St. Linus School, Oak Lawn
So here I am reflecting on an 8th grade production of Grease two days after I write about a play at Steppenwolf. What's up with that?
I'll tell you what's up. Nothing can match the energy and excitement that a group of kids can bring to the theatre. Nothing. Sure, it wasn't the greatest production of Grease every, but how often to you get to watch a group of people grow, find confidence and learn about themselves right in front of your eyes? That is something special if you ask me.
The moment where all this energy broke open was Grease Lightnin; the first all guy song in the musical. The boys were doing a fairly good job already but you could see that they were a little uncomfortable as it was the first time on stage for most of them. And then they had to dance. However, about two steps into their dance, all their schoolmates watching from the audience let out one of the biggest cheers I have ever heard. Instantly every boy on stage stood a little taller and smiled a little broader. This was the wave of support that they needed and they rode it through the rest of the show.
I was truly impressed by the voices of several of the students. It is hard for children of that age, boy or girl, to control their instrument with all the changes that are going on. There were even several voices that sounded mature far beyond their age.
It was a wise choice on St. Linus' behalf to find a script that skirted the sex, alcohol and violence in the full version of the show. While it was probably mandated by the administration, it was the right choice. Not that these young adults will not be exposed to all of that as they head off to high school next year, but to hear 8th graders singing and acting out those topics would be terribly uncomfortable for any audience, let alone their parents.
The one other thing that struck me as I watched from the audience was something Ben Cameron had spoke about in giving examples of how theatre and the arts make kids better students and in the end better citizens. I could really see that taking root in the students as they worked their way through the musical. On top of that, I could feel the parents remembering what it was like for them to be in musicals when they were in school and how that helped them later on in life. Now I might just be making this up, but it was an interesting perspective to watch a play from. Either way, it drove home the importance of doing school plays from the fun and fluff of Grease to the more grounded Our Town - it challenges us to live beyond ourselves and what we learn in the process is immeasurable.