Every semester I ask my students to tell me one thing that they’ve done that nobody else in the room has done. This is a nice way of separating them out from each other so I can keep them straight in my head, and also of letting them know that their classmates are interesting people. It’s far too easy to see classmates as just note-taking lumps in the desk next door – or just pixels on the screen, for online classes – and it’s good to be reminded that they’re real people with lives you can only guess at.
I get some interesting responses, too. It’s good for me to be reminded as well.
To get the ball rolling I always tell them something about me, because it seems only fair. I try to vary it semester by semester so I don’t bore myself and so if I do have a student who takes more than one of my classes they don’t have the same little tidbit every time.
This is this year’s factoid.
A friend and I once broke into my high school using only our Swiss Army knives. They never did find out it was us – or at least we never heard about it if they did – but they did replace those doors the following summer.
As always, the real story is rather longer. And since the statute of limitations has long since expired on this particular event, I feel free to tell it.
I got into technical theater because I was a c-heat sprinter on the track team. My buddy Art – a fellow c-heat guy – realized that there was nothing much for us on the team since we would never get any faster and the coach wasn't particularly interested in doing anything to change that, so he roped me into working backstage for a show at the end of my freshman year. And I found my home.
I never did join the Stage Crew, which was an elected club at my high school, but I was a member in all but name. I worked almost every show, ate my lunch up in the lighting platform with the rest of them, and even got to change the letters in the sign out in front of the school a few times (which is another long story, and all I will say about it here is that there is a reason why they didn’t ask me to do that very often). Most of my friends were either backstage or in the choir or both – those organizations overlapped a great deal.
Theater is a great place for stories.
For this particular story you need to know four things.
First, it was a Saturday. The show was running a bit behind schedule and we all needed to come in for a rehearsal, and the school was of course closed. This meant that we were wholly dependent on the teacher showing up to let us into the building, since none of us had the keys.
Second, it was February. Granted, it was February in suburban Philadelphia rather than in Wisconsin, so it wasn’t too horribly brutal outside, but it was still rather below freezing and that was cold enough.
Third, the teacher was about an hour late. I’m not sure what held him up that day, and I don’t think we ever really got the story. But honestly we didn’t care. Late is late when you're cold.
And fourth, the tech crew gets shit done. Always.
So there we were, all three dozen or so of us cast and crew, shivering and complaining in the way that high school students are wont to do, while no key-bearing teacher appeared to let us in so that we could start rehearsal. Eventually it occurred to my friend Larry and me that there had to be a solution to this.
There were no unlocked doors elsewhere in the building that we could find. So that left us with trying to get in where we were.
The doors to the auditorium lobby were metal-framed things with two thick plexiglass windows each, one above a wide horizontal metal strip that bisected the door and one below. They were key-locked from the outside, but like all public access doors they were just panic locked on the inside – if we could get in, we could just push them open.
But how to get in?
The doors were thick and sturdy, and the plexiglass was specifically designed to withstand all of the abuse that high school students dish out as a matter of routine. They were intended to prevent people like us from getting in, after all. Else why not just put up a curtain?
It was then that we noticed that all of those sturdy plexiglass windows in those thick metal doors were just held in place by thin wooden strips, and those strips were simply screwed into the metal frame with Philips-head screws.
Well, Larry and I were tech crew. We both had Swiss Army knives with that particular attachment. Folks, step aside.
Two minutes later we had the window loose enough that Larry could squeeze past it into the lobby. He popped up on the other side, pushed open the door, and presto! Rehearsal could now proceed in the nice heated school building.
Of course Larry and I put the door back together once we were in. We weren’t vandals.
The teacher must have showed up not long after, because by the time we got the lighting and set in place he was there to run the rehearsal. He may or may not have wondered how we got in – maybe a maintenance person? – and someone may or may not have told him the story. But the thing about that particular teacher is that he was very good at Not Seeing Things when it served his purpose.
This is the same guy who ran my Shakespeare class, after all.
So Larry and I never did hear from any disciplinary body regarding this. But a couple of months later they replaced all of those doors with new ones that couldn’t be cracked with a screwdriver. So it goes.