Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Alice in Wonderland: The Review!

Elena's elementary school drama club is open to all 4th and 5th graders. Everyone who joins gets a part. This year, they put on Broadway Junior's Alice in Wonderland Musical.  Elena auditioned for, and won, the main role of Alice.

To say that was a shock was an understatement. Never for one second did I think that she won that role as some feel-good, pat-on-the-back display of inclusion for the school; she landed that part b/c the director(s) felt she would be a great fit. Elena's disability is obvious, but to the student body she's just another kid. (Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that's real.  It's a huge testament to the school, the educators, and the students, and in many ways hard to believe.) But, let's be real here--having a disabled main character does take a different sort of effort in creating the performance, and it was the first time (as far as I know) that the Drama club has tried something like this. (Good for them!)

Rehearsals were twice a week (since September); that's a time commitment for anyone…but for Elena, that's really taxing. And by taxing, I guess I mean our whole family became devoted to having Elena make it to the final curtain. For her, it was physically grueling, and she had a lot of lines to remember--I thought we'd all be spending every minute going through them. We didn't, actually; she learned most of the lines on her own. She and I would spend time with her in her stander, going over problem areas or working on voice projection and emotional responses in voice and facial expression. I can't tell you how many times Vivian saw or heard or had to sit for therapy, rehearsal, practice--but she enjoyed it too (she can't wait until she's old enough to join the Drama Club).  Most of our time was spent recovering from the physical toll of rehearsal; lots of stretching, massage, therapy, ice packs, bracing, epsom baths, forced rest, towing Vivian to doctor's visits, appointments. Did Elena enjoy rehearsal?  Absolutely. But it was so very draining for her. I kept getting emails from the director that she was doing well, so I didn't check in on her.  

As the performance week approached, illness swept the school.  Lots of kids got sick--lucky for us, Elena stayed well. I helped work on sets--and once they were finished, I brought them in to test out in dress rehearsal, one week before curtain.

The cast looked AWESOME. The kids were so excited! I had the opportunity to watch (I didn't think to do this earlier, b/c I figured the director didn't want parents distracting the kids) and noticed that Elena stood/crouched almost the entire time I was there. I felt like she was going to fall off the front of the stage. Her face deadpan; her knuckles white. I just smiled, and once rehearsal was over, gave her a hug and asked if she was feeling alright. 

"You didn't seem to be looking at your castmates…you feeling okay?"
"I guess. I'm tired."
"You weren't using your hands to wave or anything. Why?"
"Because I knew if I took my hands off my crutches I would fall."

Uh oh.  

I took her home, wondering how I would ask the director to make changes the week of their first performance so Elena could find a resting break during the show, and feeling rotten that I hadn't observed earlier to help problem-solve. How long had it been like this?

Turns out she was basically standing for the entire show--around 45 minutes. Yikes. The next practice I brought it up--turns out, making changes wasn't that big of a deal--the director was already making lots anyway, the kids were fantastically embracing the dynamic environment--and E found some places to sit and rest (not many) and her stability looked much, much better than the previous time I saw her. Maybe she was having a rough day? Who knows. 

The day of the first show--for preschoolers (some schools were bussed in as a field trip) I wrapped Elena's crutches to make them white.  We had tried many pairs of mary janes, but they wouldn't work with her braces, so I found a pair of black athletic shoes for her to wear. I curled her hair, which she loved. And she wore her costume, on loan from a neighbor. Adorable.

**I hope to add some audio clips to this post.  

White Rabbit is LATE!
Drink Me

Ocean of Tears

The preschoolers were dead silent, in awe of the show. They loved it! After that first show, the cast took a bow--they hadn't practiced it before, so it was surprising for everyone. I'm not going to lie…when E took her solo bow, I couldn't hold the camera straight (these pictures are a mix from all performances). Good thing I brought tissues!

Alice is as big as a house!

 Elena had one costume change, where she had to enter the large house (as small Alice) and eat a cookie and grow as big as a house--shown above here.  Thanks to support staff for the quick change!

Girls of the Golden Afternoon
Girls of the Golden Afternoon

The show was packed full of songs--ensemble numbers as well as solos.  They were fantastic! The stage is also relatively shallow-so huge props to the director and cast for keeping things safe!

Unbirthday Party!

The second show was for the student body.  The cast was extremely nervous--performing in front of their peers for the first time.  It was also the first time the lights were used, which was unexpected for them.  They put on a great show!

Alice and the Tweedles

Wise Caterpillar advice

Cheshire Cats showing off

Painting the Roses Red

The third and final performance was designed for parents, family and friends.  We had lots of people come out to support us!  Thank you so much! The final show was at 630 pm--very late for Elena (she goes to sleep around 745pm). I wasn't sure how to keep her energy up, so the day of the performance I let her sleep late and brought her to school when she was ready. I figured between soda and excitement, she'd be ready--and she was.  They all were!  The energy of the last show was completely different--more confident, excited, more FUN.  It was wonderful!

Queen of Hearts, striking fear in her subjects!

Bowing before the Queen of Hearts

There was some serious movement while the Queen was around--lots of bodies moving onstage, a crazy game of Simon Says--Elena kept up the best she could. Which was not bad, really.

Alice strikes back at the Queen!

Flowers giving testimony against Alice

Alice defends herself at trial

Once Alice woke up from her dream, the ensemble led the crowd in a reprise of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah and the crowd clapped and sang along.  For me--it was electrifying.  I think my face hurt from smiling so much!

Take a Bow


What a show!  What an experience!  It was emotionally and physically taxing, with physical setbacks and a lot of sacrifice for the rest of the family--

And worth every minute.

THANK YOU SPE DRAMA CLUB! BRAVO! The show was wonderful--and couldn't have been done without amazing teachers, students, parent volunteers, and help from friends and neighbors along the way.  And all the help from E's therapy team. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


Allison said...

and of course I cried reading this. What a wonderful story! Yay!

Just the Tip said...

She's so beautiful! Way to go E & Family!!!! If you're anything like me stuff like this is extra emotional and most people don't seem to get it lol but it's so amazing!!

Margot said...

BEAUTIFUL! Elena's expressions are awesome! So happy for her! And yes in my experience acting does require a lot of standing in most instances. I'm impressed Elena stuck though 45 mins of standing. Elena's body seems to be in character too so I am very impressed.