Theater doesn't show up on any standardized tests, but Skip Bromley says that it teaches some of the most important lessons. "This is not the fluff. This is the core curriculum," said Bromley, Oakton High School's theater arts teacher. "The arts are the core of what it is to be human."
Bromley walks the halls of the school visiting one rehearsal after another of the many that Oakton has in rehearsal. A group of seniors in Theater IV is staging "Recent Tragic Events" by Craig Wright.
"It was picked by the class," said Scott Norris, 18. The class is putting on three shows this fall — the other two are "A Christmas Carol" and "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds."
Each play is being performed by a different group from within the class. The group putting on "Recent Tragic Events" chose it because they thought it would be interesting to do a show dealing with 9/11.
The play takes place on Sept. 12 and focuses on a woman who's twin sister may or may not have been in one of the twin towers when they fell.
"I think it deals with 9/11 in an interesting way," said Natalie Kakovitch, 17.
The show, they warn is not as morbid as one might imagine a show about 9/11 would be. "It's not going to be a two-hour cryfest," said Norris.
"It's really a perfect blend of all the emotions you felt," said Alex Wolff, 17.
THE STUDENTS CAST themselves in the different roles and even self-selected a director, Kimberly Orlando, 17.
The students generate ideas about how to stage the production. During the show, there will be a video of Sept. 11 news footage playing onstage. "It's always there in the background," said Christina Vollbrecht, 17.
Bromley prefers it this way — allowing the students take command of their performance. "These shows belong to them," he said. "They themselves will critique themselves."
Students call their own rehearsals and discipline themselves when one member misses one. "You have to suffer the consequences," Bromley said.
The students' dedication in all the shows, Bromley said, constantly impresses him. "If you have 60 kids involved in striving for excellence, our schools are OK. Our country is OK."
While they have been practicing, the students have also been gaining insight into the characters and into the symbolism of the twin towers and twin women. "One tower falls, then the other. If one sister falls, will it bring the other down?" said Rachel Doyle, 17.
The students also find that they learn about other people through studying their characters. Natalie is playing the author Joyce Carol Oates. Playing a real person, she found, presented its own challenges.
She went online to research Oates and to find some of the writer's work, but also to find what an audience might expect from her performance. "I have to see if people have preconceptions," Natalie said.
THE OTHER STUDENTS, who are playing fictional characters take away other lessons from this show and others in which they have performed. "You find that you learn a lot about other people's lives and lifestyles," said Alex.
These are the sorts of lessons that Bromley hopes the students take away with them. "You learn the most when you did it," he said. He also tries to instill the importance of, "process over product."
"The production is over like that," Bromley said with a snap. "The rehearsal takes weeks."