Fr. Gerald Grace, S.J., our school play director

Author: 
Udai Pratap Singh

Udai Pratap Singh is a Distinguished Alumnus Award winner from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur where he completed his undergraduate degree in 1972. He went on to receive graduate degrees from Clemson University and the University of Florida. In December 2014, he retired as Vice President of CH2M HILL, one of the largest firms in civil, environmental, and infrastructure engineering. He currently resides in Moraga, California.

Fr. Gerald Grace, S.J. performed various teaching and management roles at St. Xavier’s School, Jaipur, where I attended my final two years (1965-66) of school. I was in the school hostel those two years, and Fr. Grace was the hostel superintendent. Moreover, I was fortunate to be selected in the leading role of the school play “Dial ‘M’ For Murder” directed by Fr. Grace. So we spent quite some time together, along the lines of a mentor-protégé relationship.

Fr. Grace had a sense of humour different from others. I couldn’t figure out it then, but after I came to the U.S., I could relate to it as he was from USA. Getting along with him was easier than that with several other teachers. While he would ask us to do something, it would be more in a participatory way, unlike other teachers who would just tell us to do it. At the hostel dining room, for example, he would say, “Let us rearrange the chairs and tables”, and he would join us in doing this.

The school play, during my 10th standard (class), was based on an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Dial M For Murder. The only problem was that we had no girls in our school! So Grace Kelly’s part would have been difficult to enact. Fr. Grace resolved this issue by working with my previous school (St. Xavier’s Patna) where they had performed this play to adapt the script. In the adapted script, the wife was replaced by a step-father. I played the role of Ray Milland, the husband (from the movie), which was the same as the stepson in the adapted play.

I remember that our practice sessions were more like fun, thanks to Fr. Grace and his humour. His criticisms came through in a constructive manner. For example, he would say, “Don’t you think it will be better if you make eye contact with him while asking him this question?” So the actors always took his directions in a positive way.

Fr. Grace spent several extra hours with me each week in preparing me for my role. I am not sure if it was because I was the one who needed most work or because I was the only one from the cast who was in the hostel, so being the most accessible to him. While the entire cast was shown the Alfred Hitchcock movie 6 or 7 times in the school auditorium, I had the fortune of being at an additional 5 or 6 screenings with Fr. Grace. At times he would pause the movie and point to me, “Notice the change of tone in Ray Milland’s voice at this stage in the dialogue?” before re-running the scene.

The background music in the play was not the same as that in the movie. I don’t remember where Fr. Grace found it, but he made sure that the cast got very familiar with it. Each one of us had to make our move in conjunction with a particular point in the score. We would practice again and again till we got it right. I spent a few extra sessions with him when he would turn on the music and ask me to act while he would read the lines of the other actor. At that point I didn’t think it was worth all that time to make a minute amount of improvement. After all, we were almost perfect, then why the extra push? But Fr. Grace in a subtle way was drilling in us the importance of detailed planning and execution.

This attention to details, inculcated by Fr. Grace, came in very handy later in my schooling and professional career. Paying attention to details was the difference between success and failure in many activities, and I had the fortune of being mentored by Fr. Grace at an early age in this area.

Rewards and recognition were other areas he introduced to us. When I performed a dialogue or scene well, he made sure to let me know that. We worked very hard at rehearsals, and at the end of each full rehearsal Fr. Grace complimented all of us and treated us to our favourite snacks, mostly large slabs of vanilla ice cream. I didn’t forget this when I became a manager in my professional career. My staff always appreciated the rewards and recognition coming from me at the appropriate time.

As play director, Fr. Grace made sure that the entire cast and backstage crew took this project as an enjoyable project and not as a necessary chore. The humour, camaraderie, and pleasure in working together towards a common goal did not happen by chance, but were directed by him, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. This experience helped me towards a successful career where I enjoyed working with many individuals on common projects.

Towards the end, he added another goal: to do an extra rendition at Ravindra Manch in town and donate the proceeds to the National Defence Fund. We collected a significant amount of money, and went to Delhi in December 1965 to donate it in person to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Unfortunately, I could not go to Delhi because of a schedule conflict with a family event.

Prime Minister Shastri in the centre, at his home in New Delhi, December 1965. Fr. Grace on the extreme right. Others in the picture are cast members of Dial M for Murder play, schoolmates, and teachers, St. Xavier’s School, Jaipur.

Fr. Grace didn’t make it clear then how or why his actions as play director were important to us, probably on purpose. Little did I know that they would become my lessons for life.

Comments

Yes. Stage experience in school is important. Liked reading your write up.

I was part of the group that went to Delhi - the guy at the back in the centre, with only his right eye visible. I was a part of the support crew. My future brother-in-law Rakesh Hooja had role, but he did not go to Delhi - don't remember why. Sadly, Rakesh has passed away -too soon.

No doubt tat was the Golden Era of the School. At that time classes of the school building were not flooded with students.and of course originality matters.This picture is like a monument.Many fathers like Fr Grace were passionate about extracurricular activities and took keen interest in promoting to students specially dramatics. This is the reason why a xavierite looks different . The article reminds me of my school days when I was the Gen. Cultural Secy andour present rector Fr. Glenn was vice principal at our time and he too promoted and inspired us develop our skills through extracurricular activities .

Seems as it was the Golden era of the School. This picture is a monument. Originality and quality matters. The classrooms were not flooded with students that time. This story reminds me of Fr. Glenn VICE PRINCIPAL of our time now Rector of the school. He also took keen interest in developing extracurricular skills among students. These skills makes a xavierite look different.

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