Thursday night I went to a local production of Godspell – partly because it’s a favorite of mine, partly because one of my current students and one of my dear friends were both in it. And, as it turns out, so was a former student, and so was a teacher I’d come to know when she took the “Differentiation by Design” staff-development course from me a few years ago. It was a wonderful, and very different production – as many times as I’ve seen Godspell, it’s always different each time – and as the press release said, the addition of the signing brought a whole new dimension to the production. (So did Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell is Human, which I was re-reading before the show and during intermission!) But I’m sure that N, who was at dress rehearsal until after midnight Wednesday, then performing until 10:00 or so last night, will be tired-tired-tired this morning!
As I drove home, I kept thinking about joyful community and catalysts – since both of those notions are central to the show – but I also kept thinking about glorious imperfection. When I talked to N briefly at intermission – and when I heard some of the other cast members talking – they all focused, as good performers do, on the “mistakes” they’d made. “So many!” one said. “So many more than dress rehearsal or even opening night!” But unlike a truly 20th-century musical – say, The Sound of Music or South Pacific or Carousel or Camelot – Godspell doesn’t have to be “perfect.” There’s not One Right Way to stage it or perform it; some elements, necessarily improvised, change from production to production, performance to performance. There’s an unchanging core, of course, in the songs and the words from the Gospel of Matthew. But within those boundaries there’s tremendous freedom … and a different kind of responsibility on the part of performers.
With a “classic” musical, most of the time, the goal is to approach the archetype, to make it like – or even just like – the original Broadway production. That’s a daunting task, to be sure, but it’s not that hard to measure. Retaining the core, while changing the things that need to be changed, and staying open to new opportunities that arise in the moment – that’s a different kind of “hard,” but it’s the key to joyful community on that stage … and each day, in my classroom.
And Thursday had been an interesting, difficult, challenging, gloriously imperfect day. Both Latin II classes were stirred up, full of some nameless but negative energy, at the beginning. It was a lot easier to ignore that first assignment – to use our traditional markings on a series of sentences, then try to create Latin versions of some others – than to focus on it, and apparently, for some of us, the idea of checking our work (there’s a downloadable key, as there always is for assignments like these) was just simply impossible. “You told me,” I said, “that you’re perfect at this and need no practice … and you also told me you could understand that last story we read yesterday without actually reading it. Let’s see if that’s true.” So we did a rapid, whole-class Latin reading of the story with the Analytic Hand Signals we use for noun and verb forms … and, predictably, the whining started: “Why are you going so fast? This is hard!” And I pretended to be surprised: “Really? But you told me something totally different, with actions that spoke so loudly that I can’t hear your words right now.” Later on, when we’d re-established ourselves as a community rather than (as I put it) “a bunch of isolated, selfish-looking individuals,” I asked a hard question: why, at this late date, should any of us not take responsibility for our own role in maintaining our community? Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it’s harder if you come from Ms. X’s yelling and labeling at you for 90 minutes each day … but hard isn’t impossible.
Act I of Godspell is a lot more fun than Act II – it’s more fun to do the early work of inviting people to community, sharing stories with them, than to do the later work of strengthening and defending the community against outside (and inside) threats. And it’s “easier” to be the sole defender of the community, when it’s threatened, than to delegate that role, to allow for failures and false starts. But easier isn’t necessarily better, and sometimes you have to drink the cup even though it’s bitter.
Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie helped me clarify the connections:
I am left with an image – a teacher greeting the class on the first day, saying “We are taking a journey together, a journey of questioning, sharing, exploring, and discovering. I can’t wait to see what I learn in this class, our class.”
Also, our society is so brainwashed into thinking about perfection – we have to look perfect, eat the perfect food, pick the perfect profession, do the perfect job, be the perfect “me”… The goal becomes that end result, the achievement of perfection and we forget to “live” the journey, to experience the experience, to savour the challenges and the lessons, and to honour life no matter what it looks like.
I go back to intention: is the goal to print the perfect letter “s” or is the goal to develop legible printing? Is the goal to memorize the facts about such-and-subject or is it to become aware of the elements of the subject and how it applies to life? When we are clear on our intention, I think, we drop the cloak of expertise and power.
When you drop that cloak, leave the “expert” role behind, and join the community – and the dance – everything changes! What will I do today to embrace that change, join the dance, invite others in, and allay their fears?