Monday, November 19, 2012

Long Live the English Language

On Nov 18, 2012, at 7:09 AM, __________________ wrote:

Dear Christine,

My husband and I enjoyed Attack of the Pom-Pom Zombies. We went because our grandson _____________ was in the play, and we really enjoyed the entire performance. The kids exuded joy and confidence, and everyone really deserves to be very proud.

My purpose in writing is to ask you to take correct English grammar into serious consideration. There were many instances of incorrect grammar in the Attack of the Pom-Pom. One example is the use of "me" in the subject: (incorrect: "Me and Jill went shopping." correct: "Jill and I went shopping."). Unfortunately, grammatical errors such as this are very common colloquially in Indiana and probably sound quite natural to the kids. However these same kids will soon be out in the world seeking jobs and following their own paths in a larger global arena where good grammar will be a distinct advantage. I think you have the perfect opportunity to encourage and instill correct grammar through the exciting media of theater. 

Thank you for your time and dedication in bringing these opportunities to the children of your community. I know they will always be proud to have been a part of the children's theater. I know because was in children's theater when I was a kid.


Hi, _________________--

Thank you for your letter.  I adore you that you cared enough to write it.  

As a veteran teacher of the Indianapolis Public Schools, I spent 19 years carrying the standard of proper grammar, modeling it and even refusing to respond to kids unless they spoke correctly.  I demanded 'asked' instead of 'axed', please and thank you, and I often told them that were I a 'boss', and they came in to interview for a job, I would not hire them if they said 'ain't'.  I said, "If you use incorrect grammar, then it says to me that you went through 12 years of formal schooling without bothering to learn to speak correctly, so why would I want that kind of person working for me?"  

If you were a fly on the wall at rehearsal, you would know that I often correct the very same example you gave me.  I don't hear incorrect grammar quite so often out here in the suburbs, as I did in the inner city, but I continue to verbally wave the red flag whenever I DO hear it.

When it comes to theatre, however, the fault lies with the playwright.  The kids are instructed to learn the lines the way the playwright wrote them.  Often, the incorrect grammar (and sometimes the mispronunciation of words) is written in as part of the character (in the case of plays with, if you will, hillbilly characters, or characters who learned English as a second language).  I'm sure, as you wrote your missive, you were recalling your grandson, who portrayed Barnacle Bill, a sassy old pirate, in "Attack of the Pom-Pom Zombies".  Poor grammar not withstanding, he did a marvelous job, but I ask you to think about Barnacle Bill for a moment.  He was an old pirate, who came ashore and went into the restaurant business.  The kids are encouraged to create a back-story for their characters, and it is not difficult to imagine that a young Barnacle Billy may have run away to sea at the age of 8 or 9, and served as the cook's boy on a whaling vessel, or a lookout in the crow's nest, or a sailor in charge of keeping the sails trimmed and the decks well-swabbed.  His formal education may have terminated in the 3rd or 4th grade, and the poor lad would never have learned the correct usage of 'he and I', the proper conjugation of 'to be', and how to speak without sounding like he had a mouth full of marbles.

There have been times when the lines written for characters included poor grammar and I corrected them because I felt that particular character should speak correctly.  There have been times when I've added poor grammar to the lines to help create character.

Rest assured, _____________, that there is no more champion of the English language than myself.  I'm particular fond of the proper use of 'a' and 'an', which I fear we will see the death of in our lifetimes.

Again, I thank you for your letter and appreciate not only your presence in the our audience, but your concern for the success of our young actors in their adult lives.

____________ did a marvelous job and I hope to see him back at auditions for "Dr. Evil and the Basket of Kittens", where, I believe, most of the characters demonstrate correct English.  


Christine Schaefer
KidsPlay, Inc.

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