"Teacher, do you have any other scripts?"
I stared at her, indignant.
"This one seems kind of boring."
Boring. That one innocuous word pierced deep, unearthing a newfound fear that she could, despite being a little brat who knew no better, be right.
"It'll be awesome after we practise, I promise you. The best thing ever seen on that stage. At the end of it all, the crowd will go wild and cheer for us."
Like any well-behaved kid should, she said nothing more.
Unfortunately, unknowingly, she had opened a can of worms and they were squiggling out of control. How dare she use that word on me. I've heard weird, lame, crazy - but not boring. I don't do boring.
"You know, many people told me that this script might be too hard for you guys. But I believe in all of you. I believe that you guys can make this one of the best VBS performances ever."
"Nooooo...no teacher...we can't."
"Ugh. If even you don't believe in yourselves, how can I believe in you?" I spouted the obvious cliche.
"Yeah...don't believe in us teacher."
Quickly I ran the actors - if you could even call them that - through their parts. It was a lot worse than I was used to. These weren't teens. They weren't even half-teens. They were kids. Kids who wanted nothing more than to chase each other, toss balls around, lie on the floor, ask dumb questions and disappear into the hall.
Halfway through, the main actress S didn't want to act anymore. Her last straw came during a scene where they had to pretend to be in love. All the kids wanted to express it by 'SMSing'. No, I said. Only one can do that. I want variety.
OK, we'll talk on the phone then, they went. I slapped my forehead and attempted suicide.
"So do you still want to act or not?" I raised my voice somewhat. "It's not going to be easy. I never told any of you it's going to be easy. Anyone who doesn't want to act can change to the other show now."
(Earlier on, the kids were given a choice to take part in the sketch or a fashion show. Sketch was the overwhelming favourite.)
To cut a long story short, we swapped S for another girl A who became the new main actress. Personally, I felt A was a lot more main actress calibre.
I might have been exercising my authority, but underneath I was shaking like a leaf. This could be the year I bit off more than I could chew.
The guy who was supposed to play Jesus was ill and didn't come.
The speakers I borrowed to play the music during practice weren't loud enough.
The actors were still half-hearted at best.
A's brother watched us and remarked, "Looks like this isn't going too well."
Nearing the end of practice, one of the actresses just refused to act. In that scene, they had to all die. She didn't want to. I told her that she could just sit down and close her eyes. She ran off and hid. When we found her, all she did was shake her head and say "I don't want to die." I committed mental harakiri again.
And I still had no idea where to look for props.
Day 3, Morning
30 minutes. That was all that stood between us and the full dress rehearsal. Obviously it wasn't going to be full dress for us, as we had barely begun looking for props and costumes.
Ghosts of VBS past started running through my mind. Tian Mi Mi, David Beckham, Snow Brown and the Seven Lengluis. Did this group deserve a place among those greats?
Frantically - only for me, I guess - we rehearsed as much as we could in those 25 minutes (the first 5 minutes spent looking for a new ball after two boys tossed the original ball down the balcony). This time round, it was a lot better. They were starting to become as urgent as I was.
Rrrrrring! Time for rehearsal. Too soon for my liking of course, but I rest assured that we had done our very best with all we had.
Fast forward to X amount of minutes later, and we were next.
"Go get 'em, tigers!" I imagined myself saying to them.
Day 3, Afternoon
"Hey," one of the Fashion Show kids called out to me. "You told us that they would clap at the end. But they clapped for me!"
Whatever, I rolled my mind's eye.
Was it good? Was it bad?
There were some parts that were reeeeeally long and draggy.
It's not your fault. People will either love or hate performances like these.
"You know," my class co-teacher interrupted my thoughts. "For three days, I had no idea what your sketch was about."
Sure, sure. Let it out.
"But today after seeing it, I finally got it. I was very touched when I saw it just now."
"Oh, really? Thank you so much!"
I broke down and hugged him. In my mind.
The performance got mixed reviews, though mostly positive. Unfortunately, someone even asked if I was okay as they had never seen such a B-O-R-I-N-G sketch from me before. This person genuinely asked me if I was going through personal issues and needed help.
Despite the other optimistic feedback, this was the only one I could focus on for the entire day. I'm just that way.
Driven, I listed down six areas that were needed to improve the sketch:
1) Make the whole thing more concise - remove some scenes, shorten some others
2) Add more variety to the songs
3) Choreograph and rehearse the final scene
4) Improve the slides design (since what was going on onstage wasn't that visually interesting)
5) Make certain scenes clearer with the help of subtitles on slides
6) Finalise the props and costumes (this was eventually done with the help of a surprisingly talented girl M)
All right. Time to rock...
I woke up the next morning, realising I had not finished the slides.
Thankfully, it was VBS Carnival Day and I could afford to reach later. And very much later I did reach - 9.20am.
But would we have time to rehearse?
No way, tosai.
The kids were coming with their parents and it would be very hard to peel them off. Moreso, I had no idea where they would be in the crowd. Once I found one, asked him to stay and went to look for the others that first one would wander off. It was like looking for sheep in a haystack. Or needles on a seashore. You get the point.
I met a pair of girls and asked them to wait at the balcony, as I tried locating the rest. Nope. Nothing.
Finally, I decided to rehearse with them one by one. As I pulled one boy to the side, suddenly a pair of girly voices called out to me from above.
Lo and behold! Most of the main students were there on the balcony waiting for me. I couldn't believe my eyes - it was as though someone had Ctrl + Selected and dragged them all into a folder.
Eagerly I scampered up and commenced the Final Rehearsal.
Day 4, Showtime
Now the kids were serious. I could see it in their eyes. They were taking ownership of their roles, their props, their performance. This wasn't something I forced upon them any longer, it was theirs.
I told them something about not having faith in them at first, but now truly believing in them. Let's go out there and make history, I said. I don't think any of them bought it. We finished with a prayer together.
Neatly the 6 main actors stood in a line, too far behind the stage. I motioned for them to come further out.
Walking with a swagger back to the computer, I did some crappy intro that nobody listened to, clicked play and let the show begin. I'd been here before. The same breathlessness and staring eyes. The same frozen expressions on the actors, as it dawned on them how big the moment really was. VBS magic was about to be made.
At the end, the crowd clapped.
Day 4, After Showtime
"Bravo! Bravo!" I applauded and slapped high fives with them. "That was awesome, and I mean it."
They whooped for joy and returned their props to me, glad it was all over.
Slowly I packed the stuff, went downstairs and stared at them trying out the carnival games.
That was it, kiddos, I wanted to tell them. We did it together. They said we couldn't, but we showed them. They'll be talking about us for years to come.
Someone asked me for a ride home. I gladly obliged.
I jolted awake at 6am, way too early for church. I tried going back to sleep but couldn't.
Oh well. I brushed my teeth, made a cup of Pak Hailam white coffee and turned on the computer.
Instinctively, I played the performance songs on loop while numbing my brain with Tetris Battle. A sip of coffee every now and then lent a little class to the whole scene.
As the sun's slight rays began flitting through the trees, that was my little slice of heaven.
All was well with my heart.