Thursday, November 18, 2010

Telling to a wide age range

Nah, I wasn't at that school this week, but I did have three performances with kindergarten through 6th grade (ages 5-11, roughly). Each of these groups had at least 200 kids. I was asked in advance if I could tell to that age range. I said I could, though my preference is always to split the group if possible. Kindergarteners are very different from sixth graders.

When I tell stories to k-3rd grades, I include plenty of audience participation. I think I've written about how I do this, with the whole group making a motion together, or I call on kids in the audience who want to suggest something in the story (when I let them know that's appropriate). I know what it's like to be a shy child, so all participation is from the safety of the group. As a kid, I was always afraid I'd get picked, then afraid I wouldn't, and then I'd feel embarrassed if the kids on stage were made uncomfortable.

When I tell stories to 4th-6th grades, I tell stories that make the kids think a bit more. There's less audience participation, because they're starting to be a little self-conscious about that. I usually leave time for questions at the end.

I was pleasantly surprised that my performances at all three of these schools (and the other two in the same city) went as well as they did. Here are some reasons they succeeded:
  • I made sure the kids were as close to me as would be comfortable for us all. I prefer not to have a wide aisle, though at one school the teachers set them up that way.
  • Before the performance began, I got the audience on my side. I play my harmonica when the classes are coming in. We play "Name that tune," and sometimes I have the kids sing the ABC song, Baa baa black sheep and Twinkle, twinkle all at the same time. The teachers then understand that I can manage the energy in the room, so they relax.
  • The first story was one I knew the older students would like. If you don't capture the attention of the big kids in the beginning, all you get in return is scorn. If you do pull them in, you can do almost anything after that--a fingerplay, a silly story for little kids, puppet stuff.
  • Trixie mentioned to the audience that the first story was a bit...well, strange. That made them all curious and willing to listen. Strange seems to be a better hook than scary, which sometimes gets everybody too excited.
I don't know if this contributes to the success of a program, but often before a show I look out at the audience and see the listeners as the wonderful beings they are, ready to listen and have a good time. My wish is also that I always have a good time. If I do, there's a better chance the audience will, too.