September 20, 2008

NOW PLAYING, through Sept. 27: ''Back To School Night': No more apples, please

By Mark Langton

Article Launched: 08/28/2008 10:39:29 PM, PST; Marin Independent Journal

Something flits across the face of Mel Aubert that has no business being there.

It is a moment's insecurity amid all the animation, a quick lowering of the eyes, the way she drops her smile like a facial tic, the nervous way she adjusts her bangs, the ones that she grew out, presumably to hide the lines across her forehead drawn by darker seasons. The ones she forgets all about when she throws back her head and laughs.

There is something vulnerable about Mel Aubert, whose latest one-woman show, the satirical "Back To School Night," opens Sept. 6 in College of Marin's Fine Arts Building and continues each Saturday in September. Proceeds go to the charity she created last year called the Mellow Bear Foundation - get it? Mel Aubert? - which channels money into keeping arts alive in schools.

It is a vulnerability that seems incongruous in this otherwise fearless performer, sexy soccer mom and popular Kent Middle School teacher who has the guts to do stand-up comedy - and to spill her guts onstage.

Like many actresses who skirt the edges of comedy and performance art, Aubert, 40, draws much of her humor from a troubled childhood, especially in her first one-woman show, 2007's "Growing Out My Bangs," by all accounts an alternately funny and harrowing look at child molestation and personal redemption.

This time, however, with "Back To School Night," it is much lighter fare, though portions are R-rated and decidedly un-PC. It is drawn from her experiences as a middle school teacher and touches on parenting, teaching and her own brand of perky existentialism. She expects the content to be a bull's-eye for teachers who are preparing their classrooms for real back-to-school nights.

Sitting on a park bench at the COM's Kentfield campus, the exuberant Aubert shared some of her thoughts on her new show, looking every bit like a bouncing exclamation point. A tall exclamation point. With blonde hair. In italics.

Q: Your first show was called "Growing Out My Bangs." What is the significance of growing out your bangs to you?

A: For me, it's so representative of what women do when they feel their life is out of control. It's like when you go, "I feel fat, I just lost my boyfriend, I need a change, but nothing too big." So the first thing you do is you cut your bangs. And immediately you go, "Oh crap! What did I do?" And literally you go, "That's it, I'm growing out my bangs." It's something you feel that you can do to move forward. My life has been a series of events that happened while I was growing out my bangs.

Q: While you were busy making other plans?

A: Exactly. You betcha, baby! Only now I'm finally starting to live out my dream.

Q: ...Which is performing?

A: Yup. I was in the choir from the time I was born and sang all the way through college. It took me until I was 38 to live out my dream. When I left school I had a degree in marketing, graduated in '91, and never used it. I got a teaching credential in '94 and taught for 12 years and left in 2006 to pursue acting and writing. I've been performing with a sketch comedy troupe called the Sugar Cube Tube since 2005, and right now we're filming a really high-end collection pilot package of 30-minute episodes. I've taken a part-time job as a middle school drama teacher to pay the mortgage and inspire sixth- and seventh-graders to live their dreams until my acting and writing ship comes in.

Q: What is "Back To School Night" about?

A: It's all stand-up comedy, nowhere near as dark as the last one. The show created itself, from the all the banter in the teachers' lounge where I work. I will be talking to the audience as a teacher, based on my 14 years' experience, talking with them as parents who are attending a back-to-school night. I'm literally going to be handing out clipboards, pencils, agendas and notepaper so that parents can take notes on what teachers would really like them to know.

Q: I'm afraid to ask.

A: (Laughs) Well, for one thing, no more apples. Or mugs with apples on them, puh-lease! Who started that? I'll be telling them that this year in science astronomy we'll be studying that the earth revolves around the sun, and in the parental astronomy class they'll be learning that the world does not revolve around their child. É I'm not up there being angry or lecturing. I'm kind of taking the role of an innocent, like Georgette, Ted Baxter's girlfriend on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," kind of a bespectacled, doe-eyed dim bulb who doesn't know enough to know why she's funny. ...

It speaks to the fact that these kids, especially in an affluent community like Marin, are so over-parented and so over-scheduled with soccer and piano lessons and Hebrew school and chess tournaments that they have no time for school. Hey, do you THINK you could drop the tofu sculpturing class and do some math homework? I don't know, call me crazy. É

What it's really about is living out your dream, demonstrating to my students that I'm living out mine. That it's never too early and never too late. ,,, That, and someone's got to tell these parents that their children are not all gifted! Come on, people! Work with me!


- What: "Back To School Night" comedy show and fundraiser for the Mellow Bear Foundation

- Who: Mel Aubert

- When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, Sept. 6-27

- Where: Fine Arts 72, College of Marin, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Laurel Avenue, Kentfield

- Tickets: $25

- Information: 800-838-8006,

Mark Langton can be reached at