A teacher gives his students a lesson about democracy that they’ll never forget.
Performed by Peter McNerney as Mr. Mohr, Russ Armstrong as Eric, and Alexis Lambright as Margaret, with Fiona Bradford, Teddy Shivers, Oscar Montoya, and Ben Jones as the principal
From an outline by Louis Kornfeld
Produced and directed by Jonathan Mitchell
Louis Kornfeld (WRITER) is a teacher and ensemble member at NYC's Magnet Theater. He can be seen regularly performing there with house improv team The Boss as part of Thursday Night Out, as well as Theory of Everything and MegaLou. Louis has appeared in countless other shows at Magnet and elsewhere, including The Armando Diaz Experience, Tiny Spectacular, and a stint touring with The Second City onboard the NCL Gem. He still hopes you're enjoying your cruise.
That's Democracy - Outline
For those of you who are interested in how we make our stories, here is the final outline we used when we recorded this story. Anything not in this outline was improvised by the actors or changed in the recording session and during the editing process.
Outline by Louis Kornfeld
PART 1 - Trying the get the class’ attention
PART 2 - Heartfelt Speech
PART 3 - Change of plan - New lesson
PART 4 - The Gun - The Threat - Disbelief
PART 5 - GUN SHOT! - File cabinet - Chaos - Student speeches & debate
PART 6 - Intercom - GUN SHOT! - Banging on door - Election - GUN SHOT!
PART 7 - Eric’s ESSAY
-School bell rings. Jeffrey Mohr, a forty-year-old high school social studies teacher tries to quiet his class and get things started. Students all continue talking in their own groups. He can’t hide his frustration.
-Mr. Mohr is trying to get the class to put their phones away. He can’t get through. He starts anyway “Did everyone create the reading on Representative Democracy vs. True Democracy?” Margaret is the only one in the class who’s clearly paying attention. “Guys, these class discussions don’t work if no one does the reading.” Eric and friends make some joke from the back. Everyone laughs.
-Frustrated that he cannot get the class to focus, Mr. Mohr has a small outburst that gets everyone to stop talking. In the silence, he makes a heartfelt speech to the class:
“I know that some of you think that this stuff is boring. I didn’t get into teaching so that I could spend my life preparing you for tests that you won’t remember in six months. I got into this because I had teachers in my life who inspired me to love knowledge and to love my own sense of curiosity and to love the world around me, and I felt honor bound to pass that along.”
-Just as it appears that the speech might have had an impact, another joke is made that breaks the moment.
-As the class laughs, Mr. Mohr takes a moment of silence... there is a change in his tone:
“You know what? You’re right Eric, this is stupid. I have another better idea. Put your books away everyone. Margaret, please come to the front of the class.” Margaret is heckled as she gets up. “Eric, you come up here too.”
-”I’m going to assume that you didn’t do the reading, so instead, to make a point about representative democracy, and the importance of making informed decisions about the people you choose to act in your interest. We’re going to have a little election of our own right here. Each of your fellow classmates will make a short speech and at the end you’ll have a chance to vote.”
“But Mr. Mohr, I don’t have a speech prepared.”
“That’s okay Eric, it’ll be extemporaneous. Do you know what that means? It means on the spot. It used to be a skill that students needed to know; it’s a great thing to practice. You’ll do fine.” Etc.
-”Mr. Mohr, what are we voting for?”
“Tami, that’s the first smart question anyone’s asked all day. What are we voting for? Exactly. Today you’ll be voting for a representative for the whole class, someone who’s vested with the terrible responsibility of making a decision on behalf of all of you.”
“What’s the decision?”
“Who gets to live.”
Mr. Mohr pulls a pistol out of his bag leading to confused and hushed panic.
”Life is full of hard choices and sometimes those choices aren’t all in our control. We have to know the basis to make sound decisions, even if we don't want to. Someone in this class will be killed this afternoon; that I can promise you. You’re going to vote on a candidate who’ll decide who that person will be.”
“Well what if we don’t vote?”
“Well then Adam, I’ll kill you.”
(whimpers, “oh my god” etc.) no one is yet sure what is really happening.
“How is you killing us part of the democratic process?”
“Cause I’m not me anymore, Daniel. I’m a nuclear warhead from North Korea. I’m industrial chemicals seeping into your drinking water. I’m a homegrown militia born from a lawless country. You can’t put off what you don’t want to happen. If you shirk your responsibilities it’ll happen anyway, just arbitrarily. You have a say in the outcome of things.” Etc.
“So, now, let the speeches begin.” Silence. “I said... let the speeches begin”
Chaos ensues. Desks screech, people scream, footsteps.
“Get away from the door!! Back in your seats. You can’t run from the world! You can’t tweet your woes away. No one’s leaving this room. The borders are closed!”
File cabinet gets pushed over.
“Now let’s hear some speeches. The clock is ticking.”
-Each candidate in turn makes a short speech. Eric makes a case for the weird foreign kid who doesn’t talk to anyone. Margaret takes a pacifist stand, but when pushed by everyone changes her mind and makes a case to kill Eric. Etc.
The principal comes in over the loud speaker. “Everyone remain in your classrooms. The police have been notified and are on...”
BANG!!! Mr. Mohr shoots the intercom. SCREAMS
“Time’s up! It’s election day!”
Eventually the class votes. By this time there’s banging on the door. The principal and security guards are trying to get in.
-The class has voted for Eric. Margaret is crying, the foreign kid is crying, the door is being banged against.
“Alright Eric, your classmates have decided to entrust you with the power of life and death. This is democracy in action folks.”
“I choose you Mr. Mohr. You're the one who dies.”
We hear Mr. Mohr cock the gun, stick in his mouth and blow his brains out to the shock and horror of everyone. Sounds of confusion, crying, the door being broken down, etc.
-Those sounds fade out as we hear Eric describing the scene. He’s reading from an essay he's written called “Survival.” He finishes the essay and is met with accolades from the admissions board at Harvard, who see the boy as a young man of fine and courageous character, exactly the kind of person this institution was founded for.