Sunday, July 7, 2013

I, Huckleberry, Me

Note the handshapes for the ASL alphabet
spelling Big River behind Huck and Jim
Big River recounts The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in glorious song and word.  It won the Tony Award for Best musical in 1985 and was successfully revived on Broadway in 2003.

The revival was unique in that it was a Deaf West Theater production and featured both deaf and hearing actors portraying Mark Twain's iconic characters. All of the dialogue and lyrics were signed and spoken in a creative interplay between the two communication modalities.

I fell in love with Big River when it was originally produced.  I would walk past the theater everyday on my way to work and wish I were playing Huck.  I'd sing along to the record with my friend Denise, using my bed as a raft whilst belting out the song Muddy Water.  It was the first Broadway show my sister ever saw and I was thrilled to take her. It's a brilliant and important show.

I had even played Huckleberry Finn when I was 19 years old in a children's theater production of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Playing Huck (bottom right) in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

So, when I heard that a local theater was holding auditions for the Deaf West version of Big River I couldn't resist the temptation to show up and give it a go.  In this production two actors share the role of Huck and I was pretty sure this would be the last opportunity I'd have to play the crafty 14-year-old.  I was auditioning to speak/sing the role for another actor who would be signing on stage. That other Huck would need to fit the character description, I did not.

It all worked out beautifully.  I was offered the role - something to cross off my bucket list!  I look forward to throwing myself into a creative endeavor that is outside the confines of formal education. And I couldn't ask for anything better than Big River and Huck!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Spotty Has a Dream

In 1945, long before Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Spotty had his own wonderful dream of togetherness, acceptance and love.

Margaret and H. A. Rey, creators of my favorite little monkey Curious George, tackled the issues of diversity and tolerance in their children's book Spotty by showing the pain and injustice that comes from being an outcast based simply on one's outward appearance.

Spotty is a young rabbit with "brown spots all over and blue eyes" born into a family of snow-white rabbits with pink eyes and pink ears.  A distressed Mother Bunny is afraid to bring Spotty to Grandpa's birthday party because Grandpa may not like the fact that Spotty is different.

I started reading this story to my kindergarten class and at that point I put the book down to have a discussion with them.  What were their thoughts?

One little girl said that the mom should bring Spotty to the party and let Grandpa meet him because "Once people start to know other people they start to like them".  The class agreed that it was best to get to know someone before you decided whether or not you liked them.

Then they started making comparisons amongst themselves.  Did we all look alike?  (No, but some of us looked more alike than others.) Did they all play together? (Yes, well mostly.)

They were quite certain that if Grandpa knew Spotty he would like him.

However, when I continued reading it was quickly discovered that after much handwringing Mother Bunny decided to leave Spotty home alone. After the family departs, a despondent Spotty realizes it would be best for everyone if he leaves, so he runs away.  As luck would have it, in the forest he meets the Brown family who look exactly like him!  Well, that is except for poor little Whitie.  She is snow-white with pink eyes and pink ears whilst the rest of the family has brown spots and blue eyes.  Like Spotty, her appearance makes her an outsider in her own family.

That night, trying to understand all that had happened to him, Spotty dreams "of an enormous table with carrots and carrots and carrots. And bunnies were sitting all around it, so many that he could not count them, spotties and white ones, big ones and small ones, and Spotty himself was sitting right in the middle of them and they were as happy as bunnies can be..."

In this book Spotty's dream of harmony comes to pass.  But, in life, there is always some battle to be won in the fight for equality, tolerance and acceptance.  Perhaps if we encourage children to think about these issues in terms they can understand we will move towards a world that embraces love and see it "transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice".


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