Thursday, May 4, 2017

If you do your shtick the whole time, then it will no longer be a shtick.

Even if I only reach one...

As a teacher, there are times that you know your lesson is a dog. You realize that most of your students will not only be unable to appreciate or understand the material you're presenting, but that they simply won't give a damn. Yes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him appreciate how that water will make him a more-balanced horse that could potentially grow up and do things to help all the other horses, or at least not be a f--king drag on everybody else in the stable.

And so you tell yourself, in between taking shots of paint thinner and calculating the years til retirement, it'll all be worth it, if one of the kids milling around your classroom, just one...actually gets it.

I had a plan going into last Monday morning. It was a week where we were finally finishing up standardized testing, and to keep things moving  (and dare I say, not academic), I was going to show the kids a documentary called Batkid Begins [review]. It was going to be great. I printed out some higher-level questions, made a cool graphic for my home slide, and was literally making sure the assignment stacks were looking good, when I realized that I had already shown the documentary this year. To these kids. Aw, shit.

So, with less than five minutes before it was go-time, I pulled Most Valuable Players out of my sweaty ass. Even before understanding what it was all about, I headed to Common Sense Media (the best website alive for a slacker teacher) to check the content. Some brief talk about gay students, someone says 'maybe we're bitches?' and the use of the word kick-ass topped the list of questionable occurrences, and away we went. Now all I had to do was make it fit.

Initially presented as a documentary comparing and contrasting high school theater vs. high school athletics (uh, jocks vs. nerds), the focus quickly veers away into something entirely different. Sure, putting on a major production of Les Miserables is akin to playing in the championship game (including all the heartache along the way), but that's not what this charming film is primarily about. Instead, the cameras are pointed at the drama clubs of three high schools competing for local theater awards, known around here as the Freddy's. Oh, and bonus points for Mr. Brown, as all of these schools are about an hour from the middle school I work, it totally makes sense that I'm showing this. To sixth graders. None of whom are taking drama.

Anyhow, this documentary is certainly a crowd-pleaser, even if the last theater production you were in was a seventh grade version of Grease, where you got to play Sonny and sing Summer Nights in front of your entire school (Could she get me a friennnd?). Yikes. But wasn't isn't scary, is all the hard work and goofy high-schoolness of these kids, as they put everything they have into what at the time, was surely the most important thing in their lives.

If you took drama in school, or simply wished you had, I'd recommend you give this one a click. Currently streaming on Netflix, Most Valuable Players is a solid and enjoyable look into the life of high school theater. It totally made me wish I had taken drama in high school, instead of being such a standout basketball player instead. I mean, what would my team have done without my one-point per game average? Maybe won a single game perhaps.

For the first time in almost six-years, I didn't take notes during this film, meaning the Yays and Boos are going to be a bit truncated. I only write reviews for the films that I finish, and I never thought this would be something I'd actually see the end of. About that...

  • Don't take this the wrong way, but holy shit - I love high school kids. Or, at least, drama nerds. These kids are so perfectly dorky, I wanted to surround myself with them. Middle-schoolers? Not so much.
  • Vic Kumma, kind of the driving force behind The Freddy's, is a real cool dude. 
  • Actually, most of the adults were awesome. Even the ones rolling their eyes at each other when two schools pick the same play to perform...coincidentally.
  • My two favorite characters? Uh, Katie and Ali from Emmaus High School. Okay, fine, they're both adorable (hot is the wrong word, right? Right?), but these two chicks are totally rad (their bit about being insecure is priceless).
  • My goodness, thirty seconds of this film takes place at prom. And in that half a minute? I think two couples kiss. By the reaction of my class, you'd have thought I had shown them something x-rated (sadly, this is refreshing...when they actually act like kids for a second).
  • At one point, during rehearsals, the older kids have to have an impromptu meeting to tell the underclassmen to stop being stupid a-holes. I love this for two reasons: 1) young adults taking charge of stupid little kids 2) remembering those times when I took shit that wasn't all that serious...very seriously.
  • John! This kid does not know how much a goofball he is (yet?), but that's kind of the reason I love him. Though dancing with his Dad was a bit troublesome.
  • Some of these frickin' kids can blow. Wow. I don't think anybody in my senior class could sing at all. 
  • And finally, as the palpable momentum builds to the actual Freddy's, the scene where the nominations are announced is pure joy. Honestly, the only thing better than seeing people this happy is being...that happy. And after this scene? I was.

