Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Path to Redemption


No, this is not a televangical plea promising salvation in return to a generous donation to me and my cult religion. Nor is it a New Age Yogic-Pilates workout designed to align your biorhythms and erase life’s travails. Instead it’s the title of our 3rd-4th-5th school Holiday Play, to be performed tonight (locals, feel free to come—6:30 pm at The SF School!).

At the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, I was in deep despair over the two- hour sluggish production our first run-through was. At the end of this morning’s rehearsal, I told the kids:

“As you know, both Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrating miracles witnessed some few thousand years ago. I propose a new holiday based on another equally astounding miracle— you guys clocked in at exactly one hour!!! People will be singing your praises for millennia to come!”

And they have a dress rehearsal this afternoon and a show tonight to tighten up yet further. May it be so! Meanwhile, here are my program notes to the parents.

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“How to celebrate the school’s 50th year with the Holiday Plays? This was the big question the Music Department asked itself. We briefly played around with “The Life of Maria Montessori,” “The Story of The San Francisco School,” “From Dittos to i-Pads” and others before settling in on two classic stories —The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

What’s the connection? Let’s start with the Mission Statement. “The San Francisco School cultivates and celebrates the intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise of each student….  Consider:

Intellectual: Both Dickens and Twain are icons of quality literature in Western culture. Their mastery of articulate language sets a high bar and both were at home in the realm of ideas and thought at a high level.

Imagination: Both authors have made their marks on our collective imaginations. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Oliver Twist and Scrooge and dozens more have helped shape our cultural identity.

Humanitarianism: Both authors were products of their time and naturally fell short of the full multi-cultural spectrum we expect of our best today. But from Dicken’s compassion for the poor and meek and his critique of the growing Industrial Society to Twain’s radical (for the times) view of race relations and his powerful satirical War Prayer, these men used their gifts not only to uplift our thought and tickle our imagination, but to enlarge our hearts as well on behalf of those who were oppressed and suffering. And so that brings us to these two classic tales:

The Prince and the Pauper explores the disparate worlds of privilege and marginalization and what happens when we try on the other’s shoes. Through a series of mishaps, two look-alikes—here a princess and a pauper—exchange places and learn the harsh realities of each other’s worlds. One world is dangerous and difficult, but there is excitement, adventure and life lived close to the skin. The other is safe, pleasant and comfortable, but sometimes isolating, predictable and a bit boring. Which to choose?

The Christmas Carol needs no summary, but it never fails to ignite our antipathy for the Bah Humbug Scrooge and our marvel at his transformation. His choice of money over family, greed over giving and self-generated misery and miserliness over hard-earned happiness resonate with all of us today. We can see it in the daily news and in our own moments of bad life choices.

So much for the stories. How to make them child-friendly? How to bring innovation to tradition? How to integrate the kids’ considerable music and dance skills? How to make this version of The Christmas Carol different from the SF School productions of 1981, 1986 and 2010?  (Another 50th year connection—our most-repeated play!)  These were the key questions that guided us in our work with the kids.

How did it all work out?  You’re about to find out! Enjoy the show! “

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