March 2006: The Beginning
The main idea for a theatrical event performed by children emerged in March, 2006. From the very beginning it was known that I would become the director and I would be the one responsible for choosing the right play to be acted out on stage and for preparing the children to play their roles and carry out their assignments. Therefore, I had to outline the basic structure of the project. I had received no guidelines beforehand, which on the one hand made things easier, but on the other I knew I would be fully responsible for the final result. Fortunately, I could count on the support of the Director of Studies of our school, Mrs. Anna Roslon-Jedros and a colleague of mine, Mrs. Boguslawa Rosecka, who constantly monitored the progress and offered me their advice in organizing the event. The month ended with us organizing a casting session among the youngest students of our language school.
Although everything seemed both attractive and easy to organize beforehand, the reality proved to be a bit more complicated. The casting, which was supposed to be attended by numerous students, happened to be a total failure. Only three children appeared at first. It wasn’t until a few days later when more children expressed their willingness to participate. From the organisation point of view this made things even more difficult, since this caused problems in terms of finding times of rehearsals which suited everybody. Luckily, however, we managed to overcome the obstacles and set up a permanent day of our meetings on Saturday afternoons. Every workshop was supposed to last for about three hours.
April 2006: The Middle
The work had to begin with the very basics of the art of acting, as the children had never had any stage experience. Therefore it proved essential to provide our little actors with a handful of techniques for better pronunciation, voice modulation and voice projection, stage movement, etc. Moreover, or perhaps the most importantly, it turned out to be necessary to encourage the children and to explore their inborn but somewhat hidden self-confidence. Surprisingly enough, this appeared to be a relatively easy task as they were eager to participate and cooperate.
The drama exercises I used included, inter alia, expressing different emotions using one word only and body language. The children had to act out various situations as well. Another area of their activity was to work with their diaphragms, voice emission, enunciation etc. The whole workshop had to be rather brief as the deadline was closing in very quickly. Thus, we had to focus mainly on the script of the play and assigning the roles to different students. The main problem that appeared was absenteism of the children, but not to the extent that would seriously disrupt the process in the following weeks. Another obstacle was the quality of cooperation with parents, who didn’t seem to grasp the importance of their and their children’s presence at the rehearsals.
May 2006: Even More Middle
May was the month when the whole performance started to take its shape. The problem with absenteism, however, became more and more onerous as our work focused mainly on rehearsing the play. This was the time when each absence could deeply disorganize and slow down the progress. Whilst the time was ticking, the atmosphere was becoming palpably tense. The children continued their weekly exercises to improve their onstage skills but we made up our minds to sacrifice more time to trying out the roles.
It was high time we started thinking about scenography. It was all up to us, which on the one hand gave us a free choice but on the other caused enormous problems of dealing with all possible aspects of working with the stage itself. We gathered all the necessary materials, although we had to sttick to budget, and so started to assemble everything. We had to arrange more meetings in order to make the whole thing work. The parents weren’t too happy about that as though they hadn’t understood the value and importance of the endeavour. This, however, wasn’t the worst which was soon to come. Two main actors withdrew from the performance, so that we had to find replacements very quickly. So two people had to learn new roles, and some of the voices had to be recorded on tape and played from the backstage later on, during the performance.
As soon as the scenography was ready, another problem appeared: it had to be delivered to the place of performance. Fortunately we managed to find someone with a truck who agreed to transport the precious sets and other paraphernalia. Other key factors were the costumes and following a long debate we decided to borrow them, mainly because we found someone who had the needed items at our disposal.
June 2006: The Day
The performance was held during a festival to celebrate the Children’s Day, which in Poland takes place on July the 1st. The sky was a bit cloudy and we all were a bit frantic whether it would rain or not, as the performance was to be given outdoors. We managed to fix the scenography to some scaffolding set up by the stage crew before the event took place. Then the audience started gathering and the anxiety began to grow uncontrollably. It was everyone’s stage debut and no wonder we all had butterflies in our stomachs. The stagefright grew as the time of our performance drew close. Eventually our turn came. We did our very best and the audience gave us a standing ovation. We felt a sense of triumph and fulfillment. All the problems suddenly disappeared as though under the touch of a fairy’s magic wand.
Reflections and Parting Words
The success of the performance was the result of the hard work of many contributors. Among them are those whose role cannot be overestimated: the children themselves, the assistant directors, the sound engineer and the producer. Also you have to bear in mind we were all amateurs. What I will remember is that one doesn’t realize how hard theatrical and staging tasks are to accomplish until one actually goes through them and how important it is to rely on other people’s help and commitment. But the result proved that it was definitely worth taking up the challenge. So…
… good luck in trying your own performances!
Olga Ludyga is a graduate of the Institute of Pedagogy, University of Gdansk, Poland. In 2006 she was involved in staging a short playhouse performance in English with and for the children of the EMPiK Language School in Gdansk, Poland.