Drama High/Michael Sokolove: Reflections

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Readers of this blog know that in that wind-wild and yet utterly hospitable Boston of a week ago I was given the gift of my friend Jessica Keener's new collection of short stories, Women in Bed, and found myself full of that ecstatic joy that excellent storytelling yields.

Another gift? Michael Sokolove's Drama High—this time a gift of coincidence, for Michael and I shared the Penguin booth for a while during our respective signings (Gotham kindly sent along copies of Handling the Truth, which we shared with teachers of memoir). I knew of Michael, of course—his work for The New York Times Magazine, his previous books, including Warrior Girls. But I did not expect to find myself so utterly enthralled with this story about a particular high school drama teacher (Lou Volpe) and his cast of Truman High students. I did not expect to feel so emotional as I read—about those who thrill to teach and those who brim with learning, about students who master the raw art of vulnerability, about a very particular play and its casting and its profoundly searing staging.

Masterfully, Sokolove peels and reveals. His own journey as a student at Truman. His respect for this theater phenom, Lou Volpe. His affection (deep, unsullied) for the students he meets. His concerns about the state of education in this country, where the Common Core threatens common humanity and where the very things that the most challenged students need—provocations in the arts, narratives that get personal, unscripted teaching, a chance to speak, teachers who are given the time and room to look up and see—are going missing. In Drama High, we are not preached to, as readers. We are, instead, given a chance to reflect on issues of national import through the lens of a particular school, particular actors, a particular man on a mission.

Surely this book must be given this holiday season to every theater teacher in the country. Surely it must also be given to administrators and parents and students—to anyone, indeed, who likes a very good story beautifully told. I have the deepest respect for Sokolove as an observer, as a journalist, as a man of letters. I have infinite empathy for the many ways he clearly cares about young people and their teachers.

We'll be reading Drama High as we prepare to write our profiles this spring at the University of Pennsylvania. We'll be reading it very carefully, for all that it has to teach us about humanity and the arts, about story and its discovery.

Two more things. The photo above is of Alison Mosier-Mills, the daughter of my dear friend, Elizabeth Mosier, who has shared the theater arts of her talented children with me through the years; this is one of several photographs taken during Radnor High's recent staging of Grease. And Avery Rome, an editor about whom you have read here, is thanked in Michael's book for her valuable guidance. Knowing Avery as I do, I imagine that this partnership was a most invaluable one.


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