Can I just tell you about the BULLSHIT that was my fifth grade play?
Okay, you know how it goes in elementary school as far as teacher selection goes. In case you don’t, or in case something has changed in the last 26 years, I’ll let you know how Chatterton, my school in Merrick, worked. We had three different teachers for each grade, and classes were reshuffled each year. You could request a certain teacher, but it was mostly luck of the draw.
As fourth grade steadily approached, I was extremely ambivalent. There was no famously “nice” teacher like Mr. Klages in fifth grade. There was Mrs. Sullivan, and I knew I didn’t want to get her. She seemed mean, but more importantly, she is the person who caught me the ONE time I went into the boys’ bathroom. I was curious! Then humiliated. So she was out.
I don’t remember who one of the teachers was, but the third was Mrs. Friedman. She was one of those “She’s tough, but good” cases. This immediately made me wary, since I hated discipline and authority. On the other hand, I was smart, and didn’t want to be wimpy when it came to the book learnin’.
If it wasn’t already a foregone conclusion that Mrs. Friedman was for me, given that one of the other teachers was unmemorable, and one had pulled me away from a urinal, what really made me edge towards the pro-Friedman side was the fact that she was famous for putting on great class plays. Seriously, I’d seen them, and they were good. She really got everything she could out of 9-year-olds — picked good scripts, was very smart about casting, and had everyone really project and not just wuss about awkwardly. Also, her costumes and sets were great. The year before, Mrs. Friedman’s class put on quite an impressive rendition of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” while I was over in third grade drama hell: “Physical Fitness Is Your Friend,” the bastard brother to Harriet the Spy‘s play where she had to be an onion. But more on that later.
So yeah, although I was extremely intimidated, I hoped to get Mrs. Friedman. And sure enough, I did! She WAS very tough, but man, did I learn in her class. Not just facts, but how to research, write, and things like that — future skills. AND she did not disappoint with the play! It was called “Father Hits the Jackpot.” I got to play Sheila, the 16-year-old daughter — my first choice!
I don’t remember all that much about the play itself, except that: 1) there was an eccentric aunt who carried around an umbrella, 2) I wore the same outfit in the play as I did on my Very First Date, and 3) for the “closing credits,” the whole class sat, swayed, and sang to “Pennies from Heaven.” OH! And for some reason that I will never understand, Mrs. Friedman let this girl Allison and me take our routine from jazz class and have it be a scene in the play. Awesome!
Needless to say, I found my fourth grade play to be an extremely inspiring experience, and I was truly honored that Mrs. Friedman, a real ballbuster who took her plays VERY seriously, had enough faith in me to let me play a lead. So when fourth grade rolled to a close and we found out that the next year, Mrs. Friedman was moving up to teach fifth grade, all of my dreams of getting Mr. Klages for a teacher were called into question! And seriously, I had wanted Mr. Klages for as long as I could remember. Older men were usually nice to me, and he taught advanced reading, so I knew we’d get along famously.
Well, for one thing, I felt really bad for Mrs. Friedman. A lot of Merrick parents were shocked and horrified that their beautiful and perfect children had spent fourth grade being forced to work, and requested that they not be put back with Mrs. Friedman. I didn’t want Mrs. Friedman to think that I hadn’t appreciated her, because although we didn’t share any warm fuzzy moments, I really did, even at that age, realize how important an academic year fourth grade had been for me, thanks to her.
And…the plays! HOW could I turn down the opportunity to be in not one, but two stellar Friedman Productions! I couldn’t, was how. So my mother told the school that if I ended up with Mrs. Friedman, it was fine. So I was pretty sure I’d get her or Mr. Klages, as Mrs. Brociner was usually spoken for.
Fifth grade arrived, and sure enough, I had Mrs. Friedman — with Mr. Klages as a Special Guest Star, teaching advanced English! YAY! I approached the new grade very excited. After all, this was the year I got to write in pen, and Erasermates® had just hit! Not to mention the fact that I was still with Dick, my boyfriend of four months. Combine all this with the promise of starring in another great play, and I was in seventh heaven!
Well, that all fell to crap pretty quickly. Erasermates were not as great as I’d thought; Dick dumped me — but more on that later — and it wasn’t long before we learned the terrible, terrible news.
You see, we were to do the play in the spring of 1986, the hundred-year anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. And Chatterton had the awful idea to do some kind of huge production revolving around this fact. So all three fifth-grade classes had to do something together. That meant Mrs. Friedman was not in charge.
Guys, the play was SO BAD. It resembled something you’d see at Epcot. And since everyone had to have a role, it was like, every single moment of the entire process of acquiring the Statue of Liberty was in the “script.” For the most part, the only girl in the play with anything to do was Emma Lazarus. Plus, she got to wear a pretty dress. But Marisa got to be Emma Lazarus. And she was right for the part; I couldn’t blame anyone for casting her.
I did get cast, too…
..as a foreman.
And not just the foreman…I was Foreman Number 2! Out of three!
It was horrible. Rehearsals are often tedious, but always necessary, and sometimes fun, especially when you care about your role. Or the production. Or anything in life before it’s given up on you. This was not such a time. If this had happened in fourth grade, I might have coped a little better. But I had to go from playing a teenager in a tight production to playing an effing foreman in this sprawling mess.
That same month that we put on the “play,” my parents told me they were sending me to private school in Levittown. This news made me quite unhappy, due in large part to the fact that Dick and I had been spending quality time together again, thanks to the power of Connect Four. Who knows what could have been! Ah, well. After such a traumatic year, things could only get better…
Nah, sixth grade was the most horrible thing ever. And that year, the school play was about a sheep.
But more on that later.
© July 19, 2006