At Large in Ballard: Wednesday's Child
By Peggy Sturdivant
“Where are your children?” I asked my friends, nominally known as parents in the packed elementary school auditorium. Joshua and Emily McNichols shaded their eyes against the stage lights and pointed toward the front.
“All the kids are up by the stage in a big heap.” As though hypnotized, almost oblivious to hunger, and the heat of small massed bodies, most of the younger grade schoolers had their eyes fixed on the stage for all 60 performances of the 4th Annual West Woodland’s “Got Talent Night.”
Other than the West Woodland staff members, who would perform their own scene-stealing number, I may have been the only non-family member in the standing room only crowd. Then again, perhaps there were others in Ballard also inexplicably called to attend by the words Lego Expo and Talent Show. The additional Art Gallery was pure bonus after I had already rearranged my schedule.
But what does it say about my Ballard credentials that I couldn’t even find the school? It’s very dark over in what some call the Phinney valley, and the school wasn’t where I thought. It’s only one block from 3rd Avenue NW, on a decidedly non-arterial street, but once entered the school was pulsing like the chambers of a giant heart. There was the physical heat and press of bodies, a pervasive smell of pizza from the boxes piled in the back of the room, a constant electrical charge.
A sound control system was in the middle aisle while on-stage teams of 5th graders were taking turns as emcees at a microphone, and managing to introduce and praise every single performance: all sixty.
With all the light and noise on the inside it seemed hard to believe that the school hadn’t been emanating an outside glow, like those floodlights that used to swoop the sky around used car lots. The talent show was clearly the product of many, many weeks of planning and rehearsals. Volunteer parents were following diagrams on doors, supervising upcoming acts in the “green room” and setting up the necessary props and instruments between every performer.
At the end of each number a parent’s hand would part the curtains from backstage. Some singers had little wire microphones like Superbowl performers, others stepped up to a standing microphone. Perhaps because I wasn’t related to any of the children I found every performance charming. I didn’t have to worry about later disappointment or putting an overtired child to bed. Knowing that unlike most of the audience I could leave at any time made me want to stay and stay.
It was a school I’d never visited but right away I could sense the sweetness. I saw it in the way the directors Linda Joss and Richelle Dickerson were excited by each performance, as though each child on-stage was their own. There were compliments and applause for every squeak of the bow, original song, dance move and skit. Looking at the audience, hands probably still smarting from clapping along to another “What Do the Hawks Say” performance Linda Joss beamed, “Biggest turnout ever.”
“This the event that draws in the entire school,” Joss said, “And it’s not educational.” She quickly amended, “Well it’s educational for me! The kids get to stand up there and just be who they are.” She emphasized that absolutely every student can participate, although with a time limit of 75 seconds.
“It’s a lot of work,” Stage Manager Richelle Dickerson said, “But worth every minute.” She was in charge of making sure every performer had what they needed, whether for violin, cello, piano, harp, guitar or drum solo. Or that there was proper lighting and music for the hula hoops, gymnastics, karate, capoeira, jump rope demonstrations, plus room for choreographed and freestyle dances.
In a red cape from the show-stopping staff skit, Resource Room Instructional Aide Cheri Guthrie was still pumped about how the event allowed every child in the school an opportunity to show their talents. She then doubled back down the hall with a scooter to say, “And put in that I’m a part-time superhero.” (She sent a written statement the following day in teacher-speak: The community at West Woodland has worked really hard with this event to provide students an opportunity to showcase their talents and gifts which might not be readily apparent in a classroom environment. Through the Lego expo, art gallery and live performances students have multiple ways they can be recognized and celebrated by their school community for their unique creative abilities).
Guthrie’s less formal comments on the night of the event seemed much more in keeping with what was happening on the stage with Wolfgang Klebeck’s magic tricks, Malia Barker’s original song and a grand finale turned Seahawks rally, with a volley of green and blue balloons creating crowd frenzy.
What lingers for me is the performance directly following Cole Walker’s song, “The Rats are Wild.” Kindergarten student Charal Krishnan recited Rudyard Kipling’s four-stanza, 288 word poem, “If.” Stage manager Richelle Dickerson suggested a written copy of the poem next to the microphone. “She can’t read yet,” was the response. Charal’s recitation was flawless.
There were moments in the auditorium that were so precious I found myself wishing that I did really belong there, and was sharing it with even more friends. The event at West Woodland showed me there is yet another very special community east of 15th NW. I got to drop back into the world of young families and children cheering for one another. After Charal Krishnan exited from backstage she quickly wiggled away from her father and headed for the heap. “I want to sit next to Lila.”