Last week I volunteered to photograph the rehearsals and performances of Peter Pan, put on by my daughter's elementary school. It was at turns interesting, fun, frustrating; but mostly fun. Shots from rehearsals were to be used in a pre-show slideshow run from a laptop.
It's been a LONG time since I was involved with elementary or secondary schools, and you're in for a rough initiation if you take the same things for granted in dealing with teachers and students that you can easily take for granted in the professional world. First, teachers live their lives in 45 minute segments. Don't know how they do that; I could get stuck on one thought for that long. But somehow they get stuff done in those small chunks of time. Second (and maybe because of 45 minute thing), they do not have the luxury of detail attentiveness that most of us just assume comes with any project. By nature and by necessity, teachers are wholly conceptual. The details will work themselves out. So I was surprised to find that the slideshow laptop was to be provided by me. More surprised when we didn't run the slideshow during dress rehearsal to get the kinks out, assuming that if we did it for the first time on show night everything would be fine. It wasn't. No surprise to any of us who deal with technology on a daily basis; you can bank on SOMETHING going wrong every time, no matter how much you've rehearsed. But all issues were resolved by the second performance and the slideshow ran beautifully (and looked really good projected).
But I was most struck by the kids. At first they were calling me Mr. Photographer, so I jokingly said that wasn't necessary; I would be fine if they just called me Mr. Awesome. Which, to my surprise, they did. They got as much of a kick out of it as I did. Then there were the kids (girls mostly) who vehemently pretended to not want their picture taken. But those same kids were always close at hand when I had the camera out. Pretty funny.
It was nice to see and be surrounded by these kids, who tried sometimes to be jaded and "too cool" for stuff, but their enthusiasm was undeniable. And easily recognizable to an adult who has been surrounded by actual jaded, burned out professionals concerned only with how much they were making or whose getting promoted for a long time. Picasso once said "I could draw like the Masters right away; it took me a long time to learn to draw like a child." That is one of my favorite quotes, and made Peter Pan a poignant play to watch as I try not to grow up myself. Or, to take the lesson from Peter Pan, to grow OLD. Among the adults helping out, in some cases you could see playground/"who are the cool kids" politics going on, but among the kids themselves, there was none of that, and nothing about the process of putting on a play that wasn't exciting to the kids: hair and makeup, backstage crew jobs, sound...even pulling the curtain was exciting. In some ways, even though it could have turned into Lord of the Flies, I found myself wishing the play was completely run by kids with no adult involvement. Except me, of course, to document it.
One of the questions/comments that came up as I showed the kids the images I was getting was "what kind of camera is that? I like taking pictures, but my camera just doesn't take pictures like that." From an adult, this question is really annoying (and I was asked that by an adult later the same evening). But from a kid, it's kind of a beautiful teaching moment where I'm able to preach the art of seeing and observing. And how much more interesting the world is when you look at it as shapes rather than items on a checklist. Seeing the twinkle brighten in the kid's eyes as they realize they've had an epiphany is really something.
It was a lot of work and time investment for me, but interacting with the kids made it all worth it, and I can't wait to do it again next year.