studentsMy improv troupe has been going through a time of transition.  When I came back this summer after my school hiatus, there were a lot of new faces and a few old ones – and things had changed, not necessarily for the better.

Every group goes through highs and lows. The first time I was around, I was on the outskirts – the newish girl in what seemed like a boy’s club. Everyone was so good, the show was tight and we had audiences that were on the fuller side. The cast was amazing-such a close group of talented individuals that made each other look better onstage.  I was pretty insecure-I felt a little out of my league and nervous, and desperate to book jobs to be a ‘real actor,’ but I respected these funny people – and the respect was mutual. Because of personal situations, I didn’t hang out and party with everyone post shows – I did the shows and rehearsals and went home, never really bonding with anyone more than onstage.

Fast-forward a few years. I quit acting and took up museum education. It was April before I graduated and I looked to my then boyfriend and said, ‘Gosh, I want to go back to the comedy theatre. I miss it.’ Here I was, a month and a half to graduation after quitting acting and the first thing I do is want to go back to the profession that gave me anxiety? Even before I started The Engaging Educator, I knew that improv and theatre helped my teaching. And I missed it – the people, the confidence from making a room full of people laugh, the respect from the audience and fellow players – I missed the community.

Well, my friends don’t call me impulsive for nothing.

I was back onstage by the end of June.  And suddenly, as much fun as I was having doing it again, the people were so different. First, more ladies – a built-in group of girlfriends! Then I started hanging out more – friends not in the education or art world! But something was different. People didn’t show up for rehearsal. We were doing smaller shows. It didn’t seem like everyone had their heart in it or in the right place. Improv is a team sport: it’s not stand-up. But there was a distinct lack of team.

Well, not only because I’m a fixer by nature, but also because a dear friend runs the theatre, I tried to be the cheerleader. Forces rallied and a group of us attempted to make things happen. But between egos, secrets and drama, the rally stopped.  We were put in our places. At one point, a member of my team told me I just need to let it fail – now, I’m all about failing. This wasn’t a fail to learn situation. It was a needless fail. But we backed down. And the same problems with rehearsal, shows and attitudes just got worse. Blame started getting thrown around and a large amount of it got placed on a person that wasn’t even around. Respect was waning because of personal disagreements.

Looking back on the situation, of course people blamed. It’s much easier to look at someone else than examine yourself.  And we all hate the person in charge right? Fight the man, blame the president, say ‘if only.’ If only he let us, if only he was here, if only he wasn’t stubborn. Blame is simple, especially when people are at odds for personal reasons.

But after a while, the blame became malicious. It was more than blame really – it evolved into ridicule, hostility and finally insubordination. Sides happened. People said things like ‘don’t tell’ and  got upset when others found out. Respect for our director was long gone and respect for each other and the show was going. Name-calling started and led to backstabbing. And suddenly, we all reverted back to those kids on the playground picking on each other.

Something has to give. In our case, it was our director hitting his limit. People got fired and rules got reinstated-if you don’t follow them, you have to leave.  It’s like a job right? You don’t show up, you get fired.  But sensibilities and respect were still missing. Everything got heightened.  People yelled, got angry, called for strikes and quit. The respect for our director was so far gone, no one thought he was capable of making a good decision.  It’s easier to talk behind someone’s back than talk to them, right?

At this point, many of you are probably wondering why I’m recounting this for an educator site. Simple – it’s our job as educators and role models to infuse the idea of respect into our students. If people respected the director, they would have come to him before things got bad. If we respected each other, we would have completed our responsibilities as performers and come to rehearsal and shows. Had we respected the theatre, we would have submitted our schedule when it was due. Had respect existed in my theatre, this drama would have never happened. But like and dislike got in the way and correlated itself with respect. You don’t have to like someone to respect them.  We could all hate our director – we don’t, but we could – but no matter what our personal feelings are about a personality, respect NEEDS to be there. And as teachers, it’s our job to model that behavior and infuse it into our classrooms.  Students don’t need to be the best of friends, but respect is essential. Classrooms need to be built on that – whether the respect be focused on a subject, a historical story, an art piece, an author, a fellow student, a teacher. Had we just remembered the ‘play nice’ rule from kindergarten, this would have never happened.

As for the theatre? The dust is still settling.  Just this morning, as I finished this piece, a friend that hasn’t played in a few year was removed from the website and started assaulting the director’s personality. Blame will always happen, especially when people don’t examine themselves. But most people are taking time to think, breathe and talk it out. The respect is slowly getting rebuilt and we’ll continue on, much stronger. Transition is tough and at the end of the day we may not all love each other, but we will definitely respect ourselves and one another a lot more. And who knows, maybe we will never get back to that tight team we once were.  If anything, we’ve learned to respect all over again. Instead of being those kids fighting on the playground, we’re going to be the kids playing nice.

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