Setting Education To Music

They Couldn't Find Play They Wanted, So Teachers Penned Own Musical

April 12, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

When three teachers from Clarksville Middle School got together lastsummer to choose a school play for this year, they couldn't find anything they liked.

Music teacher Joanne L. Worthington wanted a musical within the range of young adolescents' voices.

Gifted and talented resource teacher Annette R. Kuperman wanted an educational play.

Language arts teacher Patricia E. Holy wanted to show the interrelationships of subjects such as language arts and social studies.

The three teachers got the musical they wanted by writing their own.

"Heir Travel," billed as a "multicultural musical melodrama," was presented last week to students in three daytime performances and to their parents in one evening performance.

"It was creative," said sixth-grader Cheryl Young, 12, after seeing the production. "I give it two thumbs up."

The plot centers on a treasure hunt that takes a 19th-century family through seven foreign countries in search of the fortune left to them by an eccentric aunt.

They are accompanied on the hot air balloon journey by their nephew Miguel, who lived and traveled with his aunt and who introduces the snobbish, ignorant family to cultures outside their small Boston circle. Comic relief is provided by the family's butler and maid, who follow in hope of being first to find the fortune.

"We were trying to incorporate humor toward a middle school audience, but you have to be careful how you do your humor," Worthington said.

The teachers flavored the play with a groaner puns and country-by-country sight gags as the maid and butler turn up in hopelessly inappropriate costumes.

Another funny moment comes when the family father, John Herbert, approaches a spear-carrying Masai hunter in Kenya and announces nervously, "Me friend. Me John."

The hunter offers a handshake. "Oh, how nice to meet you," he says.

The visits to each nation include dancesand songs in the language of that country, "Rain Song" in Japan, "EsTonen die Lieder" in Germany, a round dance in Russia.

Facts about food, customs and economic conditions are woven into the dialogue as the family makes its way to Brazil, Kenya, Palestine, Italy, Germany, Russia and Japan. The travelers master the toast, "L'chayim," or "to life," in Palestine, ride a gondola in Venice and learn of the suffering of peasants under Czar Alexander III in Russia.

The studentactors said the play was fun, although memorizing lines got a littleboring.

"I have one line, and I just stand there and practice andpractice it," said Kristi McCulloch, 13, an eighth-grader. Kristi sang in the chorus and portrayed a dutiful Japanese daughter. Her speaking line was "Domo arigato," or "thank you."

Student actors reported that the teachers "stressed out" occasionally, particularly on theFriday when the students gave a dress rehearsal for Pointers Run Elementary, then spent five hours in additional rehearsals. But sending out for pizza saved the day.

The actors said they appreciate theirteachers' efforts.

"They went through a lot of trouble," said Evan Samuels, 12, a seventh-grader.

"And that makes us want to take our time and be the best we can," added eighth-grader Karyn Casper, 13.

Actors had to audition. The teachers judged students individually, then added up the total scores, giving eighth-graders an edge because it is their final year at the school.

Stage crew members had to apply by listing qualifications and explaining why they wanted to be involved in the play. The teachers received 120 applications for 24stage crew jobs.

Cast and crew totaled 60 students. Other students painted scenery during activities periods, and parents were pressedinto service to make costumes and bring food for the "multicultural feast" that preceded the performances.

The teachers said they spent most of their $1,800 budget for the production on material for costumes and scenery.

They have copyrighted the show, and Worthington has talked to music teachers in other middle schools about producing it. Costumes will be preserved in boxes that teachers in other countyschools can borrow for classes on the seven countries visited in theplay.

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