Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pre-K Play: The Giant Nutcracker

(Note: I really, really, really want to write about Barack Obama's misguided education policies as being carried out by education secretary Arne Duncan, who wants to do to the rest of the country what he did to Chicago's schools. They are hell-bent on privatizing large chunks of our educational system based on nothing but anecdotal evidence. I'm stunned that they want to measure their success by actually increasing the amount of high-stakes standardized testing, in spite of its near universal condemnation by actual educators. And their emphasis on using schools for vocational training at the expense of art, PE, and the humanities is simply backwards. But I'll hold myself back today and just point you to this terrific Democracy Now report. I couldn't care less about the "scandal" that leads into the piece. The real news starts once they get to Pauline Lipman, professor of education and policy studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.)

Our Pre-K play has become an annual rite for the oldest children at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool. I've been reporting on the progress of this year's production, in order of appearance:

First Draft: The Pre-K Play (in which I share the actual original script as co-authored by 11 kids)
The Pre-K Play Second Draft: Featuring An All Lilac Fairy Cast
The Pre-K Play Third Draft: Still A Lot Of Lilac Fairies
The Pre-K Play Fourth Draft: Only One Lilac Fairy

Now that the script is finalized (more or less) we've been turning our attentions toward manufacturing our set and props.

You would think I would have learned my lesson after 7 years of directing these amoebic plays, but I jumped the gun a couple of weeks ago and had us all make our fairy wands (paper towel tubes painted with glue and rolled in glitter). There are no longer any fairies in the cast.

Our "beautiful castle with walls painted pink" is ready to go (a washing machine box), although when we used it during our most recent rehearsal, Ella complained, "I meant that the inside walls would be pink too." This gave us a chance to talk about the illusion of stagecraft and the importance of considering the perspective of the audience, who will only see the exterior walls. Judging from Ella's expression, we may still need to paint the interior pink.

I've already posted about our progress on our Maleficent puppet (scroll to the bottom of that post for the terrifying picture).

And for the last few weeks we've been working hard on our "giant rainbow nutcracker." Our first attempt was to just unfurl a long piece of art paper and paint it. I drew a basic human figure with a Sharpie to get everyone working on the same model. We selected a rainbow of paint colors, then got to work. Everyone was disappointed with the result. At least one painter didn't honor the Sharpie lines and our rainbow colors got smeared together into a giant gray and brown smudge.

During a productive circle time discussion, Katherine noted that it looked more like a "swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming, pool, pool, pool, pool, pool," which not coincidentally is an important part of our play since the characters jump into the pool at least 3 times. There are still a couple kids lobbying for a blue pool, but the majority is satisfied.

That's when we decided we were going to make our giant rainbow nutcracker out of paper mache. I gathered some cardboard tubes and cans and we worked together with the glue gun to assemble the frame of our basic figure. We blew up a balloon for the head, then went to work tearing up newspaper, soaking it in our flour-water paste and applying it. After three good sessions, this is what we have:

We are going to need a couple more layers on the head so that it doesn't collapse when the balloon pops and we'll probably want to add some sort of nose, I'm guessing, but we're getting close to being ready for paint. After our first failed attempt at a nutcracker, I'll bet we're going to see a need for more planning when it comes to applying the paint.

I had originally thought that the larger cardboard "can" would be used for the chest, while the smaller one would serve as the hips, but the kids (all girls at the time) thought it worked better the other way around. At a meeting on Monday night, one of the moms said, "They wanted a girl nutcracker." You know, with hips. That hadn't occurred to me.

It's not exactly giant, but at around 4.5 feet, it's taller than the kids.

The real challenge, however, is what comes next with this nutcracker. The Pre-K kids have decided that after the play is over, they want to turn it into a "real statue" that stands as a permanent fixture in our playground. Thomas is particularly interested in making it a concrete statue. I'd love to figure out a way to make it happen. If anyone has any ideas, please pass them on!

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Play for Life said...

Tee hee hee! .. We'll take two tickets in the balcony please! ... ha ha ha love it!

Deborah Stewart said...

I am loving that statue! And I am trippin over this whole play:) You are so patient and committed!!

Let the Children Play said...

Is it going to be touring 'down under', thats what I want to know!

I the things your kids come up with, and the way you run with it. Its really inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I really love how you allow the kids to own the whole production. What a fabulous experience!

I don't know about concrete, but I do see an opportunity here to use MASSIVE amounts of tape!

pamela Wallberg said...

Are you going to video tape and share the play? please please please?

Last year's graduation ceremony was rehearsed for months, and the valedictorian speech was beautiful. And on presentation, it became "I went to the playground monkey bars and got a blister."

It was great. I can't wait to see how your play turns out!

To concrete it: wrap it in chicken wire or mesh, but two bags of quick set concrete, and make small amounts at a time, "plastering" it onto the mesh. Once the concrete is mixed, it takes about 10 minutes to harden to a plasterable state, and with good gloves and full body coverage (long sleeves, pants) it will be solid in about 30 minutes. Would probably take 4 applications: one on each "side" and then one an the "top" and one on the bottom. it is safe for kids to use 1:1 with an adult. This is how you can "mosaic" tiles - just instant concrete and then push things into the setting concrete.

If you have a budget, then just cover the entire thing with vaseline, and buy a hug amount of powder plaster. Make a plaster cast of each side of the statue (it will pull off if you use enough vaseline. Saranwrap works well too) and then duct tape the two halves of a cast together. fill the inside with a lot of vaseline and then pour the quick set concrete into the cast. Easy peasy!

Play for Life said...

Just a thought on your statue ... why don't you mosaic him! He would look really irresistible done in mosaic! :) :)