A Tenure Line

A musical. In seven one-year acts.

The show opens in the middle of a university hiring committee review of applications. The formidable designee of the Provost, a tin-pot departmental dictator (chair) with delusions of grandeur of Napoleonic proportions, Zach and his assistant chair Larry put the applicants through their paces. Every new PhD is desperate for work (“I Hope I Get It“) {God, I hope I get it, God, I need this job]. After the three rounds of cuts, 17 applicants remain. Zach tells them he is looking for a strong research chorus of eight researchers that occasionally teach. He wants to learn more about them, and asks each prospect to introduce themselves. With reluctance, these new graduates reveal their pasts. The stories generally progress chronologically from early life experiences through adulthood to the end of a career.

The first candidate, Mike, explains that he is the youngest of 12 children. He recalls his first experience with research, watching his sister’s book report when he was a pre-schooler (“I Can Do That“). Mike took her place one day when she refused to go to class—and he stayed. Bobby tries to hide the unhappiness of his childhood by making jokes. As he speaks, the other candidate have misgivings about this strange audition process and debate what they should reveal to Zach (“And …”), but since they all need the job, the session continues.

Zach is angered when he feels that the streetwise Sheila is not taking the audition seriously. Opening up, she reveals that her mother married at a young age and her father neither loved nor cared for them. When she was six, she realized that academics provided relief from her unhappy family life (“At the Library“), as did Bebe and Maggie. The scatter-brained Kristine is tone-deaf to nuance, and her lament that she could never “Get it!” is interrupted by her husband Al finishing her phrases in syncopated rhythm.

Mark, the youngest of the candidates, a sociologist, relates his first experiences with pictures of the female anatomy and his first wet dream, while the other dancers share memories of adolescence (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love“). The 4’10” Connie laments the problems of being short, and Diana recollects her horrible high school chemistry class (“Nothing“). Don remembers his first job at a nightclub and Judy reflects on her problematic childhood while some of the applicant stalk about their opinion of their parents (“Mother“). Then, Greg speaks about his discovery of his homosexuality and Richie recounts how he nearly became a kindergarten teacher (“Gimme the Ball“). Finally, the newly buxom Val explains that talent alone doesn’t count for everything with thesis directors, and silicone and plastic surgery can really help (“Research: Ten; Looks: Three [Tits and Ass]“).

The candidates go downstairs to develop three-minute presentations for the next section of the audition, but Cassie stays onstage to talk to Zach. She is a veteran adjunct instructor who has had some notable successes as a students. They have a history together: Zach had hired her as an adjunct previously, and they had lived together for several years. Zach tells Cassie that she is too good for the the positions he has and shouldn’t be with this group. But she hasn’t been able to find a tenure-track job and is willing to “come home” to the department where she can at least express her passion for research (“The Music and the Coffee“). Zach sends her downstairs to prepare a presentation.

Zach calls Paul on stage, and he emotionally relives his childhood and high school experience, his early career in a drag act, coming to terms with his manhood and his homosexuality, and his parents’ ultimate reaction to finding out about his lifestyle. Paul breaks down and is comforted by Zach who usually has no heart for anything except the latest grant recipient.

During a tap sequence, Paul falls off-stage and injures his knee that recently underwent surgery. After Paul is carried off to the hospital, all the candidates stand in disbelief, realizing that their careers can also end in an instant and spent as a roaming adjunct. Zach asks the remaining dancers what they will do when they can no longer do research. Led by Diana, they reply that whatever happens, they will be free of regret (“What I Did for Love“). The final eight assistant professors are selected: Mike, Cassie, Bobby, Judy, Richie, Val, Mark, and Diana.

At the end of the show, three of the positions are cut from the budget, two offers are withdrawn because of outrage generated on social media for comments made as graduate students. The three remaining new hires had nice little careers and always encouraged the adjuncts they met to work harder and the dream would happen for them, too.

If anyone would like to produce this for stage, please know that most of the music I hear in my head for this driven by open-back banjo and an electric bass.

One thought on “A Tenure Line

  1. Pingback: A simple devolutionary what if | random data from a tumored head

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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