The Time I Convinced My Drama Class That I Was a Budding Mass Murderer
My grade eleven drama teacher, Ms. Duckworth, was a woman of intense convictions. On the surface she appeared to be a conventional, professional rule-follower, but in hindsight I believe this was a front she used to break the machine.
At the time I thought she was a hard-ass, but in hindsight I recognized all the efforts Ms Duckworth made to ensure that we were well-rounded, empathetic citizens of the world. She wanted to show us everything and shield us from nothing.
Ms Duckworth was responsible for directing the school’s spring musicals each year, and tried to stage Rent. The principal wouldn’t allow it, so she settled on Copacabana, which features an on-stage rape scene.
In our drama class, she arranged for us to attend an avant-garde musical, and refused to tell us anything about it beforehand so that we would actually show up.
In our politics class she repeatedly espoused the benefits of multiculturalism and immigration. She arranged for us to visit a movie theatre, and told us we had a choice between watching Good Night and Good Luck- a black and white film about McCarthyism- and Water, a subtitled Indian film about child abuse.
Ms Duckworth’s finest moment might have been when she decided my drama class needed to know about the December 6th massacres in Montreal. She would have been a teenager when they happened, only a few years younger than the students who died, and I imagine the event shook her to the core. She must have not wanted us, the next generation, to forget what happened that day.
“You’ll research the December 6th massacres,” she explained, “and find out everything you can about them. Using that information, you’ll create a short play or monologue. But you won’t be performing your own work; you’ll be randomly assigned someone else’s.”
I read about Marc Lepine, and found myself wondering what he was thinking right before he went out and killed those people.
“Well shit,” I thought, “Maybe I should write about that.”
And that’s what I did: I created a feverish, furious monologue from the perspective of Lepine right before the killings. I used a lot of war imagery, profanity and misogynistic language. It was horrifying, but it accurately reflected everything I had learned about Lepine and his upbringing.
After I finished I remember reading it and thinking it would be impossible to perform. It was too emotional, too intense, and due to the psychotic repetition of phrases and ideas, probably impossible to memorize.
Not my problem! I thought, and handed it in.
A week later at the start of class, Ms Duckworth made an announcement.
“Only half of you have handed in their December 6th project. Because of this, everyone will now have to perform their own work.”
Oh fuck, I thought.
She also announced that we’d all be meeting her in our groups so she could help workshop our projects. She did this with another assignment at the beginning of the year, and given me tips on how to memorize my work. That had always been a problem for me. Other teachers in other subjects were content to let us figure things out for ourselves, but Ms Duckworth believed that drama should be a collaborative endeavor. Maybe that’s why she’d tried to make us perform each other’s work.
A few days later I met with her at her desk at the side of the class while everyone else was rehearsing. It felt like we were creating something secret together.
I was nervous about my monologue. Everyone else had written group scenes, so I was the only one going at it alone. I also still suspected I’d created something unperformable. My monologue contained the angry, desperate, nearly incoherent ravings of a madman. I was a good writer, but only an average actor. How I possibly convey Lepine’s madness in a convincing way?
“This is an excellent piece of work,” she said. “If you’re going to do this, you have to do it right.”
I listened closely.
“You can’t hold anything back,” she said. “You have to put it all out there. Get in their faces. Make them uncomfortable. Do you understand?”
“You have to act with your body as well as your voice.”
I’d never been a particularly physical actor.
“Pace around the stage. Use your arms to enunciate phrases. Make lots of eye contact with the audience.”
“I don’t think I can memorize this,” I said.
“Well, my interpretation is that it was a suicide note. Is that right?”
It wasn’t, but I nodded, because it was a brilliant idea.
“You can just read off the script so long as that doesn’t stop you from engaging with the audience.”
I threw myself into rehearsing my monologue, determined to get it right, determined not to let down Ms Duckworth. I didn’t pay any attention to what other people were doing, even as I shared a rehearsal space with them.
The day of the performances rolled around. Ms Duckworth had ensured that we would perform our skits on December 6th, the 14th anniversary of the massacre. One at a time, the groups stood in front of the class and did their thing.
All the skits were similar: my classmates played characters who were somehow removed from the massacre. They were hearing about it on the T.V., or reading about it in the news, or learning about it from a friend who’d seen it on the news.
I was curious about why they were so detached, but I didn’t overanalyze it. I was more concerned about whether my own performance would be any good.
I got up in front of my class and didn’t hesitate. I tore into the monologue with every ounce of energy I could muster. I summoned all the fury I was capable of generating. I was no longer myself, I was Marc fucking Lepine.
I finished, and the class was silent. They just stared at me. For the other monologues there’d been polite applause, but for me there was nothing. Only Ms Duckworth looked pleased. I don’t remember what her feedback was, but I know I got an A.
The moment passed. We moved on to other assignments, and I concentrated on those with equal enthusiasm. To my surprise I ended the year by getting the highest mark in the class, tied with one other person. She was a better actor than me but, it turned out, far less diligent about handing in homework.
The only indication I had at the time that my performance had an impact on my classmates was a brief conversation I had a few months later.
I was talking to a girl in my class and she said, “You know, that monologue you did about the massacre made me kind of nervous. I kept saying to myself, well, he’s not really like that.” The expression on her face completed the sentence: “Are you?”
I forget what I said; probably something about how difficult it was to perform the piece. I have no idea if she found that reassuring or not.
My sister is four years younger than me, and went to the same high school. Some of her classmates were the younger siblings of some of my classmates, and so it wasn’t uncommon for them to shoot the shit about us older siblings and exchange gossip.
For my sister, these interactions followed a familiar script.
“Your brother is David Preyde?” the classmate would say. “My sister always thought he was going to be a serial killer some day.”
“Wait, David Preyde? My brother was convinced he was going to come to school with a gun and kill everyone.”
“I asked my sister if she knew David, because they were in the same grade. She’s pretty sure he’s a psychopath.”
I didn’t catch the names of any of these people who were so convinced I was one bad day away from slaughtering them. I wonder how many of them were with me that day I became Marc Lepine. I’d reckon that most of them were.
So Ms Duckworth, that bold, borderline irresponsible genius, managed to guarantee that none of us would ever forget December 6th.
And, thanks to her encouragement, my former classmates are probably still waiting for me to commit an atrocity.