Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sweet Whispers of Mortality

program for the first show

Joyce and I drove by Harmon Middle School last night on Aurora-Hudson Road. We were on our way up to Chagrin to see While We're Young, a film we both would like (more about it in "Sunday Sundries" tomorrow).

I can't go by Harmon, of course, without looking up that driveway at the school where I taught for so many years--where I had so much fun, where I learned so much.

Last evening we both noticed that there were quite a few cars parked in the lot, and it hit me: If I were still teaching there now, I'd be in rehearsal for an 8th Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Show.

And then something hit me even harder: I directed the last of those shows nineteen years ago, on May 31 and June 1, 1996. I knew I was going to retire the following year--the first day I was eligible (in January 1997), so that show was quite an emotional one for me. I'd done my first production at the middle school in May 1967--thirty years earlier. And somehow an entire career had flown by, and I was standing there in the back of the Commons watching and listening to kids sing "Bye, Bye Harmon" for the final time. Did I weep? You bet your sweet bippy--as they used to say on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. (I know, I know: yet more dating myself!)

the 1st cast
We did the first Farewell show on May 18-19, 1984--and it was then that we hit upon the idea of playing with the title. We called it The 88th Annual 8th Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Show because, you see (clever, clever), that class of kids would graduate from high school in 1988. I actually had kids ask me--during that show and others--if this really was the 89th or 90th or whatever show. The last one, however, removed all doubt: It was the 2000th production. Even the dimmest among us knew that was impossible.

I should add that I didn't do one every year. Sabbatical leave--working on books about Jack London I would publish. Tim DeFrange did at least one; so did Bill Lavezzi during my absences.

The shows were tremendous fun for me--and, I think, for the other adults who contributed so significantly to them--choreographer Andy Kmetz, pianist Gary Brookhart. (Others had played shows for us before Gary came on board, including the talented Debbie Langford, who taught math at the high school. And a wonderful former student, Janet Nabring, often played rehearsals for us.)

Basically, it was a revue. Throughout the year, I wrote skits and songs (with tunes stolen from actual songs) about events in school. Spring break was the Big Push--writing, blocking. I remember one spring break (1988) I was in the Netherlands and Germany, chasing the story of Anne Frank. (I taught the play The Diary of Anne Frank each year.) I sat in my hotel rooms at night writing 8th grade show skits. No Euro night life for me!

From the very beginning it was a come-one-come-all sort of production. If you wanted to be in it, you were in it. Later, I even arranged special skits/songs for members of the track team, who could practice together only rarely. I tried to find out special skills kids had, and we would employ them in the show. One year--with some gifted basketball players--we did a Globetrotters skit ("Sweet Georgia Brown" and all); another year, a boy who'd memorized "The Gettysburg Address" recited it as if it were part of his campaign for student council. Andy Kmetz always picked some girls who could really dance and rehearsed them for a big number that was always a highlight of the show.

We used a variety of themes: a class reunion, a school tour, Harmon in the 1950s, stress, and the like. The final one was kind of a "greatest hits" format--skits and songs from all the previous shows (some new ones, too), stitched together with the "All the world's a stage" speech from As You Like It. Sort of "The Seven Ages of Harmon." (For some reason, I can't find my pictures from that show ... I will, though!)

So ... nineteen years have fled. The difference between being thirty and forty-nine. Or: zero and nineteen. Or: More than half of my public-school teaching career. How can this be?

I can't pretend to understand. But what I do understand is this: Those shows--all of them--have prominent placement in the Highlight Reel of My Life. And the kids who were in them--those hundreds of kids? Well, they remain where they've always been. In my heart.

the final program

1 comment:

  1. I was in the 50's themed one (1994th)! There are still songs that I can sing the altered lyrics to. I even kept my poodle skirt and cut it down to fit my daughter on her 50th day of kindergarten.

    Ashley Quintin Hejmanowski