Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Get "Amateur" off the Board of Directors

A recent political upheaval at an amateur theatre group completely dismayed some of the members of the Board of Directors. The situation concerned a charge of harassment. The Board was counseled that harassment is taken very seriously these days, and requires special handling. Members of the Board were advised to familiarize themselves with the rules and expectations for an employer whose employee has made such a charge.

One of the Board Members was heard to voice the common complaint, and two others echoed it:

"I'm just an actor. I volunteered for the board to do my duty towards the company. Now you're asking me to become an expert on harassment!"

The answer to the question you didn't ask, ma'am, is yes. The Board of Directors is an entity. If it has employees, it is an employer, and has all the duties and responsibilities of any other employer in the province. As a member of the Board of Directors, you are as responsible as anyone else on the Board for what goes on.

In other words, you aren't "just an amateur" any more. You are now a professional, an employer. Get used to it, and act accordingly, or you could find yourself in more trouble that it's worth.

Just as an example. My wife was on the board of directors of a Concert Association in smalltown British Columbia, back when organizations like that had a place in the Arts community. Because of government cutbacks, the big shows like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the National Arts Centre Orchestra weren't touring any more. Since one of those big drawing cards was necessary to sell a season, the Concert Association was in trouble. People found it much pleasanter to sit at home on a snowy winter's night and listen to CDs.

So the Association came to the final crunch. They had about $12,000 left in their slush fund to prime the pump for the next season. They felt they needed over $20,000 to fund a season that had a chance of selling. What if they ran short?

Well, the answer was that if they ran short, the members of the Board could be personally responsible to make up the shortfall.

Shock and disbelief!

Well, not much shock, because they were an experienced bunch, and pretty well knew that the writing was on the wall. So they made up a season with their $12,000, sold what tickets they could, gave the remains to a good charity, and "folded their tents like the Arabs, and as silently stole away."

That was the professional decision. No "I'm just a volunteer!" weeping and wailing.

And it isn't just money. I had an actor last fall who tripped on a stage brace, got an antibiotic-resistant infection in the foot, and might have lost her leg as a result. Fortunately she recovered, but can you imagine the mayhem? You know what happens when the lawyers get into it. They would sue the club, the Board of Directors, the stage manager, the director, the teacher who ran the theatre, the school, and anyone else they could think of.

Sure, liability insurance would probably have protected almost everybody. That's a great reason to have an unsafe workplace. Board members are responsible. Read up on it, find out what you need to know.

And now a lot of you are thinking, "He may be right, but we can't let our members hear this. We'd never get anyone to serve on the board!"

Don't worry. I doubt if very many of the people I am talking about are going to read this. They dont go on the internet and find out whats happening around the province. Theyre just actors. This post is aimed at the leaders who have the responsibility of creating the kind of board that can handle this kind of situation.

We have to catch this "I'm only an actor," attitude, and change it to, "I'm on the Board, and I'm going to do a great job of it!" All of us who have spent time in the theatre business know that getting paid for what you do is no guarantee of professionalism. Likewise, being a volunteer doesn't mean you can't have a professional attitude, and take pride in your contribution.

The point is that the people who consider themselves leaders in these "amateur" organizations yes, I'm talking to you need to do a little educating and motivating of the new members of the Board. How many organizations have a workshop every year, right after the AGM, to tune the new Board members in to what's going on? If one of these situations arises, how many of you know of a resource where you can get help?

If there are resources, maybe some of you can respond to this blog, and we can send the information around.

And the harassment case?  Well, in their wisdom, the amateur Board of Directors tried to make the problem go away by firing the employee. This had two effects:

1.    It pretty well confirmed that harassment did, indeed, take place.
2.    It made winning a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal a slam dunk for the employee.

