It's been years since I've worked with small children. Such fond memories I have of those times: showing up at work with mismatched shoes; apologizing to a mother for her son's broken tooth -- even though I had no idea it had even happened, forgetting to pick up my own sons at their little league practices; falling into bed, questioning why I was put on this earth. We all have our gifts . . .
But here I am again, directing "The Wizard of Oz" -- which includes lots and lots of "little people," third-fourth-fifth graders filled with energy and excitement and wonder. Fortunately, I have amazing help.
Susan Stern has done a masterful job choreographing their dances. Pat Harry has taught them to sing notes they never knew existed and Ellen Kendrick has labored over their creative costumes, designing and sewing many herself. My job, by comparison, should be simple: teach them how to act while they sing and dance and look darling in their outfits.
In our first rehearsal on stage, they needed to freeze. I explained that meant they had to act like statues. They assumed some exceptions were allowed: scratching their backsides, picking fuzzies off their socks, kicking their feet on the stage because "they're asleep and I can't feel them," making ringlets in their hair, and even counting the eyelashes of their dance partner. Needless to say, I did not allot enough time to practice this freeze move (or lack thereof, if you're picky).
Next lesson -- "Never, ever, ever touch the curtains." Hunter raised his hand. (Obviously needing clarification, I told myself.)
"Yes, Hunter?" I said.
"Um, then how am I supposed to take a shower?"
Everyone giggled. Now it was my turn to be funny.
"You're not," I answered.
The munchkins looked at each other, slightly terrified. There was obviously a generational gap when it came to humor.
Teaching them individual behaviors was something for which I was not prepared. For example, I had prepped them to come out of hiding and act "cautious" when seeing Dorothy for the first time.
That word was not in their vocabulary. The first munchkin decided to bite his fingernails. Every other munchkin did likewise.
When the witch entered, they all fell to the floor. I don't know why. I didn't want them to fall, but like the fingernail incident, they all followed the leader. We repeated that scene so many times that even the toughest boys were complaining their knees were broken.
I quickly learned that little people have an attention span of ... oh, let's say, two seconds. For example, in our last rehearsal I was, once again, trying to explain the difference between "cautious" and "terrified." All at once they began pointing past me, oohing at something.
Excitedly they began jumping up and down, and when I turned around, I saw, behind the seats at the rear of the auditorium, Sam (our scarecrow) apparently bored, walking across the room on his hands.
Of course, the only thing the munchkins saw were his legs up in the air, and they were so ecstatic that they, of course, had to try the feat, as well.
In spite of all of that, things have improved.
My shoes match, and up to this point everyone's teeth are in tact. I still go to bed questioning my life, but I now have a new- found admiration for elementary school teachers.
God equips all of us differently, and they have been given gifts that should be applauded: patience, creativity, compassion, adaptability and most impressively -- the ability to not threaten little kids when trying to be funny.