21 October 2004

Mixing business and pleasure

"Mankind was my business."
—Jacob Marley

Today was another great proof to me that service to others can really be fun. I went with a friend of mine to an elementary school in a small town some twenty miles south of my city, and helped her perform a shadow puppet theater of Where the Wild Things Are. We met at her house at 11:30 this morning and worked until we got our timing and staging down, at which point my throat was really sore, after repeated and energetic roaring, teeth-gnashing, and eye-rolling solos on behalf of the Wild Things. (I wonder if I was typecast?) We shared a quick but pleasant curry and wild rice lunch, then braved the cold rain and loaded up our mysterious travelling show. We drove with the heater blasting at our feet while a chill came in at freeway speed through the rear window, which was rolled down to accomodate the too-big-for-Emily's-car framed theater screen.

The only landmark we were given to help us know where to turn once we exited the main road and reached this town was a VOTE HUNTSMAN/HERBERT lawn sign.

We were greeted in the parking lot by a woman wearing an electric purple downy feather crown; she was Emily's sister, Amy, the schoolteacher who'd invited us. We rushed inside with our precious cargo and rearranged the room so the floor could fit 40 wide-eyed first graders who would soon arrive and need space to "sit on their pockets" (for some reason it's no longer okay to say "rear end" or "bum" or "bottom" or whatever you like to call that part of the anatomy that gives shape to back pockets). We invented a stage stand using a low bookshelf and a green flannel sheet, and rested our white screen atop it. We hung our shop light from a ceiling vent, with a single paper clip. We fluffed and plumped and nestled and arranged and rearranged, and we practiced. Finally, it was time for the show.

The children from two classes poured in, all curiousity and ssshhhhhhhh and peeking, as Emily and I waited behind the screen for our introduction. The "friends", as their teacher called them, allowed themselves to be subdued and instructed: "Whenever you see the Wild Things, do whatever they do. When they roar, you roar! When they gnash their teeth, you gnash your teeth! When they roll their eyes, you roll your eyes!" All were in agreement and so we went forth with our interactive production with great energy and style. I must mention here that the main part of our soundtrack was an old Dead Can Dance song. Really, it was quite perfect!

The performance was a good one, and all of us Wild Things had sore throats by the end of it. We served popcorn, then another helper arrived with her guitar and led the children in singing a simple Halloween song and added lots of verses about witches, bats, ghosts, creatures, spiders, and candy. The children were given a choice: Which ghoulish thing that we just sang about would you like to turn into your own shadow puppet? The excited groups set to work, wielding crayons and scissors, and they made magic with their black construction paper. I floated, helped, adored. When everyone was finished creating, we had a puppet parade. The teacher had set up a long screen of butcher paper which was backlit by three overhead projectors. The children sat before the screen as one by one the groups slipped behind it and performed a true wild rumpus while the whole group sang again the Halloween song. Then, they cleaned up, asked us questions and told us the names of their favorite books, sang us a witch song and closed the afternoon's sharing with a pretty prompted thank you. With a lot of encouragement they did their getting-ready-to-go-home rituals. Six-year-old by six-year-old, they--and the bright superheroes they nearly all carried on their backs--were excused.

It's something amazing to experience, a first-grade classroom. I think it would break my heart, delight me, and drive me crazy to lead such a tender, struggling little group five days a week, every week. Wow. I admire them all, children and teachers alike.

Emily and I will perform this puppet play again on the 29th for a neighborhood children's party. I'd better pamper my vocal chords for the next week, because I know many of the children who will be there and I can vouch that they are expert Wild Things already. The rumpus will be legendary.

Here's something funnny. One of the little boys at the elementary school was a dead ringer for George W. Bush. Now, that was spooky!


Emily said...
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Jamie said...
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