My colleague popped in my room the other day to share his experience using my Sleepy Hollow play. His hope is to stage a simple production for Halloween, but after the first reading, he very nearly punted. His class of Covid-delayed readers, he said, could barely get through the script. Still, rather than thinking the script is too difficult, he stuck with it. A second reading was better—especially after he’d reviewed a few key vocabulary words. Then, after sharing segments from the 1949 Sleepy Hollow Disney cartoon (Ichabod & Mr. Toad), the class bought-in and were soon fighting over who’d get to be Knickerbocker, Brom Bones, and Gunpowder. Now they’re practicing independently, their enthusiasm lending itself to improved fluency.
I share this because this is the way read aloud plays work. The magic comes when scripts are read multiple times. Of course they’ll slog through the first reading, but when they read it repetitively, their fluency improves (dare I say) dramatically. I’d go so far as to say we ought to be having our kids read everything twice: every play, every article, every chapter of every book. As Narnia author C.S. Lewis once said, “If you haven’t read a book at least twice, you haven’t read it.” The thing about a play is that kids are willing to read it over and over again.
In researching prospective new plays to share this Christmas, I came across the work of Walter Ben Hare. Back in 1917 he wrote a book called The White Christmas and Other Merry Christmas Plays. His work is too dated to re-use, but the notes he included in the prologue are charming and spot-on.
“The director’s aim should be to establish a happy co-operation with the players that will make the whole production, rehearsals, dress rehearsals and final performance, a series of good times crowned by a happy, if not perfect, production,” says Hare. “The director should always strive to be cheerful and happy, ever ready to give advice and ever ready to ask for advice, even from the youngest players. Take them into your confidence. Discuss color schemes, costuming, property making, lighting and scenic effects with your actors.”
I like that! Producing a play should be fun. It’s not a time to be handing out letter grades, nor a time to channel your inner Kubrick. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if the play turns out to be a “perfect production,” as Ben Hare would have you aim. A “happy” performance is the greater goal!
That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Your students will stumble. They’ll stutter. They’ll leave their scripts at home. But some tenacity and determination like that of my colleague will be worth it in the end. As Hare concludes, “The pleasure of the work and the pride in a production well done, will amply repay an ungrudging lavishment of time and labor.”
For a pleasurable production this Halloween, Veterans’ Day, or Christmas, start with a visit to my storefront at TpT or Etsy. Most were originally published in Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, so you know they’re of the highest quality.