Comedy troupe's skits remind teachers that school can be fun
Chicago — Some teachers are as reluctant as students to end their summer vacations and return to the classroom this month.
That's why several Midwestern school districts have turned to professional comedic relief to remind teachers - if there was a question - that teaching can be fun.
From the well-aimed spitball to funding cuts and wage disputes, nothing in a teacher's experience is sacred for the ''Wavelength'' improvisational comedy troupe. And if recent shows before teachers in two suburban Chicago school districts are any indication, the group's humor-for-hire is likely to be the talk of the faculty lounges in this area for the rest of the school year.
''I loved it. . . . They exaggerate the truth, but it's still the truth,'' said one Palatine, Ill., special-education teacher, adding that the group's appearance at the normally dry and boring pre-term teacher-training program had ''kept me awake.''
Exposed to a morning of exercises to enhance cooperation, communication, and problem-solving skills in the guise of high-powered humor, this teacher and her colleagues offered sympathetic howls of laughter as they recognized themselves in these Wavelength creations:
* The confused teacher dealing with new federal regulations who says, ''I don't know what to do. I was teaching socially maladjusted kids, and now they don't even exist anymore.''
* Edna, the elementary-school teacher who ''got into teaching for the money.''
* The reworking of famous movie scenes in which ''The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' became the ''Hall Monitors of the Sierra Madre.'' In this version, a gang of toughs tells the teacher, ''We don't need no stinkin' (hall) passes.''
The comedy is all directed toward providing a different perspective to teaching, suggests Wavelength founder and performer Jim Winter. Mr. Winter, who spent several years teaching at a suburban Chicago high school, has a firsthand backlog of experiences to draw from as well as an educator's eye for what will motivate teachers who must deal with issues like absenteeism, declining enrollment, bilingual education, discipline, and basic communication.
''Teachers need to maintain a sense of humor and a sense of their common purpose. . . . (Wavelength) generates enthusiasm among teachers by finding out what is funny about what they do,'' he says.
''You know those days when your lesson plans aren't prepared and you have to wing it. . . . Those skills would translate nicely on the improvisational stage, '' Winter tells audiences.
Wavelength, named after a Van Morrison record album, includes Rochelle Richelieu, who has appeared in television programs and commercials; Paul Raci, a Chicago actor and interpreter for the deaf; Debbie Jansen, who teaches improvisational acting; and Dean Edelson, a stand-up comic. All of the performers have been through workshops at Chicago's Second City Theater, which launched the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on the popular ''Saturday Night Live.''
While the group has performed mainly for educators, its line of work has been adapted to corporate training seminars for such companies as Sears and McDonald's. The group researches the services or goods a company deals with, the problems involved in a particular marketing or personnel situation, and then presents a tailor-made performance that zeroes in on an audience's real interests.
Don Minor, a special-education administrator who arranged for the Wavelength performance in his school district, explained that the group accurately targeted and offered insight in the district's particular problems. ''We're starting off in the right frame of mind (this school year) . . . because they (Wavelength actors) were able to establish a group identity,'' he said.
The group's recent performance before 400 special-education instructors in Palatine included a workshop in which two of the actors played a couple divided over whether their child should attend a special-education day school. The skit was structured so that teachers from the audience could join the couple on stage , helping the actors argue both sides of the issue.