We did nothing
The most important takeaway from Coral Reef's drama program is that we spent
most of our time sitting around, doing nothing.
That sounds like a hyperbolic statement, given that many high schoolers will attest that they "do nothing" in their classes. But when it comes down to the brass tacks of the day-to-day class periods, there's no question about it: we did, essentially, nothing. This is not an exaggeration or attempt to be flippant. We really, truly, actually didn't study or learn anything most of the time.
We're talking about a magnet high school where hundreds of students auditioned every year, and only 24 or so freshmen were accepted. This was a theater program that frequently boasted about its Thespian competition awards, its annual spring musical, even its alumni who had gone on to various performing arts careers. It was the school that was widely accepted to be the number-two theater magnet in all of Miami. And yet our average day in drama class was spent frittering around, passing notes, listening to music, or sleeping.
The program was a flop, to be sure. Strangely, it still fascinates me to think about just how massively and unprecedentedly it flopped. It took expertise and finesse to get so very little done in such reckless, spectacular fashion.
We spent most of our days just. . . sitting around idly, chitchatting. Texting. Finishing up homework for other classes. Our teachers occasionally doled out some assignments in the background, throwaway pieces of busy work for appearances' sake. Nobody took them seriously, not even said teachers. Our
class time was frequently repurposed for their planning periods. For us, it was our personal recess. All we did was eat shit.
You can measure the lack of success of Coral Reef Drama by pointing out every topic we didn't explore. We didn't learn to act, sing, or dance. We didn't read plays or study theater history. Sure, we might have recognized the names Stanislavsi or Meisner in passing, but I'll be damned if half our class ever knew what they actually taught. We learned no movement or breath technique. We didn't even think
critically about the concepts we did cover. Our classes were completely unstructured with barely any curriculum. We just sat around for two hours a day, every day, for four years.
For the rare times there happened to be a legitimate assignment, we were completely unfazed. If it was a textbook reading, we'd jot down random responses, turn them in, and go right back to socializing. If we had scenes to work on,
we'd fool around for an hour and a half, perhaps getting in twenty minutes of "serious" rehearsal. Typically, our teachers would introduce the assignment, give us the full two hour class period to work on it, and then disappear to the computer
or office until the bell rang. The assignments were often completely forgotten after that.
Now, we were fortunate enough to stage a few shows, including a couple of straight plays and a musical. But even in doing so, it was all more like running through the motions of performance. We'd typically get up onstage and just
do whatever. The shows were half-assed, pathetic affairs that we were embarrassed to be part of, if we cared at all.
As I've always maintained, spending class time doing nothing was the worst part of my high school theater experience. But it was also the best part of my high school experience overall.
After the first semester or two, we sort of made peace with the situation. Understanding that there was no chance the drama program would ever live up to what was promised, we instead learned to relish in the free time.
We talked, we laughed, we vented. We gossiped, we told stories, and we got to know each other like siblings. Our teachers were in their own worlds, usually on the phone or getting personal business done. So we claimed our territory and instituted our own rules and order. We ate and drank merrily. Many of us slept. We convened in regular groups to share the news of the day. You'd always see the music lovers in the class huddled around an iPod, splitting one pair of earbuds.
If someone in the class had a phone with internet, everyone would line up and wait their turn to check MySpace and AIM. My favorite activity was passing around notes scribbled with inside jokes or song lyrics, inviting others to add on. My best friend and I were always playing pranks on anybody who'd fall for them.
As the years wore on and our prospects continued to diminish, we grew very comfortable with each other and the space. We sang, danced, and rolled around on the floor all afternoon. We ran wild, belting Broadway musicals and practicing choreography from music videos at any moment of the day. We grew closer than classmates had any right to be, constantly hugging, grabbing, nuzzling, and touching each other. Look close enough and you might find someone in anyone else's lap, holding hands, grabbing arm fat, kissing on the cheek or mouth, or slapping each other's butts. I recall two friends in particular who would assume
different sex positions on the floor and hump each other, platonically, just because they could.
Of course, all of this is part and parcel with being teenagers; we weren't necessarily breaking new ground here. But what's notable is the sheer amount of time we had to devote to hanging out. Our social lives were on steroids. We were privileged with unbridled, limitless bonding time day after day. . . month after month. . . year after year. . . and we took advantage. It was summer camp.
Sure, anyone who's ever been cast in a show or a member of a theater club has stories like these. They're the hallmarks of being a drama kid, one of the big reasons young people go into theater in the first place. But this was our entire experience. It was all we ever did. We didn't just behave this way after school or on
weekends. This was the drama program.
I loved wasting time and fooling around more than anyone, but even I could admit it grew old. Very old. I craved it then, but in hindsight, I've realized how toxic it was. You start to ask questions of your high school journey when you're quickly approaching senior year, thinking about college, and you realize you haven't produced any single thing of value in the theater in all four years.
Coral Reef drama classes — without ever having had the thrill of performing the show itself. It was all the fun of being done with something difficult, without any of the growth from having had to do the difficult thing.
All of our memories, inside jokes, and stories come from moments of utter decadence, time spent without any sort of goal or objective. Many of us are still good friends to this day, and we talk about high school often. But rarely does anyone think about the actual performances we gave (unless we're making fun of them). Instead, we reminisce about fooling around, touching each other, making noises and screaming, playing pranks, and talking gossip like absolute children. These are the mementos from the number-two drama school in the city.
There was a time I wanted to be an actor. Coral Reef didn't do much to keep that dream alive. I graduated with no skills, no resume, no repertoire, no singing or dancing ability, no growth, and no confidence onstage. I left no better than I entered, having learned nothing, achieved nothing, and gone nowhere. If anything, I probably picked up wrong information and bad habits that can never be unlearned.
There's this meme, you may have seen it: it depicts a text message screenshot in which someone texts someone, "I ain't reading all that. I'm happy for you, though. Or sorry that happened," in response to a way-too-long story. That absolutely exemplifies the ideal response to what you've just read. You're not sure if you should be sorry that it happened, or happy for me. And you definitely didn't read all of this. ◊