Sunday, May 26, 2013
No Laughing Matter
Michael and I just returned from a vacation in Boston and New York. Most people go on vacation to get away from stimulation and stress, but since our lives are kind of topsy-turvy when it comes to matters of stimulation, we pack the most stimulation possible into our forays into the non-bucolic world, and use the rest of the year to recover, react, reflect, and remark.
Our three-day visit to New York was basically unstructured. While visiting with our friends Seymour and Margie Barab on Wednesday, we learned that on Thursday afternoon there would be a performance of Seymour's No Laughing Matter at the Philosophy Day School, an elementary school in the neighborhood. I hadn't yet had the opportunity to see one of Seymour's shows for children performed live, so we planned our mostly pedestrian sweep of the city on Thursday to end at 12 East 79th Street.
The building, which sits slightly west of the Ukrainian Institute of America, is a beautiful mansion. It houses the School of Practical Philosophy, which operates a Charter School. The school began in 1994, and, unfortunately is closing this year. This performance of No Laughing Matter was its last production.
The beautiful white dresses with little blue flowers worn by the girls in the lower grades (as their uniform) is exclusive to the school (you can see it in their Mission and Philosophy page), and on their page about the lower school. Superficial beauty aside, these were truly beautiful kids. There is something special about children who have the opportunity to get an education that equates the importance of the pursuit of knowledge with the pursuit of wisdom. It is very sad that this school has to close its doors. It was a true honor to have the opportunity to visit.
These fourth and fifth graders of the Philosophy Day School, many who have been singing together every morning as part of their school day since they were toddlers, had the opportunity to perform No Laughing Matter for the very-much alive 92-year-old composer, his family, friends (that would be us), some parents, the faculty, and the children of the lower school. Their usual repertoire is by the centuries-dead William Shakespeare, and they dove into Barab's work with the same integrity, seriousness, and humor that they would apply Shakespeare's comedies. These were not kids being cute. These were kids being actors. These were kids having fun working together.
The voices were beautiful. The acting was superior. Their voices projected when they spoke without the need for any amplification. Their understanding of the play was complete (Seymour Barab has a wonderful way of writing both words and music that children of all levels of sophistication can understand and enjoy). My only criticism was that they students, wanting the show to move at the proper pace, didn't always leave enough time for the laughter and applause of the audience. We had to stop applauding sooner than we would have liked in order to hear all the words.
[N.B. The kids decided to have a boar as the seal for the king in the story because the character of the king was a "bore."]