I love working with kids. I really do. They make everything simpler. Simpler does not mean easier. But simpler is happier and it makes more sense.
After a little over three weeks, some sweet crew cut t-shirt tan lines, a dozen scraped legs (and twice that in band-aids), a couple hundred dollars for set and costumes, quarts of sweat, a bazillion mosquito bites and tons of, "Trust me, you can do this"es, the musical I've co-directed with my good friends, Camilda and Oddette, is finally going on. I am currently waiting for the DVDs to burn on the eve of the performances, so why not write a blog post about these inspiring children?
We had a certain six-year-old boy come early for auditions. He walked right into the room and, before we could ask his name or introduce ourselves, pointed to a bamboo mat on the coffee table and said, "What's that?"
"It's a bamboo mat."
He frowned. "What's a bamboo mat?"
I was at a loss. "That," I said, pointing to it.
"Oh." He considered it for a moment, then pointed to it again. "What's that?"
It was an eventful audition. The first thing he said on topic was "I want to be the one who becomes the mayor."
"Oh...the boy who gets to be the emperor?"
"Yes. The mayor."
We asked him if he'd ever been in a play or choir before. He furrowed his brow and looked down. "Well...I once...um...they once...uh...we had a...a...a...a...we once...we once had...a...a...um...a..."
By this time, I had to pretend I was coughing into a pillow to stifle my laughter.
"...we had...they did...we...we...we...we did a play...in...in my school gym."
After his audition (which lasted twice as long as anyone else's; he had questions about more than just the bamboo mat), he began to walk out, then he paused and turned around. "So I get to be the mayor, right?"
Today was our final dress rehearsal. Admist the flurry of colorful silk and flowered hair pieces, one of our youngest boys approached me. I paused in what I was doing--coaxing another boy to let me apply his eyeliner--and gave my attention to this young boy. He extended his hand, in which he held a pack of gum. One stick stuck out further than the rest. "Do you want some gum?" he asked.
"No, thank you," I answered. "And you are not allowed to have gum onstage, so spit it out before you enter, okay?"
He looked at me harder. "Just take some gum," he said. I hesitated, decided to pocket it and reached out for the piece. As I grabbed it, I realized it was too hard to be gum. An electric shock vibrated through my fingers and ran up my arm. I cried out a little and jumped back. The boy watched me closely. He silently smiled. I laughed nervously, told him that he was not allowed to offer gum to anyone else today and went about preparing my cast with an arm that was numb and tingly for ten minutes.
"As soon as your costume is put away on the hanger with your name on it, you can get a cookie!" Oddette was handing out cookies as a reward (best incentive that's ever happened to children's theatre) after one of our recent rehearsals. Most of the kids were lined up in front of her, but one came stumbling towards me. He was the youngest and smallest of our cast. He was hugging himself and looked like he was about to cry. As he approached me, I saw tears well up in his eyes. I crouched down next to him, put my arm around his shoulders and tried to ask him what was wrong. He put his forehead against my shoulder and began to sob quietly. I was very concerned that an older child had hit him and he would be too afraid to tell me. After a small, curious crowd had gathered and he had cried a minute, the little boy whispered miserably, "I can't put my clothes on my hanger."
I held his hand, took him upstairs and showed him how to turn his shirt right-side-out. No boy has ever earned his after-rehearsal cookie so completely, in my opinion.
We have one small girl who is always very aware of when she is doing things right. "Okay, kids, some of you weren't singing during that last song, so--" "I was singing!" Pause. "Thank you, [child.] We know. We heard you." "I was singing the whole time!" "Thank you. Keep it up." She is also very good about knowing where she has to be and being there when she's supposed to be there. She knows that she is supposed to be center stage at a certain part of a certain song. So, even when the music and dancing were way off for one of our run-throughs, she stood center stage in front of all the other dancers and waited patiently as everyone danced behind her for her cue to shiver and exit. It may not have been exactly what we planned, but it sure was cute.
We have had moments that have made me want to cry of joy. A boy tripped and fell on his way to get to his spot before he had to enter. He came up to his older sister, lower lip quivering. She wrapped her arms around him and soothed him as fat tears slid silently down his cheeks. She tousled his hair, kissed his forehead repeatedly and wiped his tears with her thumb. When his cue came to run onto the stage, his sister gently nudged him forward, whispering, "I'll be right behind you."
I don't know about you, but I don't witness tender moments like that every time a child trips.
Theatre has changed my life in so many ways. I may decide to pursue it and it may end up on my hobby shelf, but I've learned more about living from theatre than from any other single class I've taken in high school. I've learned honesty, interpretation, empathy, teamwork, sincerity, observation, focus, patience, constructive criticism and humility. And it is truly a blessing to see how something I love can affect these young people whom I've come to love.
On with the show.