So the club had to fork out a bunch of salary in lieu of notice, which cost them $1500 more than any amateur club can afford to throw away. And there was a time in the proceedings when a sympathetic ear and a letter of apology would have solved the whole thing. The whole lot of them ought to resign. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Generations" Theatre Company wraps up the season

Please note a new link in the Sidebar to "Lillian Code," the short film I worked on this summer

December 13 was the final videotaping session and cast party for the Generations show, "Slip Sliding Away," a musical revue highlighting the challenges of life with multiple generations.  The DVD should be ready before the end of the year.
September was a slow start, because over the summer we lost 6 of our members, including three youngsters and two of their parents. A newspaper ad brought us in 4 more, but we only kept 1. We pulled in 2 more from other sources. So the fall cast was twelve: 4 students, one 28-year-old, and 7 seniors.
We rehearsed from mid-September through November, and had our first big public performance of the 40-minute show on November 26 at the school. We spent quite a bit on newspaper ads, and pulled in an audience of about 50. The show went well, although, as expected, lines were blown with unhappy regularity, and I was required to prompt far too often.
In December we had 5 more shows booked, although we had to cancel two of them because of one actor's illness, one away for a close family funeral, and one who tripped over a stage brace at our Nov 26 show and banged her forehead. She performed that show, but missed the next few because of serious bruising which appeared, giving her huge black eyes, which took over a week to clear up. She made the final video session, however. A real trouper.
So, once again, the performances are over, and now we're taking a break until February. The students have semester turnaround and provincial exams in late January, and two of our seniors are going on holiday in early January, so what can you do? We are now assessing our successes and problems, and looking for new funding for the spring term.
The main difficulty this fall, once again, was that rehearsals were hampered by lack of student participation. Legitimate activities intruded, such as Work Experience placements. Semi-serious excuses (I had to babysit my little brother while my mother went shopping) added to the problems, and there seemed to be a great deal of illness among the students. Lack of communication made these problems even worse.
For example, one of the girls was on work experience, but was able to come to rehearsal late. Her stint was over just as we started our performance "season," so we were able to cope. The next student, however, without telling me, went on work experience the week before our final taping session. When I discovered this, I instructed the videographer to come a bit later, and told everyone to be prepared to work later. The day of the taping, the girl showed up at the beginning, and told us that her work started later. At precisely the time the cameraman was showing up, she was leaving! So her scene never made it onto the videotape.
This was just as well, actually, because she never managed to get her release form signed by her parents, and I wonder if we would have been allowed to use her image in public showings (such as YouTube) anyway.
In all, this has been a positive experience for everyone. The new Canadian actors have improved their spoken language skills immensely. The seniors have all enjoyed themselves, and developed their acting skills. Members of the audience have enjoyed the shows and, we hope, been left with some ideas to mull over.
Whether this has all been worth the money the government put into it remains to be seen. The New Horizons for Seniors initiative provides startup funds to buy equipment and start the program up. It is the responsibility of those involved to keep the project going.
More news as funding allows.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Putting Students Under Pressure to Perform

I was giving a workshop in an ESL class the other day, watching beginning speakers of English struggle to make a 30-second impromptu speech on a given topic with no prep time. This led me to speculate on what is actually going on in people's minds when they are required to speak in a pressure situation.

As a drama/spoken language/ESL teacher, there is a factor I must consider every time I put a student into a challenging situation: that student is actually under two different types of pressure. Those of you who are into left-brain/right brain theory will probably relate to this.

Creative Pressure

The main pressure the student is under, of course, is creative pressure: to come up with the right words. Whether it is an experienced actor trying to impress his audience with his wit and creativity, or a beginning language student trying to remember the English word for "gato", everyone who speaks is under this pressure. The teacher's job is to manipulate the situation and the assignment so that the student is under exactly the right amount of pressure - in other words, that the challenge is at the right level - so that the student can achieve success, but has to work for it. Too much pressure leads to failure. Too little results in a lack of learning.

Social Pressure

However, the other type of pressure that exists alongside the intellectual pressure is the social side of it: the student's fear of failure, of looking bad in front of others, of being embarrassed. Once again, it is the teacher's duty to manipulate this pressure, to control the situation so that the student can achieve success.

Control the Environment

At the beginning of a lesson, especially with a new class, my main objective is to remove as much of this social pressure as I can. I work to create a cooperative, non-threatening atmosphere in the classroom, so that everyone is given the opportunity to succeed. For some methods I use, check out my archived post on this blog, "The First Six Weeks of School"(August 4, 2006) especially the section on "The Shyest Student". As the students grow in ability and confidence, I allow a certain amount of social pressure at times, because learning to deal with that pressure is part of the nature of learning to speak a language.

