In 8th grade (circa 1991) I was lucky enough to be in a “Talented at Theatre” class while attending McMain for those awkward junior high years. I had only one other classmate (shout out Sheri Fitch—I’m pretty sure you were the first person who ever asked me if I had heard of this band called Nirvana). Mrs. Bradford (stagename Becki Davis) was our teacher, and she ran our class from her perspective as a professional actor, helping us work on craft and mechanics—not so much improv playground stuff—like studying the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is one way a working actor can adopt a stage accent. One time, Mrs. Bradford scored a part on the production of Doublecrossed, an HBO movie about Louisiana’s own modern-times pirate-hero Barry Seal, played by Dennis Hopper (decades before the Tom Cruise version). Her role was that of a ghoulish IRS agent sent to take the spoils of Barry’s (U.S. government-sponsored) criminal activity. Somehow, she finagled a way to bring Sheri and me to the set to watch some of the scene being filmed that day, and even arranged a stop at the catering truck. Years later, as I’ve stood in that lunch line—not as a kid on a field trip but as a working member of a film crew—I’ve recalled fondly that first taste of set life, thanks to Mrs. Bradford.
But the coolest thing I remember by far is Mrs. Bradford helping me make a short movie about my anxieties during P.E. She not only acted as my producer (finding the camera, helping me plot out a shooting schedule, etc.), but also as what we in the biz call the 1st AD (assistant director), who basically traffic controls a dozen different departments through production. For one shot in particular, I wanted to put the camera behind a locker and shoot through it, so when the door opens you see our beleaguered protagonist. Switching hats to production designer, Mrs. Bradford found one of the construction crew working on McMain’s never-ending renovations, and had him drill a 6-inch hole through the back of one locker in the boys’ locker room so I could put the lens through it (and in that locker room’s condition, a hole even that big would hardly have been noticed). That was such an eye-opening moment for me, to see in that instance how a mere vision for something becomes touchable, sharp-edged reality.
Dreams and visions are the easy part. Most of us could probably script a $200 million budget movie in our head. But it takes hardcore logistics—the moving around of material resources, people’s labor, and the judicious use of time—to actually make it happen. And I was so lucky to have a teacher who juggled those elements and went to those lengths for me. The Mrs. Bradfords of the world—as well as people like my own mom, a dedicated educator herself for decades, and someone who sits through the entire end credits at a movie theater—change lives.
My hope and prayer, as the proverbial school bells ring in a new semester, is that we start appreciating teachers more, and shift our priorities away from funding the punishing carceral state and for-profit school system, and towards protecting teachers from the onslaught of politicians, overly entitled parents, and other forces hostile to what could be—as I experienced at a school like McMain—a robust, respected public school system.
Long after we’ve scorched the Earth and been returned to huddling around campfires, eating squirrels and grubs, we’ll still need Mrs. Bradford and her ilk—actors and storytellers to remind us of our humanity, and teachers most of all, to guide us out of the darkness and back into the light. —Dan Fox
illustration by Laura Frizzell
Cover illustration by Maegen Guidroz