Sunday, August 3, 2008

acting out.

As is my practice when they haven’t finished their assigned classwork and it’s the last period, a few students were kept behind the other day to complete the work they had been given. Unless they have to catch transport, they must stay until they are done. And I have double checked with the office who does and who doesn’t as they have tried to trick me on more then one occasion. They don’t try anymore.

On this particular day, one boy told me he couldn’t stay because he had to get to drama practice.

“Drama practice?” I asked, “Where?”

“Drama club Miss,” he answered, “in 10B.”

Drama club? The school had a drama club? This was news to me. Once he had finished his work and ran off, I locked my classroom and made my way over to 10B to see if he had been telling the truth. Indeed he had. Here I found about 15-odd students milling about and chatting animatedly. There was one young man who was clearly in charge. I asked if I could watch and they quickly agreed. As I sat down they began a series of warm up activities and short comedy skits. All of them were in Xhosa, but I could still get the meanings of what was being conveyed.

Next, they began rehearsing their play. Similarly to the skits, aside from the random word of English that often intersperses the language, the play was also entirely in Xhosa. One of the students sat next to me and explained bits and pieces of what was going on. Although I didn’t understand any of what the actors were saying, with the help of my interpreter I was still able to get the overall gist of what they were trying to convey. They are incredible actors. And funny! Oh my, are they ever funny. Very expressive and ever-so-animated and serious when need be. On more than one occasion I found myself almost on the brink of tears, I was laughing so hard.

When they broke for the day two hours later, I asked them what member of staff had been helping them. They replied that they had none. There had been a teacher, they told me, whose name I recognized as one who left the school 4 months ago. This means that for the past four months, they have been rehearsing almost everyday after school, sometimes as late as 5 or 6pm, on their own. I then found out that the play they had been performing – a hilarious and socially-conscious piece about the importance of students taking pride in their environment and respecting each other – had been written and directed by the one I had noticed as being the one in charge at the beginning. Amazing.

Then they asked a favour of me. Would I be their new teacher support? Help them and give them my input? After the overwhelming pride and admiration I felt for this group of earnest young learners, how could I say no? I told them that I would be flattered and made them promise that if I agreed, they must practice their English when I was there and that the one student in the group who was in one of my classes (the one who from whom I had first heard of drama club), must change his behaviour in my class immediately. A few weeks later, while the speaking English part is still lacking somewhat, the behaviour and attendance of this one student have seen a noticeable improvement.

They are scheduled to perform their production for the school in the coming weeks, and have been marketing themselves to perform at other schools all over Gugulethu. About their home turf debut they are over the moon excited, and I am right there with them.