My objective is always to minimize the social risk, to give the student the confidence to take the creative risk, to challenge themselves, because that leads to faster learning. The nice part of it is that, if the student takes a risk and fails, I can always compliment him on the fact that he took the risk, and turn the experience into a positive one, no matter what the outcome.

"Speakers' Battle"

My greatest achievement in this respect comes when the students will agree to play "Speakers' Battle". In this game, two students speak at the same time, for 30 seconds or a minute, on an impromptu topic, vying for the attention of the audience, who point at whoever they are listening to. If the class has been prepared properly, with the right non-competitive, cooperative, risk-taking attitude, they find this exercise hilarious, and are inordinately proud of themselves for having competed. If I can prepare the class to the point that the most shy students will participate in this exercise, I know I have been successful in removing the social pressure from the learning situation, and that the students' progress in speaking English is at a maximum.

Being aware of both types of pressure, and keeping control of each of them, aids the teacher in creating the perfect learning situation in the classroom.


Do not try "Speaker's Battle" unless you are supremely confident in your students' cooperative attitudes. In a group with the wrong approach to competition, it could get very…shall we say…counterproductive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Generations" Theatre Troupe

So we spent the spring term getting the show together, so to speak.We now have a name, Generations, and have had vests made with our logo on the breast. Very flashy.
Progress was much slower than anticipated, as is usual with startups, I suppose. Several problems held us back. First, the lack of acting experience of our younger members. This didn't just show up in their performances. There was a notable lack of understanding among the teenagers about the importance of showing up for rehearsal.
We had been rehearsing once a week, but nearer to our first public performance, I boosted it to twice a week. Our first gig, a combined performance with the drama students, went very well. We had a 15-minute show, mostly songs with a few one-liners thrown in. However, the following week, when we had only two weeks to prepare for our first out-in-public show, none of the Queen Elizabeth students showed up for either rehearsal!
By the second rehearsal I was in panic mode, and contacted our sponsor teacher. She spoke with the actors, and reported that everything was fine, and that they would be at the next rehearsal. She also gave them a bit of advice about responsibility and that sort of thing, as teachers do, for which I was grateful. They showed up, all smiles, to the next rehearsal, full of legitimate excuses for missing one of last week's rehearsals, but no real excuse at all for the other. Once again, they got a bit of a talking to, but not too heavy. It's always a touchy balance between being too harsh and driving them away, and being too lenient, and not getting the message across. I'm probably on the lenient side. I just went on about how worried I had been when they didn't show.
Anyway, we had our rehearsals, and did our two performances, still with the 15-minute show, as none of the other scenes had been rehearsed enough to perform. We did two shows back-to-back, one at a Senior's Wellness Fair in Surrey, and one at an Intercultural Showcase at Queen Elizabeth School. Both times we performed well, and were very well received. My old (sorry, experienced) Vaudevillian ladies carry the show with aplomb, and I'm very grateful to them. The two 11-year-olds and their mothers are full of enthusiasm, which really comes through on stage. However, there is a little problem in the schedule with baseball games.
Another problem we have is with the ESL students. It is very difficult for them to speak out loudly in a language they don't know well, plus some of them come from cultures where women are not expected to speak out. However, the drama work is very good for them, and they are all coming along wonderfully, both in their acting and in their spoken English.
We finished for the summer in mid-June, and will be starting up again in September. We've already been called about doing a show! We are coordinating more closely with Karin Kalyn, the drama teacher, and she is being very helpful.
So our hopes are high. 4 months to go. After that time, we find out if more funding is available.

I'll keep you all posted.


Words by Gordon A. Long

Tune of “Bye, Bye, Blackbird”

Pack up all my pills and clothes,

Here I go, layin’ low,

Bye, bye, rest home.

Goin’ out where I’ll be free,

No more sche-du-els for me,

Bye, bye, rest home.

