Monday, February 29, 2016

into the ...

A few weeks ago, I took part in a staff production of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece. Shortly after becoming *famous* (j/k), I sat for my first interview with the Woodstock Tiger.

The lovely young reporter gingerly set her iPad on the bench and smiled up at me, assuring me that she only had three simple questions. Great, I thought. I’ve got this.  

“So, Ms. Melanie, what do you think the show’s theme or lesson was?” I had underestimated her; I was stumped.

Despite acting the show for several weeks, I had never sat down and really considered this question. Bad English teacher!

I floundered a bit, but latched on to a song that always stands out for its obvious theme-ness: “Careful the things you say, / children will listen. / Careful the things you do, / children will see -- and learn.”

The play explores all sorts of tensions between parents and children, and the very human struggle between maintaining innocence and unraveling the mysteries of our world -- a world that is often much darker than we want to believe. 

But what always strikes me when I hear the song (good English teacher?) is that the play is really about the power of storytelling.

When the Baker becomes the play’s final narrator, he takes on the role of parent, storyteller, and guide. He assumes the burden of reconstructing a difficult narrative, one that will shape his child’s understanding of the world and their broken/re-formed family. I find this to be such a beautiful moment, a hopeful break from a grim, death-filled second act.
The magic of theater is that, as performers, we too are participants in the dangers and joys of storytelling. If we’re successful, our story unfolds upon the stage. It’s daunting (it’s live! no hiding! no turning back!), but the rewards are tangible. Unlike in teaching, when our hard work may bear fruit years later (if at all), audiences give immediate feedback -- laughter, clapping, shocked gasps, crying, etc.

Hearing the audience’s response reminded me just how important it is to celebrate a great story. As an AP English teacher, so much of my time is spent teaching students how to pick apart the various components of story that I fear I sometimes miss the bigger picture -- simply sharing beautiful stories and reveling in how they charm us.  

The other magic of theater is the camaraderie that comes through telling these stories. Repressing laughter under a colleague’s romantic gaze, learning how to jump on someone’s back, practicing the same dance moves infinite times, helping someone get into costume: I guess these are ways to build friendships. It’s always been difficult for me to let go and embrace my silliness, so putting on this show was something like therapy.

Of course, it was easier to let go around such a supportive cast***, a group of talented people constantly lifting each other up under the guidance of an incredible director. Thanks to all of you for making those crazy weeks worth it. 

My only hope is that I can bring the lessons and energy of that creative outburst into my everyday life. Share beautiful stories. Embrace the silly. Connect.

(Okay, now I sound like some sort of Sark poster. I’ll stop here. Later, ya’ll.)

***I have to note that a sadness hung over our time together, since one of the cast-members -- a close friend -- was stuck in the US during the production due to visa issues. We miss you so much!!

Thanks to Prathana Shrestha for the photos!


  1. Loved hearing your beautifully put impressions and seeing the great pictures! We would have loved to have been there to see it! - Mom2

  2. Yes, Melanie, what a great role. I would have loved to have seen you in it!

  3. thanks! we will have a digital version of the performance at some point, and i'll share it when we do. :)