Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Great classes have great mythologies. This has always been true. Half the battle of creating a great class is to create a challenge for them to go through: A Quest! Something that becomes a story lasting a lifetime.
But the ultimate cherry on the top so far has been ordering a specialty donkey mask from Japan and having it delivered to the university. How cool is that? So my daughters and I walked over to the little university post office and after much explanation that …yes, I was the teacher/director of a Shakespeare play on campus … and yes, I was the very Mr. Hartenstein that was sent here to pick up said package despite having no I.D. on me… and yes, it was in fact a donkey mask sent from Japan…. Would you like to try it on? No? That’s ok! I’ve got another mythology I’m building with my daughters…they’re more than happy to oblige.
Mock Trials and Scavenger Hunts and Teacher Pranks and Celebrations…all of these make a great class…but to do a performance together? Well, anybody who’s ever taken on this daunting task with native speakers knows how easily they can be made into a fool. Doing the whole thing in a second language…and with Shakespeare… call the madhouse! This being said…we plunge onward toward Midsummer Night.What makes this year vastly different is the University / High School is being so helpful. Case in point…the Donkey Mask! In years past, I have had to do everything myself…creating costumes, sewing together setting, fashioning props…but at my new school, when I told the Department Director my idea, she loved it…and word spread quickly that I needed help. Straightaway I had volunteer teaching assistants building a forest stage and others offering make-up services and even a wary homeroom teacher giving consent…things that at the old Taiwan school caused huge chaos and uproar.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Have you ever noticed that the Oregon Sasquatch looks a lot like Harrison Ford? And...if you watch Harrison Ford interviews lately... he sounds like a Wookie?
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
I ask myself, why am I doing this again? Why attempt a play in Taiwan? Why bring the Bard to Asia? What compels me to take on this inane and fruitless task of awakening the senses of people in a foreign land and tongue that share none of my sensibilities?
Midsummer Night’s Dream will be my fourth play in five years here in Taiwan. None of these students are actors or have any kind of theater experience whatsoever. They are merely students who passed into my classroom by chance and are thus thrust on stage by this seemingly mad foreigner.
They resist at every turn. Every possible stumbling road block is set before me. The school cancels the show, a homeroom teacher is jealous and attempts to get me fired, the parents complain it takes away from “real” study, or a colleague spreads rumors that students are having too much “fun” and begins to question my authenticity as an educator. The list of grievances goes on and on. Really, if you have followed this blog over the years, these stories are well documented.
My first year I did Macbeth with a group of students who a year later openly revolted against me. I thought we had a strong bond, but when I called out their apathy and laziness during National Testing, they refused to speak to me. Many students would turn their back to me in defiance. This went on for a month. A month! This group I’d felt so close to completely betrayed me. So I drafted a letter to the parents but the administration refused to send it home, and the students were allowed to act this way until graduation.
My second play was Romeo and Juliet, which took so much work in costumes and planning and musical numbers (yes, a musical…) and I incorporated over fifty students in the production. Every students had a speaking part. Every student! Yet in the end, attitudes became unbearable and a homeroom teacher nicknamed “Princess” attempted to block our performance because it coincided with her daily math test. (I’m not making this up!) When I insisted that we’d practiced for half a year and what was ONE freaking math test…she began spreading rumors about me and tried to get me fired. Fired…for wanting to do a Shakespeare love story?
The next year I returned with Julius Caesar and handpicked this young boy to play the lead, but in the end, he was so sullen and pouty that he refused to go on stage an hour before the show…even ten minutes before curtain I had to physically put his pants on for him. This was a fifteen year old kid who refused in a tantrum to even get dressed. I couldn’t believe it. All that time, wasted time, for what?
So here I am again, at a different school… attempting to put on another play… a play that uses every student…that gives everyone a part they can succeed at…and I have no idea how it will end? Will it end?
I look out at my students. Two boys are groping each other in the second row. One has his hands up the other’s pants stroking his thighs. I quickly attempt to stop them when I see another issue. Two other boys in the third row are sleeping in each other’s laps rubbing their faces against one another’s crotches. I move to eliminate this behavior when I see two other boys in the back are butt humping each other. I call out their names to stop. Then three girls are angry because they have no tissue. All three run up to me and say, “Teacher, we must poo poo. Give paper!”