Everyone here only wants to mind me,

Let’s see how they do when they can’t find me.

I’ve had more than I can take,

Turn me loose for heaven’s sake,

Rest home, bye, bye.

Down the street, to the tram

Here I am, on the lam,

Bye, bye, rest home.

Check my room, I won’t be there,

That’ll give my kids a scare,

Bye, bye, rest home.

Manor, garden, lodge or senior’s day care,

Call it what you like, I will not stay there.

Before I’ll live here to be nursed,

I’ll go out with my feet first,

Rest home, bye, bye.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Intergenerational Theatre Troupe

I'm working on a new concept in theatre these days. Funded by New Horizons for Seniors, and organized by the Seniors Community Planning Table of Surrey, this troupe brings together people of all ages to create a variety show about seniors' issues.

The troupe rehearses at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, in Surrey, and our first problem was to get Queen E students to join up. Acting with old folks is not exactly a big draw for teenagers, plus we were starting after the second semester had begun. Most theatrical types had already committed to end-of-year projects, and the grade 12 students were starting the long, slow slide to Grad. The result was that we had our first rehearsal, and no students from the school showed!

We did get a good selection of seniors, mostly from my other group, the Vaudevillians. Also a couple of 11-year-olds, very keen to act, who brought their mothers. One of them brought her grandmother to the next rehearsal, so we have a great age spread!

We desperately piled on the ideas, got publicity into the school newsletter, and contacted some people doing programs for new immigrant students. By the third rehearsal, we had five teenage students, and we have definitely added a multi-cultural theme, with actors from Yemen, Fiji, and other Asian countries.

The newsletter pulled in two more performers, so our place at Queen Elizabeth high school is assured, and now we have to start building a team, training our actors, and creating a show.

More on that in days to come.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Language and Drama Workshops

Once again we are online, having spent February teaching English at the Anyang Technical College, near Seoul.

A recent trip to Prince George resulted in some new thoughts on using Speech and Drama activities in ESL situations. Thanks to the teachers of Ecole College Heights French Immersion Program, for the opportunity to work in their classes.


I find that Drama activities are so effective in Second Language teaching for two reasons. 

First, a lot of  Drama exercises are designed to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere in the classroom, where students are not afraid to take risks. This is very important in ESL situations (and all other classrooms, of course).  

Second, many Creative Drama activities are designed to boost creativity, and the ability to think 'on your feet'. What you are doing when you are trying to create a character or a story is very similar to what you are doing when you are trying to communicate in a new language. It uses both right-brain and left-brain skills simultaneously, which is very good for brain development in general, and language development in particular.


I also find that standard classroom Speech activities work well in ESL. While many of you might find this great discovery rather a no-brainer, it is far from accepted in many education systems. In Korea, for example, the regular elementary schools do a lot of rote learning of grammar rules and vocabulary. The students have a great deal of language information in their heads, but (perhaps it's the classes of 50 students) no skills for using this information. The well-to-do send their children to private after-school lessons and holiday "English Camps" to learn to speak.

You don't need to do a whole lot of research into the human brain to realized that we were originally designed to use oral language. Compared to the length of time humans have been developing speech, the reading and writing part has only come in the last, tiniest, portion of our existence.

Of course, when I go to language lessons, I immediately pick up a pen and start writing things down. That's how I was taught to learn, and I've been practising it for 40-odd years. However, when it comes right down to it, the only way to learn to speak is to speak. Put the pen down, and move the lips!


So, for ESL classes, as well as FSL classes, and any other language classes you like, here are a few Drama/Speech exercises which you might find useful.


This activity involves students sitting in pairs (on chairs, desks, or the floor) facing each other, knees almost touching. One student is designated A and the other B. If there is an odd number of students, a group of three can have a C student as well.  

In all activities, the teacher gives the instructions, gives the signal to begin, and one person talks, while the other listens.  There is a separate objective for creating proper listening behaviour.

For the first exercise, start with a general topic that the students have been studying. For example, if they all know something about sled-dog racing, that could be the topic.
(One class in Prince George had been studying the human skeleton. They created a story about two toe bones that were in love, but could not meet because they were on opposite feet!)

