The Mills College Children’s School’s fourth and fifth grade classes performed their annual play at Lisser Hall on April 4 and 5.
The children performed Ron Fink and John Heath’s The 13 Colonies. In about 25 minutes, the musical sets the origin of the United States’ history from the pilgrims’ arrival to the signing of the Bill of Rights. This is presented by George and Martha Washington, played by fifth graders Zander Sante and Lucie Jerome.
The musical opened with five students dressed as Iroquois Indians singing about Christopher Columbus in a song called “Europeans Are Moving In.” The children belted out in sync: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue / It was a brave thing to do / But somebody was already here, So tell me who discovered what.” The children also performed choreography with each song, which they created themselves.
The play was directed by Eve Decker, the music teacher and theater coordinator at the school, who also played guitar for some of the play’s songs. The children made all the backdrops and props themselves, and many of them made their own costumes or had parental help.
Usually, the Children’s School puts on a whole production, with the second through fifth grade classes, but due to organizational difficulties, the two classrooms decided to put on their own plays this year.
The fourth and fifth grade classroom incorporated the play into their social studies unit. As Mari Litsky, head teacher of the school age care program at the school, pointed out, the play’s songs were appropriate for the older age group.
The play also contained important history which even teacher Litsky hadn’t known before seeing the play. “I didn’t know there was a girl who did the same thing as Paul Revere. It’s great that this play supported women’s roles in history.”
Litsky was referring to Sibyl Ludington, a patriot in New York who rode longer than Revere to warn the local cavalry of the arrival of the British and pleaded with Henry Wadworth Longfellow to make her famous like Revere.
The chorus told Ludington, played by fifth grader Emily Abel, “Your name doesn’t rhyme like Revere / You’ll miss the history books, we fear.”
India Boyd Wilkerson, fourth grader, played a hostess of a show called “Name that Colony” and a member of the history police, a squad that kept George and Martha accurate. She said she learned about history while having fun.
“I learned that Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president,” she said, breathless after her performance. “But it was so fun being the game show host! It wasn’t as scary as I thought,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson had plenty to be nervous about. At the last minute, she replaced Antonio Rosenbal for the role of history police officer, and she had to memorize all the lines the day before opening night. Wilkerson, like every other child on the stage, did not falter on a single line.
Of course, there were a few slips on opening night. Martha Washington, played by Jerome, lost her shoe during the grand finale – the “Bill of Rights Boogie.” Fifth grader Gabrielle Strandberg, who played three roles in the play, said she was so nervous she sweated through her shirt.
“I’m going to have to wash it before [the second performance] tomorrow,” Strandberg said after the play.
Cliff Ford Williams, a proud parent, gave his daughter, fourth grader Jade Williams, flowers after the play. He said “The play was fabulous. The kids are so creative, and it looked like they were having a ball.”
According to student teacher Elyse Hays-Lohrey, the fourth and fifth grade classes began rehearsing on stage at Lisser Theater every Wednesday and Friday since October.
The school’s second and third grade classes will perform their play, James and the Giant Peach, on Wednesday April 18 at 1 p.m. and on the Thursday the 19 at 7 p.m. Both shows are free at Lisser Hall.