I think… how is this possible? How am I ever going to do this? Shakespeare? Here? These kids need strait jackets… a riot hose… electrical therapy! When they leave for the bus I turn off the lights and sit quietly alone in the silence of the room absorbed in the echoing deafness only a teacher knows, staring at the wall. Searching... grasping truly, unable to admit defeat.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
Thursday, April 17, 2014
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter- it’s the difference between a lighting bug and the lightning.” -Mark Twain
It is truly a vainglorious pursuit to attempt cataloging all the bizarre and perplexing moments that happens to one during a life abroad. I’ve learned through trial and error it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. From the Taiwanese cobra that raised its diamond caped neck at me during morning coffee this week to the ROTC students assailing target practice outside my mountain cottage classroom with assault weapons in the afternoon. It’s not that neither of us would be the wiser for my sharing, I just don’t think you'd believe me.
Rags to Riches: For Rebekah’s birthday sleepover, I set out walking at 9 p.m. in
search of Maple Syrup after foolishly promising pancakes for six starving 2nd graders the following morning. After walking two hours into three different department stores and navigating the labyrinth of Chinese aisle signs with only a Google Translated screen to offer bewildered box boys and head-scratching check-out clerks, I returned home empty handed. On my way I stumbled upon a city temple with a gaggle of dancing and drunken men practicing a bizarre ritual of carriage hoisting and wild ceremonial stomping. They appeared down a fellow and motioned for me to join, which I happily did. Little did I know one was a honey salesman, and so we dined on the yellow nectar at sunrise and all my little darlings were supremely satisfied.
Menstruation mishaps continue to be in vogue at school. Some well meaning soul in the nurse’s station has taught the invaluable phrase, “Might you have sanitary napkins?” to the student population in English. Apparently, word on the street is that our all-male staff is able to conjure Maxipads out of thin air. To proliferate this myth to legendary status, I’ve begun stockpiling a wide assortment of feminine products for a potential worst case scenario zombie apocalypse. My pad of choice is the Western Zodiac brand. I realize the improbability, but I can barely keep them in stock.
This is Candy. She hasn’t listened to a word I’ve said for eight months.
Until I showed her a picture of “Candace” the sister on Phineas and Ferb. Now she's all ears. Doppelganger coincidence? I think not.
Jesus Unicorn Desk Sticker
I wasn’t kidding about the assault weapons. Actually, our school has a little of everything.
Rock Stars… yes, we’re practicing Frozen’s Let It Go for our Midsummer Night’s Dream performance.
This is Louis, he is doubling as Lysander. I’m giving him a second chance due only to his promise to continue wearing these glasses.Upstairs Armada.
Yes, this is the dreaded Japanese Turtle Monster. He’s apparently real.
It could always be worse. Yes, I subbed in this classroom last week and yes, I stubbornly insisted in NOT partaking of the absent teacher’s lesson plans on bird phylum. Instead, we swatted mosquitoes with electronic tennis rackets and smiled satisfactorily at the sizzling obliteration of each.
Then this happened…a student etched a likeness of Woody Allen for me. Graciously... accepted?
And to top it all off, while walking home, I stumbled upon this new campus companion. What a rare treat it was to put on my headphones and venture on with my old traveling buddy Mark Twain in his Innocents Abroad and remember, it’s not the sainted destination, it’s some holy hogwash about the unbelievable journey itself. Knight on. Oh Swift Traveler. Knight on!
The Innocents Abroad is a travel book by Mark Twain published in 1869 chronically a voyage across Europe to the Holy Land with other fellow Americans on board the Quaker City. It is hilarious and baffling and irreverent to the core, to say it succinctly, what a marvelous and indulgent debacle.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet must roses and with eglantine.” -King Oberon, Midsummer Night’s Dream
Look who found a stage?
With new gigs come new digs. It may not look like much now… but here at the university… “Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight…” It’s time for Midsummer Night!
Monday, April 14, 2014
By a fountain's brink.
What is red? A poppy's red
In its barely bed. -Rossetti
Where the clouds float thro'
What is white? A swan is white
Sailing in the light. -Rossetti
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? The grass is green
With small flowers between.
What is violet? Clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange
Just an orange! -Rossetti