Written by Judy Epstein Friday, 26 March 2010 00:00
The fifth grade at Manorhaven School celebrated communication across the generations with a multi-media production called Finding Port on Wednesday, March 17. Using music, photos, dance and especially drama, they highlighted the stories of many of Port Washington’s senior citizens.
This intergenerational arts project began with the children viewing Finding North, a one-man play by poet David Gonzalez, which dramatizes the stories of an Underground Railroad “conductor” and others, past and present, who have come to America.
The kids then set out on a journey of their own. First, in small groups and with help from their teachers, they honed their interview skills in one-hour visits with members of Port Washington’s senior community. Interviewees volunteered from Hadley House and the Port Washington Senior Citizens Center in Manorhaven. After that, the children had to choose which stories to present, as well as how to present them, which they ultimately did in a lively mixture of sketches, simulated television interviews, and even a mock game show.
Among the highlighted stories were:
Nick and Rose Capobianco looking at travel photos with their granddaughter; Socorro Roman, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina; Albert Chen, who remembered hiding in the attic as a teenager in China when Japan attacked; Mrs. Hink, who as a baby was rescued with her mother from a building with a gas leak; and Mrs. Wally Dunham, who told of being caught out in the open as an 8-year old in Germany during an Allied bombing attack. The kids were also impressed how, at other times, Mrs. Dunham sat in the air-raid shelter hoping the time went past 10 p.m. so school would be cancelled the next day.
In one skit, the children dramatized the tale of Mrs. Joyce Kinney, herself a third-generation Port resident, who took a dare and fell through thin ice on the Mill Pond, all because “I didn’t want to be called a chicken the rest of my life.” They also acted out the motorists who rescued her after the boys who had dared her ran away.
Another team re-enacted how Amy Marsalise met her husband and made friends for life, on a fateful double date.
Mary Sibert’s interviewers showed her giving a doll made of straw to her little sister, only to find her sister demolishing the doll. Joe Bundy’s interviewers were struck by his Depression story of being unable to scrape 11 cents together to go to a movie. Margaret Walsh wanted nothing more than to pick out her own clothes at a store, rather than always wearing the matching outfits her mother made for her and her sisters. Betty Sheridan ran away from a heartless piano teacher, and Barbara Patton had to kick an old man to stop him from beating another child with a cane. That lesson was clear: “No adult should strike a child!”
One team created a game show, “How Well Do You Know Your Friend?” to highlight Ed Balcourt’s career as a professional illustrator of movie posters and paperback covers, as well as his service in the U.S. Navy. He still teaches drawing classes at both the Manorhaven and St. Stephen’s senior centers.
A question-and-answer session after the show revealed that the children’s favorite parts of the process were interviewing; playing theater games; and rehearsing. The hardest parts, they said, were memorizing their lines (though it didn’t show), smiling, and remembering to speak up. One child discovered that “If you’re shy, you can step into a new character.” The teachers spoke of working with the children on interview skills, especially listening to answers, and asking follow-up questions.
The children also learned about Port Washington: “It was all sand!” “The water came right up to the street!” and “We have such great seniors!”
Principal Bonni Cohen was very pleased with the project: “We were hoping the children would appreciate the seniors, and that was certainly achieved.” For her, the best part was “the reactions of our senior citizens when they heard their names and saw their stories being told.”
This project is under the supervision of Rose Marvel, director of creative arts for the school district. Performance artists Alan and Carole Lehrman, of the Great Neck Arts Center, helped the teachers and children through the process. Senior Center Director Dolores Holliday coordinated many of the senior interviews.