There is a precipice, the tallest in the world where you can’t see the bottom, and if you throw a stone to hear the end, the sound will never echo back to you. Looking down you see nothing and it terrifies you.
Every year my students stand on that precipice, at least three times a year they stand at that ledge looking down, deciding to jump or not. If they don’t jump I push them. When I first started at Homestead all I did was push my students off that ledge, luckily now most of them willingly jump. They still have no idea what is at the bottom, if it’s safe or not, but now they know that the journey is the fun part. Sometimes they land wonderfully and sometimes they do crash and burn. But they are willing to get back on that ledge and jump again when Acting 2 or the Musical begins.
At the beginning of any project I do, either in class or after school I traditionally get the “You’re crazy” look from my students. They think it’s impossible to learn how to dance, to put on a play, to make a film, to learn the aerial silks, the list is endless. They can think I’m crazy all they want, because I have the confidence in them to succeed. I know they can do it, and that is all they need. So I push them off the precipice and as we fall together I teach them the materials to land on the ground well. Heck, sometimes as I’m falling with them, we are all learning together.
This year 22 of us jumped willing off the cliff with an idea and some tools to enable us to land… as we fell we learned so much more, we learned how to fly. My One Act Competition class created their own play, wrote the lines, composed the music, did their own costumes, scenic, props, lighting and sound designing. If I’m being completely honest, they all jumped off a cliff having tied a rope around me and dragging me down with. The dragging stopped almost immediately and we all worked together as we continued on a path with no end in sight. Finally, the light appeared and we were awarded 10 different awards at the State Theatre Competition. The audience cried and cheered giving us a standing ovation, the judges cried, students came up to us and asked us how we accomplished the play and teachers… teachers wanted to know how many years of training the students had. “How long have they been dancing?” “How long have they studied aerial dance?” “How did you teach them to write so well?” Ok, so that last question is answered solely by the amazing English department we have at HHS. But the other questions were all answered with, “They learned in class this year.”
I say “Yes” a lot to my students. “Can I direct an independent project in the black box?” YES. “Can we choreograph for Beauty and the Beast?” YES. “Can we devise our own play?” YES. My students walked away with 10 awards because I said “yes,” because two years ago I threw them off their first cliff and because we all trust each other. Even though my students look at me like I’m crazy, they trust me enough to know that when I say “Everything is going to be ok,” everything really is going to work out. Since they trust me, I trust them.
At the competition this weekend so many teachers and directors came up after seeing our play and asked about my process. When I explained my ways, they always back-pedaled and said they should start small and work their students up to what we did. I respectfully disagree. Please teachers jump in! Don’t just get your feet wet, you have no idea what you are missing. And please don’t toss your students into the abyss and watch from the edge as they fall. Jump, push, throw, fall… don’t make excuses. Everyone, EVERYONE has the potential to do what my students do on a daily basis, it’s up to us, the TEACHERS of the world to dive head-long, hand in hand with them.
Written by: Amelia Figg-Franzoi
Homestead High School