A special Student Matinee at A.C.T.

Posted by Liana Winternitz, Marketing Fellow

Bessie Carmichael Elementary School students 
perform three original songs before a student matinee performance of Stuck Elevator.
A.C.T.’s final mainstage Student Matinee (SMAT) performance of the 2012–13 season was on Stuck Elevator, the world premiere musical inspired by the true story of a Chinese immigrant trapped in a Bronx elevator for 81 hours.
Thursday, April 18. On that sunny afternoon, 857 students and their teachers made their way to A.C.T.’s Geary Theater to see a performance of

A.C.T.’s SMAT Program began in 1968 and has since welcomed over half a million students from schools all over California. In a single season, A.C.T. hosts approximately 15 SMATs for mainstage and conservatory shows (depending on the appropriateness of the show and placement in the school year), exposing around 7,000 students to the wonders of theater, many for the first time. Recent popular Conservatory SMAT performances include Tartuffe and The Odyssey, performed by our Master of Fine Arts Program students.

Preshow nerves didn’t stop these kids from singing their best.
“Even though I have seen each show several times before I attend the SMAT, I am always moved and energized by the students’ honest reactions to the performance,” says Edward Budworth, A.C.T.’s group sales representative in charge of SMAT ticketing. “Actors regularly tell us the SMAT is their favorite performance during the run. It is amazing how perceptive and enlightening student questions are in the postshow Q & A with the actors, indicating that they are attentive and appreciative. Sharing this experience with 1,000 students each time is a remarkable experience.”  Stuck Elevator’s SMAT Chat was led by A.C.T.’s director of education, Elizabeth Brodersen, and included cast members Julius Ahn (Guāng), Marie-France Arcilla (ng, Ensemble), Raymond J. Lee (Wáng Yuè, Ensemble), and Joel Perez (Marco, Ensemble).

Though each SMAT is unique, the Stuck Elevator SMAT was extra special. Before the show, 4th and 5th graders from San Francisco’s Bessie Carmichael Elementary School performed three original songs written and led by Peter Sroka, a drama teacher from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)'s Visual and Performing Arts Department, who played the keyboard. To our knowledge, this was the first time public school students have performed on The Geary stage in its 100-year history.

The enthusiastic bunch, 47 children in all, arrived early at The Geary wearing personally illustrated T-shirts (marked by white doves, hearts, yin/yang symbols, and even an anti-handgun image) and decked out in colorful peace sign necklaces made of pipe cleaners and yarn. The group dropped off their backpacks and sack lunches and hit the stage to do a run-through, coached by A.C.T. Associate Production Manager Amanda Haley and Stuck Elevator stage manager Karen Szpaller. Their nervousness was evident—the 1,000-seat Geary can be intimidating to even professional actors—and during rehearsal they sang softly and hesitantly. However, just an hour later, in front of a packed and cheering house, the Bessie Carmichael students performed like superstars! Brodersen, several SFUSD representatives, and San Francisco community arts partners were on hand for the event.

Something indescribable happens when children sing in unison, especially when singing about unity, inalienable rights, and Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. A charming skit introduced that particular song: A boy ran onstage exclaiming, “The Warriors are here, I hear the Golden State Warriors are here! Wait, but they can’t play hoops on the stage!” To which the group responded, “Not the Golden State Warriors: the terracotta warriors!”—a reference to the terracotta warriors on display at the Asian Art Museum until May 27.

As they finished their performance and received wild applause, the traditional bow evolved into jumping and dancing, blowing of kisses, and dramatic, Miss-America-style waving. Whatever reservations existed before the performance had given way to resolute jubilance at their taste of celebrity. Seeing the children so happy, confident, and proud of their performance was a gift in itself. Eventually the young performers exited the stage and exuberantly high-fived their way to their seats. The lights went down, signaling the start of Stuck Elevator, a performance that would enlighten and entertain all in attendance, especially the Bessie Carmichael students in the front rows.

“A.C.T. has one of the oldest student matinee programs in the country, and we are honored to continue the tradition,” says A.C.T. Education Associate Emily Means. “As we expand our programming, of course we find tremendous joy in taking theater to Bay Area schools, but there is something really special about hosting students here—opening our doors to welcome them, and, as with Bessie Carmichael, literally giving them the stage.”

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