Engulfed by ‘The Third Wave’

Based on a true story, JEST’s latest production deals with a lesson audiences may not soon forget.

Third Wave (play) (photo credit: Courtesy)
Third Wave (play)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In its more than 25 years of existence, the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater has transported audiences to a wide variety of places and a vast expanse of time periods. In its latest production, The Third Wave, JEST takes viewers back to 1967 and a classroom in Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California.
The play, directed by JEST veteran Leah Stoller, tells the true story of Ron Jones, a 10th-grade history teacher who gave his students a lesson they will never forget. In teaching his class about World War II and Nazi Germany, his students asked him how an entire nation could have been swept up into participating in the Holocaust and how ordinary people could have been turned into such heartless, brutal beings. Rather than try to tell them about it in lectures, Jones devised an exercise to show them firsthand how such a thing could happen.
Written by Jones in 2011, in collaboration with author Joseph Robinette, the play chronicles the five-day life-changing experiment in human behavior.
In the exercise, the students were subjected to a progressively more demanding environment of strict discipline and a systematic relinquishing of individual freedom to a more powerful sense of unification.
Jones called their movement The Third Wave, and its motto was “Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride.” He called it The Third Wave because he thought that the third in a series of ocean waves was the last and the largest.
The classroom exercise, which Jones had originally planned as a one-day illustration, was so “successful,” that not only did the students revel in their regimentation and the prospect of gaining superiority over the other students in the school, but other classes and even nearby schools were eager to be part of the so-called elite group. In fact, some of the students started reporting to Jones when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules.
As the exercise began to spiral out of control, Jones wound down the experiment, but the students were taught an invaluable lesson and gained indelible insights. The play is known to have a similarly powerful impact on audiences as well.
To that end, as an added feature of the JEST production itself, Mark Hancock, one of the students from that 10th-grade class, is coming to Israel to attend three of the Jerusalem performances. On March 5, 6 and 7, he will talk about his experiences as a student in the experiment and will take part in the talkback session with the audience after the play. Hancock was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the 2010 documentary Lesson Plan, in which Jones and several members of that class talk about their reactions to the five-day experience.
Jones, who was fired from Cubberley High School in 1969, lives in San Francisco and has written more than 20 books. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has won American Book of the Year and Christian Book of the Year awards. Three of his books – The Wave, The Acorn People and B-Ball – have been made into television and feature films that have received Emmy, Peabody, Golden Globe and Sundance recognition.
In the JEST production of The Third Wave, the role of Ron Jones is played by Hanan Fischman, a newcomer to the amateur theater group’s stage, who portrays two aspects of the innovative teacher.
Asher Halperin, who plays one of the students, says, “I have been enjoying the rehearsals for The Third Wave and have learned a lot from the experience. I think the play is very well written – it’s both funny and dramatic at the same time. This play shows that learning doesn’t always have to be from a textbook.
Other ways of learning can sometimes give a stronger message that helps you understand it better.”
The Third Wave will be performed at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem on February 27 at 6 p.m. February 28 at 8 p.m. March 5 at 6 p.m. March 6 at 6 p.m. and March 7 at 8 p.m. For individual tickets, call (02) 642- 0908. For special discounts for school groups and other groups of 10 or more, contact Abbe Krissman at [email protected] gmail.com.