Moving forward into the last two months of the school year here in Cincinnati, I have four more Prelude plays to produce before May 26th. Both are with 3rd grade classes and tied into the curriculum, yet each one is very different. For two of these plays, I am focusing on the rivers of Asia and Australia, and so I have been doing a lot of research in these early stages to familiarize myself with some of the traditional folktales from these two continents. (Don’t get too impressed, I am by no means doing a comprehensive study, just a quick Google search or twelve!)
I found some great stories, although nothing that my students want to use. The process, however, reminded me of reading folktales from around the world as a kid in the set of Worldbook Childcraft books my parents had purchased sometime in the 70’s. I loved those books and would pore over them repeatedly. Each volume had a different focus. My favorite was actually called Mysteries and Legends. It introduced me to the Loch Ness Monster, Easter Island Statues, and the ruins of the legendary city of Troy. One volume taught me about holidays around the world, another explored mathematics, and yet another taught about different arts and crafts – I think it was called ‘Things To Do.’
It is funny where we find inspiration. Those books, which i haven’t looked at in years, have stuck with me and created curiosity and encouraged many of my studies and interests. (No, I have never gone to Scotland in search of ‘Nessie!’)
This got me thinking about influences. People always ask who your influences are. “Who are your heros?” Rarely do they ask, “what stories changed you?” I don’t mean to say that these Childcraft books formed me into the person I am, but they did do something to form my curiosity and learning. Do you feel a great sense of doing what’s right because it is honorable? Were you fascinated by the Arthurian legends or The Lord of The Rings? Are you a lover of the wilderness, or animals? Did you love Where the Red Fern Grows or My Side of the Mountain? Do you know which character you are in Little Women? Stories, both written and unwritten do so much to inform the person you become and thus, literacy is vastly important.
Theatre is in a unique position to assist in encouraging literacy because so much of theatre includes a literary heritage. Who didn’t have to read some Shakespeare in high school? But what about Tennessee Williams? Arthur Miller? Thorton Wilder? Let’s go even further out on the limb here . . . what about August Wilson? I love his work, and I almost prefer to read it than to see it onstage – but to hear those cadence-filled lines spoken!!! I think the literacy of theatre is highly underrated and overlooked, yet theatre has another, powerful draw. We also uphold oral storytelling traditions.
Many of my students look at me strangely when I remind them that not all stories are written down. Some don’t even have words! (Here I shall direct you back to Harpo Marx.) While doing my research on Australia, I learned that the oral storytelling tradition of the Aboriginees was so accurately and carefully handed down, that tales of lands that have sunken into the sea are, in fact, true! The geographical descriptions of these lands passed down match the topography of the land between the Austrailian shore and The Great Barrier Reef.
Don’t you just know that those people would play a mean game of ‘telephone?!’ (P.S. I can’t find that link at the moment, I’ll post it if I can find it again.)
So, I would ask you to look back at what stories have shaped you, along with the people who have done so. Were they books? Movies? Maybe even plays? Were you enthalled by The Nutcracker or Swan Lake? How do you feel aboutHandel’s Messiah orBeethoven’s Fifth? Just something to think about this National Arts Day.
Last thought – Ernest Hemingway’s shortest story ever:
How’s that for the power of words?