I enjoy a good challenge. So every once in a while I give myself a creative writing challenge. Of course, I reserve the right to cheat and edit later. I think that’s why I enjoyed teaching drama to seventh graders. It was always a ridiculous challenge to pull off a twenty minute mini-play in a 24 x 30 foot classroom with 28 desks that was still being used everyday for teaching English. The drama kids were randomly grouped in units of 25 or so from all ability levels. And we had six school weeks to learn basics, pick a play, audition, build sets, gather props, rehearse and perform four shows. Now every once in a while my students wanted to write their own short plays, usually a micro version of a movie or well known story. I know what you are thinking: IMPOSSIBLE!!
And so it was that one of my most memorable groups rolled in at the end of a long school year with their plans. “We want to put on Monte Python’s Holy Grail.”
“Okay, make me a believer. How on earth are you going to pull this off?” Notice I took no ownership of their play. However, as I learned later, I did not need to own it. They’d been thinking about it all year long and were stoked. After some squirrelly discussion and voting, we selected three scenes connected by a narrator. (Always be suspicious of any movie or play that needs a narrator to hold it together, folks.)
The first scene was the famous Black Knight butchering deal. I was curious how the kids would work it out, but the Black Knight (Paul) was dressed in black hockey gear with a little sword and shield from the Renaissance Faire. As the goodly knights approached and he challenged them, they hacked off a piece of his anatomy while chasing him behind the set. When he reappeared, he would have one less appendage. It was just clever enough to work as stupid humor. On his last cycle he came out on a skate board that a stage hand pulled along. All of his limbs were neatly tucked in his hockey uniform. The impish knight continued to challenge his superior swordsmen as they rode on toward more fitting conquests.
As we moved into scene two, liberally adapted from the stupidest movie ever made, the clip-clopping horseless knights got lost and didn’t know what to do. One turned to the other and said, “What should we do, Sir Dim Wit?” ” I don’t know, Sir Flat You Lance. Let’s call God”, which he promptly did on his cell phone. In two seconds God’s answering machine picked up. This was actually Corey on a ladder with his head up above the ceiling tiles. “Hello, you have reached Gawd. I am not here right now, so leave me a message and I’ll get right back atcha.” Not very Godlike but very Coreylike. Their little buddies were laughing hysterically at these boys living out a low budget fantasy on stick ponies in gaudy robes with wooden shields and aluminum foil swords.
One of the problems with the production was what roles were the 10 or 12 girls to play since all the other roles were male. They solved that problem by reinventing the castle siege scene as occurring at the curiously titled, Castle of the Babes. The set had 10 or 12 windows cut into it for each girl to speak through. The horseless knights did verbally parry with the Babes ensconced in the castle wall. The drama built up, well, very dramatically. The girls refused to cooperate with these craven knights’ demands. I don’t remember what they were demanding, not that it made any sense anyway. They probably asked for pizzas and dates. As the scene reached its climax, the horseless knights attacked but were repelled by unlit marshmallows pelting them all over. One of the knights cried out, “I’ve been hit!” Then he ate the marshmallow projectile and announced. “You know, that’s not bad.” Then he and the other knights began eating the marshmallows as the lights dimmed. You gotta love that… rolling with and then eating the punches.
The final scene was a confabulation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets Monte Python’s Holy Grail meets Austin Powers, BABY. The knights were gathered inside the inner sanctum of the holy castle along with the Bishop of Cranberry, who was dressed in a red robe and a ridiculously tall party cone hat. He spoke all Boris Karloffy style to the knights about no one being worthy of the grail. In the center of our stage was a table with various cups on it. Each knight said something ironic and then drank his not so lucky cup. Each one died a sudden and disturbing death. They looked like hockey players in a figure skating death spiral. Amidst the unsettling carnage the Bishop took off his cone hat, revealing the true grail from which he sipped. “Oh dear,” he muttered to himself, “I must have forgotten to put this one out.” At that cue the Babes came around and began an instant dance party with the only man alive, the rockin’ Bishop and his bubbly cranberry juice. The 20 minute mini-play that was antithetical to all things holy and of good breeding was finally over. The audience exploded in joy.
I still laugh out loud at how much fun we had doing such bad work. Our disclaimer at the end was this, “No animals were hurt during the production of this play; only humans were.” And that was one of my favorite moments in public education.