Confessions of a First Year Troupe Director: I really don't know what I'm doing!

By Phillip Goodchild posted 04-09-2014 17:25

After four years of teaching 9th graders the English curriculum, and having just put to bed another hodge-podge attempt at teaching Romeo & Juliet  within the confines of a mandated, academic curriculum that allows as much room for dramatics as there is room for someone to say 'I object' at the appropriate time at a wedding, I turned in my 'Subject Requests for next year form' and sighed dejectedly, expecting to return to the same curriculum and content the following year. 

When my department head instead emailed me, and told me she needed to see me in her office, I immediately panicked. What did I do now? Had another student complained about the content of Romeo & Juliet? (The previous year, a male student had reported that the material was offensive. Well, specifically, Leonard Whiting's posterior in the Zeffirelli version was offensive, apparently. Bless.) No, not this time. I emailed back, trying to feel her out: is it bad? Was I in trouble? My department head is amazing: "Just come see me." As I dropped everything I was doing, and started walking to her office, I wondered if she might be worth inviting out to a poker night: she wasn't giving away anything. 

"Close the door." 
Here it comes: where was the pink slip? 
"You're teaching drama next year." 
What? I'm not being fired? How did that happen? I'm being given drama, having not asked for it? Who had died? What an incredible relief! What a long and winding road to get here!

Let me try and make this brief:

I studied English and American Literature at the University of Manchester, England. I immediately went on to do my Masters in Advanced Theatre Practice at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. As a result of my fine education, I was a fantastically accomplished bar manager for about 7 years, with the odd acting gig in between. I had an agent, I was starting to get somewhere, but then I made some very poor choices and ended up several years later living in America as a single father, raising my American born child in a trailer park somewhere in Florida. You've never really seen confusion until, speaking in a perfect English accent, you tell an American that yes, you are English, and yes, you have a Masters degree, and yes, you live in a trailer park. A pretty run-down one, at that.

From that start in this country, I have gained citizenship, an amazing wife, and now have three amazing, beautiful children (please be aware of slight bias here). When I first got my temporary license to teach in Florida, I opted to take certification exams in English and in Theatre, which evidently turned out to be a prescient move on my part: when I took the exams, they were $50 each. When the great recession really kicked in, the price per exam got jacked up to about $200 each. Funny how that works.

I was fortunate enough to get a temporary position teaching regular English to juniors and sophomores. I could tell all sorts of stories about that first year of teaching, but that won't be the focus of this series of blogs I'm intending to write. Needless to say, I went through the very usual highs and lows of a first year teacher, far more lows than highs, and still came back, gaining a permanent position at Lennard High School, a high poverty school with a large migrant population in Ruskin, Florida. To me, the drama teacher position seemed far off, and not something I wanted with young children and a young marriage; the theatre teacher position would involve losing all my family time, and all the other justifications I used to reassure myself that I didn't really want it. But then a curious thing happened: the drama teacher suddenly left after 2 years, and I found that I got my hopes up. And she was replaced. But not by me. The teacher that opened the drama program at Lennard (established: 2006) returned and took up the drama position again. I was astonished at just how disappointed I was. I resigned myself to thinking, oh well. Wait another few years, perhaps. I still have Creative Writing, at least!

Which is where we circle back to the beginning of this blog entry. As I approach the end of my first year of teaching theatre and being a troupe director, I was encouraged to write a series of blogs about my experiences: highs, lows, pitfalls, triumphs, minor tragedies, and the like. I can be frank and tell you that I nearly didn't make it; the month before I was told that I was taking over the drama department at Lennard (March 2013), I was looking for other work. I chose instead to stay, and I have been blessed for that choice.
It's not been an easy ride; and I wish, when I had started, that this community was there for the beginning of the year. I have found the EdTA community to be one of the most valuable resources in the beginnings of my journey toward competence. I'll be sharing more about how this journey has gone in the next few weeks in this blog.

As I approach the end of the year, I have a little bit more of an idea of what I'm doing. The excitement is that I've barely scratched the surface of what this role entails, and as the weeks progress, I invite you to share with me in the journey I've made so far. Hopefully, you'll be entertained. Above all, I hope that all troupe directors - young and old - might gain something from what I've learned.