We Need More [Fill in the Blank] Already? (Or, the Economics of a Theater Classroom)

If I had to choose another job, if the abyss cracked open before me and a tentacled, winged elder god (you know the one) commanded that I never teach theater again, I wouldn't have to think twice about what I'd do instead. I'd work in a development department. Specifically, I'd become a grant-writer.

(Actual facepalm on the left.)

I write grants on the weekends. For fun. (Seriously, someone save my pathetic life.) There's nothing that brings me more joy than opening up a blank budgeting spreadsheet and getting ready to crunch some numbers. Or staring at the blinking cursor that's about to type a 1,200-character narrative on why my students require Macbooks. Or conducting research on just how cheaply we can travel to Ireland to observe the National Association for Youth Drama in action. Pressing SUBMIT on a grant that you've just read (and re-read and re-read and re-read) produces a thrill not unlike what I imagine base jumping must be like. One click of a button, and you've dived off the cliff and hopefully into an ocean of technology, supplies, field trips, and much more.

But there's an eternal struggle with grant-writing for a theater classroom. And that's the eternal amount of grants that must be written. Theater, by its very nature, is a business of consumables. You finish one show, and you move on to the next one. You call 1-800-GOT JUNK, and they haul away that custom fabricated set that just cost you $7,000. The designers don't think twice about it; the producer buries her head in her hands and weeps. A theater classroom functions in much the same way, except with a few additional layers of frustration and expense. For instance, when you're working with professionals, you don't have to worry about a lighting technician cutting the wrong size gel. Four times. Guess you're making another trip to Barbizon. (The staff knows you by name at this point.) And while it's really rewarding to watch your students try to construct foam puppets, you cringe when, in a single session, they manage to waste:

- Three polystyrene balls
- Two sheets of 1/4" foam purchased at a speciality store
- An entire tube of contact cement

And I'm sure if there'd been a partridge in a pear tree in our classroom, my students would have figured out a way to waste that as well. Of course, it's not REALLY a "waste," as students gradually become more skilled at using materials. It does take some trial and error to transform a middle school student into a seasoned theatrical designer. But just try explaining that to most grant-makers. There's a reason why capital campaigns are so popular amongst foundations. They result in permanent buildings. No one wants to donate money that's going to end up in the garbage because your students couldn't figure out how to put a set model box together. (Then again, I can't put a set model box together either. In graduate school, I cried until the teaching assistant completed that assignment for me. Presumably because he was tired of me snotting and weeping all over the studio.)

(Twelve colored pencils died to make these costume renderings. RIP.)

So you find yourself buried under an insurmountable pile of receipts. Thankfully, I work at The Best School in the World, and they've always been remarkably open to purchase orders and reimbursements. But I still feel guilty when I have to ask them to buy yet ANOTHER set of acrylic paints because my students left the tubes open and they all dried out. You think to yourself: "Well, they've all learned that lesson at least." But even as you're thinking it, you know that it's a lesson that will probably have to be learned again next year by an entirely new set of seventh graders. So that's the reason why I'm perpetually writing grants. Because I'm a theater teacher, and I burn through money like a California wildfire.

So it probably won't come as a surprise that I'm going to have a grant up on DonorsChoose starting tomorrow. It's to help my set designers get the materials that they need to construct model boxes for the state theater festival. And I will personally guarantee that at least 35% of those materials will actually end up in front of the judging panel. And the other 65%?

Well, let's just say they'll be a valuable lesson learned.

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