Monday, May 21, 2012

Break a Leg

Under the distracted eye of a junior high school teacher even the most sublime of theatrical productions can be magically transformed into chaotic tedium. Introduce costumes and the casting of important roles often goes to those who fit best into the important costumes. Because the size of the thespians is largely determined by the spurting or sputtering of their hormones this decision proves what every junior high student fears; that who they will eventually become is determined by how efficient their glands are.

Recently AYDs history class put on a production of “The Salem Witch Trials”. It was an in-class production, and the audience was limited to those involved in the production and a few pictures taken by the history teacher who is also the yearbook coordinator,

I have mentioned before how there are almost as many unfortunate poets as there are lovers. I have certainly counted in their number. There are far fewer unfortunate playwrights, but when life casts them as junior high school teachers they inflict tedium far in excess of what their numbers would suggest.

One reason to write a historical play is to put a spin on events. Emphasis can be placed on particular interactions to create drama or comedy. There is no shortage of characters to examine in The Salem Witch Trials, and there are many dramatic interpretations of the events of 1692 which capitalize on one or another of them. Was Tituba delusional; broken by the isolation of domestic slavery in New England after her capture and enslavement as a young girl in Barbados? Was Cotton Mather a bumbling fool who could turn torture and execution into slapstick routines? What of the young female accusers? Did they have some teenage disaffection of speech [whatever, like, y-know, really, OMG!]?

There is a school of thought that identifies acting as an effective teaching method. By acting out the parts of a particular event in history the students “live” it. The immersion can be effective. There are strong visual, tactile, auditory, and in the case of productions where costumes are re-worn by sweaty junior high students after being stored most of the year in plastic bags, olfactory stimuli not available from textbooks.

The Lamanites figure prominently in Mormon theology. Laman was a Jew who spoke reformed Egyptian. In 600 BC, with his brother Nephi and father Lehi, he built a special boat in an idyllic camp where a bubbling river flowed into the sea somewhere in what is now Saudi Arabia. Laman was mean to Nephi so god turned his skin dark, and this allowed god to tell the difference between the descendants of Laman (the Lamanites) and the descendants of Nephi (the Nephites) throughout the many struggles that comprise much of the original text in the book of Mormon.

Apparently the Lamanites, despite having forgotten reformed Egyptian, continued their nastiness into the post re-colonization of the Americas. Utah history is resplendent with examples of settlers putting the Lamanites back in line. The most famous is the Bear river Massacre of 1863. I had no idea they were being so nasty at The Salem Witch Trials 170 years earlier till I saw the pictures from AYDs class production of those events.

Now, The Salem Witch Trials are a series of events that I’m sure my readers are familiar with. They are the sort of events that people who would read a blog titled “Adult Onset Atheist” would have looked into. It is a story of religious intolerance and delusion leading to the torture and execution of innocent individuals in pre-secular America with some theoretical mixture of young girls and LSD thrown in. There are no native Americans (aka Lamanites) that figure prominently in the events.

I know that some of you who have a more finely-tuned sensitivity to description of The Salem Witch Trial events many be thinking things about Tituba which include phrases like “some historians” or “some evidence suggests”, but whatever she was she was not a local native American. AYD’s production featured almost a fifth of the cast as native Americans.

Though I did not see the production myself I know that their were many native Americans from the pictures the history teacher took. Here is an example of the native American portion of the cast from two of the three classes.

Salem Lamanites
I can assure you that this isnot soft-core pedophile porn. Sure they are shirtless pics of 13-year-old boys with paint smeared on their chests, but at least one of them made it’s way into the yearbook, so they could not be inappropriate; could they?

I do not know if the history teacher actually smeared the viscous colored liquid onto the boy’s chests himself, or if he had them do it to each other while he watched. I do not know if he literally ran his hands over them, but I do know that he did it figuratively. I would like to point out the slightly exaggerated image an adult male’s handprint on some of the boy’s left breast; they were also fondled symbolically.

I should admit that because AYD and AOD are girls my attention to this has been rather passive aggressive. I was given pre-yearbook photos on a CD, and I contented myself with showing them to people with a “isn’t this a bit wrong” thrown in. I thought that after the photos came out in the yearbook (and one of them did) that it would raise questions amongst concerned adults. Surely an administration that makes a point of culling girls whose skirts are half an inch short of their arbitrary standards would reign in any overt fondler, even if there was only the appearance of literal fondling.

