Like many of Karen Sklaire’s unwilling students, I was fully prepared to dislike Ripple of Hope: One Teacher’s Journey to Make an Impact. After all, valiant teacher narratives are all too common and venture into the territory of ludicrous. After all, Sklaire is like a typical musical theatre heroine. Too earnest, too Pollyanna-ish.
But also like Sklaire’s students, her tenacity and talent proved me wrong.
Ripple of Hope is an unexpected journey into the mind of a commercial performer turned educator. Sklaire begins by pointing out the absurdities of the self-centered actor’s life, going to endless auditions in search of validation. When 9/11 hits, Sklaire realizes she wants more out of her experiences. She decides to teach in New York City Public Schools, guided by the stereotypical teachers in movies like Freedom Writers and Dead Poets Society. But the truth is, the actual job is much harder than Sklaire expects, and she ends up being schooled.
There is a stroke of genius in including the heroic teacher mythos from favorite movies. Sklaire is poking fun at her own ignorance, showing how these stories can be both inspiring and shallow. The other major revelation in the piece that is valuable is Sklaire’s revelation that it’s not the students who are causing her the worst trouble, but administrators and the absurdist school system that stops the work she’s doing in its tracks.
Ripple of Hope
Written and performed by Karen Sklaire
Director: Padraic Lillis
Details and tickets
As a performer, Sklaire’s dynamism is key. She never skips a beat switching characters, situations, or stories. Her goofiness is divinely self-deprecating, allowing Sklaire to portray herself as a caricature and also speak from the heart about key education issues. Her emotions are all over the spectrum in this play, and Sklaire keeps volleying with an energetic spirit. It allows the audience to imagine why she’s survived so long in the school system.
However, some of the writing of the piece is problematic. Sklaire’s narrative makes it difficult to follow which situations are true or exaggerated, and can be so diverse as to seem disjointed. More importantly, the play is rife with racial dynamics that can seem to mock minority cultures; these jokes are pretty unsettling in the wider context of the piece and aren’t worth the laughs.
But with a little more finesse, this show can stake its rightful claim as an inspirational tale of advocacy. Sklaire wisely reminds the audience that true art can be found outside the theater walls, and successfully breaks down the denigrating “if you can’t do, teach” attitudes.
Looking for a piece that will change hearts and minds? Check out Ripple of Hope.