Scenes From A School Talent Show

Just like a 4th of July Parade or apple pie, nothing is more “slice of Americana” than an elementary school talent show, eh? Kids in egg costumes singing a hard rock/rap version of Humpty Dumpty; a boy on piano plinking out “Axel F”; teachers tap dancing; three sisters in red lipstick singing The Star Spangled Banner…Last weekend, Andy and I coordinated the mechanics of our elementary school’s talent show for the first time.  Though it’s a small school with less than 250 kids, the talent show is a big annual production (some would say it’s unnecessarily “over the top”), held at a local high school auditorium, complete with tech crew, music, lights, microphones, fog machine, scared kids, bold kids, “stage parents”, pint-sized divas, and this year, lots of props.  While I completely understand the “over the top” comments, I also think it’s a unique arts opportunity offered by our school’s PTA, giving young kids the chance to perform on a big stage– some kids who may never have the chance otherwise, or who may never do so again.  This year’s show went well and was a big success, but, well, read on…

This year’s theme was “television”, and the show was titled, “Don’t Touch That Dial!”  While it’s hard to see a connection with TV from the acts I mentioned above, believe me, if it wasn’t obvious, I somehow found a way, in the emcees’ script that I wrote, to tie each act to TV (who knew “Axel F” has been played on numerous TV shows, like The Simpsons? Thank you, Wikipedia…) But we did have a lot of obvious TV-related participants—one mom dressed up like Richard Simmons and led a group of kindergarteners as they “sweated” to the Oldies; there was a giant bottle, a bunch of tiny Jeannies and mini Major Nelsons in a 3rd grade “I Dream of Jeannie” dance act; and Hee Haw even made a comeback…twice! Never mind that the kids (and some of the parents) probably hadn’t ever seen half the TV shows parodied, or even knew what the “Dial” was in the show’s title…but at least some of the parents and most of the grandparent-filled audience knew…

Andy and I had hoped that maybe this year there would be no drama involved in bringing this show to life…but, hey, it’s a talent show, and I guess drama just naturally comes with it…
        First, people complained about the fact that we’d moved the date to February, since in the past it had been in late March, early April, or even May. But in the past, people had complained about those dates as well (“There’s too much going on in the spring!”) so we thought we’d try something different.  Then, a mom who was choreographing a large group act but whose son doesn’t attend our school any more, called to see if he could be in the act.  “He wants to be with all his friends,” she said.  I said yes, and she was happy (this was someone who’d done a lot for the show over the years and I figured she’d earned that privilege.)  But our principal said no, and I had to call the mom to break the news.  She was on a ladder putting up Christmas decorations at the time and having fun with her kids.  Not the greatest time for me to play Scrooge.  Then, 7 weeks before the show, we realized we were short on acts, so we sent out a plea on the last day of school before the holiday break to see if anyone else wanted to participate.  We got six more acts, including a Michael Jackson impersonator.  Well, pseudo Jacko ended up dropping out (he was only in second grade, so maybe we’ll see him next year), leaving us with about 23 acts, but we decided that was enough, and boldly forged ahead.

By mid-January, things were starting to come together.  Most of the acts had turned in their registration forms and backing music. A parent volunteer was planning out the set design. The 6th grade class, who all take turns in pairs being the emcees and who have two big dance numbers every year, were practicing every week with a parent volunteer choreographer, who just happened to be a former drill team member. She was working wonders with those kids who seemed to have two left feet.  I’d finished the script, and Andy was working with the student emcees on learning their lines.  Were we in the clear? Was it now smooth sailing ahead?

My phone rang late one afternoon as I was fixing dinner.  It was a 6th grade dad who was very excited about an idea he’d been thinking about “ever since the show’s theme was announced!” He wanted to build a giant remote control, with buttons and lights that turned on, and it would be, as he put it, his last hurrah at the school, since his 6th grader was his youngest child and would be going to jr. high next year. He wanted to craft it out of a yoga mat, so it would be like a sandwich board that could hang on someone, but at the same time, it could be taken off and used as a giant prop, and… My head was spinning.  ‘HUH? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?’ I was thinking, but what I said instead was, “Hmmm…interesting. Go on.”  He had all these ideas for how the remote could be used by the emcees, how they could get in a fight over the remote and hit each other with it, it could “run away” and they could chase it, he himself could ride his bike across stage at the end of the show, dragging it behind him…I calmly explained to him that the script was done, that we were three weeks away from showtime, that we had an art director who was already working on set decoration, and that the emcees were already memorizing their lines.  He was stunned. “Wow,” he said, “The script is done already?” Well, yes, I explained, when the kids practice only once a week, that doesn’t give them much time to learn their lines together….

I could tell he was bummed, and he had so much enthusiasm for this project, that I tried to figure out a way to make it work.  Which was tough, because the “thing” wasn’t even built yet.  “Well, at the very least,” I reasoned, “you said it would make a good prop just to sit on stage, right? And you said you could always wear it for Halloween, right? So go ahead and make it, and we’ll see.  But, you have to bring it to a rehearsal soon so we can work with it and the kids together.  You can’t spring it on them at the last minute.”  I also thought, maybe he won’t be able to finish it because it seemed so complicated, and then I won’t have to deal with it at all.  What kind of hair-brained idea is it, anyway, to make a giant remote control out of a yoga mat?!

