the faces of these children how could I help but feel?

I have a personal connection with each child up there. For most of them I could tell you what makes them smile or what worries them. I could tell you what they struggle with academically, which books they enjoy and who they prefer to play with during recess.

I am also a huge fan of Theatre for the Deaf or Theatre of the Deaf (the distinction can indicate who is involved in performing/producing). I actually came to teaching through my interest in Deaf Theatre.

One early inspiration was attending a production of 'An Italian Straw Hat' in 1995 performed by the National Theater of the Deaf. Amazing.

And more recently the Deaf West Theatre Broadway production of the Mark Twain/Huckleberry Finn musical 'Big River'. Stunning.

Although the reworking of these previously successful productions have found new audiences by incorporating innovative linguistic features, playing with language onstage does not always prove so successful.

I am referring to an Off Broadway production of 'Tea House of the August Moon' that Joy and I did about 10 years ago. The gimmick (to quote the stripper Mazeppa from Gypsy) was that all of the Japanese roles would be played by Caucasians and vice-verse.

So there you have Joy playing Miss Higa Jiga, yelling in her rather impressive Japanese while I am running around barefoot as Mr. Sumata looking for my shoes.

The best part of this was that during the crowd scenes the director told us to 'ad lib' in Japanese. What? I felt like a total idiot as I repeated my few lines over and over again testing various deliveries, trying to sound authentic.

When my friend James came to see the show all I remember is him sitting out in the audience laughing his ass off every time I opened my mouth. Not the most helpful thing to aid my concentration in my vulnerable state.
Oh the things young actors put themselves through in New York! Of course, I wouldn't change a thing.


LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

That hair from 10 years ago is...uh...interesting. Maybe I'll get brave and post some photos of my Duran Duran/Flock of Seagulls hair circa 1983.

marxsny said...

After that "Boy From Oz" experience we thought you had ice in your veins. I guess that's not true and what affects people emotionally is relative. For some it's children, for others it's Judy Garland.

lettuce said...

gary i'm smiling so at the thought of how you felt watching your children...

and i know the feeling of trying to cover up that you're crying.
i don't bother much any more though - with the covering up, that is.

i like the photo but was disappointed it wouldn't enlarge...

Working mum said...

What a lovely post.

I must admit to choking back the tears during a concert when a children's choir sang Bob Chilcott's "Can you hear me?" whilst signing the words. I had to pull myself together to sing my next piece!

Joy Keaton said...

Gotta agree with Mark here, ice-water man. Then again... Patti LuPone singing about chickens makes ME weep uncontrollably so I'm not the best judge, huh?

And thank you: my Japanese was rather impressive, wasn't it?. ;)

la bellina mammina said...

I know how you felt. For me, apart from being very emotional when I gave birth, I also cried at my sister's wedding. I was one of the witnesses, and when the minister proclaimed the husband and wife, she started to cry and so did I, even though I tried hard not too. Funny, cuz I didn't feel as emotional when I got married!!

Did you have that play on video??;-)

Mona said...

Indeed There have been times when I found myself crying like that.

& strangely enough, such times have been mostly those that involve children...

My heart goes out to them...Their absolute innocence, purity, frankness & clear perception. Remember the tale 'Emperor's new Clothes'? How a child brings to sense an entire populace with his clarity of perception and his fearlessness to voice it!

Our innocence is gobbled up mostly by our fears and the ready made knowledge forced down our throats from the age of ten years onwards.

There is where 'learning' transforms into 'conditioning'...

mouse (aka kimy) said...

a great post....the wait was worth it, missed your bright voice! I know exactly what you mean in terms of being overwhelmed with happy feelings and connections leading to sobbing...

love the happiness lyrics - sweet!

and yes, quite the hair!!! happy solstice!

Gary said...

JT - Oh yes, please post some of those photos. :) In a recent conversation with Joy we were trying to figure out exactly when we did that show and neither one of us remember exactly - Yes, it was that memorable. I must confess though that I LOVED having that big, long hair. (Did I mention I am from Long Island?)

Mark - "Ice in your veins" comes back to haunt me at the oddest times. I picture so clearly sitting between you and Joy during the show and when you started losing it I turned to her to roll my eyes/smile and there she was crying as well. LOL. I love that story.

Lettuce - I get those moments every so often but usually they are accompanied by the blurt of a sob. Very manly, no? I should just go with it next time. And...I know! I was disappointed that I couldn't get it to enlarge as well. What's up with that? Apparently, even the computer has better taste than I did at that time. (But no, we did not do anything unPC with our eyes.)

Mum - So you sing too huh? Color me impressed. I am singing at my friend's wedding tomorrow so I hope they don't have any unexpected children's choir doing anything before my song.

Joy - You were fantastic. I would stand backstage just to watch every scene you were in. Such passion, such commitment to character. And I loved the old woman in the jeep! LOL. Thanks again for getting me that part, it was a riot. "Ain't nobody here but us chickens..." Are you crying?

Bellina - Of course you are allowed to cry at weddings but we still feel silly don't we? I took a video of the finale (all of the children on stage singing 'Happiness') which I would love to show here but I think that would be against privacy rights etc. I have seen it several times and so far I have the same reaction every time I watch it. They are so full of hope and joy at that moment even though I know some of them have tough lives.

Kimy - Happy Solstice! I was out of the blogging mode for a while there and I am not sure why. I was busy I guess with the end of the school year - our last day is June 26th.

Barbara said...

You have really made a difference for these children. I was almost in tears just reading about the program. What will you do during the summer when school is not in session?

Gary said...

Barbara - I teach a class at Fordham University called "Reading Skills for Children with Learning Disabilities" from June 30-July 16 and after that I am free to enjoy the days as they come. My plan is to spend time with those I love and don't have time to see much during the school year, sleep, read, bike, write in my journal (and blog) and generally recharge. Perhaps another visit to DC?

Lynda said...

I found this new blog post very touching. You are coming down to the home stretch for your school year. I know by reading your blog and speaking with you on many occasions, all of your students are special to you.

As a daughter of a retired teacher, every student is special. My Mom would tell me every year, the last day was emotional. I had the pleasure of meeting many teachers, that were Mom's friends both in Elementary & Secondary Education all were excellent educators.

You are one of the most valued in your district and look forward to sharing another class, via your blog!

Enjoy your summer, you deserve it!

Arielle said...

OH YES. That is the answer to your question: "Have you ever been so moved by something that you had a visceral connection with that you found yourself sobbing out loud while simultaneously trying to cover the fact that something so seemingly innocuous has moved you to such a state?" Oh yes.

I guess it's one of those things that makes us human.

That photo from the past is fabulous! :) :)

Reya Mellicker said...

Beautiful pic! Theater is its own world, completely different from all other worlds. Fantastic post, dah-ling!

"Just David!" said...

The part about James made me laugh out loud. I'm that same kind of friend, I'd have been howling hysterically but I'd have bought you dinner after! And I so get where you're coming about being moved to tears, it happens to me all the time in the most inappropriate places.


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