"Now all the teachers couldn't reach me and my mama couldn't beat me" - Jay-Z, December 4th
My sister performed as the lead in her high school's production of Up the Down Staircase this weekend. Their play is based on the 1967 film about a young teacher's first year at an inner city school in New York . It's the blueprint (almost exactly in some cases) for other flicks that followed like Wildcats and Dangerous Minds (and even Lean on Me to some degree) and the TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter. The point of the dramatic elements of the story is the idea that in this world of chaos and bureacracy and fear and economic and social turmoil, that these kids are searching for someone to geuninely care, to not dissapoint them the way that so much of their world has, and to show them a way. They go up the down staircase because they don't know any other way to go.
Being in a high school auditorium in hard wood chairs among fifteen to eighteen year olds, I realized that I'm an adult. I leaned over to my mother and said, "This is why I don't have kids...they never shut up." I mentally tsk-tsked girls in pants slung too low on their butts and boys mistaking obnoxiousness and bravado for confidence. I remembered how big that world was when I was in it and how small a world it is to me now. I marveled at the significance of it all for these 300 people in the auditorium and how seriously they take the roles and norms in this space.
I left during intermission and went to my car. I had a bouquet of flowers for my sister. I returned and attempted to enter through the door nearest the street. I was through the doorway when a woman said, "Oh, I'm not allowed to let anyone in this way." I looked at her for a moment wondering if the whole point of the play we all were attending was lost on her. I wanted to ask if she saw any irony at watching a play where unnecessary discipline was consistently being mocked and played for comedy while being a monitor for a rule that served no purpose. Instead I chuckled and walked back through the entrance that had become an exit.
My sister was wonderful as Sylvia Barrett. She's not the most nuanced actress yet but her emotional connection with the audience is strong and natural. She makes the role hers. She never breaks character. In a company of kids much more comfortable with the comedy than the drama, she's able to give some scenes with no dramatic weight a little power. I'm gushing and biased but it's true.
The question now is which path will she take? There aren't any clearly marked staircases and doorways before her. Choices abound with risks in all.
And no gatekeeper guarding the way.