My relationship with Waldorf began when Liza became school age and Rosie insisted on a Waldorf education for her child, and so our full-time gypsy lifestyle abruptly ended for our family. We still made our living primarily on-the-road, but when the school year began I went out as a solo act.
It was Rosie’s tenacity that made her Waldorf dream a reality. I found myself sitting in a circle with The College of Teachers. Rosie proposed to barter a deal that she and I teach for free in exchange for free tuition. Even though Waldorf is New Age we were politely informed that they do not operate their finances on the barter system, but offered to hire us on the spot. That first year I taught drama classes during the day, and Rosie and I were given permission to teach after-school circus classes, but I told that story in yesterday’s blog post.
Rudolf Steiner is godfather of New Age philosophy, Anthroposophy, and founder of the international Waldorf school movement. Steiner intentionally wove theater throughout his elegant pedagogy. The students learn history by acting out on stage our evolving human story through the re-telling of world myths. The first myths were told orally around the fire, so the first grade play is performed in a circle. In fifth grade they open up the stage to a semi-circle to perform Greek theater. Finally in eighth grade the semi-circle is tipped on its side to become the classic proscenium arch in which to perform Shakespeare.
Theater is not optional at Waldorf. All students from first through eighth grade perform together in a yearly class play. Traditionally the Main Lesson Teacher, who follows the same group of students up through eighth grade is the one responsible for directing the lower grade plays. My job was when the task became too difficult for certain teachers, I would be brought in to direct upper grade plays by William Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. We didn’t have a stage with a proscenium arch, but I slowly accumulated the resources to transform the downstairs gym into a functioning theater.
Upstairs in the Waldorf High School I also directed the senior class play, and the annual Medieval Feast, which I co-created with my good friend John Miller. We both loved the King Arthur myths, and every year John and I would pick another one of the many stories from the Arthurian cycle and find a way to update it for the taste of modern high school students. John would write the script, and I would direct the show.
I have always been an unorthodox Waldorf teacher. I must admit that I often caught the more orthodox members of the faculty off-guard. The Medieval Feast shows seemed to have gotten me into the most trouble over the years. Long before I ever added Matrix characters, or light-saber battles, there was the year of the coconuts.
We were doing, Gawain and The Loathly Lady, which was my favorite Arthurian story. Early in the rehearsal process the High School Administrator came up to me red faced and fuming, “I understand you’re using coconuts in the show.”
Perplexed, I admitted that Sir Gawain does mime riding a horse, while his squire follows behind with a set of coconut shells making the sound of a horse. When I started to explain who Monty Python was, I quickly learned that Anthroposphists take King Arthur and the Holy Grail very seriously.
With my back against the wall I retorted, “There are two things that make us human, our ability laugh, and our ability to cry.” The Administrator listened with her mouth agape, then slowly clenched her jaw, and walked silently away.
The next morning the Administrator approached me, and said she thought about what I had said all night, and wanted to share a third trait that makes us human, “Reverence.”
To be continued…