It escaped local media attention that I was trapped for two hours on a recent Tuesday night in a choir room with 30 middle school boys.
Imagine sharing a cage full of rabid squirrels with opposable thumbs—it was worse. Partially my fault for giving in to misguided guilt, I volunteered to chaperone during play rehearsals. On my tour of duty, I was asked to contain the hyperactive thespians and to basically keep boys from “being boys”—as if evolutionary psychology was based on a hunch. I removed contraband electronics, non-sanctioned snacks, a pencil-shiv, and even disarmed a method actor brandishing a repurposed tissue box-turned-machete. During the choir room stand-off, I could not begin to fathom how these maniacs were going to pull off the musical production of Alice in Wonderland Jr.
Well, miracles do happen.
On opening night, I sat up front and anxiously prayed for each mini-actor to become reincarnated as Liza Minnelli or Joel Grey. When the lights went up and the action unfolded, you could have scraped my jaw off the auditorium carpet. I was fully expecting the boys I had chaperoned to turn the show into a circus, but man (or should I say, boy) was I wrong.
I am a tough sell when it comes to sitting through musicals, and especially youth theater, but the Saxe students pulled together a flawless and energetic show. And unlike the time I tried to commando crawl out of a Broadway performance of The Phantom of the Opera, I was fully engaged and toe-tapped along to Saxe’s version of Alice in Wonderland.
The talented singers, dancers and actors made me thankful that not everyone in New Canaan has to be an athlete.
With so much hype surrounding youth sports, it is a comfort to know that there is another sub-community, alive and well, and also developing talent—even triple threats. Singers, dancers, actors took to the stage with poise and confidence that any athlete would need to nail a buzzer beater or to strike a game-winning penalty kick. These theater kids had ice in their veins and they came to play.
And good for them—our community is rich with talent, both on and off the athletic fields.
My son, who dabbles in sports and will likely never sign a letter of intent for a college team, decided to join the set-design crew and running crew for the show. After all the time he has spent on fields, courts and turf, I have never seen him more committed, enthused and fulfilled than by his role as crew member. It is refreshing that his participation behind the scenes was not about seeking the glory of the bright lights or the adrenaline rush from audience feedback. He felt a sense of pride and accomplishment from being a vital part of the production team. So vital, in fact, that during rehearsal, a huge set piece rolled over his toe, leaving it pretty mangled and bloody, but his “show-must-go-on” attitude kicked in and he powered through. No need to “rub some dirt on it,” we are the-a-ter people now. Break a leg and take a toe.
The team of directors, Saxe staff members, musicians and parent volunteers need to be commended. If they can take a crazy pack of off the wall 5th- and 6th-graders and channel their intense, frenetic energy into something meaningful, then anything is possible.
I Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da-dare-you to find a better middle school theater program in Connecticut.
And while I’m at it, I challenge anyone to chaperone them during rehearsals—it’s an education.