Vision Despite Bureaucracy

JOYCE GABRIEL

August 19, 1993|By JOYCE GABRIEL

The good guys in any organization make things happen in spite of the bureaucracy. I learned this in high school when a couple of teachers with talent and vision guided a group of rough, tough kids through musical and theatrical feats which amaze me even in retrospect.

I don't think the school administration was quite prepared for these guys. They deserve to be named because they wrought miracles in tough circumstances. The leader of the pack was a giant of a man -- physically and musically -- named Peter Runfolo. He has gone on to run his own production company, with TV shows like ''The Equalizer'' in his credits. The second was a sociology teacher named Ted Kurdyla who, I've heard, has done some work with Steven Spielberg, as has the third member of the triumvirate, an English teacher named George Del Monte.

These guys came to a high school in a working-class town in New Jersey, a school that didn't even have an auditorium, just a gym, and managed to motivate kids tough enough to scare you into singing in three-part harmony like the angels most of them weren't.

But that isn't all. They produced not just plays, but musicals, and not just musicals but elaborate ones like ''The King and I'' and ''Bye, Bye Birdie.''

They had to build their own stages and get volunteers to rig lights high up in the rafters of the gym. They enlisted some of the roughest customers in the school to use their brawn on hammering nails instead of each other.

They made a lot of kids believe in themselves.

I think what good guys always know is that there are no limits to what is possible. They aim high and they bring others along with them.

Football half-time shows became extravaganzas with band, twirlers, cheerleaders and drill team forming shapes with their marching patterns. Semi-annual concerts became teaching tools in music appreciation. How many high school kids get to sing Pietro Yan's ''Jesu Bambino'' or Rodgers and Hart's ''Little Girl Blue.''

Mr. Runfolo didn't just teach the songs, he taught us how to sing. In girls chorus, girls who minutes earlier had been sneaking a smoke in the bathroom, opened their mouths and stretched their vocal chords with voice exercises as Mr. Runfolo stood at the piano and played the accompanying chords.

He developed one young man into a pianist and budding composer, showcased a young woman who played the same instrument like a pro and made people who might otherwise have passed through high school unnoticed into superstars.

In the end, the good guys moved on, wounded but not beaten by the bureaucracy of the high school administration who thought they were demanding too much of the kids, working them too hard. No one, of course, bothered to ask the kids what they thought. If they had, the triumvirate would have stayed on, with Mr. Runfolo doing the music and Mr. Kurdyla and Mr. DelMonte directing the shows, as always.

What they gave all of us, in their one, brief, shining moment (they stayed on in town to stage ''Camelot'' as well) was that the best was well within our reach, that a C-student could get an ''A'' playing the King of Siam, that the world was filled with beautiful music and stirring plays, and that doing your best work is always fun.

As with all good guys, they represented progress and achievement, a rebellion of sorts against the status quo, but the rebellion was really a battle for a new, better way.

Of course, nothing changes from high school. The dynamics, the patterns, are all first played out there. The creative types with independent minds conceive of plans that scare the hell out of the more timid, traditional types. Sometimes, with their urging, the timid ones soar and learn to feel the freedom to do and be more. And sometimes they try to stop the more creative types from achieving anything at all.

In corporate America as in the halls of high school, the same battle is waged daily. Sometimes, the good guys win.

Joyce Gabriel is assistant managing editor of The Advocate in Stamford, Conn.

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