Former teenagers pretend to be teenagers

What is it like to have a crush on someone who does not like you back, and who does not have a great character, but you are still crazy about that person? Students found out the answers from a staff musical.

On Feb. 13-14, with catchy songs, amusing scenes, and amazing acting, the staff brought in the hype of Grease. Although it was set in 1950’s America, the conflicts, ideals of society, and high school cliques and hierarchies are still the same, as many of the actors later said.

Like any other typical show about high school, Grease had it all. The Pink Ladies were the socially competitive teenagers, part of a clique, on top of the social hierarchy. Alongside them stood the Greasers who were the “cool guys,” busy being rebellious. Then came the cheerleaders who were, according to Ms. Chandeen Santos, MY Social Studies teacher, “a little above the bookworms.” Finally, were thebookworms, the goody-goodies of the school, at the bottom of the hierarchy.

The staff did a great job portraying these characters. 

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The Pink Ladies and Sandra D

To find out and compare the actors’ teenage-high-school-selves to the characters was an epiphany. The Woodstocker interviewed many of the cast members and asked how their role contrasted with their own personalities in high school.

Ms. Kirsten Pike, English teacher, who played the boy-crazy, materialistic role of Marti, part of the Pink Ladies, described herself as a “nicer” person. She said that she was more into sports and activities. She was less socially competitive, and unlike Marty, only “had one boyfriend at once.”

Similarly, Ms. Ritika Roy, MY English teacher, who was also part of the Pink Ladies, described herself as “more of a bookworm than anything.” She did not pressure herself to necessarily fit in. She said, “I didn’t need to pretend like I was popular.” She accepted herself as who she was.

Mrs. Kirsten Beavan, who played Rizzo, a “strong and sarcastic” character also described how she was very different, and in fact, nearly the opposite of Rizzo. “I hated conflict,” she said, recalling how she used to be part of the Student Council and was a responsible student. However, she said that she had fun exploring  Rizzo’s soft character behind the hard facade.

Many of the Greasers, too, laughed out in nostalgia when they were comparing their high school selves.

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The Greasers

Mr. Robin Carter, physics teacher, made it clear that drinking and smoking were not his “thing.” With a chuckle, he added that he did not have any girlfriends. His role, Kenickie, was more of the latter rebellious years in Mr. Carter’s university years.

Likewise, Mr. Tesal Sangma, English teacher, portrayed Cory, who was flirtatious and smart. He said, “I was not flirty, did not know what flirting was.” Yet in some ways, Mr. Sangma did find similarities between himself and Cory: both of them enjoy being around people, though they do not mind being by themselves.

Mr. Robert Smith, Head of Middle Years, said that he was nowhere close to Sonny, his character. Sonny was “immature, [who] thought he was a ladies’ man; good with his hands but not good in school.” Mr. Smith described himself as shy. He also said that he was much better academically. Mr. Smith also said, “I had a fear of talking to girls,” similar to many other male teachers’ self-descriptions.

Mr. Alex Heetland, choir teacher, said, “I was a band geek, a choir nerd, and a theater kid” who would have associated more with the bookworms. Despite never being a member of any “cool gangs” in high school, he perfectly enacted Doody, the youngest of the Greasers.

The last Greaser, Mr. Ed Beavan, social studies teacher, had a surprising twist on how he and his character did have overlapping traits. “[Rump] suited my natural side well,” Mr. Beavan said, as he proceeded to unveil his rebellious childhood history. For instance, he hated authorities. 

However, this was not the end. Some of the bookworms smashed back with another unexpected twist.

“The bookworms, the goody-two-shoes, the nerds, the ones who did their homework,” is how Mrs. Santos described her character. Though her role was to play the “stereotype” of the so-called nerds, she was, in fact, not so much one in high school. She was more of a “rebel and one of the bad kids,” and out of the social norm by being the hippie.

Similarly, Mrs. Anjali Sharma, English as a second language teacher, said, “It was very hard for me to put myself into that role [bookworms].” Given a role which was the antithesis to what she was like in her teenage life, Mrs. Sharma shared her grief while trying to develop her character. “I was one of the rebels bunking school,” Mrs. Sharma said, as she added how she acted more like the Pink Ladies rather than the stereotypical label of “nerdy bookworm.”

Despite a couple of teachers who had roles which were similar to their teenage self, the oddity of playing the characters who were nearly the opposite of their teenage self was revealed. Staff whose characters were on top of the social pyramid expressed how they were “nowhere close,” or, were just the exact opposite.

