Maka’s Biggest Challenge: A Review by Bonnie Pipkin

This week, we’ll feature our first guest entry on the Arts For All blog! Teaching artist and playwright Bonnie Pipkin is in her sixth year heading up the Step Right Up program, and this time around she had some pretty stellar things to say about the original show that was completely student written, produced, and performed by fourth graders at PS 15 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Bonnie and another one of our favorite teaching artists, Robin Cannon, worked tirelessly with a group of ten kids for ten weeks to ultimately prove that if you can dream it, you can do it! And now, without further ado, Arts For All and the Step Right Up students of PS 15 present…

Maka’s Biggest Challenge: A Review by Bonnie Pipkin

Ladies and gentlemen! Step Right Up! Feast your eyes on the creatures and creepers that run wild through the imaginations of our students! See for yourselves: a direct glimpse into the dreamscape! A tour of the mind of a child! We’ve got werewolves, vampires, angels, crocodiles, great balls of fire, a giant Claw Reaper named Bob, some Michael Jackson dance moves, and a journey to the top of a mountain on Challenge Island!

Everyone is a winner!

On Thursday, May 3rd, at PS 15 Roberto Clemente Elementary School in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the students of Arts for All’s Step Right Up program put such a thing as was just described onto the stage. It was our sixth Step Right Up Production at that school (I can’t BELIEVE I’m even writing that!) and it was the latest and greatest of original masterpieces created in this inspiring program.

The Step Right Up Program is a ten-week residency during which students write and produce an original work of theater. The students are involved in all steps of the production: from the creation of the script, to acting, to creating costumes and sets, and finally to performing.

This time around, Robin Cannon and I (Bonnie Pipkin) worked with ten 4th and 5th grade students in the after school program. We wrote a story called MAKA’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE wherein an angel named Maka, her best friend Bleach, and her faithful dragon companion named Crystal, had to get through a series of challenges and reach the King of Light… or the world would grow dark. A cunning vampire named Rachael and a slick werewolf named Justin are on their tails trying to thwart them at every turn. For they- being creatures of the night- are of course more at ease in a dark world. But the strength and perseverance of friendship and courage are what save the world.

And I can’t make that kind of stuff up! That is pure 10 and 11 year old imagination come to life.

We did a lot this round with choreography, thanks to the expertise of Robin Cannon. And overall, the 25 minute show was a visual feat! I was so very proud of the ten students that stuck it through and really committed to making this show amazing. During Step Right Up, we try to teach resourcefulness as well as commitment. It takes a commitment to put up a show as each rehearsal builds upon the last. These students amazed this old veteran who usually has to pull out a few teeth (metaphorically, of course) to get the students to memorize their lines. Many of these particular students knew EVERYONE’S lines. I’m not kidding.

So yes, we wrote a play. We choreographed. We rehearsed. We painted a giant painting of a volcano. We made some costumes. Clayton Colwell wrote us some tunes to dance to. And then we did it. One rehearsal, the students were so inspired that they wrote a song that goes a little something like this:

This is impossible! This is impossible! This can’t be! This can’t be!
This IS possible! This IS possible! Look at me! Look at me!

When students are given the opportunity to tell the stories swirling around in their brains- and then see them come to life- it is truly inspiring for everyone involved. These kids constantly remind me that this IS POSSIBLE!

MAKA’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE came to life last Thursday. And all the kids went home proud of what they created and what they accomplished.

So did I.

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