The Fox at Dawn


Land of Oz: six

The K-12 Musical is an impossible event that happens every year at the school where I teach theater. Impossible and yet we do it. This year could have been the year we didn’t do one, and no one would have taken it amiss. But I wanted my seniors to have their last show. I wanted the school to have something we could all do that was three dimensional, something that engaged not just our minds, but our bodies and voices as well. And so I devised a version of The Wizard of Oz that took place outdoors before a limited audience that travelled with Dorothy through the Land of Oz. Over a hundred children aged 6-18 took part. Even more added their voices to the music recorded in music class, some even composed the spooky music I added to the sound design. These blog entries are a brief chronicle of the production, the following pieces were born just before before the last great week of rehearsal known as Tech Week.

Cue the despair

I’ve hit that inevitable stage
Where I’m certain
There’s no way in Hell
Heaven or Earth
I can pull it off.
The tasks are insurmountable
The kids don’t know what they are doing,
And what’s more, they never will.
No matter how hard I pull,
It’s not going to cross the finish line.

Time to get a big haircut.
It’s my only hope.

Sunday morning at Cave Hill

I am pretending for a little while that the world of Oz is not barreling down on me, that I have all the time in the world to sit here on this stone bench, content in the knowledge that there is a fox family safely cuddled in its den, just to the right of the azalea hedge. A glimpse of them would be more than I could stand. The gates just opened, I’ve not seen anyone else except for a grounds crew whacking the grasses around the graves near the great gingko tree-  FOX!

Look at what the Korte Family made! Glory!
All the things 
still to be done
Jostle for center stage,
Twist into a familiar headache
And wake me hours before dawn-
What about me? Me! I was here first,
You haven’t forgotten about me, have you? Me!
Puzzle pieces clamor
To be put in their place.
Breathing at the meditation window,
The sky is full of helicopters
Hovering over some disaster 
Unfolding across the river.

There’s a brawl inside my head,
I cannot hear the birds who sing before first light.
Their faith in the dawn does not forsake them.


Dorothy’s House under construction.
Careening into Tech Week

Fatigue makes it harder to keep my footing
In the stream of special requests
To miss rehearsals
To miss performances
dance recitals, horse shows, 
track meets, college visits, 
haircuts, doctor’s appointments
so sorry couldn’t be helped 
hope it’s not too much trouble
too much trouble
too much
my brain is spinning 
like Dorothy’s house-
How do I make that work?
Steal ten minutes here, fifteen there,
lunch, recess, practice, prepare.
I’m supposed to be able to pull
Whatever I need out of my little blue bag,
Voila, I’m supposed to say,
Here is your solution
Here is how we will make this work
But today I don’t think
I’m a good enough wizard to manage it.


Land of Oz: five
This is part five of an experiment chronicling my production of the All-School outdoor CDC compliant production of Wizard of Oz with 104 students aged 6-19, an utterly insane thing to do. But golly we are having fun actually doing something instead of just talking about it. Using our bodies and hearts and hands and voices instead of just our wheel spinning minds.
How large everything seems to the small.

I walk a long line of winged monkeys
From the first and second grades 
Down the hall of possibilities
Through paint and peppermint
Past yarn flowers and poetry,
Around Basquiat pastels and revolutionaries, 
Across habitats and treasure maps,
On the way to rehearse our wicked monkey ways.
Little Ava walks beside me in the lead,
Telling me proudly this is her third show,
How first she was a squirrel and then a frog.
I remember, I say, with a smile behind my mask.
She whispers as we turn the corner to middle school-

I heard some of the monkeys will capture Dorothy.
Yes, I say, it’s true. Two monkeys will fly her away to the witch’s castle.
Will they get to touch Dorothy?
Her reverence brings me to a stop.
Why yes, they will. 

Oh I hope it’s me, she says softly with all the longing in the world,
I just want to do something important.



Land of Oz: four
The Wizard
Is no wizard.
He’s a sixth grade boy 
Named Anthony.
An earnest boy
New to the school
Who spent the year 
perched on the edge 
of a homeroom 
full of rock stars 
and little generals.

Before it all began outside of my own head, I held a Zoom meeting, 
and told everyone that the leads would most likely come from the high school. 
Then I got this email:

	Dear Mrs. Crawford (because everyone my age is a Mrs.)

I don't know if you remember me 
but I shadowed for the 6th grade class
December 4th in 2019 
I am also the kid who asked 
if he could be 
the Wizard of Oz. 

I just wanted to give a reason why-

In the movie they are trying to find 
the Wizard  
and they think of him 
as the strongest man in the world. 
When they pull back the curtain 
they are disappointed. 
Well, I am not very threatening 
and I am not all big and bad, 
So, when they pull back the curtain 
They’ll be disappointed to find 
that a 12 year old boy 
is the Wizard of Oz.

Sorry about the long email,
Sincerely Anthony

One good thing about me- 
I know a good idea when I hear one. 
Reader, I cast him.
And he already knows his lines.


Land of Oz: three
Toto


Teachers aren’t supposed
To have favorites.
But to hell with it,
My favorite is Toto.


