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 Posted: Sun Mar 13th, 2011 03:24 am
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Alan
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Mana: 
So, I know this is a tall order, but I'm going to paste in a ten-minute play I just wrote recently.  If any of you have time--it should be a quick read--I'd love any feedback.  I worry, particularly, that it gets sentimental.  Though it is geared for a high school audience, I don't like to get mushy.

Thanks!

Alan


p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

What I Give Myself

A Ten-Minute Play



(Open to a teacher's desk with a chair behind it, a student desk in front of it. Mrs. Cheney, bespectacled, sits at the desk. Sydney enters.)


Sydney: Mrs. Cheney? You wanted to...?


Mrs. Cheney: Ah, Sydney, good. Have a seat. (Sydney does.) Do you have any idea why you're here?


Sydney: You...you told me to come in.


Mrs. Cheney: Yes, but do you have any idea why I asked you to come in?


Sydney: No.


Mrs. Cheney (holding up an essay test): Does this, perhaps, give you a hint?


Sydney: Uh...


Mrs. Cheney: I think, given your hesitation, that your answer is yes, you now have some idea why this essay concerns me.


Sydney: Okay.


Mrs. Cheney: So. Why don't you explain.


Sydney: Um, explain, why I did so bad on it or...


Mrs. Cheney: Start wherever you'd like, Sydney.


Sydney: That's the one on Antigone.


Mrs. Cheney: Yes.


Sydney: Well, um, the questions were a lot about the dad, and...


Mrs. Cheney: Whose dad?


Sydney: Antigone's.


Mrs. Cheney: I didn't ask any questions about Antigone's father. That would be Oedipus.


Sydney: Oh, yeah, I meant, you know, the king.


Mrs. Cheney: Creon.


Sydney: Right.


Mrs. Cheney: Antigone's uncle.


Sydney: Right, yeah. So, a lot of the questions were about...


Mrs. Cheney: All right, Sydney, we both know you didn't read the play.


Sydney: I did. Most of it.


Mrs. Cheney: Mm-hm.


Sydney: Yeah, except, I didn't pay as much attention to...you know, to the king, to Creon.


Mrs. Cheney: What did you get on this test, Sydney?


Sydney: Uh...not very good.


Mrs. Cheney: Give me a grade. Give me a number.


Sydney: I think...a D, maybe.


Mrs. Cheney: Correct. Whether or not you read most of the play, you earned a 64, a D, on the test. Not very good, as you say. (handing the paper to Sydney) Now, would you mind reading to me the comment and the grade on the top of this paper.


Sydney: "B+, 88. Nice insight, Sydney. You really seemed to understand Antigone's dilemma, and I liked how you brought some of your own personality into your explanation."


Mrs. Cheney: Keep reading.


Sydney: That's...that's all it says.


Mrs. Cheney: On the top of the paper, but let me hear the other comments.


Sydney (looking through the paper): "Great word choice!" "No wonder you get Antigone's character so good, it sounds like you have had to make some tough choices, too." "Excellent progress, Sydney. I'm glad you took the time to read most of this play, and you wrote more than you normally do on an essay test. You should feel very good about this."


Mrs. Cheney: Back to the first page, Sydney. How is the word "dilemma" spelled?


Sydney: I'm sorry. I didn't know...


Mrs. Cheney: No, just stick to the question at hand right now. "Dilemma." How is it spelled?


Sydney: D-i-l-l-e-m-a.


Mrs. Cheney: Is that the proper spelling of the word?


Sydney: Probably not.


Mrs. Cheney: Try definitely not. Nor would I ever write, "No wonder you get Antigone's character so good." I would write "well." I am an English teacher, after all. And I certainly wouldn't follow up, in the same sentence, with a comma splice!


Sydney: I didn't know we would be handing this back in.


Mrs. Cheney: I gave you a handout at the beginning of the semester stating which assignments I would be re-collecting for inclusion in the portfolio, and the Antigone essay test was on that list.


Sydney: I...okay.


Mrs. Cheney: Regardless, that is not the issue. What do you think is the issue?


Sydney: That I...that I changed the grade on it.


Mrs. Cheney: Not only did you change the grade, you changed all the comments. Most disconcerting of all, Sydney, and this I absolutely cannot believe--I have never run into this in all my years of teaching--you forged my hand-writing, altering what I wrote into an entirely different message!


