Children's theater -- fresh-hatched from the imagination of real kids
What kind of wings does a hippopotamus have? When kids write the script, that's the kind of question actors tussle with. It was crucial to the performance of ``The Hippopotamas Who Wanted to Fly,'' a story by nine-year-old Allison Elisabeth Clark which is one of the hits of ``Kids' Writes in the Nation's Capital'' at the Kennedy Center.Skip to next paragraph
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``You have to be willing to do what kids want you to,'' says James Mairs, the director of a Kids' Writes troupe of adults known as the Magic Carpet Band, which tours the country and appears on TV performing stories written by children from 5 to 14. In this case, it was Allison's story about a baby hippopotamus adopted by eagles who have to use a helicopter to lift their heavy baby into their nest. When they learn that ``hippopotomas [the child's spelling] had a dream to fly,'' they teach him. Next he grows wings, and ``as he flew through the brilliant sunlight, he was filled with unending joy,'' Allison writes. The end.
Refreshingly and obviously, it's not a TV sitcom script written about kids, but one that comes fresh-hatched from the imagination of a real child. That may be why children lap up Kids' Writes fare like chocolate Popsicles on a July day; when the series played Nickelodeon cable television, 8,000 kids from all over the United States wrote in, sending their own stories, poems, and thoughts. For the 17 half-hour shows that aired, 300 authors were chosen, and they were present in the audience to take a bow the night their stories were performed on camera.
Forty-five Washington-area children contributed scripts to the Kids' Writes performances at Kennedy Center, which were part of a two-week ``Imagination Celebration'' Children's Arts Festival earlier last month. ``Kids' Writes from the Nation's Capital'' included numbers on ``The First Time I Ate a Lima Bean,'' ``My Invisible Friend,'' ``When My Hamster Died,'' ``Creepy Things in the Night,'' ``The Sandman and the Fairy,'' ``Small But Brave,'' ``A Big Triceratops,'' and ``Horrible, Horrible Supper.''
One of the biggest hits was ``Presidential Speech,'' by Andrew Maraniss, 14, in which the president puts on dark glasses and sings a rap number about his policies while the Secret Service break-dances.
All during another hit, 11-year-old Billy Swistak's ``Creepy Things in the Night,'' a piece that begins, ``I used to think there were monsters under my bed,'' the little girl behind me kept whispering, ``I still do.'' The audience became very still for 10-year-old Ari Douthit's ``The Magician,'' dealing with the death of the grandfather he loved, and how his magic trick would be to bring his grandpa back again.
Another hit: ``Rock and Roll Star,'' by 12-year-old Ryan Wilson, a number about stage fright. When the ``rock-and-roll person'' finally overcomes it and sings a real rocker, ``I Know I Know I Feel Good,'' by nine-year-old Krissi Spence, the audience goes wild and cheers. He is backed up by the other performers in the Kids' Writes troupe, who compose and play the music in this, as well as other numbers, with great zest and talent.
They are also wondrously funny, a group of clowning performers who seem to be made out of India rubber and silly putty, with the ability to turn themselves instantly into barking dogs, penguins, teachers, raindrops, pirates, cows, or whatever the kids' scripts call for. They are dressed in black, white, and red costumes with knee pads that look a little like baseball umpires' uniforms. Magic Carpet stars are Wynn White, John Rousseau, Carlo Grossman, and Steve Riffkin; music is composed and arranged by Mairs and Riffkin.