Highlighting Filipino culture

Auke Bay Elementary fifth-graders stage a Filipino Cinderella story

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

It starts with two crabs from the Philippines delivering pizza in Juneau and ends with a much-berated stepdaughter marrying a prince and manufacturing specialty jams for movie stars. And no one mumbles! You know it's not the usual school play.

Every year Auke Bay Elementary fifth-graders, under the direction of music teacher Ann Boochever, put on an elaborate, multi-performance musical play that packs the school gym in daytime and evening performances. About 90 students participate.

Performances, which last 45 minutes, began Wednesday and continue today at 1:10 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in the school gym.

"We have a following," Boochever said. "There's not that much theater for children in the community. So word has gotten out, and people make a point of bringing their children."

This is the second time in six years that students have presented "The Legend of Mariang Alimango," or "Maria and the Crab," a play adapted by Boochever from a Filipino legend. Adapted enough that it encompasses break dancing choreographed by Juneau-Douglas High School student Orlen Sangster.

"It's basically a Filipino Cinderella story," Boochever said.

Students who want speaking parts have to audition by memorizing a poem and acting in a skit.

"I want to see a real commitment and see they're serious about it," Boochever said, "but I always take everyone who auditions."

Other students dance traditional Filipino dances; play instruments as sound effects; sing in Tagalog, a Filipino language; or work on the crew.

The choral work is part of the regular music classes, but everything else is practiced after school. Some students rehearse for about 10 weeks.

"I play the triangle," said Maia Reynolds, who also is in the stage crew. "I make the noise when Maria picks the fruit from the tree. It really makes it sound like magic. I also helped paint the backdrop, which was fun."

"It took us a really long time to figure out what we were doing," said stage crew member Lorretta Harris, who also plays a bamboo instrument for sound effects and sings in the chorus.

Boochever would make the students do something again, and the students would have an attitude, Lorretta said. But in doing it over, "it got a lot better," Lorretta said.

"We started out mumbling. And now we actually know all the words to our sings," she said.

Boochever bribed students with Otter Pops.

"I had a really big problem where I just walk off after I say my line," said Hannah Swofford, who plays the stepmother. (Boochever) "would show me at first and then I'd copy her. And if I really didn't get it, she would move my body."

Auke Bay teacher Pam Curé choreographed the costumed dances, which are patterned after traditional Filipino dances sketched out by Harborview Elementary teacher Linda Augustine.

The play gives students an experience they wouldn't get in the classroom.

"Any time you add the element of theater I think you go to a much deeper level of understanding," Boochever said. "It's not like learning about the Philippines in a textbook."

Nearly one in 20 Juneau residents identified themselves as being wholly or partly Filipino in the 2000 census. Boochever said it's important that students become more familiar with Filipino culture and understand and appreciate it.

Maria Weyhrauch, who played a girl named Maria who lived in the past, said she likes acting and wanted a big role.

"You learn how to act better and you learn stuff about the Philippines that they usually don't teach in class," Maria said.

Grady Wright, who plays a crab, added that the rehearsals were a major social event every time.

Students performed in front of a three-piece set. Paintings and grass mats served as backdrops, and bamboo and rattan chairs furnished the stage. The center panel featured a huge sampaguita, the Philippine national flower, painted by parent Nancy Lehnhart and students.

"It's the biggest (set) we've had," said Libby Parker, a JDHS student and former Auke Bay student who helped direct the play.

The play begins with a modern-day Juneau girl named Maria, played by Anya Ludwig, who wishes she had a maid to clean up her room.

Two crabs, played by Wright and Taylor Lehnhart, arrive from the Philippines with a pizza but, in a Winnie the Pooh honey-related twist, it turns out they ate it on the way.

The boys sing about how they got to Juneau and the sea life they met on the way: "You would have been a beautiful chowder, you could have been a wonderful stew."

"I love to make people laugh," Wright said after Wednesday morning's performance. "I love laughter."

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