Student A starts. Student A is now an expert on the subject of dog mushers: who they are, what they do, what they look, act and dress like, etc. A will spend 30 seconds telling B all about dog mushers.

When 30 seconds have elapsed, it is B's turn. B is an expert on the reporters that cover dogsled races. He will spend 30 seconds telling A all about reporters: the type of publications they work for, how they get their information, how they dress, what equipment they use, etc.

When 30 seconds have elapsed, it is A's turn. A is now the expert on lead dogs. He will spend 30 seconds telling B about lead dogs: what they look like, what their personalities are like, what they want most in life, what they hate, etc.

When 30 seconds have elapsed, it is B's turn. B is an expert on the trails the teams race on. B will spend 30 seconds telling A about racing trails: what they look like, what parts are difficult, what the dangers are, etc..

After four half-minutes of expository "research", the students are ready to start creating the story. They should be reminded of the difference between exposition and fiction, because now they are creating fiction. They could also be reminded that they have three characters and a setting for their story.

They take turns creating the story, each getting 30 seconds to take the story in his direction. 

After the teacher feels the class has spent enough time on this part of the activity, they are given a warning of one half-minute each, and then the story must be finished.

At this point, the original objective has been accomplished. The students have practiced creative thinking and speaking, and also appropriate listening.

From this point, the teacher can move the exercise in many different directions.

- if cooperative behaviour is the objective, start shortening the amount of time each narrator gets, until they are speaking one sentence each. It is possible to tell a story with narrators having one word each.
- if performance is the objective, move the groups of two into groups of four, and have them start their stories again. Remind them that the new group will have different types of mushers, dogs, trails, and reporters, so the story may take interesting turns.  After a bit of practice in fours, groups can be offered the chance to perform 'one-sentence-each' stories in front of the class. 'One-word-each' stories work best with four narrators.
- if creativity is the objective, keep throwing new ideas at them. Tell them that the next narrator must put a carrot into the story. Or a radio, or a Martian.
- if expressive speech is the objective, have A speak while B uses his forearm and hand as a measuring gauge, to indicate how much enthusiasm A is showing in the story. Horizontal is dull and boring. Vertical is active and exciting.
- if speaking without stopping is the objective, have A be the speaker, and B the "tattletale". If A stops, B is to put his hand up, only lowering it when A continues speaking.


This same pattern can be used for impromptu expository speeches. Divide the class into pairs, A and B. A will speak for 20 seconds without stopping on the topic of shoes. Then B will speak for 20 seconds without stopping on the topic of bedrooms. Then A will speak for 30 seconds on his favourite food. Then B will speak for 30 seconds on his favourite sport.  

And so it goes, slowly increasing the length of time required as the students' abilities increase. Use the enthusiasm meter and the tattletale partner to encourage continuous, enthusiastic, creativity.

As you may have noticed, all these exercises have a similar pattern. It involves getting the students started at a very low level of anxiety, then gradually making the task more difficult and more stressful as the students gain ability. They start in pairs, speaking to a friend for 20 seconds. They work up to one minute, then are expected to speak with enthusiasm and acting ability, then to a partner who is not a friend, then to a group of 4, then maybe to a group of 8, then, in the end, for 1 minute in front of the whole class, possibly for a mark.

If you really want to have some fun, have a "competition", where two students stand in front of the class, each is given a topic, and they both speak at the same time. The students in the class point to the contestant they are listening to.  I do this with volunteers only.

For ESL classes where the children's English level is low, they will find the fiction the hardest. They will find the expository difficult. An intermediate activity I have used is to sit the whole class in a circle, and place an object, such as an upside-down chair, in the centre. Then I invite students to say one sentence each about the chair. Once they have practised this on a voluntary basis, I start around the circle, and each student must say a sentence when his turn comes. This is a good way to practice specific vocabulary. I have met angry chairs, and sad chairs, and disappointed chairs, besides the usual black, brown, shiny, wood, and steel ones.

Once the students have practiced as a group, then you can move them to pairs, working on simple objects which their vocabulary level will handle. Which way you work the lesson will depend on the vocabulary of the students and their comfort level in speaking in front of the group.

