A New Audience: Rep Theatre class performs third grade students’ original stories at district elementary schools

Sally Cochran, Editor in Chief

There’s no curtain to rise and no stage to perform on.

Entering into an elementary school classroom, the second-hour Blue Valley Repertory Theatre students prepare to begin their performance.

It’s 1 p.m., and a room full of 8 year olds and their teacher eagerly watch.

The annual Children’s Show took place Jan. 22.

Preparing for the show started with the Rep Theatre class receiving about 15 short stories written by local third-grade students, which they turned into eight to ten minute plays.

After that, four of these scenes were selected to be performed at three feeder elementary schools, Blue River, Prairie Star and Sunrise Point Elementary schools.

Sophomore Skyler Jones said the acting style used by the Rep Theatre students changed for this performance’s audience.

“We have to watch some Disney, some Nickelodeon, see what comedy they do and just be more crazy,” he said. “We’re not going for the whole witty-comedy concept — we’re just trying to be crazy characters that kids like.”

Drama teacher Jeff Yarnell said turning childrens’ stories into plays can sometimes lead to interesting types of characters, such as a whale and a life-size iPad.

“The way [those actors] move and the way they do their voices are very stylized and unlike the regular characters who are represented in the show,” he said.

Jones said directing “A Day in the Life of Sand,” one of the show’s scenes, involved casting the scene, editing scripts and setting benchmarks for the actors like “drop books” — when actors are no longer allowed to use their scripts.

Jones said the playwriting experience was a unique aspect of this show.

“It’s very different because we don’t get a ton of opportunities to make our own scripts,” he said. “We usually do shows based on the scripts we get from professional playwrights. It’s kind of cool we get to use our vision.”

Yarnell said the experience is not only unique for the actors but also for the audience.

“I can’t imagine being a third-grader and writing a little story and then seeing big, high school kids turn my words into a show,” he said.

Yarnell said it’s also exciting to see the third-graders’ reactions.

“The kids treat us like we’re stars,” he said. “They want autographs, and they want to sit by you and be around you.”

Yarnell said the interaction between the original author of the story and the theater students who transformed it into a play is a memorable aspect of this show.

“[The child who wrote the story] will stand up and talk a little bit about it, and I really like the look in their eyes as it’s coming to life in front of them,” he said. “Sometimes, we talk about the ideas they had or a character. Sometimes they name [a character] after themselves or a friend, so the kids think it’s pretty fun to have themselves represented on stage.”

An idea first presented to Yarnell by assistant principal Mollie McNally, who used to be a drama teacher at Shawnee Mission North, the Children’s Show has been performed annually for four years by BV students.

“I thought it was a really cool concept, so one third-grade teacher did it with us several years ago,” Yarnell said. “It has kind of grown to where we are now getting stories from a lot of schools and performing at a lot of places.”