By Kia Standard
While the audience settles into their seats, Jay‑Z’s rendition of “Hard Knock Life” plays in the background. “Welcome to the Wonderful World of Teaching, NYC, Teachers of Tomorrow” is written in large letters on a blackboard. Ms. Freeman enters the stage, speaking directly to the audience. “Welcome to today’s seminar. Thank you for joining me. So, you’re interested in becoming a New York City school teacher.”
Ms. Freeman takes us on a typical day‑in‑the‑life journey of what it’s like to be an educator. We join her on her first day of teaching second grade at a Bronx elementary school. She is full of optimism, and she can’t wait to “make a difference” in the lives of her students. But when she arrives at her classroom, it’s not at all what she expected: the room is not set up and there are no supplies. So, she goes to the principal’s office in search of Principal Johnson, and finds his assistant Mrs. Santiago instead. “The school supply closet is locked. I am the only one with the key. This ain’t Staples,” Mrs. Santiago says. Mrs. Santiago is just one of the many challenges that Ms. Freeman will face during her indoctrination into the education system.
The children in Ms. Freeman’s class are not what she expected, either. They are street‑smart, opinionated, and most of them know a lot more than a typical second grader should. When she reads “Cinderella” to her class at story time, DeMarco, one of her students, challenges the sanctity of marriage and “happily ever after.” DeMarco tells the class the real‑life story of his mom, who has been dating a married man for many years. She’s not his wife, yet she seems perfectly happy. Adding to Ms. Freeman’s class roster are Ashanti the “Avon Lady,” who sells products to the teachers and faculty during bathroom breaks; Calvin, who does not identify with the boys, so he refuses to line up in the boys’ line; and Jelani, the young Picasso, who draws inappropriate, almost pornographic pictures of Ms. Freeman. There are also classroom dramas, one involving a love triangle. Ivy was “married” to James since kindergarten, but now she wants to divorce him to be with Jelani. Poor James is devastated. Neither party wants to talk about it, so Calvin recounts the whole story to Ms. Freeman after recess.
Alaina Freeman is an actress and an actual New York City school teacher originally from the Bronx. This play is an honest and hilarious look at what educators face as they try to navigate around the obstacles placed on them by the bureaucracies of the public school system. Throughout the play, we see Ms. Freeman advocate for the educational, social, and emotional well‑being of her students, despite the pushback she receives from school administrators and a few of her students’ parents. Ms. Freeman brings these situations to life in comical characterizations. Principal Johnson is a protocol follower; he insists that Ms. Freeman keep her students in line through more traditional means. Next, there’s the reluctant school security guard, who refuses to break up the children’s playground scuffles: “I don’t touch nobody’s kids. My job is to check people in and check people out.” Then there’s the endless parade of her students’ parents, who come down to the school to confront her about her teaching methods.
Alaina Freeman is a masterful comic and mimic. She gives each character a specific voice and dialect, shifting from the childlike voices of her students to the Jamaican, Spanish, and Korean accents of the adults. There were at least fifteen colorful characters woven into the text, and each had their own distinct point of view and rhythm. Ms. Freeman is also a captivating storyteller; the fifty‑five minute show went by in a breeze. There was never a place where the show lagged, or lost its tone and pacing, also thanks to the clever direction of Susan Campanaro.
The best thing about “The MisEducation of Ms. Freeman” is that, although the show is humorous, it does not shy away from the complexities of trying to educate real children in the real world. Some of the students in Ms. Freeman’s second grade class have already learned the lessons of a “Hard‑Knock Life,” so there are no cookie‑cutter ways to educate them. Even though Ms. Freeman is overloaded with lesson plans, class papers, and the daily challenge each student brings to class from their home life, she decides to meet each individual student exactly where they are. We should all be lucky enough to have a teacher like Ms. Freeman.
“The MisEducation of Ms. Freeman”
Written and performed by: Alaina Freeman
Directed by Susan Campanaro
Produced by Jacene Thomas
October 9 at 3:30 PM, October 12 at 7:30 pm, and November 9 at 9 PM
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.