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Teen Fiction: The Play and the Players

Shiri Newmark

And here they are, directed to smile at the audience, when they may be crying inside. To suppress their personalities, they take on that of an imagined character

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

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Mrs. Steinberg

The lights are already dim. I want to find my seat quickly so I don’t miss seeing any of my girls on stage.

The first scene is staged by six students. Only two of them are “my girls.” Both of them come to my office primarily as an excuse to miss class. I don’t mind that. I know that the need for attention can be just as valid as many other issues girls have. Leah is acting the part of a shy ten-year-old. Knowing how much she loves to talk, I’m almost surprised she can manage that!

The first song-dance is beginning. I notice that all the girls are smiling as they sing and dance. I imagine the heads during practice, “Smile, girls! Don’t forget to smile!” Tova is right there in the second row, smiling with the rest of them. I wonder if it’s only me, or if that smile looks fake to everyone. I rarely see Tova smile. It’s hard to recognize her like this.

Chedva steps onto the stage. She’s cast as the best friend of the main character. As the two girls hug each other in excitement, I ponder the fact that in real life, Chedva is jealous of Mimi, and tries to avoid her. Chedva struggles with schoolwork, and she feels that Mimi represents everything she wishes she could be. On stage, however, they are best friends, putting on a show good enough to fool the audience.

That’s what these plays are all about. Faking. Pretending. Hiding behind costumes and too-big-to-be-real smiles and bright lights. As if any of those things can truly cover the disappointment, sadness, loneliness, and other difficulties many of these girls struggle with on a daily basis.

 

I always feel that the bright spotlight plays the biggest role in helping to cover everything that is real. It’s like saying, “You can see everything. We couldn’t hide anything under this light!” It’s irrelevant, though. The struggles are internal. No matter how strong the lighting is, when a girl stands on stage and recites her lines, all it takes are acting skills to hide her true self from the world.

I tell the girls to be real. To be themselves. I tell them that their struggles matter, and their successes count. I tell them that they are valuable and valued.

And here they are, directed to smile at the audience, when they may be crying inside. To suppress their personalities, to take on that of an imagined character. The better they can fake it, the more applause they receive.

I wonder how many people watch plays the way I do, with these thoughts running through their minds. Probably not many.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I should just let the girls have their fun.

Miss Teller

This is the last scene before intermission. I’m hoping to spend the ten-minute break congratulating my students participating in the production. Obviously, that includes the girls working backstage. I love when students are able to find the area they’ll be most successful in, and to work on that. It’s an amazing opportunity. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 695)

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