by Sarah Moore on 8.22.16 BOTTOM LINE: Micaela Blei's solo show about teaching third grade is fresh, hilarious, and surprisingly moving. It seems that eight years of teaching third grade is the perfect preparation for a solo show at the Fringe Festival. In her solo show The Secret Life of Your Third Grade Teacher, Micaela Blei tells a story that is not only hilarious and engaging, but also deeply moving, as she explains how her personal life was affected and shaped by her world in an elementary school classroom. We find out quickly that Miss Blei was an awesome elementary school teacher as she explains the creative ways she taught different subjects in her classroom, from creating fantasy characters for her students to write letters to, to bringing them all on a game version of the Oregon Trail. Excellently directed by Catherine McCarthy, Secret Life is structured with a schedule on the whiteboard, breaking down each section of the story into an agenda item, such as Field Trip, Geography, and Show and Tell. It keeps the story moving swiftly and also gives Blei a formal structure to return to. Blei is comfortable and friendly in front of an audience, which creates an easy, relaxed atmosphere. Secret Life is not just about Blei's third grade students (though that would honestly still be a pretty fun show), but it's also about how she changed and developed as a person over her eight years of teaching. She tells us how she sought out self-improvement in a course about the “Womanly Arts” that teaches women how to be strong and confident by projecting inner beauty through their happiness, and conjuring what they want in their lives. We learn about her boyfriend Jason, and how they fell in, and eventually out, of love (no spoilers), and in parallel stories, we see how her students mature and change over time; in the end, everybody has to leave third grade, whether we like it or not.
While I've described how Secret Life is well-written, satisfying storytelling, I can’t really articulate how funny it is, because I don’t want to give away Blei's jokes. If you’ve ever worked with kids or been a babysitter, you know that kids really do say the darndest things, and Blei has lots of great stories. I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud, because Blei does a great job at relating just how hilarious kids can be.
That said, if you don’t like kids, this show may not be for you, as much of the story is rooted in Blei’s love for children and creating a safe and happy space for them in her classroom. The hour running time flies by, and by the end, I wanted to know even more about Blei and her adventures. She speaks to the audience as if they were a group of her close friends, and it’s clear that she speaks to her students in the same way. I definitely wish she had been my third grade teacher.
The Secret Life of Your Third Grade Teacher is written and performed by Micaela Blei. Directed by Catherine McCarthy. Choreographer is Sam Hacker. Lighting Design is by Daryl Embry. Board Operator is Eleni Giannopoulos.