Progress


Over a year-
Speaking to screens
And tiny boxed faces
Pushing words around 
The vertical page,
Flattening the world
Into a screen share,
Sending my voice
Into the void------

I spend the sun bright morning
Unpacking a recent costume donation
A Christmas morning of airing out
Someone else’s dreams
Sixty year old handsewn sequined
Razzle dazzle let’s put on a show
Heart and soul for all to see
One show stopper after another
And there it is-
A shimmering pearlescent
Ivory beaded flapper dress
That makes its own light
Just the right size
Just what was needed.

I hang it on the rack 
next to Glinda’s name
and say to myself-
now we’re getting somewhere.
_______

Ask just ask
The lesson I cannot seem to learn

I put out a list of things
Needed for the show
Items I don’t have or can’t find
Tasks that need other hands.
I tack it on to the
Weekly rehearsal reminder 
Sent out on Sunday afternoon
As it occurs to everyone at once
That a Monday morning looms.

Within minutes offers land like
Cards laid down by a Vegas dealer-
I can help paint
I can help sew if it’s by hand
I found these masks for you
What about these Fez hats for the flying monkeys?
Ordered and on their way, you should have them in two days.
Dizzying, the generosity of our little world.

So I’m giving it a shot
Since I may be on a roll.
World- can you send me a companion
For this my third act?
Kind and funny
Wicked when it suits us
Able to read my handwriting
Prospering and generous,
Good with all things money, 
Good with all the things I hate,
Open hearted as an old explorer,
Odysseus after he’s planted his oar.
Maybe throw in a home in New Zealand
Or Prince Edward Island?
Oh, and let him be patient,
Eternally patient,
With my blistered heart
As it gets used to safety,
Gets used to the feeling of home.


Land of Oz: two

Rehearsals continue for the biggest show I’ve ever directed in the shortest amount of time I’ve ever attempted. 104 young actors, k-12 in a great big outdoor play that moves from place to place. These are some snapshots. My first pass at trying to get at what compels me so about making theater with the young.

April 7th

Today was music day

At the piano like old times
In Tucker Hall
Our post war cafetorium
dark all this last year. 
People have trouble remembering
How to turn on the lights.

	A sudden wind blows
	In the smell of rain
	Coming soon.
	The trees dance.

It felt so good to us to be back again
Where we’ve all rehearsed so many things

        Rehearse
        Go over 
        again and again
        Conjure the story
        Up out of the page.

Dorothy sings like an angel,
Everyone in school knows this.
No one could imagine a different Dorothy.

Tin Man’s voice has dropped so low
It needs a rescue party
To haul it to the note.

The Lion is afraid to sing.
Bold and hilarious in our small class,
Today she is hiding behind her mask.

The Scarecrow is in quarantine.
He visited a college over break
And now must bide his time.

One step at a time we go,
Trusting the path.

	Raining now
	Lightning and thunder
        Spring’s first.
        Resurrection rushes in.



I did an inventory of what I had stashed behind the stage from the last couple of productions, mostly pieces of the rigid foam insulation which is the best thing that has ever happened to school theater design. I congratulate myself that I found room to save all those large scrap pieces from when I cut out the giant cattails last year and the London skyline the year before that. These will do nicely for the Emerald City, painted green and made sparkly. The playground transformed. And I’ve got plenty of stone wall flats for the witch’s castle, I won’t have to buy any new sheets of insulation. Which is good because I’ve blown the budget on that revolving house.

April 8th

Emerald City.
Middle Schoolers.
So much to prove.
Bravado and bluster,
Bruising like peaches.

Playing on the playground
Explaining how the play
Moves from place to place
The audience must follow.
There are different ways to tell a story.

(God I hate directing through the mask. The wind the traffic the lawn mowers- my voice can’t cut through to their ears. I hate that I can’t see their whole faces. I hate that they can’t see mine.)

Movement is set
Direction is given
Music 
We play the scene
Seems simple, it’s not.
Seems easy, I’m glad.
It’s not.

The sky to the West is suddenly dark
The Witch seems to be making an entrance.
A few droplets and we make the call 
To evacuate Emerald City. 
We pack it up, 
Make sure everyone 
Has everything,
enter the Lower School doors 
and trek to the gym
From kindergarten to high school,
An entire childhood traversed in minutes.

The sky bursts 
Thunders down on the roof.
We giggle, we made it
Just in time.





Land of Oz: the beginning
April 10, 2021. The Redbuds are in their glory. This was drawn with their blooms, charcoal from the fireplace, red dirt from Georgia, wood poppies, violets and their leaves. Spring is undeniably here, and so is the Spring Musical.
The Land of Oz: a new project.

Because I am attracted to the impossible
And self-preservation is not my strong suit,
I am going to Oz,
And I’m taking 104 children with me.

