Sunday, June 10, 2007

Amateur Literary Theatricals

I missed MotherReader's 48-hour Book Challenge on account of a long-planned multi-family beach weekend. Fortunately, we had a great time. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly on the Pacific Northwest coast), it poured rain for most of Saturday. I spent a chunk of that afternoon in a 15-foot-diameter yurt in the company of seven charming 3-to-7-year-olds, whose good humor was considerable despite the inclement weather.

To pass the time, we acted out Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, adapted from the version retold by Eric Kimmel. A velveteen pillow served as the eponymous rock, and the six-and-seven-year-olds took turns--mostly harmoniously--playing the plum roles of trickster Anansi and the quietly clever Little Bush Deer. After a couple of go-rounds, the older kids were even able to take my place as Narrator, moving the action along with explanatory phrases like "So Anansi and Lion went walking, walking, walking, in the cool forest, until Anansi led Lion to a certain place..." whereupon Anansi would point out the pillow and Lion would utter the fateful words "Oh, my, isn't that a strange moss-covered rock!" Followed quickly by everyone's favorite part: Lion (or whichever animal) falling down Klonk! on the futon, only to wake up to a spinning head and the unpleasant discovery that Anansi had stolen all the fruit from her house.

We stuck to the basic story line, but improvisation abounded. The kids picked what animals they wanted to play, and what (invisible) fruit Anansi would steal from their (invisible) houses. One four-year-old objected gently that Hippo should be walking through the water, not the woods, since hippos liked to stay in the water. Little Bush Deer occasionally acquired a Little Bush Deer Little Brother, who stayed under the bed and didn't take part in the tricking and counter-tricking. One particularly gifted comic actress taking her turn as Anansi ad-libbed an epilogue: after the denouement, in which she discovered that Little Bush Deer had organized the other animals to steal their fruit back, she shrugged, reached under a (real) grocery bag, declared "Oh, well, at least I still have this apple!" and mimed a big, juicy bite.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying afternoon. I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in charge of a group of six or seven or ten kids with no props and no preparation.

A couple of other folktales that lend themselves to amateur theatricals:

It Could Always Be Worse!
Retold by Margot Zemach. We did this one at last year's beach weekend; the three oldest kids gleefully took on the roles of a trio of rabbis proclaiming, from the top bunk, that the poor unfortunate man (played by me) should bring more and more animals (played by other game grownups) into his house. The story was definitely enhanced by the real-life crowded conditions of the yurt in which we were acting it. If you have kids play the animals and family members (which I've done a few times with classes) care needs to be taken when laying out the rules to ensure that no actual injurious mayhem ensues. "No touching anyone, no yelling, and stop when you see the signal" are useful guidelines.

Mabela the Clever
, retold by Margaret Macdonald. This one has two major parts: Mabela and the cat. There's also Mabela's father, and a flexible number of mice, who need to march along, sing a refrain, and get fo-feng!ed by the cat until Mabela rescues everyone. (In the story, the cat plucks each mouse into a bag, which isn't really practical to reproduce exactly; the fo-fenging would probably best be dramatized by having the actors move to a couch or rug on the sidelines).

It's nice to have time to act these out several times, so that everyone who wants to has a turn at the best parts. It's also highly recommended that the drama session be followed by naptime, at least for the adults involved.

1 comment:

rachel said...

Byron LOVES Kimmel's Anansi books, particularly the talking melon one.