Every once in a while a day just slaps you in the face. Sometimes that slap hurts. Sometimes it’s a wake up call. And sometimes it serves as a reminder that you’re doing the right thing. Friday was of the latter sort of day. We were doing shows at an upper elementary school in Westborough, MA and there was a perfect theatrical moment in our second show. A fourth grader took it upon himself to really be a part of the show. It was a brilliant moment.
We do a poem by Ogden Nash entitled The Tale of Custard the Dragon. During the poem I play a pirate who eventually gets eaten by the dragon. There’s a chase scene that can be small or super involved depending on the layout of the auditorium or gym. This school had a very nice (good high school quality) auditorium and stage. I decided that I could take the chase into the audience and I picked a kid up out of his seat so I could “hide” in the crowd. Now I didn’t expect anything much to happen; I just hoped it would be a good quick bit. I was merely hoping that the teacher (playing Custard the Dragon) would take the cue and “lose” me.
Well, what actually happened was better than anythingI could have written. I pick the kid up out of his chair and sit down. I don’t tell him anything and am not actually paying a great deal of attention to him. It looked like he was trying to decide on something–thinking deeply about it. I look back for the teacher and the next thing I know, the little boy has adopted my posture, mannerisms, and my “wooden leg” gait and is running away from me saying “aarrgghhh!”. He’s creating a diversion so that I can get away. Brilliant!
It’s that kind of moment that I love most about live theatre: the unpredictable, the fascinating, the perfect moment. When kids (and adults as well) take it upon themselves to participate in something and be creative, it gives my heart a change of mood (to quote Robert Frost). It’s easy to look on the state of education in this country and shake your head. But if you look close enough there are always examples of students taking it upon themselves to learn and do.