Today, I saw a production that had me laughing, literally crying, rocking, smiling and cheering. I wasn’t anywhere near Broadway or even Rome. I was in the charming little theatre space below the new church – L’Auditorium Parrocchiale S. Giuseppe Moscati in Pontelandolfo (BN). Those of you who know me – or worse yet – have gone to the theatre with me know that I have the attention span of a gnat and am critical of anything that doesn’t flow. Today, my attention was held from the moment I entered the theater.
This morning, however, having been to numerous badly done school plays, overly long boring dance recitals I was not looking forward to the show. “Do I have to go? Yes, you have to go. You said you would go. But a preschool and kindergarten play… ” Putting on my big girl pants I went. Going down the steps to the theatre, rock and roll children’s music had me energized – wait a minute – a teacher thought to use pre-show music to set the tone! Right on! The teachers of the Scuola dell’Infanzia di Pontelandolfo have theater in their bones. The show, Paese Mio Che Stai Sulla Collina (My Town on the Hill), had all the trappings of really good children’s theater. Unlike other school events I have seen here, this was a well scripted production. It dealt with the immigration of Pontelandolfese to America and the traditions they took and those they left behind. The teachers knew how to use the children’s strengths and weaknesses to the best advantage of the overall production.
Now you know that every little 4, 5 & maybe 6 year old waiting backstage was dying to know if their family was there. They were probably jigging and wiggling with anticipation. The creative teachers used that wiggle jiggle! The reason for the pre-show rock and roll was not only to energize the crowd but to give every little actor a chance to check out the crowd. A little face would appear in the crack in the curtain – the first time it happened I thought “Oh, Oh, that kid is in trouble.” Then the curtain opened just enough for the little tyke to prance and dance for 20 seconds while his/her relatives cheered. That hip hopper left and seconds later a different face appeared, looked and danced. This pre-show was brilliant for the mini actors and the worried parents. Everybody got to check out everybody else.
The set was painted by a teacher. Center stage is the village’s iconic tower and fountain. The wings on either side represented places that the immigrants travelled to. (There will not be any pictures of children. Without a signed release from a parent that would be a yucky no, no.)
What amazed me, is that this is a public nursery, pre-K, K school and the actors memorized lines in Italian, English and the Pontelandolfo Dialect. Was the English pronunciation perfect – no – did they try their damnedest – yes. My niece and nephew went to a Waldorf school and children there leaned how to memorize. This old school method really works and public schools in the USA should think about it. The show ran about 45 minutes and the dialogue and singing was well disbursed among the 15 or so 5/6 year old actors. The pre-school children were in dances and songs – including the finale sung in English. Again, the teachers worked with the children’s strengths and understood how to capitalize on those strengths.
Traditional dances and songs were woven into the storyline. Having seen the town’s dance company perform, I knew that the dances had been simplified – again a move by a good arts teacher. There was some side-coaching but generally the production ran smoothly. (No little people stood there frozen in fear scrunching up their skirts.)
The scene that had me rolling on the floor took place in Waterbury, Connecticut. The immigrants, now living in an American city, were sitting around the breakfast table in robes, curlers and slippers talking about how great the USA was – mostly in English. Suddenly, they got the itch to travel back to Pontelandolfo and visit. With a quick change they appeared in Pontelandolfo in sun glasses, shorts, cameras dangling and hoisting suitcases. They were greeted by locals and stood there looking stunned. A look I have seen on Pontelandolfese who return to Pontelandolfo speaking the ancient Italian dialect of their grandparents – a dialect that has evolved. Today, most people speak Italian.
I do not know the names of the faculty. They all should be commended! The arts galvanize and unite a community. Good teachers of the arts give children a gift of a lifetime. The confidence that has been imbued in these little actors and the visible lack of fear of performing is a gift that will keep on giving throughout their lives.