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‘I Am A Teacher’ – 30 Years In a Classroom Turned Into 3 Plays

marquis 1David Marquis (above, right, with Brian Witcowicz) has spent the past 30-plus years writing and performing three installments of his one-man play, I Am A Teacher. He draws from that experience in the classroom, diving into education issues that are as relevant today as when he first wrote part one in 1976. As KERA’s Stella Chavez reports, the three plays will be performed as a trilogy for the first time this weekend at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary.

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David Marquis was a young Dallas teacher, relaxing in front of the TV on a college football Saturday, when he got a call about one of his former students. The kid had been shot to death.

Marquis was traumatized. He’d worked with this student, helping him get his life back on track. He says, “That event motivated me to write a play about what it means to be a teacher who really cares about kids. In fact, I remember specifically being at his funeral and swearing that he would not die in vain. I had no idea what that meant. But a few months later, I sat down and wrote the first draft ever of I Am A Teacher.

In this weekend’s trilogy, two actors play younger versions of Marquis’ Teacher. The star of part three? The playwright himself.

But Austin Tindle plays the young teacher in part one. He may be up for the challenge, but he faces the same frustrations as other teachers. He sees, for example, that his students are struggling with grammar. They’ve been taught so many different ways, they’re confused. “Add to that,” the character says, “that some students never see their parents read or write. They never see the language in written form.”

The play had such a powerful effect on teachers, other educators and even students, Marquis says, that he decided to retire from teaching and continue writing. Then came part two with the teacher in his forties, a twenty-year veteran of the classroom

Brian Witkowicz, who plays the teacher in Part Two, says the character is “really kind of burned by different changes in educational reform and the passing of students just to get them through. He’s about ready to hang it up.”

Off stage, Witkowicz is a drama teacher at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy in Grand Prairie. “Now we have standardized tests that are state mandated,” Witkowicz says, “and here’s he’s dealing with them having to do test scores and make sure that those are up and if there’s a kid that’s lagging behind, he’s getting pressure to just pass them through and we still have that today.”

Marquis said he thinks audiences can relate with his teacher because ultimately, he’s a guy just trying to make it through the day. He’s trying to help students but faces an uphill battle: “And no institution mirrors our society as closely as our schools… as a result, when people come see this play they can see what we’re dealing with in the 1970s, what we were dealing with in the 1990s, what we were dealing with today.”

And that’s where part three comes in: “It’s a teacher in his sixties, on the verge of retirement, and he’s gotta figure and think about how many good fights he’s got left in him. Is he ready to walk out the door, go sit in the sun or he’s ready to come back and take it on one more time?”

The complete schedule at the MAC:

Part 1 – The 1970’s: A teacher in his 20’s, full of hope

Performances  2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20

 Part 2 – The 1990’s: In his 40’s, struggling with cynicism

Starring Brian Witkowicz, directed by John S. Davies

8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20

Part 3 – Today: In his 60’s, wondering how many good fights he has left in him

Starring David Marquis, directed by Ellen Locy

8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19-20