Paula Morell and I will facilitate an autobiographical writing and performance workshop for FREE! Hope you can make it!
Wildwood Park for the Arts has commissioned me to write their children's educational theatre tour. The tour will take place in early spring 2012. Artistic director Cliff Baker requested the play focus on the seed to plate idea.
I have completed the rough draft based on a one page story by my sister-in-law, Emily Hardin. The play focuses on a young girl, Lily, who loves vegging out in front of the TV with her favorite junk foods. Huck, a smarmy kid-friendly tv food spokesperson, insures that Lily's love of junk foods continues to grow. Over the summer, Lily stays on her Grandma Francis' farm. Grandma Francis grows a lot of what she eats and doesn't have a TV. Though Lily wins the opportunity to be a TV spokesperson along side Huck and can now eat as much junk food as she wants, she feels differently. Lily must choose between her love of junk food and the healthy choices she learned to make at Grandma Francis' farm.
I will continue to work on the play over the next few months until the tour begins!
"I'm the judge."
"Julie is my favorite."
"Miss April, I love you."
--Just a taste of what I heard on my first visit to Allison Thompson's first grade class at Eastside Elementary in Cabot, AR. I will make two more visits in preparation for writing a Pre-K-1st grade *Choosing Sides*--a series of interactive, age-specific plays that explore bullying. This project is an on-going collaboration between Pulaski Technical College and SafePlaces with funding through the Arkansas Arts Council. Even with only one visit, I see that issues around bullying at the pre-K level are both different and very much the same from issues around bullying at the middle school level.
On my initial visit, I spent about 15 minutes observing the students. They were free-drawing on individual eraser boards. I heard multiple students repeating: "I'm the judge." When I asked Ms. Thompson about this, she said the students were referring to the judge of their artistic works. "Did they come up with this on their own?, " I asked. She nodded yes and explained they are very competitive.
I also noticed the idea of favor at play--being in each other's favor and in the authority figure's favor. One student drew a picture declaring her favoritism for another student...who just happened to be the designated "judge." And, of course, there were a few students who drew pictures for me. At an earlier time in my career, I would have been flattered. Now, I feel more concerned that we may inadvertently train our children to create their idea of what WE want to see as opposed to using their free drawing time to create their own story on the canvas.
I then facilitated the students in a conversation about bullying--What is a bully? What is a friend? What can your friend say to make you really happy? What can a friend say to make you really sad? I forget how hurtful children this age can be--how they sometimes wield the aforementioned idea of favor to achieve power. I was also struck by their idea of what a bully looks like in the role-on-the-wall exercise. In role-on-the wall, you draw an outline of the character--in this case a bully. Then you ask the students what the character looks like and write that on the outside; what they feel like and write that on the inside. Admittedly, the students had a hard time with this rather abstract exercise. However, it was interesting to hear that the bully wears black and has lots of skulls on his/her clothing...especially after their discussion of how their own friends can hurt them. They don't seem to realize that their friends can also be bullies because bullying is about behavior.
This initial visit definitely reminded me of my work in Ms. Bell's class at Horace Mann Middle School in Little Rock. Middle school students also wield favor for power. Of course, in middle school, you begin to see the seeds of dating violence. At the first grade level, it is truly about friendship. I return to Cabot today with a drawing exercise in which students will draw a picture of a time when they have been bullied. I will then look for similarities to identify common ways of bullying to include in Choosing Sides.
UALR provided our cast and crew with the opportunity to meet *For Colored Girls* playwright Ntzoke Shange on Thursday night. As part of their Black History Month celebrations, UALR invited Shange down for a reading and book signing. Shange read several selections from *For Colored Girls* and her other works. It was exciting for me to see our actors with her because some of our cast members connect so deeply with her work. One of our ladies slipped out with her on a smoke break to sneak a hug and a picture. Several of our ladies hugged her with the deep gratitude that only a source of profound inspiration deserves. It was indeed a special night that reinforced our desire to honor Shange's beautiful words.
Over spring break, I will facilitate a cool camp for 3rd-6th graders at Trike Theatre in Bentonville, AR. We will create a play based on crazy tabloid headlines.
Here's the link:
About the Author: April Gentry-Sutterfield is a director, deviser, educator, and mom who uses theatre as a tool for social justice, education, and community engagement.