I have also had good response when, as an intermediate activity between expository and narrative, I had students tell the story of something that really happened to them.


I'm sure many of you have played this game to help learn people's names. Everyone sits in a circle, and you start a clapping rhythm: slap your knees, clap your hands, snap your fingers, clap your hands. slap, clap, snap, clap, one, two, three, four.

Once the pattern is set, the game starts. The first person must say his name as he slaps his knees. The next time he slaps his knees, he must say someone else's name. The next time the knee-slap comes, the designated person must say his name. The next he says a new name.

Joe says: "Joe, (clap, snap, clap,) Mary, (clap, snap, clap,)"
Mary says:"Mary, (clap, snap, clap,) Peter,( clap, snap, clap),"
Peter says: "Peter,( clap, snap, clap,)Susan, (clap, snap, clap…)"

This goes around the circle until everyone knows everyone's name. (Or until everyone is totally sick of the game.)

For vocabulary development, it goes like this: at the first knee-slap, I say a colour. At the second knee slap, I say someone's name. At the next knee-slap, he must say a new colour. At the next knee-slap, he names the next person to play. 

I say: "Blue,( clap, snap, clap,) Jane, (clap, snap, clap,)"
Jane says: "Green, (clap, snap, clap,) George, (clap, snap, clap,)"

And so on.  You can work this with names, colours, games, nouns, months, adjectives: whatever you like. If you want to get competitive, you can have people sit out of the game when they mess up, but I think the learning is better if they all stay in most of the time. I sometimes have them slide back once they have spoken, so that everyone gets a turn.


These Drama and Speech activities, which are good for encouraging creativity and expressive speaking in the regular English classroom, are especially effective, if adapted carefully, for Second Language teaching as well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Remembrance Poems

With Remembrance day coming up, here are some poems I wrote for workshops I gave in Prince George last week. Please use them if they are appropriate for your Remembrance Ceremonies, as long as you give the copywrited author some sort of recognition. They range in difficulty and subject matter from about Grade 3 to High School

Gordon Long 2007

The tombstones crown a hill in France, and what they stand there for
Is to signify the sacrifice that men have made in war.
And on each stone, the soldier’s name, what regiment he chose,
Some have a flowers twined around: a poppy, or a rose.

And even now, for some of them, with every passing year,
A loving friend has left a wreath, or laid a flower near
The stone, and taken time to show, with loving care,
That someone comes to think of him, and spends a moment there.

But there is one lonely marker that will never have a wreath.
The writing chiseled on the stone says not who lies beneath.
For no one ever knew the man who lies below that sod:
A Soldier
A Canadian Regiment
Known unto God.

His family never got the wire that said their son had died,
That the faceless hand of war reached out and brushed a soul aside.
The lonely nights they waited for the news that never came,
For the battle took away his life, and even stole his name.

So none will stand beside his grave, and speak his name aloud,
And none will tell a stirring tale to make his children proud.
Even names are trampled under where the feet of war have trod:
A Soldier
A Canadian Regiment
Known Unto God

Gordon Long 2007

My grandma had a father that she didn’t get to know.
He went to war when she was very small.
When soldiers go to battle, they get shot at and get hurt,
And some of them…don’t come back at all.

My mother had a grandpa that she never got to meet,
Because he never came back from a war.
But she says it was important that he sacrificed his life.
We have the freedom he was fighting for.

I wish that they could stop the wars, and we could live in peace,
And never have to soldier any more.
‘Cause I don’t want to grow up and have to tell my child
That his grandpa died from fighting a war.

