Teaching ‘peanuts’ is never anything short of entertaining. I define a peanut as a student between the ages of 6 and 12. Peanuts are a rare breed to me. They are an age I have yet to really figure out. They are smart, yet naive. They are cute, yet annoying. They are endearing, yet frustrating. They are not quite self-sufficient but they are really bright and tend of have a lot of great thoughts. Now teenagers, pish posh, I can figure out teenagers in a matter of an hour. I think it is because I remember being a teenager and I really have no clear memories of being a peanut.
Teaching peanut theater is always really rewarding. You see them start at such a basic level and then grow in to these little performing monkey’s. However, with any new hobby or activity, you have to learn structure, the rules, how the game is played. There aren’t ‘rules’ per say in theater, rather, a language you have to be fluent in. Words like downstage, upstage, props, blocking, house, deck etc. To me, these words are so commonly used I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know them. However, it is part of my job as a theater educator to spend the time in rehearsal going over the language of theater to not only give the kids a great experience, but to give them the proper tools to continue on to a higher level of theater, if they so choose.
In rehearsal last week with the peanuts, I was staging bows. A very wise professor told me that bows are the most important part of the show because they are the last taste the audience gets before they leave the theater. It is because of this, that I take bows very seriously and make sure they are as clean, if not cleaner, than the rest of the show. Bows with peanuts are always interesting. You really get to see the personalities of the kids. Some kids will run right out to center stage and give some grandiose curtsey or wave. On the opposite side of the spectrum you get the kids who bow and walk at the same time. They are so nervous to stand still or be to be the focus of attention that they just keep moving. This particular cast of peanuts last week, were all over the place. Some kids were taking longer than others, some kids wanted to hold hands while they bowed, some kids looked like they would rather be fence shopping with their parents than be on stage, the list goes on. After running it once, I stopped and explained that the proper way to bow is with your hands at your side and that you must raise your body up a little bit before you bow forward. I gave an example and they all followed in suit. Than I asked, ‘Can anyone tell me why we bow?’
The cutest little boy raises his hand and with all the confidence in the world says, ‘to stretch our backs after the show’.
I don’t think my jaw has ever dropped to the floor the way it did in that moment. I was speechless. Firstly, what an amazingly clever answer and secondly, what an amazingly wrong answer. Although, I believe my jaw hitting the floor was more based on the cleverness aspect.
After a chuckle of laughter from the students and a guffaw from the creative staff, I told the little boy that while that was a very interesting and good answer, historically, it is not the reason we bow to the audience. We bow to say thank you for coming to the show, for paying all this money to see me, for applauding. It is an act of gratitude. The peanut didn’t look even a little embarrassed. He said ‘okay’ and we moved on.
I wish I could be in that kids head for the five minutes prior to this conversation. I am so curious how a peanut brain works. How he is so confident in what he is saying that he can just scream it out with no worry as to how it will make him look to the other cast members? Did he really think that bowing was to stretch your back? Did he hear it somewhere? Peanuts intrigue me for that reason. You really never know what will come out of their mouth or how they will interpret something. All I can do is teach the proper theater language and history and hope it sticks. However, I know a lot of what the students say sticks with me. I learn new things every day from them. Now every time I bow, I will pay more attention to how nice that stretch feels on my lower back after a long performance. Thanks peanut!