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Phantom of the Opera was confusing, but not for the kids

Elysha and I took the kids to see Phantom of the Opera on Saturday. The show is closing in April after a record 35 years on Broadway, so it was now or never.

We chose now.

I knew absolutely nothing about the show as we walked into the Majestic Theater, and as the first act was coming to an end, I felt like I still didn’t know a whole lot. Phantom of the Opera is a sung-through musical, meaning every word is sung by the actors, so that, in combination with the somewhat confusing plot, had me feeling a little lost as the lights came up for intermission.

I turned to Elysha and said, “I’m confused.”

She was confused, too. Together, we began piecing together the plot, filling in holes that each one missed, when we heard Clara and Charlie to our right, discussing the first act.

Those two little jerks understood the whole damn thing.

They understood it far better than Elysha or me.

They also seemed to be enjoying it more than either of us.

I couldn’t believe it.

The second half of the show was much more comprehensible than the first, and much of the first act came into greater clarity as the second act proceeded, but somehow, someway, a 14-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy (who couldn’t sit still) understood the musical better than two grown-ass adults.

I felt both slightly stupid and exceedingly proud as the lights came down for the second act.

It also served as an excellent reminder:

Don’t discount the young or the inexperienced when you need answers.

I’ve watched many people over the years ignore the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise of the young simply because of their youth. People foolishly assume that because someone is a decade or two younger than them, they have far less to offer.

It’s a mistake.

When I was 17 years old and still in high school, I was promoted to manager of the McDonald’s restaurant where I was working, and I had to fight long and hard to earn the respect of the much older employees who I was managing, even though I was fully capable of doing the job.

I eventually won them over, but it wasn’t easy.

It was also annoying. Older managers who couldn’t run a shift to save their lives were respected more than someone like me who was admittedly young but could run circles around some of my much older colleagues.

Sadly, we often ignore the young, assuming that their value is somehow less because they haven’t existed long enough to be worthy of our interest, attention, or respect.

It’s stupid and wrong.

As a teacher, I routinely ask my students to complete evaluations on me, inquiring about my areas of strength and weakness. I ask them to tell me how I could be a better teacher, and I invite suggestions about making my instruction more effective.

I’ve been observed and evaluated by countless administrators over the years, but none of their evaluations have been nearly as helpful to me as the feedback offered by my students.

Their evaluations, more than any administrator’s evaluations, have made me a better teacher.

My students may be young (and sometimes annoying), but they are wise beyond their years when it comes to understanding what a teacher needs to do to be effective.

I’m an English major who has published six novels and two books of nonfiction. I’ve written musicals that have been performed onstage by real actors. I’ve performed in musicals, too, both in college and in community theater. I’ve seen countless Broadway plays and musicals in my lifetime. I’m a storyteller who writes, speaks, and consults on the crafting, structure, and deployment of story in its many forms throughout the world.

I was as equipped as anyone in that theater on Saturday to understand Phantom of the Opera.

Yet my kids understood the story better than me.

Brilliant little brats.