George F. Walker is quickly winning over the hearts of teachers all over the GTA, despite the fact that he breaks just about every classroom rule we know to exist.
The first two installments of Walker's cycle After Class, entitled Parents Night and The Bigger Issue, couldn't be more timely. Walker touches upon a multiplicity of current issues concerning Ontario teachers and like his characters' voices, the messages come through loud and clear.
In Walker's classrooms there are a lot of parent-teacher confrontations, and in these battles anything goes – even knives. Very big knives.
In Parents Night, Nicole (Sarah Murphy-Dyson), a Grade 3 teacher, faces off with parents Rosie (Dana Puddicombe) and John (Matthew Olver), who are seemingly concerned about the way their children are being treated by Nicole in class. But in both of these cases, we quickly learn that the teacher is not necessarily the problem.
The Bigger Issue (starring Julia Heximer, Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Dana Puddicombe and Matthew Olver) follows a family who cannot come to terms with the fact that their child may be autistic. In a battle with the child's parents, his teacher and the school principal, it is soon revealed that nothing about this family is quite as it seems.
For those who are a fan of George F. Walker plays, this double bill is precisely his usual style: characters who never hesitate to think out loud, and endings that one can argue are not quite endings at all.
The shows cover issues from lack of school resources, to lack of respect, to lack of sufficient pay, to the struggle between the responsibility to do what is morally right and the responsibility to follow the rules set by the school board.
During the talk back following the performance, Walker said he hopes his plays will get people talking, and they certainly are, with several passion-ridden audience members spewing out their thoughts on the issues at hand.
And this is not only a learning experience for audience members. Walker's scripts also had the actors' cognitive wheels turning.
“What I've learned from the script is so shocking,” said Murphy-Dyson. “One thing it made me realize is how lucky I was with all the teachers I had. I think if you're not in the profession you take it for granted.”
Director Wes Berger said that in addition to the script, he learns new things every day from his spectators. Berger said he and the cast were surprised to see how may teachers in the audience have experienced almost identical situations to those presented in the plays.
Though the situations in Parents Night and The Bigger Issue are often inflated, there is certainly a very deeply rooted truth in the problems showcased in these two shows. Walker has each problem screaming at us to be heard. And it's working. People are feeling provoked. People are feeling angry. But most importantly, they feel that they are being given a voice.
Presented by CrazyLady, A George F. Walker Double Bill runs at Theatre Passe Muraille until May 17.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann