Last year, I was struggling to finish a play about the Old Man of the Mountain and family secrets, looking for the inspiration or my muse to help me finish the project. But I had to put the play on hold when I learned that LAUSD, the school district for which I had worked for more than 11 years, was giving me my pink slip. So I tucked my unfinished play into my drawer and joined the thousands of other laid-off teachers who were protesting the current budget cuts in front of LAUSD headquarters.
The teachers cheered, the union president raised his hands like a returning war hero. But the only other person watching this event was some homeless man across the street — no parents, no community members — only some dirty man in ragged clothing, dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller on his beaten-up boom-box.
I’ve never liked picket signs — never been very big on protests or their supposed effectiveness. As I watched more than 200 of my fellow brethren in education marching in front of the LAUSD district offices with their homemade signs – as I sat across the street, in the air-conditioned car of a fellow teacher while eating a Carl’s Jr. Six Dollar Western Burger, I rationalized my lack of participation by mumbling, “I’m just not political — I’m a teacher…an artist…” and that was when I knew I had to drop my play about the Old Man of the Mountain and write this show…
For me, the creative process is an elusive one. Certain writers that I have read about seem to hint at some control over the forces and influences that bring about new work. For me, it’s always something that quietly speaks up amid the noise of “commercial” ideas or more “important” work. Eventually, its stranglehold around my thoughts is strong enough that I must see it through, but this can take quite a while.
At this same time, my wife and I were exploring various options to support my middle child who had been assessed with Asperger’s Syndrome. A wonderfully bright and inquisitive boy with a high aptitude for math and chess, we noticed various things at home and school (he was in kindergarten) that made us curious. As a teacher, I had several children on the Autistic Spectrum in my class, and so when my son was assessed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I was saddened but not shocked.
That year, he experienced his share of both victories and struggles — as all children do, although they always seemed a lot higher and lower than most. Simple things such as eating breakfast, getting dressed and doing homework became huge chores and struggles, as we tried to adapt to our son’s Aspergian need for extreme consistency. Every morning was the same: bagel with Nutella, two slices of turkey bacon cooked for forty seconds — no more, no less — while school provided various social challenges but also an academic platform for my son to show his extreme gifts in math and chess.
As I continued to work on my play, the experiences of failing to “teach” my son found their way into my piece about education. Eventually, the two stories seemed to blend together to tell the story of the need for trust and belief in every child’s educational path as well as the unique journey each child will take on that path.
What started out as a dramatic response to the LA Times “value-added” public grading of teachers — a literary indictment of the newspaper for crossing what I felt was an ethical boundary — became a story about fathers: two real ones (my father and I) and one metaphorical one – the LAUSD. All three fathers were just trying to raise their “children, ” and perhaps learn that without the element of faith in the educational journey, education in and of itself is incomplete at best.
The play about New Hampshire’s former landmark still sits in my drawer, its emotional draw not as strong now. But as I’ve learned, one never knows when or where the muse will speak.
A Child Left Behind, presented by Katselas Theatre Company. Opens April 21. Plays Fri.-Sat. 8 pm. Through May 26th. Tickets: $20-25 (a portion of the ticket sales will support Generation Rescue Foundation). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. 702-KTC-TKTS (702-582-8587). www.ktctickets.com.
***All A Child Left Behind production photos by Ed Krieger
Alan Aymie is an award-winning playwright (Rap – AAPEX Best New Play). A Child Left Behind marks Aymie’s first solo piece since his critically acclaimed Child’s Play, which was seen at the HBO Workspace, the Aspen Comedy Festival, PSNBC and various theaters in Los Angeles, New York, DC, Boston, Ojai, and in Colorado.
photos by Ed Kreiger