Saturday, March 10, 2012

Two Days at the Theater: Third Graders vs. Kindergarteners

From this post's title, you might think I attended a two-day event in which third graders and kindergartners engaged in a bloody cage fight for dominance (and bragging rights, bro) as rowdy spectators placed their bids. You would be sadly mistaken. Seriously, why spend good money on that when I get to see a third grader and kindergartner try to beat the snot out of each other every day in my living room? (The third grader has a size advantage and rudimentary martial arts skills, but the kindergartner fights dirty. No match is over until the dog is howling and both opponents are crying. Anyone who gets blood on the carpet is grounded. House rules.)  
No, I did not attend a show in which children competed against one another in any capacity. But what I did do was take a couple of days off from my day job as a grammar cop to chaperone two field trips. Check me out, I’m just like a real mom! Although both trips were to The Theater (you have to say it like this, “thee-ah-tah”), the experiences were quite different. What struck me was the level of complexity between the two plays, and how well the producers of both plays – and the educators who coordinated the trips – knew their target audiences.
Daughter1’s class, comprising that sophisticated age group of 8- and 9-year-olds <roll eyes here>, saw On the Wings of Ikarus Jackson at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater in Washington, DC. Alluding to the character from ancient Greek mythology, Ikarus tells the ageless tale of overcoming the ridicule of your peers to take pride in the traits that make you stand out from the crowd. A timely message for kids quickly approaching an age where being branded as “different” can make your life a waking nightmare. Take it from me, the shy fat kid.  
As one would expect from the Kennedy Center, the production quality was top-notch and the actors were undoubtedly professional. To prepare the children for this dose of high culture, the school taught the children a little bit about the play in the days leading up to the trip. They learned the basic plot and talked about the main characters. In addition to learning some literary elements of the play, they also learned basic theater etiquette: dress nicely (they looked adorable), arrive on time, stay seated during the play, and be quiet. The play was only an hour long, which was just about as long as the kids could refrain from shooting spit balls at each other and telling fart jokes. A good time was had by all. 

Daughter1 and BFF at the Kennedy Center
Daughter2's class, comprising that wiggly age of 5- and 6-year-olds, saw Laugh, Laugh, Laugh at Maryland Hall in Annapolis. This performance consisted of four or five comedy sketches geared toward little ones. There was not a cohesive moral to the stories, as the show was designed to entertain the crowd. Performers dressed in simple but bright costumes, made exaggerated facial expressions, and punctuated their punchlines with broad hand gestures and dance steps. There was singing, dancing, clapping, and - be still my heart - the liberal use of jazz hands during one energetic soft shoe routine. Since audience participation was encouraged, I did not have to shush any of my young charges even once during the hour-long performance. A good time was had by all.

Daughter2 at Maryland Hall
I'll be honest, I dreaded both trips based on my "success" as a chaperone on Daughter2's pumpkin patch trip in the fall. But I'm glad I got over my damn self and went on both theater trips. It was fun sitting next to Daughter1 in a real play and discussing the characters and themes afterward. It was equally fun sitting next to Daughter2 and hearing her giggle throughout the Laugh, Laugh, Laugh performance. Who knows how highly these events will rank in their overall life memories. But I hope they store these trips somewhere in their "fond" memory collection. I know I have.     

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