If you have visited our website today, you will have no doubt noticed that we have been quite busy here at ETC – new look, new website, new email addresses- but the essentials of who we are haven’t changed a bit. For the Education Department, that means we are still dedicated to helping students in the Greater Cincinnati area discover and harness their own creative voice.
Since the Fairy Godmother Program wrapped up in December, Lara and I have worked with seven different classes to create their own original plays through ETC’s Prelude Program. These plays have included some of the most original characters I have ever encountered, such as The Super Galactic Kicking Cow (more on SGKC later) and a magic bunny named Abby who wages battle on a fire-breathing dragon and an evil ghost.
Yet, as always, these creative characters and incredible situations provide an exciting backdrop for the real story and what the kids REALLY want to say, whether they realize it or not.
Case in point: during the brainstorming process with the students at the Academy of World Languages, Lara and I were perplexed by an unusual commonality amongst the stories being created. A key element in several of the plays was that a character was injured during the action of the story. One class created a magic doctor who healed broken bones with the wave of a wand. Another class imagined a young inventor who created a healing device small enough to keep in her pocket. But the one that confused me the most involved another character with a badly broken leg.
He ended up in the hospital with an army of doctors, nurses, and concerned visitors, yet every time that I asked the kids what happened next in the story, the answer was the same: “They come back and visit him the next day.” “But then what?” I pressured. “They come back the next day to visit him,” was the reply. This went on and on in a very puzzling cycle. I had to tell the kids that something else had to happen in the story – we needed a resolution. They all seemed confused, but finally, we carried on the action with the other characters while our injured boy healed in the hospital.
As we left the school, Lara and I both agreed this was strange. Why did they seem unsure of what would happen next to the boy? It was just a broken leg, so he would heal, right? The answer came later that week from the teacher of another class when I asked another question: what were all of these kids from around the world doing in Cincinnati? Did their parents work for P&G or another international corporation? The teacher explained that many of the students either had siblings or were themselves patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
It wasn’t until later that I put it all together. The students got caught in a loop of the characters visiting the hospital because they didn’t know what happened next. For many of these kids, illness is an everyday thing, and there may be no end in sight. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be the main idea of the play we were writing, this experience had seeped its way into our story. Maybe it gave them hope to see our character return to the park with his friends, happy and healthy and ready to join in the soccer game.
I’ve been working as an arts educator for over ten years now, and I’ve been doing the Prelude Program for five, but it still never fails to astonish me how often what I refer to as “the side story” in a play is truly compelling. It is rarely outlined by the students, but it is almost always there, a character or event in which children can obliquely refer to the social issues that adults contemplate on a regular basis – police relations, economic troubles, absent fathers, bullying – and say their piece. It is this facet of the Prelude Program that I consider its true strength, and I love and cherish being a part of it.
P.S. – Want to know more about the Super Galactic Kicking Cow and the rest of our grand adventures in Education from the last few months? Lara and I will be updating the blog with more of our collected stories very soon, so stay tuned!