The Boo is how much I like these two...
  • Ooh, John's family. Uh, they're nice enough....but uh, yeah...kind of awkward. Like, super, super awkward.
  • What was with Radio Host Guy? Even my kids, the flippin' Jedi Masters of Interruption, were furious with this dude's constant interruption of Shelly Brown. What the Hell, man?
  • Haunted theaters! I might not have been in a play in high school, but I sure as shit cleaned one (ah, my illustrious career as a high school janitor rears its ugly head one again). Why are they always haunted by some mysterious legend?
  • This one time, at theater practice, that smoke machine almost killed the orchestra. And I doubt those geeks need any other thing trying to hurt them (just kidding, you know, if you're currently holding a clarinet). 
  • So, when the Freddy's are finally awarded, some of my students were livid. Like, Mr. Brown, who is this kid? I hate him/her! Uh, not everyone featured in the documentary is going to win....that's not how this wor-- Whatever, Mr. Brown. I'm still furious. *storms away*
  • Dammit, this one takes a turn near the end. F--k you, cancer.
  • And finally, the whole 'theater guys are all gay' thing. Luckily enough, the kids in this flick basically feel that while it's not even remotely true, more importantly, who gives a shit, either way? The one small hope I have regarding the youth of today (outside of the the fact I'm sacrificing small woodland creatures in hopes they'll learn to actually function in [what's left of] society), is the idea that the petty differences like this will totally be forgotten. I mean, who cares if you're gay (or whatever) when you're staring at your phone all day in your driver-less car?
At the end of the documentary, this one kid, let's call him Xander, saunters up to my desk, slightly jittery, hands jammed in his pockets. This dude is like, potentially, the worst student I've ever had in a decade of teaching in the inner-city. Just terrible at school (he's got an F every single marking period in both the classes I have him in), and perhaps even at life, this dude, pacing back and forth like a madman, leans in with this eerie look on his face.

Hey, Mr. Brown. After seeing this movie... 
...I think I want to take Drama in high school. 
Yeah. You know, I can actually sing a little bit. *walks away*

Awesome, right? I reached that one kid. I totally did.

Now if only that one kid would actually do some frickin' work, so he can actually actually make it to high school, you know?


  1. I can relate to everything in this post. Might have to seek this one out. By the way, the kids I teach are 2nd and 3rd grade. The mere mention of the word 'kiss' is enough to make them react they just witnessed the most forbidden thing in the world. And yeah, I hope that one kid does some frickin' work, too.

    1. It might make for a decent Q & D, you know? Maybe watch it with one of your girls.

      Dude, I have crazy respect for anybody dealing with 7 and 8 year-olds. They're fun at that age, but relentless in their energy and questioning. My kids, at 11-13, are more of just stupid punks.

      Dude, that kid NEVER does anything!

  2. I love that you put a lot of thought into what you show your students. I feel like my teachers probably didn't do that until I was in high school. Why else would they show us shit like Where The Red Fern Grows and Older Yellar?

    I've never seen this doc, but now I want to.

    1. Ha, in the case of this one, you don't even know. I rewrote my entire unit and decided to teach them stage directions and script-writing. At this point, they can hardly sit still, so basically all bets are off in Mr. Brown's room (uh, and there's still like 5 weeks to go...).

      I hope you check it out. It's nothing tremendous, but a sweet little time capsule of being a theater geek in high school (even though I was just a regular geek).

  3. "outside of the the fact I'm sacrificing small woodland creatures in hopes they'll learn to actually function in [what's left of] society" woah woah woah! Animal sacrifice comedy is the gentle kind. Murdering a goat as a thank you to Gods is OK but this shit? I actually go after American youth in tonight's RF for their, let's say, terrible taste.

    That's so cool you actually take time and do preparation before showing something to your students. I think kids these days are getting progressively dumber anyways, my friend is a teacher and he teaches I think 9 and 13 year olds and those shits don't even hand write anymore they just type stuff on their laptops. I think 2 generations from now people will just fuse with their electronic devices or go extinct.

  4. Everything you say is truth. All of it.

    Actually, the only thing I sacrifice for these damn kids is my will to live. One day, after yet another child says the stupidest thing ever to me, there going to find me in a closet looking like that girl from the Ring.

    But, there is a bright side, you know - to being a teacher of today's youth: One day I'll be dead.

  5. Since I've always felt the school scene in US movies is sort of made up, the drama clubs, the high school scene, the school bands etc, I always feel like anything school related is like a fantasy - I think it's because in Estonia, school life is a lot less interesting and a lot more boring in a way. But seeing a documentary of drama kids, man, it could bring hat fantasy to reality, and it feels just as unbelievable as any other high school movie I've seen.
    Also, I can't remember one single time we watched a movie in class... like, how boring is that!?

    1. Even as a teacher in the US, I'm not sure what to make of Hollywood's version of school. It seems either too perfect, or too crazy...where my own classrooms hover somewhere in between.

      And whatever you mean when you say "boring school" sign me up. I long for boredom in my classroom (I'm assuming this means that everybody follows a routine??). My kids are so mentally unstable, peace and regularity freaks them the Hell out.

      You never watched a movie in class? That's awesome. You're probably better off because of it. I think...

  6. Why would ya watch a movie in class?