Weekly checklist: Graduate, then visit seven elementary schools with play for children

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May 19, 2014

By Mike Killeen

You've just completed your senior year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. You've walked in commencement, and you've returned your graduation gown. What's next?

  1. Take a bit of time off;
  2. Start a new job;
  3. Perform a play for children in grades K-3 at seven elementary schools for five days.

For four graduates, the answer is "3".

CSB graduates (and twins) Rose and Marcelline Gangl and SJU graduates Robb Goetzke and Tom Schultz will perform the play, The Bell, for elementary school audiences from Monday, May 19, through Friday, May 23. CSB junior Heidi Hurrle completes the cast.

They will perform a local showing of the play at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, in the Gallery Lounge, Benedicta Arts Center, CSB. The one-act, 40-minute production is targeted to children ages 5-8, but the public is welcome.

The fact that four graduates were willing to delay their post-graduation plans and stage the play impresses Kaarin Johnston, professor of theater at CSB and SJU and the director of the show.

"The fact that four (graduates) want to do this is just amazing," Johnston said. "All of them are wonderful people."

The origin of the performance dates back to 1986, when CSB and SJU students performed shows for elementary students during January Term (more popularly known as J-Term). SJU graduate Dean Holt, who now performs at the Children's Theater in Minneapolis, was one of the many actors who took part in those J-Term performances.

"When J-Term went away, we didn't go out for a while and we kept trying to figure out how we could get back to that," said Johnston, who has been involved in the elementary tour since its inception. "About five or six years ago, we started going out the week after graduation."

Last year, the Gangls performed with Johnston on the elementary tour. This year, Johnston put out an announcement for auditions. Although the play was originally written for four actors, Johnston "parceled" out the roles and was able to select five actors.

Johnston said the play appealed to the actors on several levels.

"It's very fun for (the actors)," Johnston said. "The Gangls, they want to work with children, so the more experience they have, the more confident they become. Tom is interested in seeing what it's like, because he might fall in love with performing for children. I can say for our (theater) majors, many times the first job they get is working with a theater for children. It's very important for them to have that experience."

The Bell, written by British child drama specialist Brian Way, is an interactive play where the audience will create sounds, pantomime fixing food and become a storm at sea. It is the story of Tom the Bell-Man (Goetzke) and his lilac-colored lamb named Wag. A stranger asks them to make the Bell of Happiness, and with the audience's help, Tom and Wag have exciting adventures to collect the necessary ingredients. Rose Gangl plays the princess, Marcelline Gangl is the queen and blind Mary, Schultz portrays the quiet man and George, and Hurrle is the royal grandmother.

"The actors are so energized by this, because the feedback from the audience is so different than what comes from performances (here). The kids, their eyes are as big as saucers."

And, that's thanks to some graduates who don't mind working post-graduation.