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In the past several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to see miracles take place at the Wilson Children’s Theatre in Oldtown, Salinas. During that time about 75 very young children participated in the presentation of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. No, the miracle was not that those youngsters performed their hearts out in song and enthusiastic movement. That kind of production is expected when we talk about ARIEL Theatrical. The miracle was in the courage and dedication witnessed when a few of those children, essentially shy and timid, took the stage wholeheartedly, rising above their fear and, with great enthusiasm, firmly presented the pieces that they had rehearsed for weeks.
One child, who had demonstrated full confidence and vitality when rehearsing with his group, froze completely when presented with the prospect of being one of those with the responsibility of wearing a microphone. His fright was evident the minute he was asked to sing alone during “mic check” at the technical rehearsal. Through quiet minutes with the director and the strong feeling of acceptance by his peers, this child took deep breaths, sang the lines, pulled it together and with a timid smile performed perfectly. For three additional microphone checks the process could be seen – first panic, then thinking through the things he had been taught, and finally steadying for performance. It was one of many miracles the staff at ARIEL witnesses every day.
Children, when they desire to participate at ARIEL, must sign a Code of Conduct Contract. In that contract we read, “I have chosen to be a part of an ARIEL program. I realize that I will need to bring positive energy and enthusiasm with me and be ready to learn.” On the first day of rehearsal some participants may be unsure of what that contract means, but as involvement increases, the team effect and ensemble goals create an environment where the success of each individual is tied to the success of the show as a whole.
The contract continues, “I respect myself for having made this commitment. I respect the others for doing the same. I respect the adults who are working so that I may have this experience. I will respect the building in which we meet and the property and beliefs of others.” Commitment to this code is another of the miracles to be witnessed at the Wilson Theatre. Short lessons and examples of this “caring and sharing” philosophy are interjected into the curriculum on a daily basis in order that the desired outcome becomes more than a contract to be signed when a show begins. It becomes a way to think about personal responsibility and influence. We often see students on their own initiative, picking up papers, straightening chairs, or replacing materials that are incorrectly put away.
Watching rehearsals another day, an older participant began to offer reasons why his performance was not as polished as he thought it should be. With a smile, the director reminded him that focusing on the character and performance is not always easy, but that learning to block out distractions is a skill needed both on stage and off. The miracle of that moment was that the excuses stopped and the young man said, “Thank you. I know.” Then he went on to work with more dedication and implemented the life lesson.
Watching a show at the Wilson Children’s Theatre is a lot of fun. The lobby is sparkling thanks to the dedication of student and parent volunteers. The sets are amazing in their detail and imaginative design. The costumes dazzle, well constructed. The seats are comfortable and the stage fully visible with no obstructions. The children are a delight with bright faces that glow with joy and the pleasure of performance. There is never a worry that material inappropriate for even the youngest child will be presented, and yet there are life lessons and real emotion to be felt as the play rushes to its climax.
However, the real miracles at ARIEL Theatrical take place in quiet moments when a costume is torn or when someone makes an innocent mistake or misses a stage cue. In those moments one can almost hear the words jumping from the written paragraph contained in the Code of Conduct, “I can do this (respect others) by conducting myself with courtesy and self-discipline. If a conflict should arise, I will try to be part of the solution rather than the problem.” In every crisis there are peers and volunteers solving problems with great attention and affection.
ARIEL Theatrical was created to be a “haven” where the highest standards of honor, integrity, morality and consideration of others may integrate with self-discipline and industry in order to prepare young people for a principled and productive life. At every turn, the miracle of that “haven” is in evidence. There is an atmosphere created and preserved throughout an ARIEL experience that reflects these ideals and principles.
The summer season is under way with several hundred students signed up to participate in workshops, recitals, and full musical productions. Although on vacation from school, these folks will be working hard to support each other in performance related life experiences. You have the opportunity to see miracles in progress. Don’t miss performances of PETER PAN July 30 through August 7. And put JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT on your calendar for August 20 through 28. Take part in the miracles that take place in your community. They will create a warm spot in your heart and fill you with joy.