Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Equus: A Teacher's Perspective on the Impact of the Play

Last July 25, 2010, my new theater-play buddy, Teacher Ada, and I watched the play Equus at Greenbelt 1. We caught the 3pm play featuring Red Concepcion as Alan Strang.
To give you a brief background on what the play is let me quote the synopsis taken from the programme:

Pyschiatrist Martin Dysart is brought the most challenging case of his career. Alan Strang, seems like a normal seventeen year old. His life appears routine and his family loving. However Alan's passion for horses and an encounter with stable hand Jill has led him to behave in the most devastating way. Dysart must discover why this severely troubled teenager, has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick. Dysart slowly realizes hat Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods - and has enacted a strange Passion play.

Only Dysart seems able to grasp the answer to this psychological puzzle. He understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence.

Honestly, I went to the play with the most simple or in Filipino we call it "babaw" of reasons. To see what was the play that made Harry Potter boy "Daniel Radcliffe" controversial as a theater actor. Is is true that there will be nudity? Is this really about a guy who gets turned on by a horse? OMG!

But alas, I left the theater a changed teacher? (While still gawking at my favorite horseman, yummy guys) Ooops wait, I said changed right? No seriously back to the topic at hand, the last thing I remembered Dr. Dysart say in the play was "Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor.It cannot be created."

As a Science teacher, it rang a familiar bell. Sounds like the first law of Thermodynamics.

As a teacher it pinched my heart with the mention of the word "Passion".

A shoutout in my Facebook inspired me to write this blog. It was just too long to say in my shoutout. I had to post it in two parts.

The shout out goes like this:
Sabi ni Dr. Dysart, "Passion can be terminated (destroyed) by doctors... but not created"- Equus July 25, 2010. Ang play na ito ay muling naganap pagkatapos ng 37 na taon since una syang pinalabas dito sa Pinas. Feeling ko connected sya sa video na Faculty [HD] at sabi ng theater play-buddy ko connected rin daw sya sa Inception (di ko pa napanood).

So ano ba talaga ang purpose ng isang titser or sino pa mang nagtratrabaho kasama ng mga bata? Magturo ba na maging normal sila para mapabilang at tanggapin ng society or tulungan silang hanapin ang passion nila? Ano nga ba itong si passion, paano mo malalaman kung meron ka ba tlaga nito? Hay naku, masyado ng mahabang shoutout baka i-blog ko na lang...haaaay! Mag-isip. Mag-isip titser. Paano ka nga ba ginawa?

So as a teacher what was my take for this play?

The quote I provided about doctors killing passion should not be taken literally. Dr. Dysart in this play is a psychiatrist. I don't want anybody thinking that I am dissuading parents from bringing their child to a pediatrician or any health doctor because they might kill their child's passion. That is so out of context.

Anyway, I think it's better to read the continuation of what Dysart said in his ending speech as he holds Alan's body close to him.

You won't gallop anymore, Alan.
Horses will be quite safe.
You'll save your money every week...
and change that scooter for a car...
and spend glorious weekends...
grooming that.
You'll pop round to the betting shop
and put the odd pence on the nags...
quite forgetting they ever meant
anything more to you than...
bearers of little profits and little losses.
You will, however, be without pain...
almost completely without...

So what does Dysart want to do for Alan? In simple words, he aims to bring Alan back to normal. But what is normal?

The Normal is the good smile
in a child's eyes.
It's also the dead stare in a million adults.
Both sustains and kills...
like a god.
It is the ordinary made beautiful.
It is also the average...
made lethal.
The Normal is the indispensable...
murderous God of health.
And I am his priest.

Who is the priest? The people who work with children to prepare them for the adult world. How do these priests do it?

My tools are very delicate.
My compassion is honest.
I've honestly assisted children in this room.
I've talked away terrors,
relieved many agonies.
But beyond question...
I have cut from them
portions of individuality...
repugnant to this God, Normal,
in all its aspects.
And at what length.
Sacrifices to Zeus took,
at the most, seconds each.
Sacrifices to the Normal...
can take as much as...
sixty months.
Can you hear me?
Can you speak normally?
Say "yes" if you can.
I can.
Now raise your head.
Open your eyes.

So now let me ask you, as a teacher who inevitably has a high probability to influence and mold each child that enters your classroom as they go up each level, each grade until adulthood, were you able to reach your goal to help these kids become normal adults? or in that same process did you kill their passion?

In the small things you say:
...pay attention
...stop singing
...stop laughing
...slow down
...stand up properly
...read this
...listen to this
...follow me
...walk this way
...Say "yes" if you can.
...Raise your head
...Open your eyes

Or in the things that you did not say...

If passion and dreams were like fairies in Neverland, how many fairies would have been dead by now every time you curb out a child's imagination and passion so that they will look and sound normal and acceptable to society.

