The Dangers of Improv

I picked up my youngest son at one of his friend’s house. They were working on another school project. By my reckoning, probably about the four thousandth school project he has had to work on to accumulate the necessary credentials to break free from the clutches of the elementary school system so that he may enter high school to begin the important work of spending the next four years trying to undo all the mental damage that resulted from working on all those projects and writing run-on sentences.

In case you were wondering, he and his friend were building a trebuchet. A trebuchet is a marvellous medieval machine of war that was used for hurling large medieval rocks at the stone walls of a fortress during a siege, and for hurling medieval lawyers over the stone walls of a fortress during negotiations to end the siege. Sometimes, through unfortunate miscalculations on the part of the trebuchet guy, the lawyer was hurled into the stone wall of the fortress, but this was of no great concern as lawyers were in abundant supply way back then just as they are today.

For more recent applications of the medieval trebuchet, look no further than the movie The Last Castle, starring the handsome Robert Redford of The Sting fame, the not-so-handsome James Gandolfini of The Sopranos fame, and the sort-of-in-between-rugged-good-looks of random starving actors playing the prison population of The Longest Yard fame.

In a perfect example of Deus ex machina, during the climax of the movie, Robert Redford pulls a trebuchet out of nowhere and starts hurling lawyers at James Gandolfino.

The trebuchet that my son and his friend were working on was not as impressive as Robert Redford’s seeing as it was designed only to hurl golf balls, or, in a pinch, Ken dolls in their lawyer outfits. But it was a working trebuchet nonetheless, and I was proud that my son had contributed to society in the form of building a contraption that, if built to real life scale, would be capable of hurling a lawyer 120 yards which is your standard distance for a par three hole on a golf course.

From the tone of this column, you may be thinking that I have something against lawyers, yet there is nothing further from the truth for if I have anything against anybody, it is against drama teachers.

While I was driving my son home from his friend’s house, he casually mentioned that he hated his drama teacher.

“Hate is a strong emotion,” I intoned. “What is the source of your malcontent?” (I really talk like this to my children in case you were wondering).

My son replied, “Well, during class, I put my hand up to ask a question, and when she called on me, I said that I had a question to ask, and she said ‘no you don’t’.”

After puzzling my way through that statement, I said that maybe she had a good unspoken reason for not wanting to answer any questions. She is a drama teacher after all; maybe she was trying to be dramatic.

“But we were doing improv and I wanted to know how she wanted me to improvise,” my son said.

“Well that seems silly,” I replied. “Improv is, well, improvising, you don’t ask somebody to tell you how to do it, that goes against the spirit of it.”

“Mrs. H. always tells us what to do and what to say when we improvise,” was the response.

What is the education system coming to? Scripted improv? What’s next? Letting the students do math with the aid of slide rules???

I stole myself to confront Mrs. H., but then I remembered the volcano incident, and unstole myself.

So I did the only thing any self-respecting parent can do these days when dealing with the ill-conceived logic of the modern day school system, I improvised and trebucheted my lawyer into the drama school wall. That’ll learn ‘em.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and is the principal behind the services of Statistics Courses. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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