Are School Productions Good for the Jews?

Someone asked me about bais yaakov plays. I can’t, offhand, think of any good stories from production, but in 12th grade I did write an essay describing the personality transplant undergone by people heavily involved in it. 

Our 12th grade teacher had us write a “reaction paper”: we had to analyze people’s reactions to something unusual. I wrote about a minor incident during a play rehearsal. Enjoy my homework from high school: 

In cases where heavy responsibilities are meted out, humor becomes contingent on whether it affects your area of responsibility or not. Even fun-loving people can go completely neurotic if the perfection of what they are in charge of is threatened. It is interesting to note that during our production, students backstage only got tense when it was their particular scene-dance-costume-etc that was in danger of being less than perfect. As far as practical jokes went—they were only funny if they didn’t affect you.

Early during the second night of practice, I discovered a fake bloody leg in the props room.  Remembering our private joke about hanging a dummy on the gallows during production, I brought the leg to Faiga, my partner in props, claiming it was what was left of the dummy after he got run over, and suggesting that we hang it in his memory. Faiga was all for it. She laughed and turned the leg this way and that way and called it ‘absolutely gross’ in the most delighted way, as I hooked it over the noose. Another props girl, Shaindy, who was there at the time gave us a very strange look which clearly read, “You’re crazy, but it’s your scene, so do what you want.”

In fact, as I continued my duties as a props girl that night, I worried. Courtroom was my scene after all, and when they found a leg hanging from the noose, they were going to yell at me first. My partner Faiga, of course, was less worried then me because for some reason people with complaints always bothered me with them. I went back and unhooked the leg, but, reluctant to forget it, I tucked it between the gallows’ supports. Several scenes later, when I ran to move the gallows on stage for the courtroom dance, I found Faiga tucking the leg back into the noose, and Chaya—head of dance—having a fit next to her.

“What’s the problem?” I breezed up.

“Is this your idea Bad4? It’s not cute! It’s going to ruin the whole dance! You can’t put it on stage!”

As much as I would have like to agree with her, I was now on the defensive. “Why not? It’s a beautiful leg! It’ll add to the effect! It’s beautiful! Don’t you like it?”

“What kind of stupid question is that?! It’s ugly! It’s gross! And it’s going to ruin the whole dance! Not everyone has your sense of humor Bad4! No. No. No! You can’t put it onstage!”

I turned to Faiga in affected reluctance. “Oh well, no need to give her a heart attack, just stick it between the supports for now; we’ll put it on by the real thing.”

“Don’t you dare!” Chaya glared, homicide oozing from every syllable.

As I sat out in the audience observing my props during the dance, Shaindy was sitting nearby. “What happened to the leg?” she leaned over to ask.

“We decided not to do it,” I explained.

“Oh,” she said, disappointed.

The four characters in this little narrative reacted very differently to the idea of a bloody leg dangling prominently on stage. Shaindy  just shrugged and looked like she thought we were crazy. Why? Because we were ruining our own scene, and it didn’t affect her in the least. Quite to the contrary, she was ready to sit back with her feet up and watch us ‘ruin’ our scene and listen to the entertaining squawks of indignation that were bound to be heard from the Holy Table of Important People—the directors’ stand in front of the stage.

Faiga had more to worry about, but not much more. She was tired of slaving away for props, and was looking forward to a good reaction from some people higher up. She was well aware that if anyone had a problem, they would yell at me first, so she had very little issue with letting the bloody limb be presented onstage.

I, on the other hand, was caught in the middle. I was bored, feeling a little reckless, and overdue for some fun. On the other hand, I knew that the responsibility of making sure my scene was perfect somehow fell directly on me. Had it been anyone else’s scene, I would have been all for it, probably behaving exactly like Shaindy had. But because it was my scene and my responsibility, I was uncomfortable messing it up.

Chaya, though, had nothing on her mind but the perfect production of her dance. Stressed out from a long hour of practice and correcting all sorts of minor flaws, she was not ready to let some outside force ruin her hard work. Had she no related responsibilities, she probably would have acted like Shaindy, or maybe like me, but because she was responsible to produce a perfect dance, she was uptight and tense about anything that threatened to ruin it. Including a bloody leg in the noose.

The radical difference between Shaindy’s and Chaya’s reaction shows how radically responsibility effects our reactions. People burdened with heavy responsibilities can suddenly lose all their humor and good naturedness in connection to the thing they are responsible for. Things they might ordinarily find fun or at least amusing, suddenly cease to be so, because it might ruin their work. Responsibility, as abstract an idea as it is, is a powerful force that can cause people to lose their sense of humor, forget how to deal with people in a socially acceptable manner, and force people to make their natural inclinations subversive to their area of responsibility. Something so constraining, so unnatural, and so repressive, should certainly be banned, or at least monitored by some government committee, don’t you agree?

Are School Productions Good for the Jews?

3 thoughts on “Are School Productions Good for the Jews?

  1. mamashtaka says:

    In Baltimore many years ago (more than I want to think about), I was in NCSY. I had female friends in NCSY; some were from public school, some were from from BY. (This was back when girls in BY were still allowed to be in NCSY.) One year, a BY friend invited me to her school play (“Our Town,” if I remember correctly). Just think – a BY girl inviting a boy to her school play. I went. There were men there, and teenage boys there . . . and the world didn’t come to an end. There was no lightning and thunder. The BY auditorium didn’t sink into a hole in the ground. And we all lived happily ever after. It frightens me that there are now places where fathers can’t attend their daughters’ high school graduations.


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