Canterbury Tales: The Journey of a Small School

When I got word that a school in Azerbaijan was going to be performing The Canterbury Tales, I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued to learn that the production was organized by William Hampton – a student! I asked him to share his thoughts about the show. Here’s what he wrote. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

“The Play’s the Thing!” read my mom’s (the drama teacher) whiteboard. And so it was. With only two weeks left until the performance, anticipation was running high at our small school. Some of us had been ready for weeks. At one memorably Age of Empires computer game, my friend and I spoke only lines from Canterbury Tales. Gems such as “Help ho!” and “Chanticleer has been taken by the fox!” rebounded throughout the house. However, many of us had under prepared. “I don’t actually need to know my lines until the day of the play!” the Wife of Bath angrily told my mother. ‘Have them memorized by tomorrow, or I will cut your tale,” my mom retorted. The set had yet to be found, we were still in need of a stage, and, worse yet, many of us still didn’t know our lines, or in the case of ESL students, didn’t quite know how to pronounce them. And we only had two weeks.

We discovered the stage in the basement of the house/school. It had last been used four years ago, and the dusty condition of the basement had left it the worse for wear. Kevin and I, who had been sent into the smelly, rat infested dungeon to fetch the set piece, had spent several minutes in bewilderment looking for it before we discovered it behind a mound of old boxes and chicken wire. This presented us with quite a quandary. In order to remove the set (a painted piece of plywood) from beneath the boxes, we had to stand on the same lump of unused packaging implements. However, the pressure of our bodies caused the cardboard to press against the plywood so tightly that we couldn’t pull them out. It was rather like a Chinese finger trap. In the end, I stood on a rickety old stool and leaned over the mound to remove the set without touching the boxes. Then, Kevin stood on the boxes to finish removing the plywood. In that way, we managed to extricate the set and then steeled ourselves for the journey through the darkened hallways to where light and stairs began.

A Korean mother volunteered to retouch the set. A stump was found for the storytellers to sit on, and that was that. However, we still needed a stage for the set to go on. That was taken care of when Mrs. Dina, the mother of the Franklin, arranged for us to use the TISA stage. TISA, or The International School of Azerbaijan, had a large cafeteria with a stage in the front. They had previously allowed us to perform there, and once again Ms. Rhonda Wood, our TISA contact, extended the use of the stage to us. My mother and I examined it the weekend before the performance. Much had changed since the last time we had been there. The stage now had curtains, hanging microphones, and a sound system. Best of all, it had a backstage, something we hadn’t planned on having. “This is great!” my mom exclaimed. I was inclined to agree.

The Dress Rehearsal was on Wednesday, two days before the play. We prayed that no one would get sick. One of the problems with being a small school is that there were barely enough people to do the play. With every person in High School and Junior High, plus several fifth and sixth graders, already in the play, there were no understudies. A side affect of this was that there were also no volunteers. Every single actor was a conscript, with varying degrees of willingness, and, as such, complaints were not as few as one would hope. However, as the time grew close to performance night, there grew a certain sense of pride among the actors. No one wanted to be the reason for a failed performance. Well, almost no one.

“You can’t still be on script!” The Wife of Bath was still unable, or unwilling, to completely memorize her lines. She had most of the play down, but still wanted to use the script during her tale. She infuriated my mom when she went as far as to steal the prompter’s script during dress rehearsal. “The play is in two days!” my mom complained. “I won’t need it then,” Ms. Bath promised. In fact, the only reason that my mom didn’t cut the Tale was because Abby’s only part was as Mary, and it would be completely unfair to cut her for something she didn’t do.

The Day came. Before the performance, at assembly, we acted out the Prioress’s Tale. The younger kids laughed appreciatively at Chanticleer’s singing and the Fox’s waggling tail, and we felt our spirits soar. We were ready.

The day went by in a blur. Class was light, because, as my mom’s board proclaimed, the play was the thing. At three thirty we loaded into cars and set off for TISA. We went through one last run through of the ending, and then put on makeup, much to the horror of some of the boys. As this was their first performance, they had had no clue that they would be forced to put on powder and lipstick. “I look like a girl!” someone exclaimed hotly, and another hid behind the set until he was forced to come out.

At six, the audience began to arrive. My mom, not expecting many people and was surprised to see that our fifty some odd chairs were filled up. She said a few words, and then the curtains opened, pulled by Miss Angie, the other director. And so we began:

“When April has showered sweetly with his rains,
When the west wind has breathed so sweetly,
Through every grove and field.
When shoots and flowers,
Have broken through the earth.
When the sun shines,
And the birds sing,
That is when good people to Canterbury go.
To Canterbury!”

And off we went, with, as the hostess would say, “nary a bug nor a glitch to be found, as long as you don’t look too closely.” The Wife of Bath, surprisingly, did her tale just fine, proving that she could memorize her lines overnight as she had promised. Very rarely did anyone miss a line, though those that were missed were easily covered. Backstage, there was a nervous tension as we waited for a big mistake, hoping that there would be none. This tension continued until the Hostess said the closing lines, and then we all grinned at each other. We had done it! We had reached Canterbury.

About the author

Craig Mason