Don’t Tell Paul

Craig and I are observation junkies. And the thing we love to do most is people watch. People are fascinating y’all. They do some fascinating things. The problem when you’re people watching with another person is that you often want to comment on what you’re seeing. Out loud. Not always a good idea to vocalize something like “did you see what she’s wearing????” That’s not cool, as the person you’re talking about is probably in ear shot.

So how do you engage in the act of people watching in public with a friend? Create a secret code of course! Craig and I have a secret observation language which alerts of something special in the immediate vicinity without actually saying what we’re looking at. This special code is somewhat complicated, with many steps from A to B. There has to be a little subterfuge as the observational comment can’t sound anything like the observation we are making.

For example, Disney World is a choice place to observe people. There are a vast variety of folks who make their way to Florida and the land of Mouse. There is always someone wearing something extraordinary, or doing something extraordinary. One such variety is the newly married couple, who broadcasts their status by wearing bride and groom Mickey ears. The bride ones are all right but the groom ones are decidedly goofy. Takes a very special man to wear them. So it’s always a treat to see this couple out in the wild.

Since we wouldn’t call out “look at the guy in the goofy hat,” or “look, it’s newlyweds” what would we do? The code is actually a musical clue. There is a number in the Sondheim musical Company in which a character expresses her desire to not get married. Now remember, we have to be subtle. You can’t just shout out the signature line “I’m not getting married today!” Our subjects would certainly be alerted we were talking about them. So we use the bit before the signature line, “Don’t Tell Paul.” If you yell out “Don’t tell Paul!” No one, except Sondheim fans, will have any idea what you’re talking about. Unless the guys name is Paul.

How can you use a secret code observation language in the classroom? Have groups come up with observational phrases that must be derived from theatrical sources. The point is not to be mean, but to comment on something so no one else knows what you’re talking about. And remember, it can’t be obvious: Don’t Tell Paul=newlyweds in funny hats.

Or, have students create a secret language for two characters and then write a scene in which the only use that language. See if others in the class can decode what’s being said.

Try it!


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Lindsay Price

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