Little Miss Muffett is an undercover narcotics agent. The Itsy-Bitsy Spider likes to sing duets with the sun. Little Boy Blue wears dark glasses and plays a saxophone that would rival Bill Clinton's. And Humpty Dumpty has an attitude problem.
If these don't sound like the nursery rhymes of your childhood, it's because they've been beamed into the '90s by drama club students at Francis Scott Key High School.
The rhymes are the core of an original Star Trek play that Key students have created in hopes of entertaining and teaching elementary school audiences the value of learning. The play was performed for the first time in Baltimore on Friday at Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School.
In the play, the Starship Education encounters the planet "Zorf," a lost colony of Earth. Its inhabitants, the "Blurkes," are deprived of knowledge by their leader, who has hidden all books. The Blurkes are so ignorant that they can't spell or add, tell a frog from a flower, or give a "high-five."
The crew from the starship strikes a deal with the leader (played by senior John May), to swap an hour of teaching for Star Trek uniforms. When the crew members discover a dusty book of nursery rhymes, the Blurkes' education, and the fun, begins.
Various characters are beamed down from the starship to teach lessons that amaze the Blurkes. Jack Sprat's wife reveals the secrets of good nutrition and sharing; the Itsy-Bitsy Spider teaches perseverance. Little Boy Blue emphasizes the importance of practicing until you get it right. And Miss Muffett offers a lesson about dangerous substances.
The play moves along quickly and cleverly as actors enter through a strobe light "beam," accompanied by convincing Star Trek sound effects coordinated by Ted Wilson. The spaceship ** set was constructed by senior Mike Gibbons, a member of a regional Star Trek club.
Key's Drama Club members opted for a children's play last spring and were anxious to create something from scratch. A Star Trek episode seemed the right place to start (Several club members are "Trekkies," and the crew of the starship always has an important mission).
The mission of the actors?
"We wanted to do something for the community about the importance of education," said Kristi Partner, a sophomore. "We're hoping to make a difference here."
In creating the play, the "crew" encountered the pleasant surprises that come when a group project clicks into place.
"I'm really impressed that lots of ideas came together so quickly, and lots of people worked together to put it on," said senior Tim Fuss, a Star Trek crew member in the play. The 25-member cast began working on the play in September, discovering the challenges of writing a play for young children -- no big words allowed.
"We've had a lot of fun," said senior Lowell Curry, who plays one of the ignorant Blurkes. "We did it all -- the writing, the costumes -- and tailored it to our needs. It wasn't as pressured as a traditional stage play. -- It's one experience we'll never forget."
With luck, their young audiences won't forget the messages, either.
"I hope they remember the lessons we're trying to teach," said John May. "You gotta keep trying."
Bernard Harris Elementary, Key's sister school, was chosen for the first performance to highlight the high school's participation in American Education Week, which ended Friday. Francis Scott Key and Bernard Harris have a partnership that benefits both schools.
Alma Brown, principal at Bernard Harris, said, "The students loved the program. They were attentive and fascinated by the costumes. They seemed to learn the lessons implicit in the rhymes. It was wonderful."
She said Key was tapped three years ago to help motivate students at her school to strive for better attendance, and projects have grown ever since.
"The partnership provides a broader sense of community for both groups," she says, "and strengthens each other's awareness of different cultures."
Last year, Mrs. Brown's students took a play to Francis Scott Key for Black History month. Key students followed up by studying figures in black history, and exchanged the new-found information with the young students in the city.
The high school students also serve as role models for the younger pupils, says Mrs. Brown, as they illustrate the positive things teen-agers can do in the community.
So far, the modeling works. Fourth-graders at the elementary school have become peer counselors for the younger kids in school.