The Best Man, Rolaids, and Why I’m a Classroom Anecdote


I’m somebody’s classroom anecdote? I was presenting at the 2017 Kane County Teacher's Institute Day in Geneva, IL. And afterwards a familiar face from my college days at Bradley University approached me with a look that said, “Have I got a story about you.” Now who among us doesn’t have a college incident or twenty we’d prefer to remain in the permanent delete folder? Thankfully, this was not one of those.

She says, “I still use you as an example in my acting class.” Lori Dowd is a drama teacher these days at a nearby school. I quickly flash on my nonexistent IMDB profile and think, “Is this one of those 'What not to do' examples?" She continues, “You might remember we were in The Best Man together when we were at Bradley.” I did. BTW, The Best Man is a play about two candidates running for president, and the ethical questions that arise as the campaign grows increasingly dirty and this post has nothing to do with the Trumps, James Comey, or the Clintons. It’s a nice story about character development, as in for a play, not life — although both are important.

My part in the show was the assistant to one of the candidates. He had a hectic, high-pressure gig. And it was a small detail I added to this part that’s become a permanent anecdote for Lori's young thespians to noodle on.

She continues (maybe exaggerating a little), "You did the most amazing thing. Your character was under a lot of stress, so you started carrying around a pack of Rolaids, and after certain lines you'd pull them out and pop one. And it was this small, truthful detail that instantly communicated the pressure your character was feeling. It always got a laugh." I then recalled the actual shtick was that my character would realize he'd run out of Rolaids, look around in panic, and then find one last tablet in a dish, a pocket, or the floor and then pop it in with visible relief — chewing up the tablet and the scene.

I was nothing if not a shameless stage hog back then, but I suppose we all were. I’m smiling now thinking back — who knows how I came up with it? I was a voracious eater so I can't say whether this came from a thoughtful inspiration or a reaction to one of my many overindulgences at one of the cheap campus eateries.

But here was Lori’s takeaway. "I tell my students: 'Think of the life outside the play that your character would live. And then put that into your performance.'"

“Wow, and my little Rolaid bit led to that?” Thanks, cool.

I can tell Lori is the kind of great teacher who helps students find ways to make their own discoveries. I was touched that she took the time to share.

Those of you who've been in the classroom for many years know this feeling: The moment when a former student relays some little thing you said or did that impressed itself upon them and affected their life — when you might not even remember that moment yourself. It's one of the nicest payoffs of the teaching life. And whether you're a teacher or not ... when you're true to the work you do, sometimes you can wind up teaching something useful to someone else without even realizing you're doing it.  

[Photo: An actual shot from The Best Man at Bradley University, fall 1984. That's me on the right, standing next to my friend Greg Lhamon on the left. The Rolaids are in my pocket somewhere. Thanks to Greg for digging up this photo!]

Kathryn Lake