Am I promoting disorder or chaos in the educational system? Heck no! As a Science teacher I am fully aware of a phenomenon called entropy. Wikipedia defines it as "a thermodynamic property which serves as a measure of how close a system is to equilibrium — that is, to perfect internal disorder." I think as a teacher we should always check our level of entropy, our internal disorder, as a measure if we are still honest to the vocation we pledged to take and the life we are bound to live.

I wish more teachers and parents will have a chance to watch plays like this. I wish I could have written this review earlier? or watched the play earlier so I could have promoted it to my fellow teachers and parents? But I watched the second to the last scheduled play last July 25. Still, I guess if someone wills it, there is always a way.

Faculty [HD] Posted by Hendrix Sanchez: A Review

The video is produced by Metric Films and Big Top Media Productions. Faculty [HD] is set one sunny day in one of the more expensive colleges in Metro Manila. Two Filipino teachers namely Teacher Ria and Teacher Joan are talking about the latter's last paycheck. The movie implies that they graduated from the University of the Philippines. Witness how Teacher Joan's last day at the faculty is going to be as controversial as her one year stay in the college.

You might think this is only for teachers who graduated from or at least graduates of the University of the Philippines. However, I think the message of the video applies to any teacher who is torn on what is really is his role as a teacher?

You can watch the video from YouTube using the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZWhoUNrMAk

or in Facebook:

For those who want to see it in Facebook, I guess you can try to add Hendrix Sanchez to see the video and share it with your friends. He also posted the video in YouTube.

Watching the Faculty [HD] video made me think really? What kind of a teacher am I? Really? Am I like what the video said "a teacher attuned to the expectation of the current education system" which will most probably keep my job for the next school year or a teacher... "a teacher whose job is to teach, expose the kids to the realities of life which may not always be a realistic viewpoint at this time in our society" and will probably be the cause of my forced resignation or worst being fired.

Or is there a middle ground? But what is middle ground in this case? How can you keep your job of pleasing your supervisors and principals and at the same time think and teach outside the box? Teaching beyond the limits of the four corners of your classroom?

Teacher Ria in the video is saying that the goal of Teacher Joan is directed on the wrong crowd of people which is teaching rich college students. That it is too late to be teaching these college kids to be socially aware and responsible to the current events of our society. On the other hand, Teacher Joan argues that these kids are the perfect people to influence because of their economic status and family background. Because when these kids graduate they might be able to effect change. Change that our society, our country so desperately needs.

However, I cannot also dismiss what Teacher Ria says "What we are talking about here is attitude". Attitude that has been already programmed to these kids. We cannot even measure how deeply ingrained the "coño and coña" attitude of these kids have. So what's the point?

However, there is a looming thought in my mind? Isn't doing nothing and just letting these kids pass their subject so that they can get a decent job or help in the family business a crime as well? We are not giving these kids enough exercise to think! Think people think!

Jappy Lim's status in facebook may give a glimpse of what I am trying to stress:

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." —Eleanor Roosevelt

However, Teacher Ria is not also a passive teacher. This was evident as she defends herself from Teacher Joan's accussations of not caring about these college kids. So I can't really say she is not doing anything. In fact, I think she is trying to participate in her own little way.

Which reminds me about President Noynoy's first State of the Nation's address where he differentiated between "pakikialam" (meddling; to meddle) and "pakikilahok" (participating; to participate). I wish there is a direct translation for these beautiful Filipino words that will truly capture the essence of these Filipino traits. My point is that I think Teacher Ria does her part to participate. However, it's too subtle and too safe that it will take a very discerning individual (and you wish your students will have that skill) to even realize that in her own way she is really concerned on what's happening around her.

Still, I think we also need teachers like Teacher Joan who are not afraid to rock the boat and speak a louder voice in the field. Somebody who is a risk-taker and proactively participates in the causes she believes in (which however, may not be really a cause her students believe as well).

However, in our society and culture, why are we so tough with the Teacher Joan's of the world. We know we need them but we also hate them. Do we really want all teachers to be just like Teacher Ria. Are we afraid of "bibo" teachers? The ones we call "mga palaban"?

Are we only comfortable with stereotype teachers? Somebody who is nice, sweet and cannot hurt a fly.

However, do I want my son and future children to meet somebody like Teacher Joan? Just the idea of my son joining rallies sends chills to my bones. Amazingly, while writing this piece, the neighbor's radio plays the song "Where Are You Now? by Jimmy Harnen" Hahahaha. Talking about coincidences.

Anyway, as for me, as a Special Education Teacher, as a parent of a bright and super-energetic 9-year old boy, I would like my son to meet several mentors in his life. A combination of Teacher Joans and Teacher Rias of the world. It's not one or the other. I think both sides should be equally represented so that when that time comes that my son has to face a decision whether he wants to join a rally or not; hopefully (with hands clasped and head bowed dear God! hopefully), the voices of my son's teachers including his parents will ring in that split-second he may have when he has to make that crucial decision.