We were launching rockets from the stage at Home Campus. You should have been there.
The 4H Drama Festival comes along once a year to consume whatever free time you might have thought you had, in a constructive and generally enjoyable sort of way. This year Kim and I found ourselves entirely in charge of our club’s troupe, as our directorial colleague from previous years had moved on to other things such as having a life. Kim focused on the directing side, and the tech side was mine. But mostly it’s the 4Hers themselves. The whole point of this exercise is to let them do as much of it as is practicably possible. How else will they learn?
Our play this year – written entirely by Tabitha, Lauren, Hailey and Taryn (no pre-made plays for us, nosirree!) – was called The Problem With Pink. They spent a couple of months writing it. The local library has a few rooms you can reserve for projects like that, which is nice for the parents dropping them off since we could sit and read while all the creative action took place.
We began rehearsing in late March with some read-throughs, and eventually progressed to running the play live. Add in a couple of Saturdays (and at least one Tuesday) of tech work – painting backdrop canvases (kids, it turns out, love spray paint - who knew?) and hanging them from the rigging, building a portable car, and fitting the world’s heaviest door box with outriggers so it wouldn’t fall over and create a black hole there on stage, that sort of thing – and we were set.
I also built some stomp-rockets. If you’ve never tried stomp-rockets, you’re missing out. They’re incredibly easy to make – just PVC pipe, empty soda bottles, and some scrap-wood bracing to keep the whole thing upright – and they are seriously rewarding in terms of spectacle for unit work expended. It doesn’t take much to get the little paper rockets to zip off into the stratosphere, really. One of them ended up on top of the ductwork in the Home Campus theater during Friday’s rehearsal. They also make a pleasing thunk when you stomp on them, and this cannot be overlooked.
Plus for those of us of a certain age they call to mind obscure Tom Lehrer references, and that’s all to the good.
The play tells the story of a trio of 4H kids, lost on the way to the County Fair.
The trio has achieved what many people in the modern US would regard as impossible – they have found a place where there is no wifi or cell service, much to the dismay of the one who lives her life as an extended Snapchat story. After some entertaining bickering (which the judges singled out as particularly well done), they decide to knock on the door of the nearby creepy house, because isn’t that what always happens?
I think there are not enough creepy houses in my life, to be honest. I live in places where creepy houses tend to be rezoned, torn down, or rehabbed, which means my ability to get into scrapes like these is pretty limited. It is a sad, sad thing to be so gentrified.
This house is not only creepy, it is deservedly creepy. It has earned its creepiness, and can wear it with pride. There is an old lady living there with her flock of ghosts (the most adorable ghosts, really, which cuts down on the creepy a bit but so it goes), and when she finds out that there are 4Hers at her door, well, as one ghost says, “Yep, she’s gonna mess with them.”
Not that our intrepid 4Hers are too bothered. There seems to be enough wifi for Snapchat, anyway, and that makes up for a world of creepy.
The old lady has other plans, though, and the action switches to flashback mode as she goes into the long story behind her bitterness toward 4H.
At this point Tabitha – our rigger – lowers the backdrop for the flashback scene, and Liam – our spotlight operator – shifts the audience’s attention over to that side of the stage while the scene changes and new actors appear.
Can you tell I am the tech guy? Because that’s what I end up looking at, after all. When I was in high school my parents got tickets for me and my girlfriend to go see Richard Harris in a touring production of Camelot as a graduation present. When I got home they asked me how it was and I raved on and on about the sets and lighting until my mom finally interrupted and asked if there had been any, say, actors on the stage? Oh, I said. Yes there were, as I recall. Several of them, in fact. They had sung quite a bit. Nice work, really.
So there’s that.
Apparently the old lady had been in the Rocketry part of the 4H Fair way back when. She had been proud of her rocket, and figured she’d be the easy winner, but rockets are kind of like computers in the sense that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and who knows why one happens and not the other is what I want to know.
She ends up with a pink ribbon – the 4H equivalent of “nice try, kid” – and swears off the 4H forever.
The ghosts are not amused by this. They have been trapped here in this house with this grumpy old lady because of a malfunctioning rocket? Seriously? “For 50 years we’ve missed the Fair for that?” one asks.
It’s a valid question, when you look at it that way.
The 4H kids and the ghosts then convince the old lady that it was probably just one of those things, that a pink ribbon is not the end of the world and nobody was out to get her, and she should give the 4H another chance. There is also a cream puff in there, which is as good a clinching argument as you’ll ever find.
She is, indeed, convinced, and vows to accept the 4H back into her heart.
At this point the ghosts demand to go to the Fair to show things there, and it turns out there isn’t really any rule specifying that exhibitors must actually be living. It is through such loopholes that good times are had.
And there is much rejoicing. Cream puffs for everybody!
There followed an extended period of milling about in the hallway outside of the theater, general relief that it had gone so well and was now over, and – eventually – judges’ critiques. At the award ceremony later that afternoon our troupers were all given blue ribbons as well as a number of technical awards such as Best Teamwork, Best Use of Props, and Best Use of Stage Crew.
Once again, we were fortunate enough to have someone record the play for us, and for those of you who missed it the first time, here it is: