Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Mark Ditullio of Blanton Elementary School make a lot of the same decisions.
As directors in the entertainment business, they each pick the right talent for roles. They create the appropriate sets and backdrops. Making sure their productions draw a crowd is key. And, of course, they worry about the bottom line _ ticket sales.
Just like the Hollywood directors, 8-year-old Mark Ditullio must be straightforward in his instructions to his cast.
Unlike the movie bosses, he worries what the talent _ his fellow classmates _ will think of him.
"It's really tough being a director because you have to pay attention to one person and the other and the other," said the second-grader. "I don't really like telling people what to do because I don't know if they'll like me anymore."
But in the spirit of professionalism, Mark put on a tie and a director's hat this week to lead a 16-show run of Katie's African Adventure.
The play was written and produced by Kim Bloor's second-grade class. The pupils wrote the script; designed, built and painted the set; made the costumes, posters, promotional materials and tickets; and videotaped three commercials for the school's closed-circuit television programing.
The pupils got the idea for the play in January after watching another class performance at their school. Then they read a book, Putting on a Play, by Caroline Fuller Bauer. The 22 pupils have spent the past five months turning their classroom into the Blanton Dolphin Theater.
The transformation went pretty smoothly, with pupils hanging forest-green construction paper and vines and building huts for the scenery. The pupils finished the designs and painting during class hours, finding work space inside the school and along its sidewalks.
The play opened Tuesday in Room 004 at Blanton, 6400 54th Ave. N, and runs through Friday. Show times for the 20-minute play are 9:45 and 10:45 a.m., and 12:45 and 1:45 p.m.
All the pupils have a role. Some are actors, with parts ranging from a "rainbow-colored iguana" to parents and trees. Other pupils take part as writers, cue card holders, set and costume designers and camera operators.
Sarah Jonas is the narrator and the lead singer. She sings a solo of Reach for the Light, from the movie Balto.
As with Hollywood premieres, special guests were invited to the play's opening this week. Schools Superintendent Howard Hinesley is planning to see the play Thursday. Paula Lamb, the area supervisor, attended opening day.
"I think it's so reinforcing for children when the public appreciates their work," said Lamb after the play. She said her best memories of attending grade school in the Bahamas were the plays her classmates performed. "It's just marvelous when children can make school so appropriate to what they do everyday," she said. "It's an excellent way to integrate curriculum and when you do something like this it just brings everything together."
Hundreds of tickets were printed and about 1,000 pupils, parents and guests are expected to see the play by week's end.
The pupils filled out job applications for their parts. Mark Ditullio said he got the director's job because he is good at paying attention "and seeing what's going on." During rehearsals, it was his responsibility to tell the actors: "Don't do it that loud or that soft, or do it over!"
Bradley Ossenmacher said being a tree is a lot harder than it looks. "Standing still for four hours" with a heap of plastic ferns on his head isn't easy, he said.
Amber Plomatos and her understudy, Ashley Daniels, said playing the lead role is a challenge, too. "It's hard to memorize all the lines," Amber said.
The pupils had a dress rehearsal Friday, when they performed the entire play for the first time. Mark, the director, had to use his megaphone a few times and several cast members ran off the stage to tell crew members what to do. But overall, the players were ready for opening day.
The play is about a little girl, Katie, who is adopted by African-American parents who take her for a visit to Africa. While she is visiting relatives, she follows a rainbow-colored iguana into the rainforest and gets lost. With the help of a tiger named Simba and a monkey named Yaw, she learns to play an African game with stones, eats African food and learns the Swahili language before her parents find her.
"We wanted the audience to learn some African customs," said Mrs. Bloor, 31. The dish Katie enjoys is called Ugali. "A friend of mine is from Africa, and he cooks it for us at home," Bloor said. Katie plays a game called Mancala with stones and clay pots made by the pupils in the class.
Bloor said the play has given her pupils a lot of energy at a time in the school year when they usually get the doldrums.
"They wrote the whole thing _ that's why I'm so proud of them," she said during the dress rehearsal.
The experience of putting on a play from start to finish helped educate the pupils about acting careers, Bloor said, and how hard it is to be in show business.
The project was assigned as a way for pupils to develop their own "intelligences," she said. She is preparing a paper on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences for her master's degree. This year, she based her lessons at Blanton on the theory and presented workshops to her fellow teachers.
The seven intelligences are logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Her pupils can recite those talents and describe which ones they developed doing the play.
Giving each student a role also has helped build class morale. "It really is boosting their self-esteem," Bloor said.
"You just have to allow children to explore and be creative. Sometimes as teachers we stifle that. They have more ideas than I do."
As a class, the second-graders decided to ask their theater patrons for donations of 25 cents admission to the play. The Blanton PTA is sponsoring the production and will give the proceeds to the American Red Cross. Bloor said the class chose that organization because the families of three of its students were helped by the Red Cross after their homes were damaged in fires.
A sign about the donations is posted at the ticket booth, which is being staffed by a student usher during all showings.
Opening-day jitters were obvious Tuesday. Director Mark said he was up all night Monday, "under stress." Mrs. Bloor said she had nightmares that the sheets and construction paper were removed from the walls over Memorial Day weekend. She was relieved to find everything in place.
And some roles had to be changed at the last minute. A couple costumes didn't fit the original cast members. Tiffany Sanford ended up playing the rainbow-colored iguana and Autumn Georgia took over as Rex.
After a couple of last-minute instructions from Mrs. Bloor about the need to use "outside voices" when reciting their lines, the pupils performed the play first for two classes and a couple of guests.
Mrs. Bloor, sitting on the sidelines for the first time in five months, said she was proud of the work her pupils had accomplished. "They'll always remember this," she said. "I love them." After their last performance on opening day, she treated them to a pizza party.
Blanton Dolphin Theater proudly presents:
Katie's African Adventure
A play written and produced by Mrs. Bloor's second-grade class
RAINBOW-COLORED IGUANA: Tiffany Sanford
REX: Autumn Georgia
KATIE: Amber Plomatos / Ashley Daniels
YAW: Billy Potter
SIMBA: Michelle Crumity
KOFI: Kyle Humphrey
AKASUA: Alisa Gray
AMMA: Heather Nguyen
BROX: Melissa Ethridge
MOM: Kwanisha Palmer
DAD: Simon Thiphonphan
TREES: Bradley Ossenmacher / Chris Kolonick
WRITERS: Ashley Daniels, Sarah Jonas, Alisa Gray, Tiffany Sanford, Chris Kolonick, Amber Plomatos and Autumn Georgia
DIRECTOR: Mark Ditullio
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Ashley Daniels
CUE CARD WRITER: Corey Welker
CUE CARD HOLDER: Ashley Daniels
CAMERA OPERATOR: Corey Welker
LIGHTING CREW: Tyler Henton and Michael Marin
USHERS: Michael Marin, Mathew O'Quinn and Jamie McKee
TICKET BOX: Tiffany Sanford and Lauren Hudson
MAKEUP ARTIST: Kwanisha Palmer and Autumn Georgia
COSTUME DESIGNERS: JoAnne Beal, Mrs. Parker, Nana and Mrs. Ossenmacher
MUSIC: Alisa Gray, Sarah Jonas and Jamie McKee
SET DESIGN: Bradley Ossenmacher, Mr. Burns and Mr. Rennie
PROPS: Entire class
PROGRAM DESIGNER: Mrs. Bloor
TICKET MAKERS: Joseph Gray, Michael Morin, Simon Thiphonphan, Amber Plomatos, Lauren Hudson, Jamie McKee and Tiffany Sanford
INVITATIONS: Tyler Henton, Corey Welker and Chris Kolonick