One week went by and no word from Mr. 6th Grade Dad. Two weeks went by.  At around this time, the choreographer’s father passed away and practices had to be re-arranged. Then three weeks passed and still no sign of the giant remote, so I figured either it just didn’t work out, or he didn’t have the time…

On the night before the show, dress rehearsal is in full swing when I catch a glimpse of Mr. Dad, carrying his contraption under one arm and attempting to get someone to listen to him.  He tries to get my attention, but I’m scurrying around trying to make sure all the acts are where they need to be, and I don’t have time to deal with him.  He looks dejected.  One of the parents tells me, “Well, it is a pretty cool remote control…”  From what I could see, it wasn’t made out of a yoga mat after all, more like black painted foam core, and it really did have a working red light, and lots of buttons…and it wasn’t a costume, just a 5-ft. long prop.  (Meanwhile, Allison calls on my cell phone to tell me that she is stranded at home and can’t get a ride to her high school, where she’s due in costume any minute for their production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, and I make frantic phone calls trying to arrange a ride for her…Me: “Allison, I got you a ride, be looking for Mrs. M’s tan SUV in ten minutes!  There’s too much fog onstage and the Addams Family act can’t see! No Allison, I’m not talking to you.  Break a leg! Bye! CUT THE FOG!!”) At the end of dress rehearsal, I find Mr. Dad sitting on a table backstage, and feel bad that I’d ignored him.  Why do I keep feeling sorry for this guy? I take pity on him and say, at the risk of hurting the integrity of the entire show (and what little I have left personally), “Okay, I’ll make a deal with you about your remote.  We have some places in the show where it’s taking awhile to get props on and off the stage.  And we also have a couple places where we don’t have emcees.  So, if you can work with your son and his friends tomorrow during the day, on some of your ideas, we can put it in the show.”  He lights up (just like his remote).  I show him, on the “Order of Acts” sheet, exactly where we can fit it in, including right at the start of the show.   
    “I’ll call the boys and see what I can do!” he promises.

The next night, ten minutes after the show was to begin, I’m standing in a backstage room with my clipboard and headset, not believing what I am experiencing—everyone is waiting to get started– the audience, Andy at the sound board, the tech crew, the props movers, the spotlight operator, the acts …all because…the back had fallen off The Remote.  Mr. Dad is in front of me, the giant remote lying prone on a desk, wires popping out, and he’s frantically trying to get the back in place with the help of a mom with a box cutter, and narrow electrical tape. The people in my earphones are getting antsy.  Finally, he walks onstage, just him and his giant remote control in the spotlight…

It was actually a pretty good opening…he pondered out loud about what might be on TV tonight, and aimed the large remote at the stage curtains, and the show began.  Even though he and his “actors” missed most of their cues and only made it back onstage a few more times, he was thrilled.  He got his last hurrah, we got a sort of-pretty-good prop and sight gag for the show, and I reminded myself, once again, just how much my life is like the sitcoms that the kids were singing about up on stage. 


9 thoughts on “Scenes From A School Talent Show”

  1. Thanks – I was wondering what the story was behind the giant remote control. I think it filled in great during the dead time between acts, with so many props having to be moved into place. (My 4 year old loved it!) Again, thank you for your tireless efforts helping to put on the talent show. (one little correction – the I Dream of Jeannie routine was a 4th grade act)

  2. Mr. Dad here. Creator of the Giant Remote Control in the school talent show. Just now found out I had received the nickname I always wanted.

    I am a parent in a divorce and I was a child of divorce. When the chips were down, I remembered my beginning. Divorce is a loss. On top of that, the real killer was a feeling of abandonment as your parents struggle to rebuild their lives.

    Desperate to find a way to address the abandonment problem, I found magic in a yoga mat – Something, never used, that I had wanted to throw away for years. It survived just because it had a good look and feel- Just like me. It didn’t even have much hair except from a couple dogs.

    Perfect!!! Except how can you take a piece of foam rubber and turn it into a prop, much less one that can be used in an important pantomime skit about the frustrations that technology has created.

    All of the promises proved much easier said than done. I was late, mainly because the art of it captivated me. I discovered I had skills in stenciling that I had only just observed about the time of my parents’ divorce when I was 12. It became a gigantic build-it-yourself jigsaw puzzle that filled my empty hours.

    And then the uncoolmom told me there was no opening for the show. A beautiful idea flashed into my head instantly. I could do that!!

    Nobody knows what’s happening in my family and tons of them care. And so my pondering to open the show poked fun at my situation – Biggest Loser, Bachelor, redemption by return of fundamental values. Everyone in trouble or doubt of any kind needs reassurance. That was my message – I’m OK and making the best of it. The opening was just so-so for those who don’t know me. For those who do and their children, it was an incredible bit of modeling on how to handle a divorce.

    And so, I did it all!! In a way a 4 year old can appreciate.

    What a rush! I hope everyone who reads this has a moment of fantasy that saves their life.

    And lifelong thanks to the uncoolmom for looking in my eyes and seeing the importance of the whole thing without any understanding of the why behind it. And hanging in to see what could happen.

    Please do it yourself whenever you run across someone with a crazy idea and too much energy. They probably need your help.

    Copyright, David B.Street, 2010

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