In high school I had this incredible acting teacher. Let’s call him Mr. Bertolt. My guess would have been that he hated his job, except he’d been there for like 40 years, but who knows. Certainly he hated most of us. He had a piercing basilisk stare, never said anything that wasn’t sarcastic, and could have been any age between about 36 and 70. He invariably referred to our school as “This Institution,” an epithet whose exquisite contempt I cannot actually communicate in writing. Imagine Severus Snape with a weary, sophisticated American drawl: “Thiss ………….. innn, sti-tou shun.” Mr. Bertolt, the library doesn’t have a copy of Watchfiends and Rack Screams. “Unsurprising. The bookshelves of this….In stitution….are not precisely creaking with difficult works.” Mr. Bertolt, I can’t rehearse on Monday evenings because that’s when I tutor middle schoolers. “[Short, mirthless laugh.] Of course. God forbid I should bar anyone at This….Innstiteution….from his or her mandatory overachievement.” 

On Parents’ Night, when most of the arts teachers cheerfully opened their studios so our proud helicopter parents could try out the pottery wheels and dink around on the piano, Mr. Bertolt turned his own room into an hours-long performance piece where he sat on a chair atop his table, wearing an expressionless gold papier-mâché mask and reading “Being and Nothingness.” Parents were permitted to circulate around him, but not to engage with the performance. I feel like I must have made this part up, but in my memory he was slowly making his way through a bottle of wine the whole time. He was great.

Mr. Bertolt ran the annual One-Act Play Festival, which was always fun. We’d audition without any idea of the plays he was going to choose, so getting your part was a kind of Russian Roulette. In general you’d end up with something pretty safe, but every once in a while a BULLET OF CRAZINESS would get someone right in the face, and my sophomore year that someone was me. 

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