Arts Integration / Education / Prelude Program

A Bully of a Prelude

Last weekend, I began an exciting new partnership for our Education Outreach programs. We are taking our popular Prelude Program to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to write, design, and produce a short film on bullying as part of their April Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month programming. This film will be broadcast in the waiting rooms of CCHMC and will published on our ETC Youtube Channel as well.

Students await their final performance in an ETC Prelude Program residency.

Students await their final performance in an ETC Prelude Program residency.

Prelude is always a challenging program because of its very nature. One of the rules of Prelude is that the teachers, the kids, and I all get equal say in the project. It is fully collaborative, and though I always have a roadmap of how to get from Point A to Point B, I never know what the journey, or even the destination, has in store. That is to say I never know what the play, or in this case screenplay, will really feature as far as characters, costumes, sets, or props. This has meant that I have gone into classrooms and had to build things like waterfalls, time machines, trees that grow candy, and Godzilla-like Sour Pickles (don’t ask!) on a shoestring budget and a very limited amount of time. Naturally, these things are campy and child-like and will never find their way into the Smithsonian, but they are a window into the creativity and mindset of the kids.  While these are the fun and flashy aspects of Prelude, they are not what keeps me in love with this program.

At the end of the day, it is the kids and the smaller pieces of themselves that they inject into the play and the process that remind me how important Prelude and programs like it are. It gives kids a forum to explore issue that are on their minds, such as hunger or absentee fathers, without making these issues the major focus of the story.

For example, that Godzilla-like Sour Pickle I mentioned? That was part of a play that had a group of scientists as the main characters. Our hero was a smart, but clumsy scientist whose father was famous for his own research. The father was dismissive of the son, and wasn’t proud of him. When this idea of a distant father came up while we were writing this play, we got to explore the reasons that fathers might have a difficult relationship with their children. While we chose the option that father was famous and embarrassed by his son for this play, the list of possibilities included divorce, drug abuse, apathy, and even incarceration.  Having such a frank discussion with a room full of third graders is powerful, in that we aren’t discussing them and their realities, but our CHARACTERS and what THEY do and feel. That distinction makes the conversation safe for the kids and THAT is what keeps me in love with Prelude.

Thus, I am hopeful that this new anti-bullying project with the incredible folks at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital will inspire similar honest discussions on this very important topic among kids, families, and the community. At the very least, I have learned a lot from my research so far, and I’m looking forward to sharing these tips and resources with you!  Stay tuned to our Building Character Blog, the ETC website and our Facebook page and Twitter feed (@EnsembleCincy) for a link to the finished video in April, and in the meantime follow me on Twitter (@AKRuggaber) to keep an eye on all things Education Outreach at ETC!

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