Monday, April 28, 2008

This week's article, first posted in the H/R

This was published last week in the H/R on my spring dinner theatre production. Enjoy!

I open up the back door of my ‘Backstage’ at Hamilton. I stand back in the early morning light to take a good look at my classroom. It isn’t much. I moved into it at the beginning of the school year with, what I call, deep despair. It is a beige tin trailer. Beige. It is dented from years of playground balls and frisbies and, probably, a few young hefty children bumping into it as they go for a fly ball or tag. The steps crumbled this winter and were replaced. Both sets were replaced on the same day in February which left me for a short time with no entrance or exit. It was a day of pondering, or reckoning…as the old folks would say. Step inside with me. The lights are harsh, the carpet is old and something was once spilled on the center of it. The heaters rattle so I have to turn them off when talking. In the heart of winter, the wind whistles up through the tin making us feel like Laura from Little House on the Prairie during the long blizzard.

The children do not see any of that. I go inside and create our work space. I plug in the many twinkle lights. Push the play button for the music and look at my classroom, my workshop, my studio. In this space of time and dust, the products are children.

My after school arts classes have produced a show, a performance, an original play that will showcase today eight times! I think back on these past four months working with each group. The writers were first, all fourth grade. We began our work as the Writer’s Strike ended. I did my best to explain it to them. They understood and did their work seriously….without asking for a raise. When the script was ready, they did their cast call as if they were Broadway directors. They invited each student in to try out and show off their skills. They wrote a Western so they were also looking for a Howdy Partner in a great western dialect. Choosing the cast was difficult for them, but the show was finally posted and we went into rehearsals. The script writers would often show up to check out their work and give advice as well as design programs and costumes.

The Backstage is ready and class after class crowds into this space. The audience must help solve this Gold Rush mystery. The character names are as colorful as their personalities. Gizard. Sally Jo. Ruby Mae, Dixie Lee. John Padre. Lex. Daniel Doom. Billy Bob. They take their places in the freezing tradition of French Tableau. I start the music…a great selection of honky tonk Saloon music and we begin.

I smile and laugh as if I have not seen this production for, oh, a hundred times? They are delightful and this group of actors all in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade are engaged and intent on their character. Six steps and a door I am always saying…be your character! And today they are. They end with a square dance and a flourish.

At three in the afternoon tables and decorations are set up for the country Western dinner that accompanies our show. We are now a dinner theatre, tickets…$2.00. The shows are a sell out at that. My principal, Kimberly, and a loving group of mothers work tirelessly filling plates with barbeque and baked beans. The script writers become the waiters and servers and we, the actors and actresses wait in the green room. I tell them how in real green rooms, the actors take naps or do puzzles or yoga. These children would rather run around and holler.

It is the eighth show…they are stunning, and I am proud. We eat. We tear down. We bid farewell. It is dark as I pack up my guitar, unplug the lights, pick up the last of the playbills scattered on the old carpet floor. With the bright lights on and all the kids gone, it is just a trailer, an old tin trailer. I notice a few new spots on the floor, but it doesn’t really matter. I load my car with cans of beans, our table decorations, and return them to Hamilton Super Value. It is nice to live in small towns where you can borrow thirty cans of beans!

I meander home over the country roads and make my turn around the mound, and I am home.