Coffee with Mimi

Published 9:55 pm Friday, September 7, 2018

The play’s the thing

Someday, I will write a book. There are many barriers to this goal, any one of which is significant in its own right. All of them together are as tall an order as climbing Mt. Everest without requisite skills.

For a person who likes to talk, and exercises that practice with very little encouragement or restraint, I cannot write dialogue. There was a time when I may have had the possibility in me. When I was about 10 years old, we attended a school that was quite incredible. There were two classrooms, two teachers and 28 students total.

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Each fall, we went on a field trip. After years of planning such activities for my students, I look back on those experiences with appreciation. The whole school went on the field trip together. Every student from first grade to eighth was loaded into parent-driven cars and hit the road. We were not bound to the regular school day hours, so we could venture far. We visited some major historical sites over the years.

I share this little detail to set up the event which resulted in my one and only play. The occasion to be memorialized was the feast day of one of the two teachers in the school. Now, you must know that this school was a parish school and, therefore, the teachers were nuns or volunteers. Nuns, at the time, did not celebrate personal birthdays; they had their special day on the church designated day of the saint whose name they took upon making their final vows.

We liked this particular teacher. She was the teacher of the “Little Room,” the classroom for first through fourth grades. The “Big Room” was fifth through eighth grade. Those kids ruled all kids. But, when we wanted to do something affecting us all, we had to work together, especially if we wanted to make a big deal out of the event. The key to success was considering everyone.

So, lunch time discussions among the older and younger kids turned to the real goal, a party. A request for a party would bear more weight with the “administration” if there was some relevant program offered. It was determined that a play was just the thing. I have no idea how it happened as I was in the “Little Room,” but I was designated the playwright. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even been to a play at that point in my short life.

The task was simple — be entertaining for big and little kids and respectful of the honoree.

The honoree was named Sister Herman Joseph. Recognizing the name saints was key. The Herman part didn’t inspire me, but Joseph — that was something to work with. But, what was to be the catch? What would draw the audience in?

At the time, a popular TV shows was, “Batman.” It aired in the early evening, allowing kids with strict bedtimes a chance to revel and parents a chance to be elsewhere engaged in peaceful adult conversation at the end of the day.

I was inspired. A crime could be committed. Who doesn’t love a good crime story with a happy ending?

It went like this: Joseph, everyone knows the important role he played in our civilization, would be kidnapped and must be saved in order for Sister to have her justly deserved feast day and we kids would get treats.

I crafted a totally believable scenario in which the statue of Joseph would be stolen from the local church by that arch nemesis of all that is good, “The Joker.” Batman and Robin were, naturally, in our little town to provide the heroics and Joseph would be found, returned to his spot of reverence in church and the party could commence.

I cleverly worked in little details reminiscent of the weekly TV script in order to flesh out the action in my own creation. We knew we could get the boys to participate if there were a few well placed “pows.” There followed many hours of script consultation in which my mother made gentle suggestions. One heated discussion involved the distinction between “socialist” and “socialite.” I failed to see how just a few little letters were such a big deal. Every time I made a mistake, I had to recopy the whole script by hand for each of the cast members. Clearly, creativity was hard work, and picky.

We spent hours at lunch and recess in rehearsals. I can only imagine some of the backstage reactions by the teachers throughout the process. There must have been costumes and props, they weren’t memorable. The actual crime was spoken of, not witnessed, as the appropriation of the life sized statue was deemed unrealistic even by us, or the pastor put his foot down, whichever came first. I don’t even remember who was cast in the starring roles. I wasn’t, being the behind the scenes talent.

Thankfully, there is no copy of that script in existence, my first and only foray into writing dialogue. The experience seems to have had quite an impact on my ambitions for the long run.