Monday, February 13, 2012

Know Lots of Stuff – Part 7 of The Twelve-step Program for American Recovery

Scene – an improv workshop on the stage of Chicago City Limits, a crusty little theatre on the Upper East side of, confusingly, New York City.
Dramatis Personae – Phillip, the actor and teacher
                                  27 high school drama students
                                  Audience – me and several other chaperones
Action – Phillip led improv games, coaching, encouraging, critiquing all while tossing a tennis ball up the single aisle where a yellow lab waited by the entrance door. The dog would catch the ball then nudge it back down the aisle. The ball would roll to Phillip’s feet and the whole process would start again. Meanwhile Phillip continued to coach, push, and encourage and every now and then he’d say, “Know lots of stuff.”

The mandate was clear in the context – an actor might be asked to play a paraplegic, or an astronaut, or a cowboy, so he better “know lots of stuff.” But the more I thought about it the more I realized its broader applicability. As a teacher I was always being asked, “Why do we need to know this?” “When will I ever use that?” The questions annoyed me – couldn’t they see the obvious worth of my life’s work?  I had some good pat answers, but “Know lots of stuff,” allows no argument. Any worthwhile conversation requires a broad frame of reference. In any emergency knowledge is necessary. Knowing lots of stuff broadens opportunities and promotes success. Who wouldn’t want to KLOS?

I liked the line so much I painted it over my classroom door and for years thereafter all I had to do was point to the sign and the kids would nod and repeat the mantra KLOS; I was never asked the annoying questions again.