Two Performances of The Wild and Wonderful Monkey King
Twice this week our 6th graders (along with a few of their 7th grade friends) had the opportunity to thrill and amaze audiences with their production of the Wild and Wonderful Monkey King! This musical theatrical production was created by a team of teachers and experts to perfectly match the 6th graders and their expedition of Journeys Across Continents: The Silk Road.
Co-Director Jeanne Segal brought the story of the Monkey King to American Repertory Theater education director Brendan Shea and asked him to write a script that would highlight all 42 students in speaking roles. Along with fellow Co-Director and Humanities teacher Joyce Ting, she brought in experts to immerse the students in Chinese traditions of dance, music, martial arts and story-telling. Resident Artist Chris Schroeder was commissioned to write a music score suitable for a wide range of abilities so all our 6th graders could take their turn in the “pit” orchestra.
For Act 1, 6A students played (in costume) in the pit orchestra while their classmates in 6B began to tell the story of Monkey King’s birth and first adventures. In order to give all students a role and yet still tell the story in a cohesive way, Monkey King was played by a different student in each of eight scenes, four in the first act and four in the second. Many students were called on to play several roles to fill out the retinues of each god and to provide narration for the play as it went along. The actors danced and executed complicated blocking around a beautiful set designed by Arielle Epstein and built by (parent) Doug Bellow. For Act II, 6B quickly changed out of costume and became pit orchestra, as 6A readied themselves to tell the second half of Monkey King’s origin story. The second act began with a beautiful fan dance and included several choreographed fight scenes. Many roles were played by a different student in each act but through the use of costume and makeup, the story was easy to follow and the audiences enjoyed themselves immensely.
This production was incredibly ambitious, involving so many kinds of artistic expression. Our students rose to this challenge through the support of their teachers and families. Many families volunteered to make costumes or chaperone during long rehearsals. The first performance, at the school in front of students in grades 3 through 7 as well as friends, family and teachers, was a great success as students could feel and hear the positive feedback through laughter and applause. The second performance, Fridayevening at Roxbury Community College was even better as this time every actor had family in the audience they wanted to impress. And impress us they did – speaking their lines clearly and with animation and expression, dancing and “fighting” with grace and joy. We are thrilled that our 6th graders had this opportunity to be part of a real theatrical production!