Homeschool Students Write and Produce "Life in a Pond"
April 20, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY, MI -- Life as a rotifer became an overarching theme for Ashley Steele's studies this school year.
The tenth-grade homeschool student participated in a year-long effort to write and produce an original play about the creatures in a pond and the impact of humans on their environment. The resulting short play, entitled "Life in a Pond," debuted this weekend in two performances: Saturday afternoon at Horizon Books and Sunday afternoon at Border's. The six student actors will also present the play on Saturday at the Traverse Area District Library in honor of Earth Day celebrations. They will also bring to the production to area schools this spring.
Steele and other homeschool students created the play thanks to a partnership between the Traverse City Children's Theater and the Great Lakes Children's Museum. In fact, they began their work using a rough script penned by Mary Manner, director of education at the museum, who wrote it seven years ago in honor of Earth Day.
Meeting weekly throughout the fall, the homeschool students, who ranged from fourth to tenth grades, took her ideas and ran with them. They created new characters, eliminated the narrator, expanded on the main theme and breathed life into their production.
"The original thing had more of a corny ending and we tried to get as much of that out as we could," Steele said. "We took it from five minutes to 20-25 minutes. It was a work in progress."
The plot has Olivia Ursu, 9, portraying a girl who falls asleep and dreams herself into a pond. There, the characters, including a water beetle, dragonfly, snail and rotifer, try to help this 'deformed' creature by giving it gills, thin skin, an exoskeleton and antenna. The help comes during a trial with a jury of pond inhabitants fixing the girl, who protests in vain that she doesn't need any modifications.
The students visited ponds and researched the characters they would portray, writing reports of their findings. During the winter, they began rehearsals and they worked together and with their parents to craft realistic costumes for each creature.
"Rotifers are microorganisms and are typically transparent, hence the white outfit," said Steele of her costume. "The big feather thing around my head were supposed to be the cilia, which allow them to trap food and move around."
Sisters Kayleen Mulder, 12 and Jessica, 10, ventured into acting for the first time and are enjoying their time in the spotlight.
"It was fun, I really like acting a lot and I learned a lot," said Jessica, a fifth-grade student who portrayed a dragonfly. "I learned acting techniques, such as learning tongue twisters to help me speak louder and get my 's' clear."
The Traverse City Children's Theater's Education Through Theater program is also offering "Life in a Pond" to area schools for a sliding scale fee of $100-300. In addition to the play, either Manner or an intern from the Great Lakes Children's Museum will bring live pond samples to the school for students to examine and learn from.
"You're only seeing half of the presentation that kids in school will be getting," said Luis Araquistain, director of the Traverse City Children's Theater.
"Life in a Pond" will be presented at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Traverse Area District Library; admission is free but donations will be welcomed. For more information on bringing "Life in a Pond" to a school, contact Araquistain at 947-2210.