Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pre-K Play: Epilogue

Yesterday I posted a video of our Pre-K play, A Beautiful Nightmare, and find myself this morning with a few more things to say about it, so I'm including it again at the bottom of this post on the off chance that there is still anyone beyond myself and the children's parents who are as keenly interested in this as I am.

In the comments yesterday, Jenny from Let The Children Play mentioned her usual skepticism about preschool performances because they so often seem to be so adult directed and "put on for the purpose of the adults involved rather than the children." I don't think anyone who watches this video will see any of that -- this is the children's production from stem-to-stern.

Speaking as an adult, it takes a leap of faith each year to just turn it over to the kids. I mean, parents take vacation days to be there and grandparents actually fly in to see it. It's hard to not worry that they'll be disappointed, but at the same time I know that they won't be disappointed as long as I simply make myself a servant of the children's creative expression. A few years ago, my daughter was performing in a production of Moliere's The Miser with the Seattle Shakespeare Company. I ran into her director in the lobby before opening night and asked, "Are you nervous?" and he answered, "Why would I be nervous? It's their play." That's the attitude I try to take toward these productions: all that matters is that the children are satisfied and that is the surest way to satisfy those loved ones in the audience.

Everything you see on the stage, every costume item, and every line in the play was a subject of discussion and debate during the past 5 months. There is a story, often a long one, behind even the most insignificant prop or line. The fact that our Black Kitty Anjali "waddles" in, for instance, can be traced back to the fact that her character began life as a duck, and was briefly a penguin. I kept waiting for someone to mention the fact that kitties don't waddle, but it never came. On the other hand, in earlier drafts, Thomas, Marcus and Jack were all "Mean Black Kitties," and their characters "drove up" to the stage. Thomas eventually became the Forklift, Marcus the Car, and Jack the Tooth Fairy. It never bothered Jack that his Mean Kitty "drove up," but he insisted that the Tooth Fairy must "come up." I could bore you for months with annotations like this.

We did talk about our audience from time-to-time, of course, because that's an important consideration in any performance, but it was almost always in the context of our younger classmates and siblings who we knew would be there. For instance, we had a lot of discussion about whether or not the "bad" Maleficent puppet head would be too scary for "younger kids." We worried that they might cry or run away.

Our "giant rainbow nutcracker" probably engendered the most discussion and the most work of any single part of this project, even though it's role in the actual production was relatively minor. Here is how it tuned out:

We planned all of the colors and patterns out as a group, including
the "silly face," and the yellow shoes with butterflies and hearts, 
then executed each part over the course of several weeks.

One of the most fascinating parts of this entire process for me was that in spite of all of our discussion and effort surrounding the nutcracker, when it came time to choose what music we would use for the dance number, they rejected Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker overture, opting instead for ABBA's "Dancing Queen." This is the first time in the history of our Pre-K play that the Nutcracker overture was not selected, although it was the first time that our play actually had anything to do with the classic ballet.

I briefly mentioned at the end of yesterday's post that we turned most of our set and prop pieces over to the class at large on Thursday, building a stage from blocks, setting up the "beautiful castle with walls painted pink," wheeling in the small robot and its large bath tub, propping up our blue tree and giant rainbow nutcracker, and bringing in the rocket, Maleficent puppet arms, stars, car costume, and, of course, the ABBA Gold CD. A few of our items, like Finn's train costume and Sarah's Maleficent puppet heads, had already gone home with the day before, but there was plenty with which to work their imaginations.

Charlie B., inspired by the the performance of his older classmates, arrived in class dressed as a superhero. Next January, I will challenge him and his Pre-K classmates to "do something together for the whole school." I will provide examples of things previous classes have done, such as making our birthday throne . . .

. . . or building a castle . . .

. . . but I have very little doubt that they will chose to write, produce and perform their own play. I wonder if Charlie B. will still want to be a superhero or if Max will stick to his declaration on Thursday that he plans to be a "ghoul."

Some version of Annabelle's Unicorn Pegasus character crops up almost every year, but it has always been played by a girl, while next year's Pre-K class is comprised entirely of boys. (I've never even had a Pre-K class with more boys than girls, so it'll be a new experience for me.)  Of course, yesterday, as I read the script aloud, over-and-over, for the children, each of them spontaneously taking on whatever role they wanted, Lachlan chose the Unicorn Pegasus, so we'll see.

Finn P., who played the train in our "official" production chose to operate the small robot during most of our informal run-throughs, while Marcus (the Car) enjoyed playing the running crew "part" of Sarah's mom Lisa, making sure props like the rocket and stars were ready on cue. Jack and Thomas worked together to expand the stage by adding more blocks. Katherine, Ella, and Josephine stuck to their own superhero roles, leading the ever-changing team of the two Charlies, Ariya, Orlando, Peter, Isak, Finn V. and Alex through their paces. It was not always clear what roles they imagined themselves inhabiting, but they followed their older friends' lead with gusto.

And all the while ABBA Gold played in the background.

2010 Woodland Park Coop Pre-K Class Play from rob mcgarty on Vimeo.

I can't promise that this will be my last post on our play because I still have things I want to say, but for the time being I'll save them for the parents.

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Floor Pie said...

I loved watching the pre-3 class interact with the set and prop pieces yesterday, especially when you led them in an impromptu "play" of their own. They were so joyful and mesmerized...I'm looking forward to seeing their play in a few years!

Unknown said...

The play was very entertaining and interesting. I loved watching it after I had read about it for so many months. They did an excellent job. I am so glad they get to be your students! And I am so glad you get to learn from and with them!

Let the Children Play said...

I had this exact discussion today Tom (get out of my head): I was with a group of parents at a stall at our local organic markets to promote our open day, when the parents started talking about your play (via my facebook): all agreed that if we ever did a play it would be absolutely done in the spirit yours was done in, because there was so much learning and ownership involved for the children. I don't know if I'd be up for 5 months of work though!

Kristine said...

Hi Tom,
I've recently started reading your blog (sorry I can't even remember how I came across it) and I'm enjoying it immensely both as a 'former' teacher and also as food for thought as I work through some parenting issues.
I can understand your excitement on the culmination of the wonderful production. I love project based learning and probably my favourite whole class project was creating a fictional movie with 6, 7 and 8 year olds. Similarly they did everything from script development, costumes, filming and creating the movie using Movie Maker and it also took nearly 1/2 a year. I remember after our premiere being on a high for days. Be proud and do keep talking about it.

kristin said...

good god, tom, that is so amazing.

i just watched it with my 8 year old son. we giggled a bit.