Monday, January 24, 2011

Two Bad Ants, Three Tellers, and One Laptop

Story: Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
Props: Two pairs of antennae or something to suggest ants
Technology: Laptop + Projector
Presnters: One Narrator, two others acting out Ants
Audience: K-2 grades

Our “Bug Tales” program for grades K-2 included an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants. His illustrations for this are great, but too small for our 100+ kids, so we projected images onto our screen using a laptop, projector, and PowerPoint. Projecting Van Allsburg's drawings onto the screen just didn't work well, so we dropped that idea and used photos, using these to support the central hook of the book: when the ants visit a kitchen they see things that we recognize, but they don’t. So a cup of coffee is a lake and a socket is a cave. Because they’re ant-sized. So the narrator told the bare bones of the story, while the two ants silently acted out the appropriate motions, and at the same time the image on the screen revealed the ants’ mistake. Easier to show than to tell, so here are a couple examples:

Narrator: The ants marched through forests of tall green trees.
Ants: March playfully across the stage.
Image: A photograph of a field of grass.

Narrator: The ants were dropped into a hot lake of brown water.
Ants: Pretend to swim desperately.
Image: A cup of coffee.

I was a little worried that this wouldn’t quite come together, but the audience totally got it. They laughed at the ants’ antics, guessed what the next image would be, and followed the story just fine. The two silent ants really made this story work. It could be done with one person, who could narrate and do the actions of one ant (to represent both), but not as effectively I think. I’ve done the story solo to a smaller group, using two ant hand puppets and instead of images on a screen, pulling the real objects (toaster, brick, coffee cup) out of a bag. Pretty successful, but the group performance was much more engaging. It helps to work with Terri and Sheila who are wonderful at physical comedy and make everything look so fun.

Finding matching images is really not that hard these days thanks to the web. I never did find a garbage disposal that worked well, so we cut that incident. Showing a photo of a shiny toaster, followed by one of the red-hot insides of a toaster, was especially effective. My image-searching philosophy is to use the first one that works…I don’t like to spend a ton of time on it, and if it requires more I figure it just might not be worth it.

I made a brief attempt to include sounds in the PowerPoint, searching for garbage disposal, flowing faucet, and an explosion (when the wet ants are shot out of the light socket), but it was harder to find just right ones, plus it felt like it might be a distraction….maybe next time. My co-worker Brad uses sound very effectively in his screen/projector version of The Wizard, the Fairy, and the Magic Chicken by Helen Lester. He tells it with images on the screen, and when the characters finally vanquish the monsters with thunder, lightning, and rain, some very loud thunder plays….the kids love it. So I’m keeping an ear open for stories that would work well with sound as well as images. But for Two Bad Ants, I thought the narration, acting out, and images on the screen worked just about right.

Our "Bug Tales" program for K-2 also included Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott, with details in a separate post.

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