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Writing for Performance: What if it's great? What if we get the whole school bent over their knees laughing hysterically?

By Ethan Rose '18

Setting: Castle Lecture Hall. All of the desks are arranged to face the teacher. 21 STUDENTS sit at desks, engaged in murmured conversation. MR. BRAITHWAITE sits at teacher's desk writing in a small notebook. ETHAN enters the classroom stage left.

When I walk into the classroom on my first day of Writing for Performance, a seniors-only English elective where students write, direct, and perform their own plays, I feel lucky to have a spot in the room. As the 22nd addition to an already full class, I am grateful to have been permitted to transfer. Making my acquaintances with everyone I feel a growing excitement about our work ahead. However, it isn't long before the horror of it all hits me. We are 22 students, all of whom want our own part and say in the script. I assess the various personalities and the sheer abundance of contributors in the room and cynically think, "No shot - no way we can do this."

Luckily, soon thereafter, Mr. Braithwaite swoops in to the rescue and assures us that our efforts will not be in vain, and that we will, in fact, be successful in producing four – yes four – student driven plays in the duration of a semester. While my doubt lingers at first, I soon gain some confidence. "Let's do this thing!" I think.

Braithwaite continues addressing the class until some ideas come up and we dissolve inevitably back into murmurs. Not even his signature whistle noise can bring us back to a group. The thought of trying to get all of these voices into the script brings back that feeling of terror, but the prospect of our success fills me with the awe of possibility.

It seemed throughout the making of this first episode none of us quite knew what we were in for. Braithwaite perhaps did in some mischievous way as he left plenty of room for us to crash and burn throughout the creative process - a sort of "hands off" parenting technique. But if it weren't for that pervading sense of possibility, and an immense amount of perseverance, we may have lost hope amidst all our chaos.

For each time we doubted ourselves and said things like "What if it sucks!" there was the opposing possibility of "What if it's great?" - "What if we get the whole school bent over their knees laughing hysterically?" We all sincerely wanted this, but had no clue how to get there.

Getting there required some sort of structure, we soon realized. We had to divide and delegate, each assigning roles and recognizing how we can all help. However, this time around we had no teacher steer the boat. Naturally people assumed authoritative roles and had to begin taking charge. However, with a hierarchy in place some people felt they weren't getting their voices heard. Further adjustments would need to be made. In many ways it became like sustaining a small community, trying to satisfy everyone's needs. This was the pattern until the reality of our impending performance became substantial. A few short rehearsals in Castle Lecture Hall and then one final rehearsal in GPAC and before we knew it we were all under the bright lights bowing to our audience of smiling faces and the show was over.

Even if it turned out nobody laughed throughout the entire performance (oh don't worry, they did) I am beyond proud of what we put together. We gathered a bunch of students, endowed them with this boundless task, and let them shoot for the stars, all without the major crutch of a teacher. My favorite moment throughout the whole performance was seeing Inigo backstage just before he went out to do his solo. He was shaking in his boots, and said to me through chattering teeth "I have never been so afraid in my life!" I tried to comfort him but knew there wasn't much I could do. When he went out there and belted his "How Far I'll Go" parody with twice the enthusiasm as he had used in rehearsal, my heart skipped a beat, beaming with pride at our perfectly imperfect first performance.

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