I can picture a witch trial with the history teacher on the stand.

He is sweating. The family of one of the victims sits in the spectator area. She is a single mom in a stylishly form cut dark dress. She has her son’s hand in her’s but her eyes ore on the history teacher; they are filled with pain, disgust, and loathing.

The dashing prosecutor addresses the jury for a few moments. His back is to the stand where the history teacher sweats nervously. The prosecutor is telling the jury about decency, family values, and community standards. We hear the words “Protect our children” as he turns to the history teacher with his arm raised in an accusatory gesture.

“SO” he points at the history teacher “was it hard to get the paint to uniformly cover the boys’s nipples? Did you have to take extra time painting them? Did you do it with extra care and attention? Did you use multiple coats?”

The courtroom explodes into chaos. The judge bangs his little wooden hammer. The shifty defense attorney leaps to his feat shouting “I object, I object”.

In the confusion the history teachers eyes meet those of the attractive victim’s mother. Fear and guilt flash across the teacher’s face, and then he looks down.

Maybe I should write skits for junior high history classes. Of course I would probably work in zombies. I think there should be more theater with zombies in it. All junior high students know how to play a zombie, and after a few years the costumes would smell just right.


Anonymous said...

let me get this straight: the school that called a skirt half an inch above the knee "inapropriate" has topless guys in a school play?
way to go, hipocrites.

lanovia said...

This reminds me SO MUCH of where I went to school (in small town Texas), where the boys could do no wrong--as long as they were athletes.

Loopy said...

While of course it's abysmally ahistoric to feature Native Americans in a production about the Salem Witch Trials, I think you read far too much into the accompanying photograph. If you look closely, you can see that the boy with the blue handprint on his chest has traces of blue paint on his right hand, and the boy with the white handprint has traces of white. Since the prints are made with a right hand, it seems obvious to conclude that the boys applied the prints themselves. Regarding the claim of an adult-sized handprint on one of the boys, it appears to me to be nothing more than a result of smearing in the application. If you're going to make such provocative suggestions, you really should look more closely at the evidence you use in support of your assertion.

adult onset atheist said...

Loopy; Although I have a much higher resolution photo and cannot see any traces of blue paint on either boys’ hands it is entirely possible that they applied all the paint to themselves. Two of the boys do have traces of white paint on their hands. If you look at the “hand prints” they are not exactly handprints, but symbolic tracings of hands. This is consistant with what I stated.

You identify the most suggestive feature of the photograph, and with it the only assertions I make in the entry:
1) That it is “abysmally ahistoric to feature Native Americans in a production about the Salem Witch Trials”
2) That there is an ahistoric reason for including shirtless boys with bodypaint in the production.
3) That there is some personal reason for doing this. I do spin this personal reason into horrific motivations, but that is what spin is for.

In context with the trouble my daughter had this is, at best, hipocrytical. It is a worst an example of how skew approaches to appropriateness can create a climate where abusive interaction between staff and student is ignored, and explained away. There are reasons why this situation is particularly abusive (and that will be the subject of the second story I said I would write about the schools atmosphere), but it is out of context in this response to your comment as I have not written it yet.

You took my suggestive spin, decided it was an assertion, and then spoke up to defend the history teacher, and the administration which supports him. If you are going to defend this type of school atmosphere I suggest you start by answering the question “why did this happen?” rather than poking me with a “your suggestion might not be true so you shouldn’t say not-nice things”. This is a public institution charged with the protection of our kids that should be made to answer for even the appearance of wrongdoing.

Lindsey said...

I think that if my son was topless in a class play it would make me uncomfortable and if my daughter was in the play with them it would also make me uncomfortable. Especially given the skirt thing from the other day.

Anonymous said...

I know what brand of underwear one of the boys is wearing. THIS is OK to them, but a skirt that covers more than most is not?!?

Anonymous said...

Ah having married into a bunch of Mormons.....(though my wife is not)..I always wondered what happened to the white salamander (look you talk to lizards and get gold plates, then lose them, you're not a prophet, you're on a bad acid trip), not to mention since the Angel Moroni talked to Joseph Smith why they're not called Morons? Maybe they can't spell, dyslexic, add letters, who knows.

But, anyway. Salem. Pilgrims. We're not talking going shirtless and tanning. We're talking high neck, all black, and no skin showing. All that sinful stuff. Not to mention no self respecting Indian would put up with that witch trial nonsense...white squaw speakum with forked tongue...