Thursday, June 30, 2011

One World, Many Stories, Five People, Five Suitcases, Twenty Times

Story:  Summer Reading Program Promotional Skit
Puppets:  Snake, Alligators
Props:  Suitcases, Inflatable Sharks, Plunger, Toilet Brush, Elmo...really just too many to mention.
Presenters:  Five
Audience:  School-Age (K-5)

Like many Children’s Departments, we spent a ton of time and energy in June vising schools to promote our Summer Reading Program this time of year. Our method is to develop a 15-20 minute skit that plays on the theme, entertains grades K-5, and includes the most important bits about our Summer Program. All five of us Youth Services staff (Brad, Shannon, Sheila, Terri, and myself) took part
in the planning and presentation. You can view the video of it here.   We wound up performing it 20 times (4 family storytimes and 16 at primary schools) for about 1,700 people, and I’m fascinated by the many steps and stages we went through from the first moment of planning until the last performance.  Here are 12 steps along the way:

1: Come up with a general concept: We all have suitcases, we travel around the world, our
suitcases get mixed up, funny things happen.

2: Walk through it and flesh it out: We each go somewhere (Rain Forest, for one example), we run into trouble (Snake puppet), we reach into our suitcase to get something to save us (like a net for Snake), but instead we find someone else’s thing (snowballs that were meant to be used in Antarctica).

3: Write a rough script with that pattern and filling in the pieces.

4: Walk through it again and punch it up. Around this point we came up with two key elements. One of us (Brad) has to stay behind and take care of things (specifically: clean toilets, since showing a picture of a toilet works equally well with grades K-5), so he is the trickster who switches our suitcases. Also, he’ll play a final trick on all of us: Pop out of his own suitcase and squirt us all and the audience with silly string.

5: Write up an updated version, knowing by now that it’s going to be changed a bunch still, but some of us (me for one) just need those written down words.

6: Walk through it again, this time with props and our backdrop (a big trifold structure with a world map). At this point it still needs work, but since Family Storytime start in ten minutes, it’s on to step 7…

7: Perform a rough version for our last Family Storytimes of the spring. We use our four performances to work out the kinks, get some new ideas, and learn our parts. It’s a little tricky, since we develop it for K-5, not 3-5 years, but as Terri puts it: "The parents get the information, and the kids just like to watch us doing stuff." Meanwhile, we add more touches. For example, reaching a snake over the edge to hiss at Sheila is okay, but throwing it over, then pulling it back by the tip of the tail, is better.

8: Perform for real for all 36 classes in 9 sessions at one primary school (in one day). Kind of grueling, but great fun, especially because they seem to enjoy it and retain the information pretty well. And Brad popping out of the suitcase surprises them every time. We cut holes in an old suitcase and an old card table, he secretly climbs underneath, and when we open the suitcase with plans to play a trick on him, he gets us good.

9: Make minor changes during the 5 minutes between each performance. We slice and shorten for the first few, since we run long and have little or no time for questions…the cuts are all good ones, though, and we stay on time most of the rest of the way. We add more touches: For example: Brad (toilet cleaner, remember) walks out with a little plunger and finds new ways to use the prop each time (as a megaphone, balanced on his head, as something to drink from…)

10: Perform another 7 times at our other elementary school over the next two days. By now we’ve got it pretty well down. One presentation got filmed by our local cable company, and we put that version on our City website, with a link from our library webpage. 

11: Fiddle with it right to the end. I’ve been attacked by inflatable sharks and whack them with a brick 17 times when I realize it will be even funnier to whack them with a little stuffed Elmo for the last 3 times instead (if you want to know why those are in my suitcase you’ll have to watch the video). And after taking the same trip 19 times Sheila and I decided we wanted to switch, so I went to the rain forest and she took the ocean cruise and got to smack sharks.

12: Back at the library, we’re seeing what we hoped for: Lots of kids saying: “I saw you at my school,” and I’m sure our sign-ups and program attendance will be great. We put a ton of staff hours and a ton of energy into planning, practicing, and presenting, but the payoffs are worth it: High Summer Reading Program sign-ups and Program attendance are obvious goals, but even more important, we see 1,600+ kids who are reminded that the library is a fun place, the staff are nice (and they know our faces and maybe our names), and that reading is cool.

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