Each semester the students at the Canadian Pre-University program where I teach put on a Drama Festival over on the main campus. This year my three classes did Act II of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play that was written shortly after the devastation of the Second World War that envisions a future landscape where billions have died in some global catastrophe leaving only a few survivors to make sense out of what little of their life remains.
The play consists of two principal characters, Vladimir and Estragon who meet two other people during the course of the play who are just as destitute and confused about what has happened to their world as they are. They spend the entire play waiting for someone or something to enter their lives and give them meaning, entertaining themselves with pointless exercises and engaging in conversations that range from the meaningless, to the poetic, and even deeply philosophical. Despite its depressing theme, the play is touched by traces of warmth and compassion, with liberal doses of dark, ironic humour.
Last year when my classes were larger I divided the second act into twelve parts and had my twenty five students each take a portion. I tried re-dividing the play this year for my smaller classes, but the divisions I had arrived at last year would not yield easily; it seems as if I had stumbled across pretty close the ideal separation of roles. So I asked my stronger students to take on two portions of the play, and as in typical in Asia, they did so without grumbling or complaining, bless their hearts!
Last night we staged our productions in the largest lecture theatre on the main campus, one that has a proper stage and tiered seating. Despite several weeks of advertising, promoting, and rehearsals, I confess I was disappointed with the audience turnout. The theatre was considerably less than half full despite my best efforts. However, that does not detract from the performances, which were enthusiastic, well-memorized, and well-executed. I sat in the wings ready to prompt, but frankly had little work to do all night and instead was able to see some really fine performances by students who clearly enjoyed the experience. It is a great joy to me as a teacher to see my students take on a class project like this. They got to feel like they had taken part in something larger than themselves and contributed to its success.
Many of these students come from schools where they have been punished for speaking in class. If they ask questions they are made to feel stupid or rebellious. To be placed in English in a small group where they are encouraged to talk to each other is a scary and difficult thing at first. To put their faulty language and awkward accents on stage in front of their peers is overwhelmingly intimidating. Yet once they have done so there is an exhilarating feeling almost of liberation from the shackles of years of classroom restrictions.
To see the students I am teaching tackle something that a year ago would have been unthinkable, and not only to succeed at it but to enjoy the experience and share it with others, that to me is the most rewarding part of being a teacher. Congratulations to ALL who did the best that they could to take on this challenge last night. I admire your spirit!