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At Harney, the arts come alive in song, dance, and theater
At Harney, the arts come alive in song, dance, and theater
The stage at Harney Elementary School was transformed into Old Havana, Cuba, in late June as approximately 30 fourth- through sixth-graders from across the district displayed their designing, singing, dancing, and acting talents in Harney Arts Come Alive. The summer program gave the students just four days to audition for, rehearse, and perform a musical, as well as create set pieces and costumes.

Adapted for the stage from a children’s book by the same name, “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach” follows the adventures of a young insect as she scurries toward marriage. Martina’s grandmother advises her to spill coffee on her suitors’ shoes to test their tempers—and reveal their true natures. Martina follows this counsel, with surprising results.

“This is all about giving the kids theater experience,” said program director and Harney music specialist Beth Lawson, who received a grant for the production. The crash course began with auditions on the first day. To ensure equity in casting, more than one student performed many of the roles, including Martina; her grandmother; and the four narrators, who functioned as a Greek chorus.

Jennifer Hernandez, a fourth-grade teacher in Harney’s Spanish immersion program, coached the performers on bringing their characters’ emotions to life and tutored them on correct pronunciations of the Spanish words that pepper the story. The language lesson was a bonus. “It’s very good to be bilingual. Who knows when you will need it?” said Leila Guitron, one of the Martinas.

Harney art/creative movement specialist Trisha Kasper’s choreography drew from Afro-Cuban, salsa, and Haitian influences, with help from the students. “One of the kids suggested using coffee cups as props in one of the dances. And one of the Martinas suggested this move,” she said, covering her mouth in mock horror after spilling the coffee. “They really spruced it up.”

In fact, the cast devised several production elements. Cora Debarber, who played Martina’s grandmother, designed a T-shirt with a stylized cockroach abdomen print that other students replicated. Working with Lawson, students learned to play a variety of instruments and developed sound effects to match key moments in the script.

Sarah J. Anderson dance teacher Sharon Santana, who managed the costumes and set design, had high praise for the cast. “They are smart, talented, creative, well-rounded, and they have great personalities,” she said.

After three intense days, it was show time. “I was a little bit nervous,” said Gabe Morris, who narrated, danced, and played an instrument.

But the performance, held before an audience of friends and family members, was executed with ease and professionalism that belied the short rehearsal period.

“My favorite part was performing at the end of the week. We got to show what we learned,” Cora said.

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