Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Recording A Christmas Carol Writing Contest

During the Great Education Department Realignment of 2013, one responsibility that I had earned was to shepherd the quarter-century established "A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest. Middle school aged city of Cleveland school kids are invited to write poems, stories and essays, inspired by themes present in Charles Dickens' classic work.

Great Lakes Theater collaborates with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to provide all participating students free tickets and transportation to attend a matinee performance of A Christmas Carol, and students whose work was singled out by their teachers are called on stage, by name, receive commemorative T-shirts, get to meet actors from the company, and receive applause and the supportive cheers of their classmates.

It is a pretty sweet event. And it means that beginning in August, I have already started thinking of the holidays, contacting every single CMSD middle school English language arts teacher to encourage their participation in the event.

In case you are wondering, that is almost seventy schools. I have a pretty decent system going now, making phone calls, sending PDFs by email, and more often than not, communicating by fax. Yes, I know.

There are also six grand prize winners, who receive special gifts, a booklet including their work, and a special evening for they, their parents and teachers to attend an evening performance. These students' work is chosen from all of the school winners from a panel of judges composed of members of the GLT education staff, and close supporters of the company.

Laura Welsh Berg
Last year, we added a new component to the contest. In collaboration with Great Lakes, WCPN 90.3 FM ideastream produced a special holiday broadcast of Sound of Applause, one in which host Dee Perry interviews the students and actors from the A Christmas Carol company read their stories.

Now, some of the stories these kids write are really very good, and last year I was loath to edit them for time. This was a mistake, as recording the stories took several recording sessions spread out over a couple afternoons. Our actors just came off two solid weeks of rehearsal and the last thing I wanted to do was tax them on their first week after opening the show.

Having said that, they were incredible generous and excited about this new program, and the reaction from the students, hearing these talented performs interpret their work, was that of complete delight.

This year I was a bit more aggressive in editing. This was not an easy thing to do, as these middle school writers' creative, original and expressive use of language is a large part of what makes the work so exciting to read. But a booklet of their unabridged works will be available to read on the Great Lakes Theater website soon, and I do feel I was able to cut the work without sacrificing each student's unique voice.

We recorded one story two weeks ago. Today we recorded the other five in about an hour, total. Many deeply felt thanks to Aled, Betsy, Jodi, Laura, Lynn, M.A. and Sara for their time and great talent. The broadcast will be next Monday at 2 pm and 10 pm on WCPN 90.3 FM. Check back for links and more info.

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