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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Encore!



Yesterday I went up to Marin to see a play by the drama students at Saint Mark's School in Marin. They have an annual performance at the posh little Showcase Theatre near the civic center. My dear friend Jessica Sage has been the drama teacher there for the past eight years. I've seen a number of the performances, but this one was the last because Jessica resigned in order to travel for a couple of years with her partner Barry. They'll have a couple of lengthy stopovers when Barry performs for one Shakespearean company or another. Those gigs get set up a couple of years ahead. One might assume because they've lived in Marin - that they'll be traveling "first class" living off their inheritance or stock portfolios, but as lifelong theatre-people, cottage-renters, and artists, they'll be traveling frugal-class. They decided that the time had come to take a big leap or let those traveling dreams pass by. Barry is in his sixties. First major stop will be the solar eclipse in Siberia this August.

At the end of the play there was a standing ovation and the 8th grade actors were at the front of the stage bowing and pointing back to all the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade actors behind them who were part of the 60-kid ensemble in the musical we'd just seen. Then one of the 8th graders called up Ms. Sage to accept a boquet of roses. She walked up there with a somewhat sheepish, modest grin (that might have been practiced for this occasion). But a young boy from the back of the stage, barely visible due to his height-challenged fourth-grade stature, must have called to her. He was crying and wanted to hug her, knowing she was departing soon. Suddenly a gaggle of little ones were holding on to her and I saw at least one other who was crying. That's when Jessica started to sob, even as she tried to compose herself.

The eighth graders each wanted to say something to her and they took turns telling the audience about Jessica's influence on their lives. Some have been in her classes all eight years. One called herself a "drama geek" who always tried to have lunch near Jessica. Another talked about Jessica's impending "epoch journey" and thanked her for preparing them for their own parallel "epoch journey" into high school. Jess was totally unprepared for their heartfelt remarks about how she'd given them courage and made them able to perform and dream about acting.

I was so proud and so happy she was witnessing these testimonies about her impact. What a reward for her high-energy years of work in the acting trenches. Not many folks who invest so much in their jobs get to hear that from the people they've touched and changed.

It was wonderful to see the really talented kids perform and sing so well. They knocked our socks off with their unexpected skill levels. But what is even more amazing is to see the performances of the kids who appear to be shy or gawky - taking big risks on stage with pubescent voices and bodies they no longer control. When these kids belt out their lines and their songs, you know that there was some magic worked by a drama teacher who believed in them and got them to believe as well.

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