Sydney: I'm sorry. I didn't know we were going to hand it back in.


Mrs. Cheney: How would that look, do you suppose, to next year's teacher, if she read over "my" comments and found misspellings and incorrect punctuation?


Sydney: Bad.


Mrs. Cheney: Did your parents happen to notice those errors when you showed them the altered test?


Sydney: No!


Mrs. Cheney: Well, I can't say I'm surprised.


Sydney: I mean, no, I didn't show them, her, I didn't show her the test. My mother never saw it.


Mrs. Cheney: She never...? Sydney, you've been caught. There is no need for you to keep lying.


Sydney: I'm not lying. I never showed my mother. I mean, she doesn't see any of my school stuff. She's not...she works a lot, so she doesn't really get a chance to. She never.... She doesn't get a chance to.


Mrs. Cheney: Does she look at the grade portal? Did she notice the discrepancy between what I posted on the portal and what you fabricated on this paper?


Sydney: No. I don't think she knows about the grade portal. I don't know the password, anyway.


Mrs. Cheney: Sydney, what was this for, then? Did you plan to bring it to someone, to the administration, as proof that the grade on the portal was incorrect?


Sydney: No! No, I just.... I just do it...for me.


Mrs. Cheney: "Just do it." Is this an on-going thing?


Sydney: Sort of.


Mrs. Cheney: Sydney, show me your English notebook.


Sydney: My...?


Mrs. Cheney: Your notebook, Sydney, where you keep all of your English materials.


Sydney (going through her backpack): Uh, they're sort of not all in one place. I mean, were we supposed to keep...? I have some of my stuff. (pulling out a folder with papers sticking out of it, willy-nilly, handing it to Mrs. Cheney) I think that's mostly English.


Mrs. Cheney: It looks like you could use some work on your organization skills.


Sydney: Yeah, probably.


(Mrs. Cheney looks through the papers in the folder for several seconds. She pulls out one paper, then another, then a third, placing them on her desk.)


Mrs. Cheney: I have never.... Sydney, this is serious.


Sydney: Okay.


Mrs. Cheney: Obviously, I didn't have a chance to make a thorough search through all your work, but in just that short time, I found three more instances of you forging my handwriting and changing your grade. Would I find more if I kept looking?


Sydney: Probably.


Mrs. Cheney: You do understand that we take academic integrity very seriously at this school.


Sydney: Yes.


Mrs. Cheney: Do you do this in other classes?


Sydney: Yes.


Mrs. Cheney: And you forge other teachers' handwriting?


Sydney: Mm-hm.


Mrs. Cheney (laughing slightly): I am just...well, you seem to have a talent for it, I have to admit that. I actually thought, for a second, that I had misspelled "dilemma."


Sydney: I like the way you make your "e's" and "m's."


Mrs. Cheney: Thank-you, I suppose. Sydney, what is this about? How did this start?


Sydney: Oh, I remember that. I can remember pretty exactly.


Mrs. Cheney: Go on.


Sydney: Um, it was in 8th grade.


Mrs. Cheney (incredulous): 8th grade?


Sydney: Yeah. Uh, you know, in Mr. Baxter's class, he would have us grade our own spelling quizzes? I mean, he walked around to make sure we weren't cheating, you know. Anyway, um, one day--it was close to Halloween, I remember, because he had his electronic witch set up on his desk, that made this "Eeooow" noise when you walked near it--and we were handing in our quizzes that we had graded. I didn't do too good, too well...got like a 12 out of 20 or something. But when we were handing them forward to Mr. Baxter, I saw on the top of Sue Barton's paper that she had put "20/20, 100%, A+, Awesome Job, Sue--I'm proud of you!"


Mrs. Cheney: But she hadn't altered her grade.


Sydney: No. No, the grade was right. I just...thought it was cool that she put down all those other comments, like she was the teacher. I mean, all she was supposed to put was her score, but she added all that other stuff. So, that night, I took out some of my papers and things and I...did that. On papers that I already had back, you know--I didn't try to fool anybody. I didn't show anybody. I just went back on my papers and I...you know, I just added some comments. "Good effort." "You're making progress, Sydney." "Don't give up." Things like that. Things that weren't really on the papers, but I... wished they were. I wasn't trying to fool anybody.