Nevertheless, putting all the surprise aside, many mentioned how the struggles which are mandatory for teenagers are timeless. Mr. Andrew Plonka, English teacher, who played Eugene — “King of Bookworms” — said, “Some issues that kids are dealing with are issues that kids have always dealt with.” With similar thoughts, the cast, crew, and a couple of the ensemble members affirmed their personal messages to the current young minds: the students.  

“The biggest thing about directing this play was getting to work with my friends and colleagues on something creative and non-school-related,” Mr. Curran Russell, head of the drama department and the director, said.

As if it was planned, many other cast members also voiced in one accord. Some said that their purpose of auditioning was to connect better with the community. Mr. John Robertson, Head of Learning Support Department, expressed how his past experience of being part of a play/musical brought many of his colleagues closer, pushing him to audition for Grease too.

The others expressed how the play, though unexpected, brought themselves to a more inclusive part of the community. Mrs. Leaf Elhai, English teacher, said, “I love the camaraderie and the tightening of the relationships.”

They all desired to know their colleagues better, and this was an opportunity for them to do that. The importance of this, according to Ms. Pike, is to connect with people in a community and know that someone had your back. “I always checked on how things are going, whether the props are in the right place, etc. but everyone was working together, cooperating,” Mrs. Pike said.

Similarly, Mrs. Lisa Musick, MY band director, described this experience as a “collaborative living breathing thing,” where teachers from different ends of the school had a chance to have a “fun and great time.”

Mr. Prateek Santram, Indian history teacher, said, “It’s a lot of pressure and work and extra hours of effort, but it was all worth it.”

Though it might seem like a simple draw-in between the teachers in a two-week experience, observing the connections between staff members speaks for itself: people in a community are meant to help each other, therefore, labeling people is unnecessary.

This is because these labels tend to be created from a surface level deduction. Rizzo, a trashy, hard, and mean character, struggled with the way labels incarcerated her into a box, according to Mr. Carter. This, after all, was more than a label to call on to, and rather a tight pigeonhole which the society pushed her into.

Labels also push people to form cliques in high school, just like how the Pink Ladies, Greasers, cheerleaders, and bookworms almost never broke out of their group, or their labels in the first place.

This, however, is not always true. When Mrs. Elhai described her teen life, she mentioned how she never had a group which she stuck around with all the time, showing that it is possible to escape the walls which people make for you. Still, it is inevitable that communities take a prominent part of people’s identities.

In those labels which we merge ourselves and others, segregate through categorizing, and struggle to fit in, we tend to lose ourselves.

Probably when we become a follower like Sunny, number two of Greasers. Probably when “love” blinds us from recognizing a toxic relationship. Probably when we try to fit in a cool gang to appear and feel cool. Probably when we try to impress others before comforting ourselves.

And to all of the above, the old schoolers would say: no.

The most important part of being teenagers is to reflect and learn to “relax into their natural selves,” Mr. Russell said. This is because, sometimes, it is not only about high school, but also the life beyond that.

We, as teenagers tend to make mistakes while growing up. As Ms. Fabi Shaw put it: “A state of struggling through our lives, mostly because we are looking outwards, seeking comfort rather than ourselves.”

Nonetheless, the importance of self-acknowledgment does not end here. Ms. Elhai said, “Being yourself is cool. That is the coolest thing,” yet what makes us, teenagers, the lost individuals, cooler is to take risks and wholeheartedly follow a passion.

“Do things that scare you; doing things that scare you makes you alive even if you don’t have a life purpose,” Ms. Venna Grace Mendez, physical education and dance teacher, who played Cha Cha, said. 

The reason why following your passion and working your way towards it is cool is, you can make things happen. “Because of [Mr. Russell’s] hard work, because of his passion, Grease could happen in two weeks’ time,” Mr. Carter said.  

While stating things which Mr. Carter hoped his students would take away from the play, he said, “Hard work and passion, a combination of those two things can deliver some good results.”

 When the pit band (ensemble) finally had their music, they barely had one and a half weeks  to play about 20 different songs. The only way the pit band was able to fit the music with the play, according to Mr. Daniel Musick, music teacher, was by practicing with passion. With their own passion for music.

It is easy to be swayed around when we are lost; however, as Mr. Heetland said, “Don’t change who you are.”

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Victoria Lee is the 1st Person editor of The Woodstocker

Edited by Janvi Poddar

Photos by Knema Gardner

6 thoughts on “Former teenagers pretend to be teenagers

  1. Tesal Sangma

    Thanks, Vic, for writing this piece! It’s amazing to see you knit all of the interviews together beautifully! Well done.

    Like

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