Once upon a time I had a fantastic idea. And I mean FAN-TAS-TIC. I’m an idea girl, but this one was particularly genius. While going through the after-school activities offered at my daughter’s elementary school, I thought it would be a lot of fun to offer a storytelling class; to get the kids up on stage telling stories while they were still so uninhibited. We’d spend several weeks working on the different aspects of storytelling and getting the kids comfortable on stage and using a mic. And then, at the end of the class we’d do a real Open Mic for the kids. Maybe at Town Danceboutique, the wonderful space where SpeakeasyDC hosts its monthly open mics.
And then the idea got BIGGER. Like, maybe SpeakeasyDC would be interested in teaching the class. And then I could help out (I’m a top-notch helper). And then I mentioned it to the director of SpeakeasyDC and she laughed at me. Nicely. But laughed nonetheless. She said that working with kids is completely different from working with adults, which is exactly when I realized that in my head I was picturing the whole entire class/open mic with little adults, not kids. (And Town Danceboutique might not be the best place for a PTA sponsored event.) So, like most of my fantastic ideas, I let it die a quick death, and attended the funeral alone.
A few months later the elementary school PTA president, who knew I occasionally dabbled in storytelling, told me about an open mic program they were working on called Rhyme & Cheese. It would be a seasonal storytelling event for the kids and it already had a director. The real work was already done and all they needed was a committe to help create the staging/ambiance. I was so excited. The best part? The director, Libby Settlemyer, had her own fantastic vision, so I was freed from the shackles of my big ideas.
We did two open mics last year and they were both huge successes. The kids loved reading their stories and couldn’t wait to do it again. And in case you’d like to do something like this for your school–and you totally should–here’s the recipe for an open mic, Rhyme & Cheese-style.
1.) Advertising. Luckily for us Libby is also an amazing designer. She created a logo and posted signs all over the school. Announcements that explained what Rhyme & Cheese was were made in class, during lunch, through fliers to the families, and on the PTA listserve. Kids were given a form to fill out with their name, grade, and the title of their story. After they filled out the form they’d put it in the Rhyme & Cheese box and select number of students would be chosen at random to perform.
2.) A Back-Up Plan. (Before we even started!) To me, this was particularly genius. Since the school hadn’t done a program like this (and it was after regular school hours) Libby felt it was important to come up with a way that, even if we didn’t have many student volunteers to participate, we’d have a significant enough number of students to read. So she created Teacher Selections, which served several purposes: First, it helped to identify students who had an interest in writing but would otherwise never think of participating in such an event. Second, teachers sent invitations home to identified students which helped to generate buzz amongst students and make the event seem special.
3.) Limits. 30 kids max, with up to a three-minute slot each. This kept the entire thing about an hour long.
4.) Room/Ambiance. The staging, though minimal, needed to provide a good focal point. And since we were doing it in a room the kids spend so much of their time in, it was important to make it feel less multi-purpose-y. Also? Libby wanted to keep it simple so we could show up and put it together fast.First we went with a cozy/artsy vibe. Very simply, we kept the kids on floor-level,used a gray back-drop, photography lights, a string of white Christmas lights, and a throw rug. And while it looked awesome, we had a much bigger turn-out than expected, so most of the people couldn’t see.
For the second open mic we set things up on the stage. Not as artsy, but everyone could see. The seating was done with extra space in front so that parents could get to the front when their kids were performing and take photos. Also, the kids wound up congregating down there when they left the stage after their performance. We turned the main lights off when the show started, and lit the stage so the performers were still in the spotlight.
7.) Food. Optional, but helpful. Especially for the siblings who aren’t on the stage, and parents who come straight from work. And since we called the event Rhyme & Cheese, cheese was prominent on the menu. Different kinds of cheese, Cheese-Its, crackers, some fruit, water, and lemonade. We set everything up on tables — and people helped themselves before and during the readings.
8.) Parting Gifts. You know kids. The smallest gift–something to single them out–will go a long way. Libby designed R&C stickers and put them on tiny notebooks with the kids names on them to encourage them to keep writing. But any gift is fine.
Think you might like to do this for your school? Shoot me an email. We’re happy to chat about the specifics or to answer any questions you have. Rhyme & Cheese has already such a great impact on the budding writers in our school (and is so fun and easy to pull off) that we’d love to share it with you and your kids.
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