“Long” Way to Broadway

 

If, by chance, you were in New York City’s East Village on March 2, you would have seen a very familiar headline on The Kraine Theater. The name of Hockaday’s beloved History of Art and Music teacher, Fine Arts Department Chair and Upper School Dean of Students would be emblazoned on the front of the program: “Mr. Long.”

Ed Long was the subject of a recent off-Broadway play written by his former advisee, Manning Jordan ’10.

Seven years after she graduated, Jordan found inspiration in the friendships and dynamic of her advisory and wrote “Mr. Long,” which chronicles the end of senior year for six best friends at Hockaday.

Constant laughter, meaningful conversation and a fair share of typical high school girl drama characterized the Long advisory’s time together.

Tucked away in a secluded corner of the Fine Arts wing, Mr. Long’s office was the perfect safe haven to escape the infamous “Hockabubble” and explore topics that could be otherwise ignored at a privileged, private school.

“It was interesting to kind of have the dynamic of being in an all-girls environment and being so protected and then at the same time, in advisory, we could talk about whatever we wanted and there was no judgment,” Jordan said.

From crushes to college acceptances to politics, the six best friends felt comfortable enough with Long and each other to have honest conversations that evidently stuck with Jordan for years to come. As for Long, the importance of advisories in general does not go unnoticed and he strives to stand up for girls when they need it, but also stand back when they need to be on their own.

“One has to create a climate where it feels natural to have that openness and think beyond the bubble and to some degree ask leading questions to expand their conversations, but there also needs to be a measure of withholding from interference [as an advisor],” Long said.

In terms of translating her experience in advisory into a play, Jordan drew upon an acting career that started at Hockaday. From taking weekly acting classes at St. Mark’s to acting in several one acts created by her friends, Jordan knew in high school that she wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. After graduating from SMU in 2013 as a film major, she started her journey as a playwright.

“I never considered the fact that I wanted to be a writer, but the things I wanted to talk about and I wanted to see, if you don’t see those things on TV or on stage, I think there is a responsibility to create it yourself,” Jordan said.

After writing and starring in several comedic plays around New York City, Jordan took an eight week playwriting class at Primary Stages, an Off Broadway theater company, and created “Mr. Long.” Her inspiration at the time of writing the play was centered around her fond memories of advisory, but also the appeal of getting back into the Hockaplaid.

“Honestly, my mindset [in writing the play] was that I just wanted to wear my high school uniform again, but then I was like OK, this could maybe be bigger because the relationship we had with Mr. Long was so unique,” Jordan said.

Mixing fact with fiction, Jordan weaved together a storyline that captured the essence of her friends and Mr. Long, but did not necessarily correlate to real people or moments. For example, in portraying herself and her five best friends, Jordan used none of their real names and made all of the girls in the play hybrids of the real life Long advisees.

As for the actual plot line, Jordan explored the nuance in relationships between male teachers and students. In the play, one of Mr. Long’s advisees, Sage, is exposed for having an inappropriate relationship with a teacher and she is humiliated, but Mr. Long serves as her confidante and friend through it all. Although the inappropriate relationship never actually occurred at her time at Hockaday, Jordan wrote it in because she realized how rare and protected she was by having Long as her advisor.

The balanced relationship with Mr. Long that Jordan appreciated so much is not a struggle for the long time teacher and advisor, and instead comes quite naturally. While he notes that there are some differences between himself and his students that may arise from a generational gap and could prove hard to overcome, gender is definitely not one of them.

“If there was a crisis precipitated by the use of social media within the advisory, I’m not the guru and wouldn’t be recognized as such. But difference in gender…isn’t a daily awareness because I have great students and that’s what counts. The fact that they happen to be girls is a terrific coincidence, but sometimes it’s not [anything] more than that,” Long said.

Despite having so much storyline, Jordan did pull some real life elements into the play. For example, she recalled a time that Long painstakingly prepared a mince pie for their advisory.

“He came in one day with a mince pie, and was like, ‘Hey, I made this for y’all.’ We were 18 and thought it was disgusting that he brought us a meat pie, but it was actually so sweet. I was thinking about how we saw Mr. Long at that point in time, and then looking back and thinking, gosh, what a nice guy to listen to us talk about whatever the hell we were talking about,” she said.

Long himself recalled that he thought they would appreciate the traditions around that dish, but it was not well-received. For Jordan, the symbol of the pie as a representation of Long’s ever present, sometimes unnoticed friendship impacted her profoundly and made it onto the cover of the play, which is the words “Mr. Long” written on a traditional mince pie.

In looking for men to play Mr. Long, Jordan said that she was only concerned about a specific aspect in the actors.

“He [didn’t have to] look like or sound like Mr. Long, I was mostly looking for this major caring and kindness, and I also wanted this kind of awkward distance that could be created just for the purpose of the play,” Jordan said.

In terms of the girls, Jordan continued her trend of acting in her own works, and played the character of Jena, a supporting character who often has humorous lines, because she wanted to contribute to the comic relief in the story. For the other five characters, however, she focused on actresses that she had good chemistry with on and off stage.

“When [the girls] came in, I had them read and then asked them questions about themselves, just to kind of see if I would want to talk to this person in real life, because I needed to capture that on stage: that camaraderie and sisterhood,” Jordan said.

Days before her first opening night, Jordan emailed Long about the play. Even though the work was not entirely about him, Jordan still wanted to let him know; unfortunately, Long never opened the email in time, and instead heard about the play for the first time almost a month later when students found a review of “Mr. Long” online. Although he was initially surprised and a little wary of his name being used in such a public way, Long said that he would have loved to have seen the play to support Jordan.

Although Long was not in attendance, many alumnae, both from Jordan’s graduating class and others, heard about the play from Facebook and word of mouth and traveled to see it.

One of the alumna in attendance, Meredith Menache ’11, said, “It was almost surreal to see girls in Hockaday skirts on stage outside of a Form Day skit, but it was really amazing to support another Hockadaisy in the city, and I really enjoyed it.”

Echoing Menache’s thoughts was Sarah Jane Schneider ’10 who is not only an alumna, but also one of the six best friends in the Long advisory that is portrayed in the play.

“She really captured all of the nuances of our group of friends and the overall tone of advisory. She balanced fact and fiction well and captured the candid role I played in our friend group,” Schneider said.

Something that both Schneider and Menache noticed was the Hockaday-specific elements of the play that only Daisies would understand. Whether it was references to shoe passes, advisory itself, or the whole concept of an all-girls dynamic, the factual allusions did not go unnoticed by alumnae in attendance.

In addition to Schneider, the four other Long advisees referenced in the play also came out to support Jordan. The whole group had not reunited in a couple of years after spreading out across the country for college, and the play provided the perfect reason to see each other again.

“Mr. Long” received good reviews from alumna and critics alike. Regina Robbins from theater review site, theasy.com, called her play, “an effective study of womanhood in the 21st century.”

Jordan created this play not only as an homage to her senior year advisory, but also as a statement about growing up and losing your innocence.

“I was playing with the idea of having the safety of the girls in this private, privileged school and the issues from the outside world that they can’t be hidden from,” she said.


Shreya Gunukula – Asst. Web Editor

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Shreya Gunukula

Shreya Gunukula

Shreya is in a committed relationship with food and would like to be Meredith Grey when she grows up.

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