CENTRAL PARK SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN: JUST PEACHY
More than 300 audience members followed along with James Henry Trotter recently as he lost his parents to a freak rhino attack, was sent to live in servitude with his two “horribly mean” aunts, sailed from England on a giant peach with six argumentative insects made humansized by magic and finally landed to fame and fortune in New York battling sharks, harnessing seagull energy and driving the Captain of the Queen Mary stark raving mad along the way.
The performance of “James and the Giant Peach” was part of Central Park School for Children's fourth annual Support Our Arts fundraiser but the first one to include a student play.
“I was a theater major in college and the students have been asking for more opportunities to do theater, so we did a few small things in classrooms,” said Amy Elmore, the play's director. “’James and the Giant Peach’ was my favorite book as a child, and I see how it continues to inspire kids, so I said to the school, ‘I think we should do this as a schoolwide play.’”
Music director Liz Wells immediately signed on to lead a chorus for the play. “Central Park puts a lot of emphasis on crossgrade collaboration in learning. This was a way to give students that multiage experience in music as well.”
For many students this was their first time on stage, but none seemed daunted by the character stretches they made. Fifth-grader Emily Greco who played James' horrible Aunt Sponge said, “It is really important to us at Central Park that kids and adults all be kind and supportive to each other in real life. So it was sorta fun to get to be really mean -- and be congratulated for how well I did it.”
Students worked hard to get the play ready on a tight schedule, rehearsing four to five days a week for six weeks.
“We had a blast,” said fourth-grader Rocco Albano who played James. “The play was so funny and all the other actors and crew have been really great and we work really well together.”
Students didn't just act and sing but took on some of the traditionally adult roles in student performances. Fifth-grader Eli Edds designed and ran the lighting for the show, a skill he taught himself. “I just took this book on stage lighting out from the library and then I renewed it a bunch of times until I reached the limit and had to save up to buy a copy. Also Amy found me a mentor who did theater at Duke School and that helped a lot.”
Central Park School for Children is a public charter school that serves kindergarten through fifth grade starting next year, will begin middle school classes.