A fourth-grade boy backstage toyed with a wall fire alarm, “pretending,” as he said later, to set it off. Then Colt sat in a chair and leaned back against it.
The alarm exploded. Onstage, Patrick, an eighth-grader in mid-line, hesitated.
By luck, a volunteer-firefighter dad was in the audience, and with keys and code silenced the deafening clangor, but for two long minutes Patrick and his peers forged on gallantly as the rest of us hunched in our seats.
It’s that time of year, for pageantry. Our kids’ school play was last month; last week I went to see friends’ children in theirs; and this weekend marked the premiere of Montessori School’s hip-hop version of the tale of Henny-Penny.
Both my sons’ first plays had been at Montessori. At Roy’s, several of the small performers wept; crouching parents had to join them onstage. Sibling members of the audience also cried. Roy himself, then 2, slipped offstage, resisting when his teacher followed. He was carried down, firmly declining his role as an antelope, supposedly crying but actually smiling and gloating, to sit in the grass with us. (Teddy, at 3, had also refused to be in his first play, despite the exciting subject, a volcano. He sat with us, clapping unapologetically.)
One 2-year-old brother kept rushing the stage, followed by a hurrying mother. The actors generally had to be told each of their lines, though some pre-emptively demanded, “What am I supposed to say?” Some of the chorus, assigned to sit, idly stood, danced, and pulled up their shorts to examine their legs.
A stomach bug was going around town, and I heard that at a play across town, a young actor vomited.
Years later, school plays remain fluid, unpredictable. Actors scan the audience, smile, nod and wave. Sibs chat in a great groundswell from their seats.
One night, a set wall fell down with the sound of a thunderclap. Once young Diego dashed onstage, stood stock still, shouted, “I forgot my line!” and ran off.
Roy, now in first grade, was a monkey this year. When a narrator misspoke a word, several monkeys yelled at her, “You’re supposed to say ‘mango!'” One boy bungled a cue or two and was finally told by an exasperated castmate, “You’re terrible at your lines.”
One year, a string of young children playing dogs scampered onstage pulling a sled, in their gusto whipping it around so fast they dumped the occupant, a sunny girl who uses a wheelchair. Off went the laughing, barking dogs and bounding sled, leaving Amanda. For an instant some of us half-rose to help. Amanda, however, was already scooting offstage, laughing her head off.
A play, with its long, participatory lead-up and final colorful display, is very unifying. Kids get to know others they’d never met. Students have written songs and scenes in these plays, choreographed whole dance numbers.
Griffin, a kindergartner (playing a pomegranate seed) exited his scene and told a teacher, “That was powerful.”
This year Teddy, 10, asked to be in the comedy act, but was, to his shock, put into a dance scene, mostly consisting of girls. He scowled for days. Then, he added a spin – a “five,” or 540, to be exact – gained from intent study of “slopestyle” skiing. At home, his complaints gave way to descriptions of the routine.
In first grade he had been thrilled to play a Native American, singing a rain song, and, particularly, to be shot by cavalry. An hour before opening night he asked, “Mom, are you OK with me being shot?”
Pause. “Teddy, did your teachers tell you to ask me this months ago?”
“Well ” “
“I’m OK. It’s what happened.”
One day I asked Colt about the fire alarm. He looked down and sideways. “It was an accident,” he said stiffly.
“Did you jump a mile?”
“No.” He looked up; he finally smiled.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please write GSPI as subject heading.)Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com. (Please write GSPI as subject heading.)
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