Gordon Long 2007

Chorus Hey, kid, buy a poppy!
Kid …Why would I do that?
Chorus C’mon, kid, buy a poppy!
Kid Ah, drop dead.
I never bought a flower. It doesn’t match my shirt.
I’ll spend my cash on DVDs instead
Soldier Hey, lad, have a poppy.
Kid You’re givin’ ‘em away?’
Soldier Here, boy, have a poppy,
Kid What’s the scam?
Soldier It isn’t any trick, son, it’s a symbol.
Kid …Of what?
Soldier What we gave you. Let me tell you who I am.
Kid You’re a soldier
Soldier That’s the truth, lad, I’m a soldier,
And I fight in all the wars that there will ever be.
There’s many of us died, you know,
Kid I know that
Soldier You know why?
Kid I guess not.
Soldier So that others could be free.
Mother See my poppy?
Chorus Take a look, kid.
Kid Why would you be wearing one?
Mother For the mothers and the families back at home.
Our husbands and our sons went out and didn’t make it back.
And now we have to live our lives alone.
Chorus A poppy stands for freedom, kid.
Kid How would I know that?
Chorus Don’t you ever listen?
Kid Not too much.
Chorus Everybody knows about the poppy.
Kid I suppose,
I just don’t like to think of wars and such.
Chorus You think about it kid,
Soldier Or else the next war could be yours
Mother If people never learn to get along.
Chorus You gotta fight for freedom, or they’ll take it all away.
Kid I do?
Soldier Or watch your world go very wrong.
Chorus Hey, kid, get a poppy;
Kid Well, maybe just the one
Chorus Sure, kid, have a poppy!
Kid Thanks, I s’pose.
If all those people paid their price, the least that I can do
Is help them.
Chorus You just might succeed
Kid Who knows?
Everyone So come on, kids, wear a poppy, to remember those who fell,
And make a little effort to repay
Their sacrifice, and keep our country free and safe from war,
For all the children who will follow you some day.

Gordon Long 2007

I had a dream one night. I was walking through streets of a war-torn town. Houses with gunshot marks in the walls. Streets torn up, roofs torn down. Scrambling through the wreckage, I met a boy. He was only a boy, about 14. He was short, and skinny, and dark. He had all this stuff strapped around his body.

I said, “What’s all that?”
And he said,
He It’s a bomb.
I A bomb? What are you going to do?
He I’m going to find a place where there are a lot of people, and I’m going to blow them all up.
I Why would you do a thing like that?
He Because my people are not free.
I But…killing a lot of innocent people?
He They aren’t innocent. They’re the ones living a good life, while my people live in refugee camps. You aren’t innocent.
I Me? I don’t live anywhere near you!
He You are rich beyond my wildest dreams
I I’m not rich!
He Do you eat all you need, every day?
I I guess so.
He Do you sleep in a safe, warm, house?
I Sure.
He Do you have a TV and a car and video games, and an iPod?
I Well, yeah.
He Do you go to school?
I Of course.
He Beyond my wildest dreams. And you live that life, because people like me live ours.
I What do you mean?
He Do you drive cars? Use up gasoline?
I I suppose.
He Which comes straight from my country. We have the oil, but you get it all, and we live in poverty. Guilty.
I So you would kill me?
He If I had to.
I And die yourself?
He Hah! If I die for my religion, I go straight to heaven.
I You do?
He Oh, yeah. And heaven is a marvellous place, believe me.
I But you’d be dead!
He So? What’s so terrible about that?
I Don’t you like being alive?
He Not much. I’m always hungry and afraid. I’m often too cold or too hot.
I I’m too cold or too hot sometimes.
He Yeah? Listen, kid. You’ve had more happiness, in your short little life, than I’ll ever see in mine if I live to be ninety. Which isn’t likely, with the disease, and the starvation, and the wars
I Oh.
He And if you live to be ninety, you’ll never feel half the suffering I’ve already had.
I I see.
He I doubt it. ‘Bye now.
I Where are you going?
He I told you. I’m going to be a hero. I’m going to fight for the freedom of my people, and they’ll write songs about me:

“To you with failing hands we throw
the torch, be yours to hold it high!”

I love that poem. I’m gonna make a really bright torch! (Exits)

And then I woke up. In my safe, warm, house, with my TV and iPod, and two cars in the garage. But I can’t stop thinking about that boy, and what a horrible life he has. And I keep wondering. Is he right? Does he have to live his life, so that I can live mine? Anybody want to…wear a…poppy? (Slow, sad exit)

This is a photo of the tombstone in the D-Day Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mere, France, which inspired the poem "Unknown".