A Tradition Worth Keeping

My husband and I make a trip to East Texas every year to stroke our roots a little bit by judging at a theatre festival. We never miss a year, even though our former teacher (who hosts the festivals) is no longer at our alma mater. I’ve been asked why we still go after so many years, and I don’t think I fully remember the reason until I get there.

At the judges’ table we line up to get our assignments for the day, and we look around curiously to see which of our drama buddies will also be judging this year. Those of us from our school seem to be dwindling, but there are those who have been faithful to judge even longer than we have. It’s like coming home, and we’re so close to seeing the man who makes it all magical—the man who has taken part in shaping so many lives.

There he sits at the table, effortlessly guiding his current students through the necessary steps to make the day a success. And then he looks up. His smile is exuberant, and I know that I must be wearing the reflection of it. I would have gotten up at 5:15am and driven the hour and a half it took to get there for this moment alone. He hugs my husband, announcing to his current students that he once played Danny Zuko. And then I get my hug, and I do something I seldom do. I hug back—for real.

The moment is over in a flash, and my husband and I search for the rooms where we’ll be judging our first events. It’s different every year, but I’ve judged them all. I love them all. I find my room and settle into a desk and pull out my critiques and my pen. I have no idea what I’ll see, and that’s a huge part of the fun.

This year my first event was cold audition. I love the kids who are brave enough to face this event. It’s one of the trickiest to prepare for. Every year I see a wide range of talent, and this year was no exception. There will always be the performances that lack preparation, determination and sadly, interest, on the part of the performer. I was pleased that this year I saw very little of that. Then there are those who have worked hard and just need some polishing. These are the majority, and I’m glad I get to make suggestions. Last, there are the diamonds in the rough, the ones who love it like I loved it, and they are the icing on the cake.

One girl stood out for me this year. She was in cold audition with me and then later I got to see her dance with two other kids. Her cold audition blew me away. I wanted to write on her critique, “Are you kidding me? Get an agent, girl!” I don’t know which school she attends or who her coach is, but I could see when she and her two partners danced that they had something special. It reminded me of my own experience.

My days in high school theatre are some of the most precious memories I have. Part of the reason for this is simply my passion for the arts. But mostly, I think it’s my teacher who made it special. When I observed and spoke to his current students throughout the day I was reminded of his influence on me at their age. A more respectful and hard working group of teenagers just can’t be found anywhere, I’m sure of it. They bear the mark of being Wiz’s kids, a mark I still bear as well.

I was told recently that there are no truly healthy families in the world anymore, no families without skeletons in their closets. It was Wiz’s family that shot forcefully into my mind at that moment in defiance of such a belief. They give me hope in so many ways. It was Wiz’s marriage to his amazing wife that gave me hope that marriages could work, and it proved true for me in my own life. I doubt he knows the impact that his example has had on me.

As the day moved on and my hand began to cramp from writing, I spoke to Wiz’s new students about his legacy. They smiled proudly, because they love him, too. And I hope they know how fortunate they are. He will retire in a few years, and my first weekend in November will feel strangely empty, I’m sure. I will miss the singing, the dancing, the improv and all of the other events. I will miss getting to see old friends and making new ones. I will miss flexing my theatre muscles that I so rarely use now. But mostly, I will miss my Wiz. I may just have to show up on his doorstep for my hug.

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~ by Rachel McMahon on November 7, 2010.

3 Responses to “A Tradition Worth Keeping”

  1. Loved your story. I enjoyed the day with my grandsons. After Wiz retires, can I still keep the boys on the first weekend of November?

  2. Um…absolutely!!!! I appreciate you doing that so much!

  3. […] of the most heartfelt pieces I’ve ever written here was written about one of my former teachers, a man I love as if he were […]

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