Mrs. Cheney: But Sydney, the forgery...


Sydney: Well, I know, that's pretty weird. I probably shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.


Mrs. Cheney: Why did you? Especially since, as you claim, you weren't trying to fool anyone.


Sydney: I really wasn't! I've never tried to take one of my changed papers and try to actually improve the score in the teacher's book. I mean, you can look at my grades. If I was doing that, I'd be doing a pretty crappy job.


Mrs. Cheney: I did look up your grades.


Sydney: See? I mean, they're not very good.


Mrs. Cheney: I checked your records. There's no note of any dishonesty.


Sydney: Yeah. I don't...it's just more like a hobby.


Mrs. Cheney: This must take a substantial amount of time, Sydney, time that would probably be better spent actually studying, right? Actually doing the work that would merit those comments from the teachers.


Sydney: I do study. But it seems like I end up studying the wrong thing, or, the wrong way a lot of the time.


Mrs. Cheney: Be that as it may, why do you forge your teachers' handwriting?


Sydney: I don't know. I mean, at first, I just sort of played around at it. I thought it was kind of interesting, kind of a challenge, to take a comment like "careless error" and turn it into "a careful mirror of your own thoughts. Thank-you for sharing."


Mrs. Cheney: I'm just not sure what to do next with this. Normally, any indication of cheating would trigger a very clear protocol. You get a zero on the assignment; you go see Mr. Tyrone, who calls your parents--you live with just your mother?


Sydney: Yes.


Mrs. Cheney: Mr. Tyrone would call your mother.


Sydney: She's pretty hard to reach.


Mrs. Cheney: I'm just telling you the protocol. The point is, it's pretty quickly out of my hands, after I report it.


Sydney: Okay.


Mrs. Cheney: You'd get a series of detentions and a note would go on your permanent record.


Sydney: Okay.


Mrs. Cheney: But in this case, I'm just not sure how you were trying to benefit from this. Who were you being dishonest to?


Sydney: Nobody. I wasn't trying to cheat.


Mrs. Cheney: What about yourself, Sydney? I mean, when you changed your grade from a D to a B+, as on the Antigone test; or from a C- to a B; or, as you did on this paper, from an F to an A, Sydney...I mean, I don't know what I wrote on the original assignment, but I certainly didn't give you an F and then write, "You really took this poem to heart, Sydney--excellent job!"


Sydney: Which one was that?


Mrs. Cheney: That was the technique analysis of Emily Dickinson's "The Soul Selects Her Own Society."


Sydney (continuing the poem): Then shuts the door;

On her divine majority

Obtrude no more.


Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing

At her low gate

Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling

Upon her mat.


I've known her from an ample nation

Choose one;

Then close the valves of her attention

Like stone.


Mrs. Cheney: Did you know the poem before we studied it?


Sydney: No. I liked it. So I memorized it. That's what I meant when I wrote I really took it to heart.


Mrs. Cheney: I...Sydney...


Sydney: I like the last part the best.


Mrs. Cheney: The last stanza.


Sydney: Yeah.


Mrs. Cheney: Why?


Sydney: I don't know. I like the way "one" and "stone" kind of rhyme but not really, and I like the idea of having, like, all these possibilities, but then choosing one thing and saying, "That's what I need." I'm glad you showed that poem to us.


Mrs. Cheney: Yet on the test, Sydney...if you have such an appreciation for the poem...


Sydney: But the test wasn't asking about that. (Mrs. Cheney pauses, takes off her glasses, rubs her eyes.) I wish I wasn't being so much trouble.


Mrs. Cheney: Sydney, I guess I worry that, with these alterations of yours, you might be lying to yourself.


Sydney: I understand. But, you know, I don't always...let me show you this one paper. It's probably in that folder I gave you. Can I...? (Mrs. Cheney hands the folder back to Sydney. Sydney rifles through it.) At least I think it's in here. I don't know. Like you said, I have some work to do on my organiza...here it is. Do you have your grade book, or, do you remember what I got on that?


Mrs. Cheney: I have your portal up right here, on the computer. (Mrs. Cheney looks at the paper Sydney has retrieved, then at the computer.) You...you gave yourself a lower grade on this?


