Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moms Making it Happen: Community Children's Theater in Laie

A curious thing has happened in my community for the past two spring and fall public school breaks. Some moms teamed up before the break to write an original play and then spend the week-long break producing it, featuring the elementary school aged children of Laie. The first production, during Spring 2010, was Peter Panipopo, a local musical improvisation on the traditional Peter Pan story. The second production, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, riffs on the Narnia trilogy and uses songs the audience knows and loves. My Second Born has been involved in each production and has loved it. The kids practice their parts/musical numbers, paint sets, work together on make-up and costumes and, best of all, have a great time together. In the spirit of sharing what resourceful moms can accomplish when they creatively collaborate and what kids can learn even when they're on vacation, I've included a photo essay of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, performed in the elementary school cafeteria on Friday, October 8th. But, first, an interview with the moms who started it all and who keep it going: Michelle Blimes, Laura Blum and Emily Bradshaw (how weird that they're all Bs!).
left to right: Michelle, Laura and Emily
Why did you start putting on these plays during fall and spring breaks?

Laura: I was [sign language] interpreting a Social Entrepreneurial class where you (in the words of Ritchie Norton) "Rock your World.. by seeing a need in your community and doing something about it." He always stressed- you don't have to have all the skills, just an idea, and gather the people with the skills to accomplish your idea. So, around the time of the Spring Break- when there was a local production of The Music Man (my kids went both nights and I saw many of the community kids there), I thought, "Hey we have an amazingly talented community-- our kids should have more opportunities to do this kind of creative stuff." I knew I didn't have the skills to pull it off alone but I also knew I had Rock Star talented friends so I gathered them together and everyone was so excited and supportive. The kids are so talented and amazing. It's been a blast.

Emily: I started doing the play-in-a-week for three reasons. First, the state of Hawaii decided to Furlough teachers last year, leaving our kids with 3 1/2 days of school per week most weeks last year. I felt like I needed to pick up the slack and do a little more with my kids outside of school. Also, our school doesn't have a music or art program (or theater, but what school DOES have a theater program? Only on FAME.). This was the particular slack I wanted to pick up. Finally, I did it because my neighbor, Laura, showed up on my doorstep with the idea and asked if I thought it was possible, and how do you say "no" to that? Of course it's possible! That's how it started. 
It turned into a Fall Play, because Laura came back from Summer vacation all rarin' to go on another play. I think we should stick with one per year, personally. And it's been a real set-back for the janitors at the school, apparently. They made me promise not to do any projects during Spring Break this year.

How has it changed from the spring break play to the fall break play?

Michelle: Not much changed from the Spring Break play to the Fall Break play. We had a formula that worked; a narrator and a small group of main characters to move the plot along, plus several singing and dancing groups to include as many kids as wanted to participate. This time Laura and I kept saying to each other, "Next time we will do it this way..." But mostly it was small details that we would want to change. The overall process has worked well twice, so there is no reason to change a good thing.

How do you think the kids are benefiting from working on the production?

Michelle: What I hope the kids are getting from putting on these productions is a love a theater, a sense of confidence, and an opportunity to engage in a wholesome activity with their friends.

Emily: The major benefit of this play is getting all the kids under one roof together working on one project. You've got big kids helping little kids, kids making new friends, kids from different cultural backgrounds working together. Also, kids get to create all the elements of the play. They get to make props and costumes, paint scenery, learn songs and dances, and I think by the time they're done, they all feel good about what they've created. It's not about the polished performance. It's about the process of creating something together. Lastly, I just watched more than one child go from saying, "No I can't try out--I've never done something like this before," to singing a strong solo in front of an audience with no problem whatsoever. The kids gain confidence. It's good for kids to put themselves on the line, audition, and perform. 
The other benefit is for the adults. Most of the time, we drop our kids off at school, and leave them in the school territory. For the parents who are able to stay, it's a chance to step into that teaching territory, and interact with school community. It's the kind of collaboration where everyone takes a small piece--a pirate group or a dragon group, for instance--and then we put the pieces together. And it's really fun to be part of a team with fun, talented moms. I'd say parents, but let's be honest. It was the moms. 

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