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total kids artwork

Some of the small portion of my life not devoted to being with my own kids is given to directing the Elementary Kids Church program at Reservoir Church in Cambridge. The first year I took on the role I thought it would be fun to put on a Christmas performance. It was fun: so much fun, in fact, that everyone just assumed we'd do it again the next year. So we did! Yesterday was our fifth such production, and it went off beautifully.

a portion of the painted backdrop

a portion of the backdrop, stage right

My idea with the show is to give the kids as much ownership of both the process and the product as I can. Originally I hoped they'd even write the script, or at least collaborate with me on it. That didn't happen, but every year I leave it open for the actors to make any changes that they want. And there have been a few! More importantly, the kids have also been responsible for creating all the props, scenery, and even costumes. Some of them take that responsibility really seriously! The last three years I've especially loved watching the kids who decide that they're going to be in charge of costume creation set up their space and invite the actors in for fittings. Even a first grader deciding that there needed to be a donkey in the show, and that she would be that donkey, didn't faze this year's crew in the least. I just wish I had taken a picture of the donkey suit!

Naturally, there was music in the show too. That's what I worked on, and Harvey and Zion joined me. We started the performance with a candlelight procession, singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" (also traditional by this point), and did three other songs as well. Harvey was one of the two recorder players (the one without the solos..) and we had two kids on trumpet as well. All of the young musicians were super focused and enthusiastic this year, and it was lots of fun working with them.

As I slowly relaxed in the hours after the show, I had a thought about what made it so good. I've often admired kids' artwork, especially abstract pieces made by smaller kids. We have a beautifully spare piece up in our living room, created by Elijah Archibald age two, which is a great example. I've tried to make art like that myself, but I can't do it. The art comes out of the innocence in which it's created; if you're trying to do something like that, you can't. (Unless of course you're a talented artist in the modernist tradition, in which case you've put in years of practice and study.) Our whole play was like that. Considered by professional standards—or even polished elementary school play standards—it wasn't very good. But since the kids created it themselves, with their own mix of beauty and humor and seriousness, it was delightful. Wonderful. Perfect.

At least, I thought so. We'll probably be doing it again next year, if you want to check it out!

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