Earlier this year I was invited to P.S. 76 - A. Philip Randolph Elementary School in Harlem - for my very first author's visit for Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria. The school could not have been more welcoming, particularly Principal Charles Deberry, Ms. Marie Vallon, Librarian, and dear Cleo! The students asked engaging questions and were so enthusiastic about Martha Ann's story. Well, image my surprise to learn that one 4th grade class went on to stage their class play based on Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria! Mr. Saneel Boodram, who works with 4th graders at P.S. 76 and is a 1999 filmmaking graduate from the New York Institute of Technology, wrote and directed the play. I asked Mr. Saneel, as he's called, about the play and his interest in using performance in teaching.
- What made you interested in combing teaching and performing? "Children love to perform. It makes them feel important, special; dedicated to the roles that are given to them. When you teach a student to perform - you are also teaching them to be disciplined, focused and more independent. No one can make that part special but themselves. Combining teaching and performing, to me, levels out the school year for the class. It's not all about just the books, the math and the science. The Arts is a great gift you can introduce to a child. The # 1 factor for combining teaching and performing - RESPONSIBILTY. " Mr. Saneel went on to comment, "It is [the student's] responsibility to learn their lines, their body movements, when to speak, walk, run, cheer, look directly into the eyes of another cast member, cry, etc. It also brings out their personalities more - students who were quite shy came out of their shells and put on a show in front of the audience. They get recognition, love, praises from performing in plays."
- Can you share with us the key factors in putting on a school play? "The MAIN key factor in putting on a school play is a script. Once you have gotten down all the characters, dialogue, settings, time into one script then everything else is a go. Finding voices to act out the words of the play can be a bit of a pickle. Auditioning 9 and 10 year olds (the age range for 4th grade) for the roles can be tense, for me and the students vying for a part. Rehearsals, costumes, sound effects, lighting, emotions of characters are all key factors for a school play."
- There were two plays your class performed. The other play showcased famous African Americans, including Malcolm X, The Supremes, and Dorothy Dandridge. How did your 4th graders relate to Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria as one of the year's production? "Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria, part one of Celebrating Diversity, was the only major play production of the school year. I did my play in May - with acting, musical performances, costumes, emotions and a lesson learned. The students related very well to the subject area - about their ancestors. You see, the Martha Ann play taught them that ordinary black folk from far away made a difference for their future. They weren't glamorous, fabulous or popular but it set the path for good things to come for future generations. The second play taught them that through sacrifice and motivation famous people made a difference for the famous African-Americans today. The entire lesson was a connecting circle - Martha Ann sacrificed and followed her dream - just as the famous people did in the second part of the play."
I understand the students who performed in the Martha Ann play were outstanding! The young girl who played Martha Ann learned her lines and emotional cues within a month. The young girl who played Queen Victoria - complete with a royal dress and tiara - even had a British accent! I'm sure the real Martha Ann Ricks would have been PROUD! Thanks Mr. Saneel!
Do leave a note if there are other children's books you are aware of that would make a great school play!