Sunday, March 6, 2016

DAY 7 - Lusher

It's almost the end of our NOLA journey and what a glorious journey it's been!

Yesterday we got an early start – our earliest one yet – and loaded up the vans to head to the Lusher Charter School on the other side of town. The Lusher performance day is always one of my favorite days in NOLA because it's a chance for all of us to combine our talents to share a beloved children's tale. This year we presented an interactive production of The Jungle Book to kindergarten, 2nd, and 3rd graders and gave a special presentation featuring selections from our repertoire to the 5th graders. 

In our version of The Jungle Book we had our actors play various jungle friends: Jasminn narrated our interactive tale, Keshav was an amazing Mowgli, Jayme a brilliant black panther, Danny our beloved bear Baloo, JJ the swing singing orangutan King Louie, and I, the villainous bengal tiger Shere Kahn. Our resident soprano, Michelle, became a "Summertime" singing snake, our jazz musicians, Isaiah and Jeffery, riffed away during JJ’s "I Wanna Be Like You", Zack and Sebastian enlivened the journey with one of their beloved “dun dun dun” duets, and our incredible crew of dancers literally monkey-ed around as Natsuko and Yaegy played a Bach concerto for violin one moment and then defeated Shere Kahn in a dance-off showdown as Mowgli’s jungle friends moments later!

I found a perch in the wings where I got to watch both my mates perform and the kids in the audience receive the performance. My teammates are incredible. The Lusher performance day comes at the end of a long week of service, at which point everyone is still a bit sore from newfound muscles found during the Habitat build, though spiritually and artistically fueled from a week of engagement. Despite exhaustion, the level of enthusiasm and playfulness my mates shared with the dozens and dozens of kids yesterday is remarkable. They offered their talents and artistry in service of a story and let every child in that room into their world.

There is something so immensely joyful about watching a room of kids engage with a story; they squealed with glee as my dancer teammates kidnapped Mowgli and carried him through the audience; they fell to a hush as Michelle slithered and sang "Summertime" with Riley and Sean L dancing alongside her; they giggled uncontrollably as Jayme, playing the friendly black panther, Bagheera, coughed up a hairball, and gleefully writhed as Keshav, playing our protagonist, Mowgli, picked up the hairball and tossed it into the audience (one of the third grade boys throughly enjoyed eating the imaginary hairball, much to his peers' disgust!); they all helped Mowgli arrive to safety helping us sing a call and response version of “Lean on Me” led by Jasminn, our fearless narrator. Watching Jasminn quell a chorus of giggling, intrigued kids with “Lean on Me” will forever be one of my favorite memories in a theater.

The kids were intrigued and entertained. And immensely curious! Their arms shot right up during our post-performance Q & A session, bursting at the seams with inquiries:
- How did you make the script?
- Are you going to write it again next year?
- How do you know what your lines are?
- Where did you get the costumes from?
- How long did it take you to make this piece?
- Are you [Shere Kahn] that scary in real life?
- Why didn’t you have elephants?
- Why did it feel so short?
- If you’re a tiger, why does your mask look like a lion?
(Kids keep you honest, don’t they?)

But my favorite question of all was directed to JJ and I:
- You were the bunny in Alice in Wonderland, right? And you were Alice!
My heart skipped a beat as some eager third graders asked this, because we brought Alice in Wonderland to them with the NOLA 2014 team two years ago, and they still remember it!

It was a moment where I recognized that our work does have an impact, because it lives on in memory. The impact may seem invisible or unmeasurable in terms of statistics and figures, but the fact that several students remember our performances and look forward to them year after year, and asked JJ for an encore of his silly bunny hop from two years prior, proves that that which lives on in memory is just as real and impactful as that which we experience in the present; it has a positive impact. This idea seems particularly important within the context of our trip because we encountered the ever-present memory of Katrina in New Orleans – in developing neighborhoods, local artwork, and even Frenchmen Street art market bracelets with the dates and latitudinal/longitudinal coordinates of where it hit ten years ago. It gives me hope to think that our work has the potential to positively influence those around us.

As for all things “invisible”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best in The Little Prince

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I’d like to think that our pursuit, as artists, is to honor those invisible essentials and our duty is to share them. I’m so proud of and inspired by my teammates who embody this mission. And I’m truly honored to contribute to the ongoing legacy of the Juilliard ARTreacg NOLA Service Project which proves that art matters.

Victoria Pollack
MFA Drama '17
3rd year NOLA team member

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