It was Saturday afternoon and I pulled up in front of the school. There were students already sitting on the steps of the school with a family member. As the minutes went by, more and more students arrived with moms or dads or older siblings. They were dressed up, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air. The day before I had this terrible dread that students wouldn’t show – that the horrible attendance and tardiness that plagues the school week would infect this weekend event as well. I needn’t have worried. Before the bus even arrived, we had all the families standing on the curb holding their tickets to go see a professional production of The Wizard of Oz.
These students were from the cast preparing to put on our elementary school’s first musical production, Disney’s The Jungle Book Kids. All the leads were there plus the lucky ones in the chorus whose names had been pulled at random. Along with three teachers from the school who were also part of our production team, the families boarded the bus. After I explained how the tickets worked (even numbered seats on one side and odd numbered seats on the other), I reviewed with the students the Actor’s Toolbox, which they know from Acting Right, a theater based behavioral literacy program the school adopted this year. It takes the traditional, “body, voice and imagination” and adds, “concentration and cooperation.” I asked the students to look for evidence of those tools, not only in the performance of the actors, but in all the elements of the show – sound, lighting, sets, etc. Then I stepped off the bus, waved good-bye, and went to work.
While I didn’t get to see the show, I did get to host the after-party. Upon their return, the families were going to be treated to a dinner. What I was most looking forward to was eavesdropping on the dinner conversation. After beautifying the cafeteria with tablecloths and fresh flowers, and setting up my computer to play the soundtrack of the show, I photocopied the reflection sheet I created to encourage the families to talk about their experience. Half the sheet contained questions I had created to be the catalyst for discussion, while the other half of the sheet contained questions for which I requested a written response. Too often today I witness families sitting together at a restaurant with at least one person, if not all on an electronic device, or simply eating without talking. I was hoping the reflection sheet would change that.
Upon their return, I waited at the door to greet them and hand each family a reflection sheet. The children came skipping and running ahead or happily walking with their family members, but what I noticed most was the light energy and the smiling faces on children and adults alike. “It was awesome!” was a common sentiment. I listened as families went through each question talking about their experience and sharing their favorite moments and characters. Families talked through the reflection sheet as they waited their turn to come up to the buffet table. Many of these discussions lasted through dinner and beyond as I passed out pens for them to write their answers to the second half of the reflection sheet.
Those reflection sheets were my bedtime reading that night. I snuggled up with those papers and relived the conversations I’d had with families about the cooperation of the actors, the concentration of the musicians and technicians, the importance of the supporting cast members, and the brilliance of the special effects. I smiled to see that on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “Awesome”, I saw only 5s, 5+s and even a 6! I reveled in the memory of a mother who explained that her only experience with live theater had been the Nutcracker during which she fell asleep. She laughed as she recalled she’d warned her daughter not to wake her if it happened during this production. There was no sleeping at this production! I relished all those parents who so sincerely came over to us on the production team to shake our hands, and thank us for this opportunity. I beamed reading students reporting being inspired and wanting to become better actors. I said a word of thanks to the grant that made this whole day possible. Yes, this event was all that I had hoped it would be. I can’t wait to see these children take that experience and apply it to their own performances and this time not only will I get to see the show, but I’ll be in the front row!