Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Amazing Show

As you know, I am no stranger to amateur productions. I've been involved in some Mackinac plays that I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course they were a bit more polished than the Black History Month show I just attended. Yet I was surprised at how well these 10-12 yr. olds managed to do.

Imagine a large gym with terrible acoustics. The stands are packed with students happy to be out of class early, and excited about seeing their friends perform. Harried teachers try to keep kids under control...while the usual spate of spontaneous vomiting or bloody noses offer potential excitement.

To my right, the fifth and sixth grade band are seated. They are very young and new to their instruments. At the Christmas concert everyone was very happy that they all stayed in tune and on the same time. To the center is the stage, curtain drawn. To my left is the choir---or a large group of giggling girls.

The general themes are a combination of intermittant 'scenes' from the Rosa Parks/Bus Boycott times; informative vignettes about famous African-Americans; and the history of Motown.

I will never forget the girls hamming it up as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Or the young lady gamely portraying Gladys Knight---with empty microphones on each side because no fifth or sixth grade boy wanted to play something called a "Pip".

Or young J. singing "What's Goin On' in his own voice and sounding very much like Marvin Gay. While he stood stock still frozen terrified through the song.

The crowd went wild when they introduced 'Michael Jackson'. No one around here forgets that the Jackson Five lived about twenty blocks north of here. When M. took the stage we all thought he'd sing something like "Thriller'. Apparently (I learned later) that song was after Michael left Motown. Instead, he started singing "Ben". Every adult groaned. Then we were laughing as he purposely cracked his voice (or maybe not purposely) through the high pitched song. He slowly turned in circles while a classmate drug a giant 'Fivel the Mouse/Rat' around the stage representing 'Ben'.

There was a salute to "Soul Train" -- a show that aired in the Chicago area when I was growing up, described as the 'black American Bandstand'. As I watched about fifty students dance around the stage in costume...complete with Afros and platform shoes et al.......there was no doubt that some grandparents had kept their clothes from that era. And taught the youngins' a few of the old moves...

Michelle Obama had visited this school last year (I think in March) and spent about an hour in this same gym. So we had the "Obamas" onstage too...Malia and Sascha were played by two of my library aides. One student as President Obama made a touching mini speech about how history isn't just old stories about bus boycotts and whites only signs. That dreams come true and barriers are broken every day. It was a really nice touch and I think it helped bring history to life a little more for the kids.

Well, the band stayed on tune (I think) although I was never clear what they were playing. The choir was probably good--between background noise and bad acoustics I couldn't hear a sound they were making. It was the first 'Black History Month' anything I've attended. I had only planned to stop by for a short time, but stayed for the whole program. I'm glad I did.

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