Words cannot even begin to describe the experience of sitting in a rehearsal with this amazing group of performers and artists. I had the pleasure of attending two rehearsals last week for our Black Light Puppet Theatre. Our Education Team and the performers from Eggleston have been working together since the beginning of June to create a public performance using puppets and black lighting.
When Geraldine, one of our five performers, walked into the room with her fellow participants, you could feel the joy radiating from her. She had noticed that more of the handmade puppets were finished since the last rehearsal, and she was so excited. It was infectious! The rehearsal began with a physical warm-up during which they shook out their bodies and got ready to review the two parts they had already learned. They continued with a follow-the-leader-style song and a very intricate poem in which each participant had their own character. When they began their review, it was amazing to see how the participants really remembered what they were supposed to be doing at each part of the song or poem. Antonio was a master with the electric blue monkey. They also learned a new dance called “De La” that day, and it was so much fun to be an audience member!
“Fun” is a word that continues to pop into my mind every time I’m asked to describe the Black Light Puppet Theatre. The teaching artists are having fun; the participants are having fun; their caregiver is having fun; and I, as an audience member, had fun. It was the most fun I had all week! The other word that keeps coming up is “colorful." The puppets are all painted in neon paint so that they glow under the UV light. Each and every participant also brings their own personal bright color to the table.
It brought such joy to my heart to watch our teaching artists interact with these five amazing people. There is a true partnership happening in the room. Each person is paired with a VSC “shadow” to support them as they go through the movements. This gives them confidence that if they forget something their shadow will be right there to support. I don’t know about you, but I feel much more comfortable expressing myself when I know someone has my back.
I also had the opportunity to check back in with our Education Team for some feedback on how they thought the program was going. Michael’s biggest take-away is that “humans want to express themselves and when encouraged to do so, they simply flourish!” He also mentioned that “it is always about the journey.” And what a journey it has been!
Grace and Jenny chatted with me after rehearsal, and they had a lot to say! Grace said that her expectations have been exceeded tenfold. She came into the program optimistic and has been blown away by the growth of the participants, their ability to learn and repeat detailed blocking and choreography, and their energy and enthusiasm. She told me that their energy is contagious, and it makes rehearsal a BLAST! Jenny has also been impressed by the growth of each participant. There is one in particular, Scott, who came into the program just one short month ago, nonverbal and uninterested. He is now talking and expressing himself and wants to participate!
Grace and Jenny noted that the biggest challenge they have faced has been conflicting schedules. There are many days when participants have other events or doctor’s appointments scheduled that keep them from attending rehearsal. What has been wonderful about this challenge is that even though rehearsals have been missed, the participants have managed to learn all of their parts with grace and determination. The entire Education Team has emphasized that this whole experience is about the process and not about the final product.
Finally, I asked the team what they were looking forward to most for the final performance. They all said, pretty much in unison, “the smiles on their faces and the hugs after the performance.” After having experienced exactly that after the rehearsals I attended, I cannot agree with them more.
You have the opportunity to experience Black Light Puppet Theatre next weekend, July 16 and 17 at 2PM at The Governor’s School for the Arts (254 Granby St. Norfolk, VA). But I will tell you that reservations for seats are going FAST! Please email me or call 757.627.6988 x331 to reserve your seat today.
Madeline Dummerth is the Education Assistant in Virginia Stage Company's Education and Community Engagement Department.