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Community Finds Happiness in Clowns



Each year, teachers at Machen Elementary School in Hampton, Virginia, host an event that incorporates all of the non-core courses -- art, music, physical education, character education, and library science. The goal is to promote those subjects and enrich the students' experiences in them.

"The Machen resource team chose the play Clowns, by Craig Cassils because it allowed us to focus on character education [play content], music, physical activity through dancing, tumbling, and literature," explained Karen Lacy, the school's parent involvement facilitator.

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"The set and program design gave each student the opportunity to showcase his or her media art skills too," she added.

It addition, the play allowed flexibility in the number of cast members. With 500 students who range in age from five to eleven, the production needed to incorporate all levels of learning.

Clowns is about a troupe of clowns that searches for the meaning of happiness, and each clown finds an answer that is based on his or her own likes and interests. For one, happiness is dancing, for another singing, and another finds happiness in beauty and all things that are beautiful. In the end, the clowns and the audience discover that happiness can take many forms -- the key is to find happiness within yourself.

"The entire cast of characters, dancers, tumblers, and singers was comprised of students," Lacy told Education World. "Those who chose not to perform were set and program designers. Some students served as ushers during the performance. The students enjoyed showing off their tumbling talents. It was one area in which the cast was allowed more artistic freedom in its performance."

While the production was still in the planning stages, Lacy and other team members solicited the help of many volunteers. They had a large group of children, and it would not have been possible to execute a successful play without the assistance of volunteers. Those helpers were essential to the smooth operation of the production -- from signing students and parents in and out during rehearsals to serving snacks and organizing restroom lines. Some parents called local businesses to obtain donations and even picked up those donations.

Having the play go on "as planned" was a true moment of success for all involved. When Lacy reflected on the production of Clowns afterward, she recognized the magnitude of the effort that went into organizing the production even before it was ever presented on stage. All cast members were required to attend after-school rehearsals twice a week, so parents had to provide a ride home.

"Our team was especially impressed by the collaboration of our parent and staff volunteers who faithfully came to help organize and keep order during each of the rehearsals," Lacy shared. "We were also grateful for the efforts of the classroom teachers who offered their choreography and costume design talents."

Machen's production of Clowns was a true school, community, and family partnership. The food service department provided free after-school snacks for cast members, and a local McDonald's offered free refreshments for a reception after the play. The production was so popular that it had to be held at a larger auditorium in a neighboring middle school.

"A local theatre company donated its services for play direction and consultation," added Lacy. "A community theatre and a local dance company provided some of the cast costumes, and Title I provided the financial support needed to make this a memorable event."