Tales out of school: Play shows teachers are people too

Tales out of school: Play shows teachers are people too
Photo by Louise Wateridge

This show will teach you a lesson!

A new play goes behind the blackboard, revealing the secret lives of elementary school teachers when they step away from the classroom. The director of “The Animals,” opening at the Jack Theater in Clinton Hill on June 30, hopes the show will change the way that people think about educators.

“There are a lot of people who don’t think teachers are really people,” said Gretchen Van Lente, who lives in Boerum Hill and has taught in classrooms throughout the city for 15 years. “It would be awesome if people realized that they’re multi-faceted and have issues just like everyone else.”

The play features five actors, each taking on the role of a different teacher stereotype, such as the burned-out slacker and the new-to-teaching perfectionist.

The teachers are on the clock during the play, which takes place over the course of a school year, from September to June, within a single set — a decrepit teacher’s lounge that has no windows, a broken water cooler, and less-than-desirable seating options, which the perfectionist teacher is on a mission to revamp.

Inside the educator getaway, the teachers share stories of the classroom. Playwright Amina Henry interviewed the cast members about their experiences in school, and based the teachers’ tales on their real-life stories. Van Lente said that one scene is based on her life as a youngster, when her teacher would not let her leave to use the bathroom during a spelling test and caused her to pee her pants.

“The Animals” — a title that refers both to the kids and the teachers — is set at a fictional school in Connecticut, which Henry chose to represent a middle-of-the-road learning institution that is neither too urban or suburban. Van Lente said the school is similar to institutions in Fort Greene, where there is a diverse student body.

The director hopes that real-life teachers will be able to relate to the play, and offers them an incentive for watch it — a $5 discount for educators.

“We would love to hear what teachers think about it,” she said.

“The Animals” at Jack Theater (505 Waverly Ave. between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill, www.jackny.org). June 30–July 9, Thu–Sat at 8 pm. $18 ($13 teachers).

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
A-plus: Gretchen Van Lente directs a play about teachers titled “The Animals,” opening at Jack Theater on June 30.
Photo by Louise Wateridge