submitted by J. Mark Lane
For those who don’t know, a group of Murray Avenue Elementary School children have spent the last two weeks,
with the assistance of a professional production company, learning, rehearsing and generally preparing for the first school-wide musical play to take place there in over three decades. I was one of the parent volunteers who helped the children and the production company these last two weeks, so I had the pleasure of watching it all come together. The first performances of “The Sound of Music” were today, and I want to say, what a tremendous success! These children – your children – are simply amazing.
Most of us didn’t grow up with this kind of experience. I grew up in a small town in the South, and a professional production company coming to our elementary school to organize a complex musical production was unthinkable. No one even knew what such a thing was. Most of us had never even seen a live stage production, of any sort. I loved where I grew up, and I cherish the memories of that simpler life. But the suburbs of New York City are not Grover’s Corners, and our children are growing up in a more complex and sophisticated environment than many of us did. My experience in working on this project has provided, for me, a wonderful example of how that “complexity” can emerge in, and become part of, the innocent joy of childhood, and can enrich the lives of our children…and their parents.
The 150-plus children from second grade through fifth who participated in this two-week project gained tremendously from the experience. They learned first-hand what is involved in taking a group of people, a script and a stage, and creating a musical play. They learned what it is like to work with a director, with musicians, with choreography, with set people and stage pieces, with tech and lighting people (some of the kids were the tech and lighting people). They also learned that each and every member of the cast (“team”) is important, and that everyone has to do their part or the whole thing suffers. They learned how important it is to work together, to show up on time, to know your part and do it well, and to support each other. These are good children, they come from good families, and it showed as they worked together and helped each other all through the rehearsals, and into the performances. More than once, I saw a child get upset or make mistakes. Never, not once, did I see anyone laugh or make fun. It just never occurred to them.
Some of the children learned of talents and skills they didn’t realize they had, or didn’t realize how good they were or how valuable their talents could be. Watching them grow in confidence from the first rehearsals to the performances, watching them do their parts and listening to them sing, was truly a beautiful thing. Whether any of them choose to pursue music, acting or anything else related to these talents will, of course, be their choice. But I think they know now, more than before, that they may have that choice. And unlike most children their age, now, when they go to a Broadway play with their parents or friends, they will have an experience-based understanding of what it takes to make it all work. They will watch it through different, more intelligent eyes.
The small group of professionals who came to Murray Avenue to put on this production were tremendous. As I watched the folks at KJK Productions turn this rag-tag bunch of kids into an organized, dedicated, musical troop, I was constantly amazed. These guys are very, very good at what they do. And they care. You can see it in their faces, and how they light up with excitement when a shy and reticent child suddenly starts to blossom into their role and pulls off a near-perfect execution of a solo or dramatic scene. One of the younger children broke down in tears one night during the first rehearsals, and Debi and Steve were on her in half a second. A minute later, she wa
s back at it, singing her part. The show must go on!
In a way, I can’t help but think if all of us contributed even a fraction of the beauty these wonderful people bring forth into this troubled world, well, the world would not be quite so troubled. If we’re going to save this world, it’s going to be one little bit at a time, starting in our own back yards.
Do yourself a favor, whether you have children in the school or not, whether you have children at all or not, there are two more performances on Sunday, January 24, at the Murray Avenue School. Go! I promise, you will come away smiling.