Thanks to the generosity of some individual donors, Bay Area Children's Theatre is able to take Story Explorers on the road! We are able to visit a few special needs classrooms this year and present our sensory-friendly, interactive shows designed specifically for them! Words don't do the experience justice, but I think this photo by Melissa Nigro captures beautifully the wonder and meaning that performing these shows brings to me.
For the most recent production of The Song of the Nightingale, Town Hall Theatre had received a few grants to put on student matinee performances for local elementary schools. These special daytime performances would be an opportunity for children, many of whom may not have seen a live performance before, to see a shortened version of the show. Unfortunately, one of those schools - Shore Acres in Pittsburg - could not attend due to air quality warnings in the wake of the Sonoma County fires last month.
The lovely folks at Town Hall decided to coordinate and reschedule with Shore Acres to do a special on-site visit. We polled the cast to see who might be available, and once I knew who we had, I created a 20-minute reader's theatre presentation of the show which featured 5 musical numbers. We had no set, no props, no band (save for me on the keyboard), and minimal costumes. However, as soon as we began to narrate the story, we could tell we had the kids' attention! As Artistic Director Susan Evans put it, "They were rapt!" It was a delightful sight to see the faces of the kids light up and stay so engaged. Of course, this makes sense. Nothing is more powerful at painting the picture of a story than a child's own imagination. Even though they didn't get to hear all of the songs from the show or meet all the actors or experience all of the production elements, they still tracked with the story of the little bird who saves an entire kingdom with her song.
Last year, I was commissioned by the San Francisco Unified School District to create a musical that would teach fifth graders who were transitioning to middle school how to get to school safely on their own. I took on the gig for practical reasons: 1) After living in the world of The Four Immigrants, it would be a nice change to write some contemporary pop music, 2) I wanted to gain more experience creating my own accompaniment tracks in Logic, and 3) It was a writing gig that paid well! It wasn't going to be a passion project, but something that I could grow and learn from at least.
However, as I started to write the show - now titled Step Up Crew, it hit me that the topic of "traffic safety," as boring and bureaucratic as it sounds, is actually a very worthwhile cause to write a musical. In thinking back to school assemblies I watched while growing up, I realized that I have retained some of the knowledge gained from those presentations. "Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation!" and how the nervous system transmits a signal from your hand touching a hot stove to your brain and back again. I now look back and see that those creative, interactive, and musical assemblies were probably made by someone like me. A playwright or artist who followed educational guidelines to create a theatre piece, never actually knowing the impact they were having on kids' lives.
Step Up Crew is not going to move people to tears or make them re-examine their preconceived notions about existence. It might, however, remind kids how to stay safe while getting to school. Perhaps a child will remember bus etiquette and become a better citizen for it. Perhaps a child will remember how to cross the street safely and won't get hurt. I don't want to over-dramatize the impact the show could have, but thinking about Step Up Crew in this way brings a little more heart and a little more meaning to the project than before.