It has been a rough week for this high school theater director. As part of our school’s extensive renovation project, our theater has been demolished. Yes, this means we are getting a new theater! Yes, this means that our program is thriving and our district supports the arts! Yes, this means we will be getting a state of the art performance space!
Yes, it means I am sad. My students are sad. My alumni supporters are sad.
We made magic in this space, as a community, for 55 years. The first musical our school performed was performed in this space. The theater is named after the directors of that first show. Every student that has graduated from this school has walked across this stage. Countless choir and band concerts, classes, and speakers have used this space. And most importantly, to us anyway, it is where we have felt at home.
So, as an educator, I realized that I needed to make this a learning opportunity.
Because we knew that our theater would be taken down about three months before it happened, we celebrated everything we could think of to celebrate. We had review shows and drama club parties. We came together countless times for the “last” time to celebrate everything that we loved about our space. We didn’t always love it, but for the last three months, we never wanted to be anywhere else.
Some of my students felt the loss of this space like a blow to the heart. They felt like they were losing a part of what made them special. They felt like they were losing a friend. Why did they feel such a strong kinship to these four walls? Maybe it was because they had lost a friend, and channeling that loss into this space gave them comfort. So many of our students experience tragedy in their lives that we can hardly even fathom, and are not equipped to understand and accept those realities. Encouraging students to let go and really feel emotions gives them the tools to be successful in their own lives. And, bonus points for making them more empathic performers as well!
Allow a Little Anger
Even though we are ultimately benefiting from this, we are undergoing some initial turmoil. My students and I spent countless hours purging, cleaning, and relocating the entire contents of our theater to offsite storage. Our theater activities for the next year will be relocated as well, causing some upheaval in our scheduling. Plus, our theater was scheduled originally to be the last thing to go and ended up being the first. So I felt like it was important to remind my students to see the end, but also let them grumble. But in the last days, we ripped down the curtains and wrote on the walls. We yelled and cried and felt sorry for ourselves. Allowing my students to feel the ugly emotions will make the beautiful ones we feel at the end of the race even more rewarding.
An exciting, exhausting, frustrating, and stressful part of renovation is planning for what is to come. As is true in so many situations, we had to break a few eggs to prepare our perfect omelet. This included a lot of tense meetings and more than one opportunity for students to make their cases to the school board. It was a very educational opportunity for them to learn to be heard in a professional and knowledgeable way. We had to make value judgments on what was most important to us as a department. We had to make hard choices about what should be included. Encouraging students to make their voices heard empowered them in ways you cannot replicate in the classroom.
Savor the Moment
Perhaps the most important thing I wanted to teach my students during this trying time was to savor the moment. Theaters are buildings. We learn and grow inside, but our memories and lessons are not held there. The high school years are fleeting. For many, they are considered some of the best. But for my students, I certainly hope that is not the case. I hope that through this trying time, I have taught my students they need to savor every moment, learn every lesson, and use them in the real world, to make a real life. If they learned this lesson, I would consider all of this a roaring success.