Allan Girod may travel the world as a performer, but he had a previous life as a school teacher. Ahead of the Class is his deftly presented tale that explores the events that took him into, and then away from, the classroom as a career.
When Girod tells us about his first day at a new school, aged 6, we see him as the shy, introverted boy who spent years “checking things out” and getting his bearings around the other kids. From some vivid childhood memories, to a sense of awareness of what teachers actually “do” when he transfers his career ambitions from archaeology to education in Year 9, he shares experiences that come alive in his words and delivery. University has its moments, especially in the terrors of his teaching pracs, and the lessons he learned from his three “Jedi master” supervising teachers. Lyrical descriptions of his love of movies and the inspiration drawn from Dead Poets Society and To Sir, With Love promise unfettered mayhem in his first classroom.
A Western Australian tradition of rural placement for graduate teachers finds Girod teaching in a small wheat belt town. Here, his own education continues, becoming aware of honing his skills and discovering that a teacher can learn from his students, with a vivid account of an interschool sports day bringing sympathetic groans and gasps from intent listeners. He shares treasured achievements and moments with students and colleagues.
Then a descent into hell, as he transfers schools and ends up with “that” Year 10 class at a difficult school in Perth. He struggles with a year of constant conflict with students, lack of support from senior staff and a growing crisis within himself. Incidents are described in hilarious detail, eliciting recognition from the teachers in attendance. The joys of small victories are shared, and he is brutally honest and generous with his self-awareness of the changes within himself as a result. His closing lyrical epiphany as he celebrates his career change with a day at the beach is beautiful and drenches us all in sunshine and relief.
This FringeWorld show does not drag members of the audience on to the stage in trepidation, there are no bright spangly costumes, no self-consciously edgy remarks. Girod’s storytelling is deceptively simple with something for everyone, evoking memories of schoolyard characters from our own childhoods, stories of scary bullies and growing awareness of our own impacts on other children’s feelings. While teachers respond particularly well to his stories from the chalkface, Girod’s tales not only recount his experiences but create shared moments with the whole audience. We come to know his characters, each described with sympathetic understanding, even to the detriment of his own character. With generous honesty he recalls losing his temper, feeling frustrated and ineffectual and realising that he had lost his own integrity with his love for his chosen career.
The crafting of the entire narrative arc is sound, the ending providing satisfying closure and tying loose threads together. Each vignette within the piece is neatly, carefully constructed, with enough physical emphasis through pose and movement to seize attention without overshadowing the words and mental images created from moment to moment.
Softly spoken, Girod serves up a slice of himself to his audience. Without fanfare or gimmicks, Ahead of the Class is refreshing, genuine entertainment.
flaming locomotive presents
Ahead of the Class
Venue: Fishtrap Theatre, Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
Dates: 4 – 6 February 2016
Venue: The Flaming Locomotive, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 16 – 20 February 2016
Part of FringeWorld 2016