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‘Fascinating aliens’ invade Center for the Arts

As I write this, the high school prom committee is just outside my office window, the girls are discussing, making decisions and then telling the boys —who are engaged in a sword fight with cardboard tubes —where things go and what needs to happen next.  The space is quickly covered with a dance floor, Christmas lights and construction paper. A truly magical high school occasion. 

Then I look up again. 

There are four 8-year-olds standing at the front door with their backpacks and scripts, looking slightly confused.  I run out, jumping over scissors and paintbrushes, to greet the kids. 

“What’s going on now?,”  one of my more curious Kids Playshop students asks with her jaw hanging low in admiration of the massive amounts of white and yellow tulle hanging from the ceiling. 

“I promised it was always going to look different in here every time you came to class,” I smiled. 

These kids have seen it all during their 10-week acting and playwriting class.  They were here the day the Rotary Club decorated for Casino Night in February, when Angela’s Flowers paraded masterpieces in to complement the art for the opening gala of the Breaks Black Box Theatre, and now they were the first to set their eyes on the glory of the high school prom. 

I put one 10-year-old on watch at the front door for more classmates, lest they wander through the grand entryway of the Prom Dance Floor and turn into teenagers.  Then I marched the other kids to the theater space in the back of the Center for the Arts where Paul Roberts was tuning his banjos.  The kids immediately ran to the costume rack and started pulling things off the hangers.

How exactly does a class of 20 imaginative kids write a play together?  In the case of my class, it involves a whole lot of joyous shouting.  I start by asking “Where?”  The kids yell out, “the Empire State Building!  Dreamland!  Candyland!  An elevator!” 

Okay, how about all of those?  Now,” Who?”  More yelling: “Queens, giants! A super granny! Mean parents.”  Now, “What?”  “Candy!  Tornados, sharks, kidnapping!” 

“And how about a moral?”  I ask. 

“No!” the shouters respond.  Well, this is art, so who am I to judge?   And so the story beings.

One dance party, 100 karate kicks, two evil laughs (fake of course), several impromptu games of tag and too many “what’s my lines” to count, we managed to get through our entire play for the first time on stage with props in hand instead of scripts.  Good thing, too, because the kids only had one more rehearsal before they perform in front of family and friends on May 7 and 8.

“Promise me!  Promise me that you will study your lines this week!,”  I tell the kids as they run out the door with their parents.  I’ve been teaching children’s theater for over five years and every time it gets down to the week before the show, I start to wonder how disastrous it will be - exactly. 

But the truth is, in the back of my mind and the bottom of my heart I know that the kids will show up knowing their lines (maybe) and all of a sudden they will start standing where I have been asking them to stand since February and where they haven’t stood yet.   They will suddenly start making the funny gestures and staying in the characters that I’ve been trying to get them to attempt for weeks.  But best of all, they will always show me something new and marvelous.  Teaching children’s theater is like a mini lesson in parenting.  Just teach them what you can and even if it seems like they are not listening, one day you will get to witness your influence at the same time they are surprising you with their capabilities. 

The parents of the junior class prom committee may be experiencing this same wonderful surprise as I write.  And if they aren’t, let me help them begin.  The junior class prom committee entered into a contract with the Center for the Arts to rent the building for two days to decorate and host their prom.  They have full-on decorations, flowers, a DJ, photographers and, as far as I can tell, they have done it all themselves, and it is amazing.  But more importantly, they are a pleasure to work with -responsible, self-reliant, organized, competent, good natured and charmingly mindful of what disasters to be aware of when it comes to hosting their peers.

It is in celebration of these fantastic kids that the Center for the Arts in-house theater company, the Thingamajig Theatre Company is starting its “Final Dress, First Thursday” program on May 12 at 7 p.m.  The Final Dress production of “Brilliant Traces” is open to high school-age students only.  This program was created, in part, because we started to notice that in our generation, college students were called young men and women, but today they are called college “kids.”  We would like to honor the idea that our high school students are on the verge of being independent young men and women ,and experiences like these help them move towards that important goal. 

And, quite frankly, the program appeals to me, because I grew up in a town smaller than Pagosa and equally isolated and I would have killed for something else to do with my friends beside drive by the haunted house for the 100th time in a week.

For the next two weeks, the Center for the Arts will be completely filled with these “fascinating aliens” as a middle school teacher I know refers to people under the age of 21.  Prom was the first to invade on April 30.  On May 1, young artists dropped off their visual art to grace the walls of the Center Gallery for the first week of May. At 5 p.m. on Friday, May 6,  Local ballet teacher Stephanie Jones presents her class recital on the theater stage and on Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, at 2 p.m. the Whatchamawhozit’s Kids Playshop class presents the self-written “Dream Magic.” 

I’m already exhausted, and the week has just begun.  Sounds like parenting again, doesn’t it?  But I have to admit these kids are wonderful to be around.  All of them.  The high schoolers proudly showing off the theme decorated toilets, the little ballerina whom I hope will stand on stage smiling an extra few minutes while her fellow dancers try to wave her off stage, the pride they have in seeing their art on the big walls of the gallery and the magic of a perfectly delivered play that only a week before was utter chaos. 

Well, as always, we invite you to join in and celebrate all the good art in the town.  This time around, the artists are just shorter than usual.

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