“Mr. Sherman, 70, is an Orthodox Jew, a professional clown and sometime playwright and director…’I picked Wall Street and Nassau for a reason,’ he said. I felt, that’s the center of power, they need the humanity the most. This one fellow stopped me and said: ‘I watch you. I have all the money I want in the world. But I’m not happy. I see you perform, and you’re happy. How do I become happy?’ It’s a living.” J. Leland, The New York Times, July 8, 2021
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: ‘How Do I Become Happy?’ Advice From a Professional Fool, By John Leland, The New York Times, July 8, 2021,
“In a city that has everything, he is one of the few makers of custom leather masks of the sort used in commedia dell’arte, a form of theater that uses stock characters denoted by their masks. He also makes them for the occasional pro wrestler or rapper.
Everyone has a Sept. 11 story. The pages of Stanley Allan Sherman’s, a one-man show called ‘September,’ sat propped on a music stand in his apartment the other day, amid a room full of leather masks. Something about the text was vexing him… He started writing the Sept. 11 monologue several years ago, with interest from Theater for the New City in the East Village. Then the pandemic happened, leaving the show orphaned — a meditation on resilience during one calamity, sidelined by another. For Mr. Sherman, it was just one more occasion for improv.
Like many artists of his generation, he arrived in New York without a plan, and found a sweet spot in a post-’60s art world that was just taking shape. It was roughly 1973, after he’d spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel and a couple more in Paris, and his intention was to stay a couple of nights on his brother’s couch, in a fifth-floor walk-up on the edge of the Manhattan neighborhood now known as Chelsea…Instead of leaving town as planned, Mr. Sherman grabbed a set of antique toilet plungers and headed downtown to Wall Street, to pass the hat as a sidewalk juggler and mime.
It was a great way to learn about human psychology, he said. It also made him the apartment’s sole breadwinner… Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk gig to performing in the small, adventurous theaters that were beginning to open downtown. ‘If you stay too long in the street you get mean,” he said. ‘I was getting mean.’
For Mr. Sherman, it has been an odd sort of career. His best-known performing role was as a guest on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” where he appeared more than 40 times in the 1990s, usually in bits calling for a Hasidic Jew, with or without juggling.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. Examine any photos, then create a list of words and ideas that you and your group members think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Stanley Allan Sherman is one of the niche artisans of New York theater.
- Sherman is also one of the few makers of custom leather masks of the sort used in commedia dell’arte.
- When the pandemic happened his show closed.
- Sherman showed resilience during the calamity.
- For Mr. Sherman, it was just one more occasion for improv.
- In 1973 he spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel.
- He had studied mime and the use of masks in the fabled Parisian school of Jacques Lecoq.
- Mr. Sherman’s brother was trying to peddle a documentary.
- He was the apartment’s sole breadwinner.
- Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk gig to performing in the theaters.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk to theaters.
- If you stay too long in the street you get mean.
- The only person I knew what made masks was in Italy.
- Mr. Sherman had found an niche in the community.
- He called puppeteers he knew for advice.
- Mr. Sherman also created masks for dancers.
- But his best-known mask appeared on the professional wrestler Mick Foley.
- It can take Mr. Sherman a few day or as long as a year to make a mask.
- He is now hoping to revive ‘September,’ his one-man show.
Reading Comprehension Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
There was an ___couple with a___ pot of ___soup that fed ___for hours. All these ___things happened. Then seeing the line of ___trucks on the West Side Highway was just___. People in their 20s have no___of this. They hear about___, but they don’t know how the___ in the city was so amazing. It was a___ time.”
WORDLIST : magical, memory, disturbing, refrigerator, beautiful, people, Sept. 11, energy, old, giant, chicken,
Graphic Organizers: Finding The Main Idea
Directions: Have students use this graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with discussing or writing about the main points from the article.
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- During the pandemic, many people have become sad. We read about how some try to cheer themselves and others up. Name some ways that you cheer yourself or your friends up.
- Why do you think that Mr. Sherman was getting ‘mean’ in the New York City streets?
- Which wrestler wore Mr. Sherman’s best known mask?
- Mr. Sherman states, “The reason late night comedy talk shows are so popular and so many people get their news from them, is because they’re speaking truth,” he said.
- “If it’s a lie, it’s not funny. Lies aren’t funny. Truth is funny.”
- Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Provide reasons for your answers.
- If you could ask Mr. Sherman two questions, what would they be?
- Discuss three new ideas that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention.