Monday, December 04, 2006

DOVER KIDS

Once upon a time Pamela and I took a one-person show around to elementary schools in Arkansas. The play was "Einstein's Quest" written by academic hermit and noted playwright Allen Partridge. Al wrote the thing so it could be performed by a guy or a gal, and in the early days of doing this, we took turns performing.

"Einstein's Quest" is a high-energy, interactive play that teaches creative problem solving to children from kindergarten to eighth grade. The emphasis here is on "interactive". The second half of the show does not work unless the kids are actively communicating with the performer.

Arkansas has many small schools scattered throughout the rural areas. A performer with good scheduling skills and enough gumption can hit up to three different locations in a day. When we first started doing "EQ", we were working for Al. (He would later turn the reigns of the company over to us before falling off the face of the earth.) Our second time out on the road, things were humming along beautifully. Pamela was up first and had a great audience first thing in the morning. I went second, and knocked 'em dead. And so we arrived at our third and final venue for the day in Dover, Arkansas.

Before Pamela took the stage, the principal addressed the assembled kids. Here's what he said, from memory:

"Okay. You remember the rules? We brought these kind people here to put on a play for you. I want you to keep your mouths closed and your eyes open. Sit on your hands. If you make any noise, or have any fun whatsoever, I will have the orcs dragged you down to the dungeon and there we will break you on the wheel!"

Well, it was something like that. The kids were absolutely terrified. When he introduced Pamela, you could hear a pin drop. It was unnatural to have that many elementary kids that still and quiet. And it would've meant theatrical death for that performance of "EQ".

Pamela (and this is one of the reasons I absolutely adore her) completely crushed the iron strangle hold the principal had on the kids. She did it with the old "hello come-back" technique:

PERFORMER
Hello.

AUDIENCE (unsure, nervous)
Hello.

The Performer paces the stage, shakes her head, sighs.


PERFORMER
Hello!

AUDIENCE (warming up)
Hello!

Performer nods her head. "Not bad." She steps back, and jumps forward:

PERFORMER
HELLO!!!

AUDIENCE (fully engaged)
HELLO!!!


Usually, that's all it take s to get the audience's attention fully focused on the performance. As I recall it, it took more than three "Hellos" to get the audience warmed up. In actuality, the audience needed to feel safe. Here were kids who were no doubt whipped for coloring outside the lines. Pamela, in shouting "HELLOOOOOO!!!" at them demonstrated a boldness and power that they had probably never seen. It made them feel strong, and so they responded in kind by the end of the "hello come-back" routine: "HELLOOOOOO!!!"

Thus unbridled by the wicked tyranny of the despot principal, the children became the biggest bunch of rowdy, uncontrollable ape-children I have ever witnessed. Pamela had to contend with a ROAR of laughing, talking, shouting, singing ... children dancing around, doing jumping jacks, breakdancing ... it became mass hysteria. Pamela soldiered on, keeping the reigns loose in her hands and riding those kids over the finish line and into the most heartfelt standing ovation I daresay has ever manifested in Dover, Arkansas.

And so "Dover Kids" entered the Moore lexicon. "Dover Kids" signifies a group of repressed, suppressed, and oppressed people who, upon finding a safe environment to "be themselves," go completely nuts with all the freedom. You see this a lot in acting classes. In an acting class, you can stretch out and do things that you can't do "in the industry" like wear an adult diaper on stage, or perform oral sex on your scene partner. (I wish those were made up examples. I really do.)

"Dover Kids" suffer from a lack of self-discipline in an environment with little to no rules. They wind up pissing in the pool and ruining the fun for everyone. But you can't really hold it against them. They've grown up in an environment where it wasn't safe to express themselves at all, so there's a lot of pent-up energy that has to get out.

So that's what is meant when one of us refers to "Dover Kids".

1 comment:

Pamela Moore said...

You flatter me so.

Let me clarify a little so the whole truth is known. Andrew performed second, but that second performance was the first one at Dover. The principal gave the speech before Andrew's show. The principal also told us that some other performance group was supposed to show up the previous week and didn't. They had all the children assembled and making the "quiet sign" in the cafetorium only to have their hopes dashed when the group did not arrive. So he had to pass out ice cream to shut up the disappointed kids.

Well, we weren't so disappointing. First, we showed up. Second, we got rowdy. Third, the kids actually learned the scientific method for solving problems from the show. Fourth (and if Al were still on the planet he may frown on me saying this), the principal was angry that the kids got so excited by the show that he wanted the money back. Of course, I didn't know this until after the show. Andrew came down hard from his first show of the day to witness Hitler's reaction to an educational and fun show. I was jacking up the second group of kids as this went on. They were so excited that they asked me for autographs after the show. I seem to remember teachers beaming since the kids learned something and had the rest of the energy run out of them by a bit of an indoor recess. Huzzah for us, right?

In the car on the way home, Al told me what happened and he said he cut Hitler a check to refund the show. Now, it wasn't Hitler's money. The arrangement was that the kids each paid $1 to the school (except for those who couldn't afford it and they got to see the show for free), and the school cut Al a check. So the kids were delighted, the teachers were thrilled but Hitler was unsatisfied. I gave Al a chewing and told him we earned that money and he had to put a stop-payment on that check for all of these reasons. And he did. We never heard from Hitler since. Those kids, though, probably still remember the scientific method for solving problems with a smile.