Standing in the middle of Room 313 at W.D. Richards Elementary School, Aislinn Tian, 8, mouthed the next line of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to jog the memory of one of her fellow classmates who had missed her entry.
Aislinn’s classmate picked up on the cue, and the re-enactment of the famous cartoon continued without any noticeable interruption, much to the delight of about 50 family members who had visited the school Thursday.
The exchange between Aislinn and her classmate illustrates one of the main lessons the activity attempts to impart: teamwork.
“Working together is critical,” said teacher Jeff Bray, whose second-graders are performing the play for the third year.
One of the play’s final scenes requires cooperation of the entire class, because all of the students have to crowd around Charlie Brown’s puny Christmas tree to hide from the audience that they are exchanging the little tree for a bigger, prettier one.
Bray said the students must juggle lots of responsibilities during the shows, including remembering their lines, where they have to stand, to speak loudly and clearly, to face the audience, to manipulate props — and to adjust to adversity, because some things will go wrong.
For example, as Aislinn received a nickel from Charlie Brown (Sebastion Moore) for her psychiatric services, she was to distract the audience by placing the nickel in a can and shaking it vigorously. But as she shook the can, the nickel escaped the can and fell to the floor. Aislinn’s eyes opened wide and she froze for just a beat before retrieving the coin, putting it back in the can and continuing to shake it.
In another scene, Aislinn and Sebastion had a quick, whispered exchange when the dialogue got mixed up, but they quickly adapted, and the show went on.
Overcoming unexpected challenges will be a valuable tool for the children to have throughout their lives, Bray said.
The whole ensemble had to overcome some adversity this past week when the principal Charlie Brown actor, Everett Brasher, fell ill and had to miss some performances. Sebastion, who normally played one of the narrators, had memorized Everett’s lines just by participating in the play. So he jumped in to take one of the lead roles.
Bray, who has performed in local shows including “American Pie” and the Mill Race Players’ “Beauty and the Beast,” said he was impressed that all of the second-graders had memorized their lines. Even more important, Bray said: They practiced the proper intonation and stress of their sentences.
Especially Aislinn, as Lucy van Pelt, has a lot of lines with difficult passages. One scene requires her to sit behind a “psychiatric help” booth to counsel Charlie Brown about his depression around Christmas.
In quick succession, she asks about his symptoms and suggests that he might be suffering from hypengyophobia (fear of responsibility), ailurophasia (fear of cats), climacaphobia (fear of staircases), thalassophobia (fear of the ocean), gephyrobia (fear of crossing bridges) and, finally, pantophobia (fear of everything), to which Charlie Brown (Sebastion) exlaims, “That’s it.”
It’s one of lines that elicited a big laugh from the audience.
Sebastion, wearing a yellow shirt with a zig-zag black stripe, and Rylan Perkins, as Linus, wearing a red-and-white striped shirt and constantly dragged a blanket behind him, got repeated chuckles from the audience because of their frequent expressions of disbelief, such as “Oh, brother!” or “Good grief!”
Rylan said after the performance that he learned his part because he downloaded the TV show to his iPod. He said he especially liked that he got to work with the other kids.
His mother, Vicki Perkins, said she enjoyed the performance.
“The kids worked really hard,” she said.
Rylan’s dad, Tim Perkins, said Rylan was so excited about participating in the play that he often woke up at 4 a.m., ready to go to school. Usually, he has to be dragged out of bed at 7, the parents said with a chuckle.
Aislinn’s mother, Andrea Tian, said her daughter initially had some reservations about playing Lucy.
“I don’t know if I could be so mean,” Aislinn said, according to her mother.
Andrea Tian said Aislinn quickly learned she thoroughly enjoyed playing the role, probably because her personality is so different from Lucy’s.
Bray said participating in the play also teaches the children to speak in front of an audience, which boosts their self-confidence. The best part: They’re learning all these skills while having fun, he said.
Bray said he had to adjust the play a little to include passages about Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Ramadan to reflect the community’s increasing diversity.
At the beginning of the school year, some of the students did not want to participate in plays, Bray said. Now, as soon as one play is completed, they all ask what the class will perform next.