Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mel's Good Deed of the Day

As many of you probably know, in my free time, I do a lot of theatre. (In my non-free time, I do a lot of theatre, too, since I'm a high school drama teacher/director, but that's beside the point) For the past 4 years or so, I've been involved in a local theatre company here in Galesburg. A couple weeks ago, our artistic director Gary received a phone call from the Knox County Housing Authority which manages the local public housing complexes. They wanted us to come and spend an afternoon playing theatre games with the kids (aged about 6-10) who live in the two local housing complexes. Of course, Gary agreed. Of course, very few people volunteered to help out with this, so it ended up being me, Gary, and another actor (and former student of mine) named Matt who trekked over to "the projects" today to work with this group of kids.

Going in, I was pretty excited. I directed a summer theatre camp last summer, so I have a ton of fun theatre games to teach these kids. And I also felt really good about giving these kids something fun and productive to do on a very hot Wednesday afternoon. (It was over 90 degrees when I pulled up outside the complex community center.) We walked in as the kids were sitting down to lunch (hot dogs and potato chips -- mmm!) and there were two things that we noticed immediately -- it was a cacophony of shrieks and noises and we were the only white faces in the room outside of the woman who had called us and the police officer who volunteers his time to help out. It was, to me, a sad commentary on the great income discrepency between the races in our country, and I couldn't help but wonder what the future held for these kids. Many of them already looked pretty beaten down and defeated by life -- and they aren't even 10 yet.

We started our program for the day out with Gary performing a magic show for the kids which kept them pretty mesmerized and left them with blown minds. We then broke the kids up in two groups (with us keeping the youngest and the older group going over to the nearby park with the police officer volunteer and a couple parent volunteers) and started with some basic theatre games. I was in charge of this portion, and I had decided to keep things pretty simple since none of these kids had a lot of theatre experience and asking them to play a complicated character improv at the age of 7 might have been too much. As it was, a simple game of "Zip Zap Zop" was asking a little much. We started off with a couple good energy builders -- one that focuses on vocal energy where the kids just keep repeating, "Gee whiz, we're energized," getting progressively louder each time they say it and a new one I found online recently called "Human Bop-It" where the kids perform various movements on command to music. I chose "Blitzgrieg Bop" by the Ramones for our Bop-It music. You can take the girl out of the punk, but you can't take the punk out of the girl. :)

All in all, it was a lot of fun despite the fact that we were dealing with a room full of kids with no focus. Just keeping them on task was a Herculean task. But at the end of the day, it was a good feeling seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids as they left the room and thinking that maybe one of them just might give theatre a try when it presents itself.

1 comment:

Danielle Mari said...

What a fantastic experience-- for you AND for them! Maybe it can become a regular thing? You inspire me to want to go and find a place to volunteer around here. And improv is such a great activity... helps develop focus, creative problem-solving, self-confidence...
OK. I'll get off my soap box.