Minneapolis teacher Michele Campbell was taking a writing class for her Master of Fine Arts degree and discovered she had a lot to say about the challenges of the teaching profession. “I had a lot of material that I wanted to get into the world,” she says.
But how? A friend had performed a one-woman show for the Fringe Festival, which each year presents original plays in the Twin Cities. “She made it look easy and fun,” Campbell relates.
And so Campbell created her own original performance, “Pardon My French,” which she performed at the Fringe Festival last summer. “The Fringe Festival last August was the first time I had done a show since high school,” Campbell says.
The show draws from Campbell’s real-life classroom experiences teaching French in the Minneapolis Public Schools, where she is now in her 13th year teaching at South High School.
“Pardon My French” explores the challenges teachers face – and the challenges students bring to the classroom. “The kids we work with sometimes go through a lot of struggle,” she says.
“I wrote it as a comedy because if we can’t laugh at what we spend our lives doing then there’s really no point,” Campbell says. “There are parts of the show that are more serious than others… The messages most important to me are the ways teachers build community.”
“The show is very comfortable for me to perform… It’s my words. It’s my story. It comes from the heart.”
“I had a number of colleagues from South come to see my show at the Fringe and they really enjoyed it,” Campbell says.
Her colleagues from South High thought the show could be an advocacy vehicle for teachers. Campbell now will reprise “Pardon My French” for three performances February 10-12 at Intermedia Arts. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is sponsoring the performances as part of MFT’s “Stand Together for Students” campaign. A panel discussion will follow each performance.
“It’s hopefully going to get people thinking and talking about how we can improve the public discourse about education in our community and about teachers,” Campbell says. “It’s really easy to beat up teachers for things going badly in schools… We work really hard just like all of you do and we can’t fix everything.”
If you go to the show, come prepared for class. “I designed the show to be like a classroom experience with visual aids and audience participation,” Campbell discloses. “People have to take a standardized test,” she warns. And audience members will learn their French name.
Campbell grew up in California, attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, and moved to Minneapolis to seek work. “My mom was a French teacher for a few years when I was growing up,” she relates. “I picked it up from her and had a knack for it.”
Now discovering a knack for performing, Campbell also has begun performing some improv stand-up comedy. Don’t worry, French students. She’s keeping her day job — so far.