Sydney: Yeah.


Mrs. Cheney (reading from the page): "Not so well done if you consider that you procrastinated"--there should only be one "n" there--


Sydney: Sorry.


Mrs. Cheney: No, I'm sorry. That wasn't relevant. (continuing to read)..."Not so well done if you consider that you procrastinated so bad that you had to go to Sparknotes instead of doing the whole reading. Shame on you. C-"


Sydney: Yeah, I was kind of bummed about that. Because that "well done" you put on that paper--that was pretty much the best comment I got all year. So, see, I try be honest when I grade myself.


Mrs. Cheney: All right. But why the forgery? Why do you take the time to...


Sydney: It's weird. It's really weird. I shouldn't be doing it.


Mrs. Cheney: No, I'm past that. I'm not going to turn you in to Mr. Tyrone; I'm not going to give you a 0 on the assignment.


Sydney: I mean, I understand if you feel like you should.


Mrs. Cheney: I don't feel like I should. But I'd like to know why you...


Sydney: Oh, right, the forgery thing. So I change the grade and I change the comments and I make the paper look like it actually came from the teacher. Your handwriting's pretty easy--it actually makes sense. Mr. Kindserske--he should've been a doctor. Anyway, when I'm all done...oh, man, I'm sounding so weird!


Mrs. Cheney: No, you're not. Go ahead.


Sydney: When I'm all done, I read the grade and the comments, and I can sort of imagine the teachers saying them, in their voices. It's nice. (After a long pause, Sydney offers her folder of papers back to Mrs. Cheney.) Do you want these?


Mrs. Cheney: No. No, those are yours. Um, on the Antigone test, though, that's going to go in your portfolio...


Sydney: Yeah?


Mrs. Cheney: I'm going to type up what your wrote on the test itself, then I'm going to grade it, as I normally would have.


Sydney: Okay. Then that can go in the portfolio. That makes sense. I can type it up, if you want.


Mrs. Cheney: No, I'll do it. But then, I'm going to hand the test to you, and I want you to put your grade and your comments back on it, in your own writing.


Sydney: Why?


Mrs. Cheney: Because I want...I think other people should see it. I think it's an important assessment to include.


Sydney: Okay. I can do that. Um, is that it?


Mrs. Cheney: Yes. Thank-you for coming by.


Sydney: Okay. Thanks for not turning me in. It would be hard to get hold of my mother, anyway. So, I guess I'll see you tomorrow.


Mrs. Cheney: Yes. (Sydney turns to exit.) Sydney?


Sydney: Yeah?


Mrs. Cheney: I want you to hear something. And I'm going to put this in writing, in my own handwriting, and I'm going to send it home. Make sure your mother sees it.


Sydney: Okay.


Mrs. Cheney: I'm going to write, "Sydney, marvelous job with the Emily Dickinson poem. In all of my years of teaching, I have never had anyone show such a deep understanding of this work of literature, and I have never encountered a student who memorized a poem for the sheer love of it. You are to be commended. Thank-you, Sydney, for teaching me something. A+."


Sydney: You're going to write all that?


Mrs. Cheney: Yes.


Sydney: That'll be very cool. Okay. See you.


Mrs. Cheney: Good-bye.


(Sydney exits. Mrs. Cheney sits for a long moment before taking out a piece of paper and proceeding to write. Lights down.)


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 Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2011 04:28 am
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JustGoWithIt
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Mana: 
This play really pulled me in, and if you consider that I'm supposed to be working on something now, you can understand how interested I really was. Great job on that.

The teacher sounded a bit egotistical in that she seemed to boast about her mastery of language. Not sure if that was the intent.

When Sydney read the Emily Dickinson poem...it was a nice idea, but for me, I don't think it had the effect you wanted it to. Mainly because whenever a character in a play references another literary work, my brain automatically goes "ALERT! ALERT! SYMBOLIC METAPHOR AHEAD!" I could be the only one that happens to, though, and I kind of want to know what other people think of that specific part.

