After a long time, I am getting to address a bucket-list entry — directing a school play.
The first, full ‘read-through’ went quite well today. I was pleasantly surprised with the work of the 10 or more cast members. With rare exception, the grades three-through-five students read well. We’ll worry about speed of delivery and inflection another time. This rehearsal time — 30 minutes — was just long enough to ‘walk through’ the performance.
I have read, as part of our state Read-Aloud program, to either fourth or fifth graders every Thursday when school is in session, for three years. While reading a story recently, a lesser-known story by a well-known author, the classroom teacher exclaimed, “That story would make a great play.” I readily agreed and began the editing of a story into a screenplay. As soon as the draft was completed, I shared it with the teacher. She nodded agreement, and the play became part of our local primary school, ‘after-school’ program. The two hours, 3–5 PM, from Monday through Thursdays, are divided into four, 30-minute segments. As an ‘enrichment’ instructor, the program coordinator (and one of two classroom teachers with whom I read) gave me a half-hour slot each Thursday to work on the play.
Although I have never before worked with shadow play, I selected that genre for the production, since I did not want my young actors to burden themselves with memorizing chunks of dialog. Given the chance of illness, or other unforeseen disaster on performance day, I wanted also to avoid using understudies. Any decent reader can fill in, in a pinch.
So, why is directing a performance weighty enough to be on my bucket list? Simply stated, it is love of the art. As a Public Service Administration major, I used reading of play scripts — in my free time — as a stress reducer from the rigors of required college studies. I read tons of plays of every description. Among my favorites was, “The Night of the Iguana.” The story setting tends to be quite ‘dark’ and the detailed stage direction engrossed me completely. I was then (and remain now) keenly interested in costume, props, scenery, lighting, sound and all the other elements of a typical stage production. I eventually became one-third of the cast, in a three-character, three-act college production of “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.”
During my secondary-school days, now a half-century ago, I was a member of the thespian society and appeared additionally in class plays — sometimes as a lead — for four years, in dramas and comedies. I always closely witnessed the work of the directors. In hindsight, it was some very brave and tolerant teachers, giving up their after-hours time, who whipped us into performers. While I have no interest in whipping my students, I sincerely want them to be confident presenters, readers and thinkers who can one day perform well in the production we call ‘life’.