IF YOU GO
What: An inside look at the teachers' lounge of a public high school
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 24, 25, 26, 31; Nov. 1 & 2; one 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 27
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
To all the teachers, educators and anyone who's ever worked with children out there, this one is for you.
Fort Myers-based Theatre Conspiracy is running "All My Raisins in the Son," a play that takes a peek into that most mysterious of places - the teachers' lounge at a public high school. Playwright John Twomey, an educator himself, captures the highs, the lows, the coffee, donuts, despair, exhilaration and exhaustion of teaching.
"We nailed it," cast member Angie Koch told me after participating in a post-show talkback with the play's author last Friday night. "There were a lot of teachers and former educators in the crowd and they loved it."
Koch has teaching experience herself. She founded an after-school arts & theatre program in Ellensburg, Wa., and substitute teaches in Lee County public schools. For her, "All My Raisins in the Son" captures a part of the education system that isn't often in the public eye. She also points to the arts as a key (and oft-neglected) part of the education system - and a point that Twomey makes in his script. The play won Theatre Conspiracy's annual new play contest in August.
"Kids are so much more involved when they study the arts because they want to be there," Koch said. "It is different in the classroom when you're handing them a math worksheet."
An ensemble piece that focuses on the trial by fire of new teacher Victoria, the show never beats audiences over the head with an message but offers a smart, subtle look at the modern education system. Twomey touches on issues like teachers' unions, encroaching technology, the mountains of paperwork, distant administration, the ever-increasing shift toward standardized tests and even the fact that public school teachers send their own kids to private school.
The show's title comes when a student writes an essay that combines "All My Sons" and "A Raisin in the Sun." As the dialogue explains, "Raisins" is "the beautiful yet heartbreaking story of an African-American family of color whose son's plane is shot down over Vietnam." To the astonishment of the assembled teacher's lounge, an administrator defends the essay, saying students don't need a command of literature: "He followed the rubric … whether the book he wrote about actually exists is irrelevant.
Koch plays sarcastic veteran Florence in the show, a woman worn down by decades in the system. She took inspiration for her portrayal on a burned-out teacher her daughter Jennifer once encountered. Although the character is definitely bitter, she's got the best one-liners; asked what she's reading in the newspaper, Florence shoots back "My obituary."
"They come in as bright-eyed teachers," Koch said, "but then they get to the point where Florence is now - trying anything and everything to get kids engaged."
"They live this everyday," Koch says of the difficulties facing teachers and educators. "How do you make a class excited when you want kids to read a book?"
Class might not be exciting. But "All My Raisins in the Son" promises to be.