At some parts, I felt like the play was a bit of a social commentary on how school doesn't really help on learn the things that actually matter. Not that I'm complaining, though. It's a good theme to have. :P

Last edited on Mon Mar 14th, 2011 04:30 am by JustGoWithIt

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 Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2011 05:27 am
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Alan
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Mana: 
Thanks, JustGo.  I appreciate you taking the time.  It's good to know the play pulled you in, but I can understand your sense that it's didactic.  I agree, though, as you say, it may not be a bad theme--but it may just be mishandled.  Nobody likes to be hit over the head.  I also understand how the alarms go off about the poem.  In this case, I'm not really trying to draw any great parallels between the poem and Sydney's precise situation.  I could use a different poem, or perhaps there's another way to communicate Sydney's curiosity, her willingness to learn, just not necessarily what the teacher is teaching.  Again, thanks for your helpful criticism!

Alan

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 Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2011 05:59 am
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Paddy
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Mana: 
Alan.

I liked this. I think it's an interesting take. I think it's too long. Sorry...but she asks too many questions, some many times. It feels like a device. Maybe she could guess why he copies the handwriting and it be wrong, and he has to correct her...but right now...it's like an interrigation....and the rythme is the same throughout.

I'd like her to be more horrible in the begining, and soften....makes the stakes higher.

I wanted him to say my Mom...not mother...doesn't feel quite right. At least the two times early on.

If he started in the 8th grade, he refers to the teacher there as if she should know...but wouldn't that be another school?

In the teacher's dialogue, she started a sentence with "And"...and...that bothered me, for her.

I kept thinking through this...someone should diagnose this kid's NLD.

So...I don't think it's too mushy or too sweet...just too long, and I'd like to feel the teacher be changed throughout.

Hope this helps and doesn't deter you...it's really good...just has more potential...I think...which you can toss any time you want.

Paddy

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 Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2011 02:35 pm
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Alan
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Mana: 
Thanks, Paddy.  I see how I can trim this down, have the teacher take a different tack at points. I'm surprised you didn't find that the teacher underwent enough of a transition...it must not be coming through as strongly as I'd imagined.  Again, thanks for taking the time!

Alan

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 Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2011 03:03 pm
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Paddy
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Mana: 
That's the beauty of being the playwright, you have them in your head, we only have them on the page.

Best.

Paddy

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 Posted: Tue Mar 15th, 2011 12:09 am
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JustGoWithIt
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Mana: 
Alan wrote:
Thanks, JustGo.  I appreciate you taking the time.  It's good to know the play pulled you in, but I can understand your sense that it's didactic.  I agree, though, as you say, it may not be a bad theme--but it may just be mishandled.  Nobody likes to be hit over the head. 

I think you misunderstood. I never said you hit me over the head, per se, in fact, I thought the issue was very subtlely woven in. I just pointed something out in the play that you may not have realized you had.

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 Posted: Tue Mar 15th, 2011 08:57 pm
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Moonmi
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Mana: 
Maybe I'm too trained to think that everything have a nice tidy bow on the end, but I was waiting for the shoe to drop on why he really did this. 

Was it lack of parental approval?

Was it lack of confidence and he created it himself?

Was it just a need to feel good about himself because he didn't get it from anybody else?

It did seem a bit drawn out and the poem did pull me to other works by the poet that I hear in my head when I hear her name.

All that said i like the situation, I like the interaction.

Trim and define character.  A piece of advice I was given long ago, and I hear it every time I finish something.

 

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 Posted: Tue Mar 15th, 2011 11:57 pm
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Alan
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Mana: 
Ah, got it! Thanks.

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 Posted: Tue Mar 15th, 2011 11:58 pm
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Alan
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Mana: 
A huge thanks to all those who have replied to this, taken the time to read the play, and given me honest response.  Absolutely invaluable.

Alan

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 Posted: Sun Apr 3rd, 2011 06:39 am
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därkhorse
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Mana: 
Portions of the dialogue were a tad redundant and probably could be tightened. I think the relationship between the kid and his parents could have played a bigger part of the story. I really loved the idea of him changing the comments for his own self affirmation. You might also be able to get more of the 'show' versus 'tell' into the story... maybe "something" falls out of his backpack, etc. 

I also really love Emily Dickinson's poetry and once quoted a snippet in a play I wrote as well (!)

"My life had stood a loaded gun in corners till a day, the owner passed, identified and carried me away, though I than he may longer live, he longer must than I, for I have the power to kill without the power to die"

Anyway, off topic — sorry. It is a cute play, and I mean cute in a good way.

 

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