A Talk With Tony

ImageTony Braithwaite’s latest one-man show Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You? runs at Act II Playhouse from Sept. 10-Oct. 6. Tony is the artistic director of Act II Playhouse; he has previously written and performed such hit one-man shows as Look Mom, I’m Swell and First Impressions

ACT II: Why will audiences enjoy this show? What can they expect?

TONY: I’m hoping audiences will relate to the inevitable laughs that tend to come when well-meaning adults attempt to explain the birds and the bees to kids – let alone thousands of kids over 12 years in a classroom setting at the teacher’s alma mater! I’ve been telling some of these stories for years, now they are just all in one show.

ACT II: The show is about you teaching sex ed and religion to high school boys. Was there sex ed when you went to high school?

TONY: I was taught the same course in 1986 that I would later teach – at the very same school – from 1994 to 2006.  It was taught to me by a Jesuit priest.  I remember on the first day of sex ed he asked us to name all the slang terms for sex that we could think of so we’d get all of that out of our systems. It lasted for the entire class period – about 40 minutes – and by the end we were simply making up things to make each other laugh.  Not sure that’s what the teacher had in mind, but we sure loved it.

My own father did sit me down and have a talk with me, which was detailed and very informative. Taught me a ton I had never known. This was last week. In actuality, I think my own knowledge most likely came from Comcast Cable’s late night programming circa 1982. (We were the first family on the block to have Cable!)

ACT II: While teaching, did you learn anything you didn’t know?

TONY: I learned tons about the next generation: how they think, what they want from education, and what would make them sit up and take notice versus what would shut them down. In general the mantras that were passed on to me by the Jesuits were ones I always tried to follow with my own students: don’t talk down to them, and don’t dumb down the material. Treat them like men and they will rise to the occasion.  (To my delight, I mostly found that to be true.)

ACT II: What’s the most embarrassing or silly thing a student ever asked?

TONY: There were so many things, but I think the one that stands out the most is a kid who asked if a hermaphrodite could have sex with him/herself.

ACT II: What was the hardest question to answer?

TONY: Day one of teaching, fall 1994: “Why should we care what the Catholic Church says about sex?”  I kid you not, day one.

ACT II: Do former students still call you with questions about either topic?

TONY: No, but two of them have asked me to be Best Man at their weddings and one is the Managing Director of Act II Playhouse! Truly, I was not the best teacher in the world (far from it!), and made many mistakes along the way.  But I always tried to make sure that those kids in my charge felt respected and cared about.  A Jesuit once told me that the kids won’t remember what they learned in that classroom, but they will remember how it felt to be in that classroom. I know that was true for me when I was a student and I tried to keep that in mind as a teacher.

ACT II: Did a parent ever get angry at you for something you said?

TONY: One parent had issues with the textbook we used one year and complained to the Department Chair. Looking back, I think the parent was probably right; and we had picked that book rather hastily. It was called, “What’s Happening to My Body for Boys: Third Edition.” (I used to say that there must have been so many unanswered questions in editions one and two that they needed a sequel.) The book was a tad bizarre – it even included a page called, “Measuring Up,” about penis size that included an image of a ruler! That lasted only one year.

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