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August 25, 2005

How to Get a 'C' in Drama 101

[from the archives - circa 1985, a letter to my theatre arts teacher]

context - my drama teacher told us that we should pick a scene for our final, but not anything from tennessee williams, pinter, arthur miller or ibsen because the themes were too complex. i said out loud that was rediculous, snorted and walked out of the class. i only showed up 3 or 4 times in the second half of the semester after i picked my scene and was paired with a partner.

Success has many forms.

In the matter of my elementary theater class it appears as though i will receive a less than honorable mark. This is clear to mea and i understand the justification. Pith this is not an acting course or perhaps one in the study of drama. By your own admission, it doesn't work. Nevertheless, there exists an organized course of study - outlined in the syllabus for all to see and follow. Then there is Mr. Bowen...

I'm certain that you don't take my attitude about the class as a personal affront, yet I recognize you as the actor - completely aware and somewhat put off during our terse exchanges. It is my failure that it is so difficult for me to shed my aggressive intellectual hat for such a general and elementary course. It is my failure that I discount attendance simply because I understand the general direction of the discussions and tend to learn very quickly. I'd rather be absent than rudely studying some other material in class. Yet these fundamental differences and the others that keep me from truly pursuing the top grad in the class are best left in a clarifying afterthought rather than a qualifying preface. It is for that reason that you should not receive this letter until the end of the semester.

I recognized this difficulty last week when I requested to take the midterm at a rescheduled time. It was all there, we tried to act anonymously, but I knew you recognize me and I your attitude towards the dissident. It is nothing fabulously new - many times persons are opposites on issues. I must face you and your class but then I must face myself.

Even in this letter there should not be room for criticism. It is not my responsibility to teach you to teach or to reshape your course or style. I have only the scantron of evaluations as that forum. Yet I must tell you how frustrated I have been to attempt to show my own dramatic ability within the context of this class. That I know I am capable yet have no chance to show how I am, is the conflict that did keep me enrolled. In short I felt that for me to be able to show myself acting (or anyone with real abilities) is beyond the scope of Theatre 111. But I had to be there. Attendance is not drama. This you know. Talent is not manifest in "putting childish qualities into the scene". It didn't work for me. Further, I don't believe it works at all. Further, I believe you know that it doesn't. Yet it’s in the syllabus in essence. I write this having a gut feeling that you are above this babysitting.

My only chance then, is my scene. My five minutes. A shared five minutes actually. My choice of roles is limited as is my choice of partners. I must consider the audience, the availability of props, the absence of time for exposition. Yet whatever I do – this letter is my subtext. I recognize the futility with a smile, for you indeed will see me as the dissident.

So, the irony of my selection comes out. I am Felix Unger. I must play absolutely pristine, neurotically so, simply to prove something basic about myself. In a comedy yet. In a failing situation that goes for laughs. Unrecognized pathos.

Does Oscar know what good a man Felix really is as they play neatness games? The subtext there is marriage and the strategies are blurred by Simon’s characterizations so that the audience may laugh at itself. The tactics are cigarette butts, linguini, poker and slang. All comedic. Not comic but comedic; not actually funny but played for laughs.

And so the analogy is complete, I play for your, for the class for a grade on the surface. Yet the conflict is between myself and the form. Is this the intellectual vehicle of choice? Is this class, this semester at this school in front of these people what I am? Certainly not! But even for drama is it accurately testing me? Sadly not. I’ll barely pass. I’ll learn the terms, the technicalities but the spirit does not flow there.

It makes little sense for me to pursue the point. This paper is not graded. Nor is it type, It may not even be considered tactful. I am a scientist by profession, I take fact over tact. I should not care about drama but every day I play roles to save people the pain of horrid letters such as this. Drama is in me. I would probably like to see your face. But no. I’ll play it for laughs. I’ll be Felix and no one else. This is what will pass me. I’ll smile and ‘walk on the papers’.


my scene got a standing ovation. the last day of classes, i dropped the letter in her her office, and i got a 'c' in the class.

Posted by mbowen at August 25, 2005 09:32 PM

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