My son caught the performing arts bug as a 2nd grader cast as Captain Hook in Peter Pan. My fever didn’t strike until the next spring of 2012, when I began helping behind the scenes for the McNear Elementary performing arts program. The show was an adapted take on The Lion King, peppered with inside jokes and songs pulled from other outlets. I designed the Showdown at Pride Rock artwork for the t-shirts and program, helped a little during rehearsals, and was utterly inspired by the work the adults were doing with the kids. When lead director Amy Wolff announced during the show that someone had to step up to direct the next school year, my ears perked up. Amazingly, so did my husband’s. John offered to serve as director; I would work on the script and serve as his right hand and show-runner. Together with Tena Jackson, Ray Decker, Jason Mattox, and Donnie Frank, we embarked on four remarkable years as the core production team for the McNear Performing Arts Program.
The program at McNear spans two shows: 4th, 5th and 6th graders in the fall, with 2nd and 3rd graders performing in the spring. First graders sing a song during the spring show to get their first taste of the stage. We fell into the pattern of offering a more traditional show (often Disney) for “the littles,” with a more challenging script for the upper grade kids. In both seasons we built our scripts to accommodate every interested child, and to insert some local and modern flavor. We regularly used the Magic 8-ball and Rochambeau as recurring themes, beloved school faculty made cameo appearances, and campus memes were referenced whenever possible. We often replaced typical show tunes with contemporary songs the kids would enjoy singing and parents would like hearing: Gotye, Queen, Lady Gaga, ELO, Katy Perry, and Blondie were all featured on our stage.
Our first upper-grade show, Humbug, was a fairly close adaptation of the Muppet’s version of A Christmas Carol, with roles being split and popular music added throughout. Once I got my script-doctor feet wet, I felt more comfortable getting creative: the next three shows were original structures with some heavily borrowed (cough*plagiarized*cough) content. Smash-a-lot was a mash-up of The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. Next we created a gangster show called Smooth Criminals, comprised of equal parts Johnny Dangerously and Bugsy Malone. Our final original show was Rainbow Connection, where Sesame Street collided with The Muppet Show.
In between I also helped run productions for the lower-grade shows Under the Sea, Rock Around the Clock, Arabian Nights, and Adventures in Wonderland.
I can’t count many other things I have enjoyed as much as my time with Performing Arts. The performers were delightful and brave and inspiring. The crew kids were engaged and helpful and fun to be around. The adults were creative and smart and incredible collaborators. The performances were joyful and hilarious and downright entertaining. The rest of my life will be an effort to duplicate the special experience of being part of that crew.