I know the whimsical days of summer are coming to a close when I hear Miss Gretta’s Spotlight Theatre kids rehearsing.
The door was shut on their final dress rehearsal but I snuck into the theatre and took a seat in the audience behind her.
“Blackout…and…blackout!” Miss Gretta is directing. “Benji, your job is to get the wolf. Can we have lights on for the end of the dance please? Is Mimi in the dance?”
Gretta’s week-long theatre intensive has been the close of our Summer Creative Arts Camps for almost as long as I have been at Danceworks. She has a magic touch with kids and is part magic herself, pulling a full production together with 24 children–a lot of them new to the business of acting–in just five days. But if anyone can open up a child to stand and speak in front of an audience, Gretta can. She also brings along with her great set pieces that help transform our black-box performing/studio space into the imaginary world she is helping her students create. They make the rest of the sets and props and costumes themselves with the help of our visual arts teachers and assistants.
“Great job! Excellent, excellent! Let’s try that blackout again. Can you fit in there, Mimi? Let’s try it again for Mimi.” I remember hearing that same direction myself years ago.
I know firsthand the influence Gretta Assaly has on children. She recognizes the special quality of each child and has a way of bringing it out. There’s no one size fits all with her. She did it for my own son, Charlie.
“Lights up! Judge in, Squiggy in, Wolf in–you all made it! Great job!” The show is a fun takeoff of several fairy tales and of the wolf getting to tell his side of the Three Little Pigs story to a courtroom jury. “We all deserve that chance,” I hear wolf say. Then, “Why do they always blame it on the wolf?”
One of the actors named Dorthea raises her hand and Miss Gretta calls on her. “I have a suggestion,” Dorthea says. “Instead of staying up after we say ‘Guilty!’ can we sit down one at a time?”
“Did everyone hear that? If you all agree, we can try it,” Gretta responds.
Good manners and respect go along with the memorizing of lines. Gretta leans over to me and whispers, “That little guy is great. He’s never heard of discipline but he’s very good.” You can be sure he got a good dose of it this week.
“Let’s try it once more. Can we take our places for the end of the dance? 1, 2, 3, lights up, and…..bow!”
After the bow, one at a time the children go down the line saying their names and the part(s) they played and the responsibilities they carried out from costumes, to props to stage managing.
Several of the actors gather around Gretta when they are finished with the rehearsal. “Do you have a safety pin?” Gretta pulls a little box out the purse she carries on her arm at all times. Now I see why. She opens it up like Mary Poppins and hands the child a safety pin.
Gretta asks me if I have anything to say to the actors and I tell them what a remarkable job they are doing but to get rid of the fidgets, focus and follow Miss Gretta’s directions. I watch the performance and there is no doubt about it, they all did just that and much more. They performed. Like magic. Gretta works hard to make sure each one has a moment to shine.
And why wouldn’t they? Miss Gretta is magical.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.