This true story about a spontaneous, creative drama session with children was contributed by Providence arts educator and performer Diane Postoian, who has previously performed at the Museum. She believes that pretending is a foundation for learning and thoughtful, emotional development.
In my classroom at an arts camp for very young children, I have a wall-length array of fabric, old clothes, hats and other accessories. At the end of each class, I let the children play ‘dress-up’. It’s three days into camp. Lily is shy. She doesn't want to dress up, so I sit next to her to keep her company while the other children dive into the piles. Laila comes over to us with a pair of 1950’s cat's eyes glasses and asks, "Are these real?" "Uh, yes. As a matter of fact these are prescription. You shouldn't wear them." I snatch them quickly from her hands.
Lily remarks slowly in an almost inaudible whisper, "I wear real glasses. I can wear those." I stare at her. She allows me to put them on her face. Another child comes by and drops a piece of fabric onto my lap. I slowly drape it like a shawl around Lily's shoulders and call her grandma. With no warning, this shy, inaudible Lily turns out to be a LOUD and cranky grandma. "Wash the dishes!" she suddenly demands. "Clean the house." All the children are stunned. They stop to listen. "Gee grandma," I moan, "give me a break." "No!" she barks.
The next day, Lily again doesn't want to play dress-up. I say to her, "Grandma, I heard you want to go shopping today." Like a doll, she lets me adorn her with the glasses, the shawl and now I add a hat and handbag. Everyone is watching to see how Lily will respond. Today, I tell everyone that I will be interviewing them after they're dressed. "Grandma," I say, "I'll be reporting the news today on TV. I'm interviewing a bunch of people." "No," she snaps. "You can’t go to work." Deanna hears that from across the room, picks up a fake phone and coyly says, "I'll be by soon to pick you up for work, Diane." (Too quick for me). I say goodbye to grandma.
I call Owen up for the first interview. He’s wearing a 1940’s man’s cap, sunglasses and a neck tie. "So sir, I couldn't help but notice your outfit. Who are you?" (I am using a whisk as a microphone).
"I'm a rapper," he says, speaking directly into the whisk.
"Oh? What do you like to rap about?"
"Wow. What kind of birds?"
"Really? Why's that?"
"Because when my grandpa died, he said he wanted to be a blue jay."
"That's a wonderful way to keep him in your heart, Owen." He nods gently. Off he goes.
I call Leo up. He's wearing an actual magician hat, with the little pocket on the inside to hide things. He has a woman’s black crepe skirt pulled up under his armpits like a strapless dress. The skirt touches the floor. Leo grabs hold of the whisk to make sure he can be heard!
"I'm Leo the Magician."
"Well Mr. Leo. What kinds of tricks can you do?"
Now the kid had to be prepared for this one. He says, "I'm going to get a necklace out of the hat... for your grandma."
"For my grandma?!?!? Grandma, if you're watching, Leo the Magician is going to give you a necklace." (Apparently, the crotchety grandma has made quite an impression on the thoughtful Leo.) Before acting out his “trick,” the necklace accidentally falls out of the hat. Leo quickly picks it up. "You didn't see that," he mumbles.
"No, of course not. I saw nothing." I stare at the kids. "The audience didn't see anything either." Like clockwork, they all shake their heads 'no.' Hilarious. Leo manages to get the necklace into the hat's inside pocket. He flows around the audience in his black skirt to show everyone the hat is empty. They all strain to make sure. He walks across the room, far away from us. "Leo! Why are you over there?" "The spell might be too powerful. I need room." He returns with the necklace. I thank him. Leo sits down.
"Grandma, if you're watching, here's your necklace." Lily, who has never gotten out of her seat since camp started, walks up to me. "Grandma? I can't believe this. You were in the audience? That's wonderful. Look at this necklace." I put it on her. She 'humphs' and growls, "Get back home."