Recently a friend from high school, who is now a Facebook friend, asked if anyone remembered a nun that taught English and did dramatic readings. There were some responses and some of my former classmates think her name was Sister Judith Ann. But I remember a Sister Jeanine that was also an English teacher and was the Theater Department sponsor. My memories of Sister Jeanine aren’t necessarily pleasant but reminiscing about high school and teachers made me remember C.I.S.L. (Catholic Inter-Scholastic Speech League) – another memory that wasn’t particularly pleasant!
C.I.S.L. was an inter-Catholic school speech competition. There were several categories: Debate, Public Speaking, Extemporaneous Speaking, Dramatic Reading, and Duet Acting. Somehow I managed to find myself on the ‘Duet Acting’ team. My acting partner was Margaret, a girl that I had gone to school with since 1st grade, and she and I were really bad actors – REALLY BAD!
Duet acting competition involved taking acts from plays that had two main characters. Performances were usually just one-act. Most of the other schools had teams that were doing scenes from contemporary popular plays in the 1970’s – “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” was a perennial favorite. Maggie and I wanted to do a scene from “Butterflies Are Free” – remember the movie with Goldie Hawn and that guy with the dimpled chin? Anyway, Sister Jeanine insisted that Maggie and I do a scene from “Victoria Regina” – seriously. So there we were all pimply faced and gawky trying to “be” Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – what in hell was Jeanine thinking? Needless to say, we were awful. No. Awful would have been an improvement – we were wretched! But we toured all the local high schools – Dominic, St. Mary’s, Rosary, JFK, Aquinas, Mercy, etc.
I guess because I have a German sounding last name, Sister Jeanine thought I could play the German Prince Consort – who knows? And Maggie? Well she was better than me but that’s like saying rotten eggs smell better than dead flesh – it really doesn’t help much. We used these phony accents: She the English monarch. Me the German Prince. Usually somewhere in the middle of our ‘act’ we would somehow switch accents. All of a sudden Albert would have a ‘veddy‘ English sounding voice and Victoria would begin to sound like a German peasant. And being the consummate professionals that we were, of course we would laugh. We would laugh so hard at times that we completely forgot all our lines. That’s when we became truly entertaining – “Victoria, what on earth is making you giggle, so?” or some such nonsense would come out of my mouth! I can still see Sister Jeanine fuming on the sidelines while we slowly ‘self-destructed’.
Once at Bishop Du Bourg High School some kid offered Maggie a hit off his joint (remember this was the ’70’s and we were in Catholic Schools). Ironically, that was her best performance. Needless to say, our poor performances never earned a ribbon nor even an honorable mention. And those pompous Debaters and snotty Extemporaneous Speakers HATED us because we always brought the cumulative team score down.
But Maggie was cool and we had fun. We never expected to win OSCARS one day. We were just high school kids having a good time. And if Sister Jeanine had let us do “Butterflies Are Free”, like we wanted to, we could have kicked some serious butt.
I wonder where Maggie is today? Heck, she might be a great actress with a new name, but I doubt it. I just hope her memories of C.I.S.L. and our high school high-jinx make her smile. I wonder if Sister Jeanine ever thought we were funny? She could have used a hit off that joint!