This is not figurative language. Every year I direct the all-school musical at my K-12 school of 300 students. Anyone who wants to be in the play, is in the play. Usually I have between 80-85 kids performing in it, ages 6-18. It’s an insane thing to do in a normal year, but we do it anyway.  No one thought I would do a production this pandemic year, I was getting a bye if I wanted one. But back in the fall I started seeing it. Maybe we could do it outside in the late spring, keep the kids in their pods, limit the audience, make it a moveable feast. What if we did Wizard of Oz and we built the Land of Oz in the school’s huge backyard? What if the audience followed Dorothy and friends along the Yellow Brick Road? All the what ifs have become one big yes. 104 kids signed up, over one third of the whole school. After a locked down year, we are all starved for adventure and community. Hungry for theater that takes place outside of our minds. So now I am fully sucked into its cyclone. Only, I am also wondering, what if I write about it this time as it is happening? What if I let it take whatever form it likes? 

April 6th 2021
First day in Munchkinland

The sun shines down on the Munchkins
Spread around me
Grouped in their pods
On the basketball court,
Giddy wiggling
Their first rehearsal.

These opening days,
All is conjecture,
Castles in the air.

This is where Kansas will be
And here is where you live. 
There will be a huge nest on the top of the hill
And little houses- yes- you can go in them.
And Glinda will arrive driving a Frozen jeep
With a bubble machine.
         Oooh.
And here, I say, waving my wand like
The Good Witch of the Aspirational,
Is where Dorothy’s house will be built.
         A real house?
Yes, and when the tornado comes-
IT WILL SPIN.
         If this was a movie, it would be CGI.
Yes, but we’re lucky. This is theater. So it’ll be real.
	Oooh.
Somehow the witch will appear here, 
and somehow (what a handy word)
we will magically get those ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet.

It looks to the Munchkins
That I am directing
But really, I am thinking out loud
I am conjuring
Because any witch knows
You have to say the words 
If you want it to be true.
‘Somehow’ I say, ‘we will get
Those ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet’
And in less than a minute
We have worked it out
It is entered in the stage manager’s bible
And now it is so.
I feel more powerful than I have felt in a long time.

Until you are inside theater making, 
you can’t really see that it’s an infinite puzzle, 
one you have created yourself 
simply by saying ‘Let’s put on a play’.
It is, I imagine, a lot like going to war
Only everyone lives to tell their own tale.
Everyone goes home victorious.




Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in a quiet moment inside the Drama Cabin.


2.25.2021 Snowdrops

They have done exactly what we asked them to do, the children. Last March, almost a whole year now, we asked them to retreat down into the safety of their screens as we closed the schools down. Of course it had to be done. Down down down they went into their respective burrows. Their lives became very small, smaller still through the winter that has kept us mostly indoors. Being with anyone other than family is a rarity. Going to the grocery is an occasion.

            The school where I teach has offered in person classes since the middle of fall. Not everyone chose to come back, but the ones who did, came back to a wildly different school. It’s a pod-based world where they sit in one room safely (it is hoped) distanced from the desk next to them. All day they sit there, unless the weather allows for breaks outside. The teachers of the various subjects come to them, lunch is brought to them.  They sit. A lot of us teachers try to get them moving as much as possible, but it is getting harder and harder to get them to do it. At least the middle school classes I am teaching. I go into their pods to teach them, but I am also simultaneously teaching the other pods down the hall and the kids at home who have chosen to simulcast their classes. So I am teaching the kids in the pod face to face, only I am tethered to the tiny computer camera through which I try to reach all the other students. It’s schizoid. I teach theater. Normally this is an on-your-feet class full of games, team building, improvisations and rehearsals all working toward an end of semester production. All of this has been shot to hell this last year, though my high schoolers and I have created original plays written for and about Zoom that I am very proud of.  Zoom plays don’t work in the hybrid middle school world though.

            The year has dragged on and on. Often I feel myself floating above my life feeling that I have dreamt it. I have to remind myself at times that I am actually a teacher, that I have a job at a school that is real and that I am teaching real classes. And if I feel that way, I know the kids do too. School may not feel real at all to them, the assignments, the online lectures, the tests. There is so little you can actually touch. The body is not involved at all. It’s all blah blah blah, a tiny head in a box. 

            The winter has been hard on us all. I’ve become invisible to kids I have known for years, kids I’ve directed, laughed with, applauded for. The first day back from winter break, I walked into a classroom and said ‘hello, I’m so happy to see you’ and no one raised their head. They are sunk down into their chromebooks, some have earphones on. They don’t see me, they don’t hear me. I am not real to them. Their bubbly banter is gone. If they are communicating with each other, it is through subterranean tunnels connecting their burrows that we cannot see. Last March we asked them to live inside their screens and they complied. They are down there now, in their cozy tunnels or their snide dens (if they are seventh graders). I stand at the entrance and call down to them- Can you hear me? Is anybody home? Ollie Ollie in come free!

            The sun is returning, there are warmer days ahead. I’ll do my best to lure them out again, create a safe place for us all to play.  I pray that they are like the snowdrops now blooming all over my hillside. Once the weight of winter has melted away and the danger has lifted even a little, I pray that there they all are- blooming, undamaged, undiscouraged.

Spring. All is resurrected, you might as well be too.