GOOD TEACHERS are always on the lookout for ideas that will excite their students. Excellent teachers look for new, exciting ideas that motivate students to build on skills they already have.
Margie Eisenstein, art teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, is such a teacher.
Last summer, she happened upon a community festival and art event, "The Great Doings Day," put on by Open Space Arts, a professional theater troupe in Reisterstown.
The group presents a dozen or so family-oriented performances a year in the Reisterstown area and its members serve as resident artists at educational institutions.
As many as 100 volunteers and interns design sets, build masks and write scripts for some of their productions.
Open Space founder Alden Phelps says the organization is devoted to community building, rather than producing polished Broadway-style performances.
Eisenstein wanted these folks to come to her school. The troupe does take its act on the road, so she wrote to the Howard County Arts Council for a grant. She proposed a visit by the troupe, to help her pupils put on a play focused on environmental issues. Troupe members would teach the children how to write a script, design costumes and create a production.
The grant was approved, and the Bollman Bridge PTA came up with matching funds.
The troupe created descriptions of six characters for a play and presented them to the children: Choptank Chuck, a fish; Pete Topsoil; Belle Weather, a bird; Kanisha, the mutant frog; Motown Wheels, a car; and Nori Guard, the main protagonist.
While Open Space members Scott Colburn and Beth Phelps worked with 15 fourth-graders on writing the script, all of the third- and fourth-graders drew sketches of the characters.
Troupe members Alden Phelps and Mike Malbrough looked through the 200 drawings the children made and chose characteristics from several drawings to be used for each character. Many of the designs for the mutant frog had three eyes -- an element that remained.
Then it was on to the messy work: building the masks.
The masks go over a performer's head, so they must be large and lightweight.
Alden Phelps and Mike Malbrough showed the children how to make an armature, cover it with clay and model the face and head in clay.
The children covered their clay sculptures with plastic wrap and began to layer papier-mache over them. Luckily, there were many third- and fourth-graders to share this messy, time-consuming task -- 250 children worked on the project.
Next week, after the papier-mache has dried, the children will paint the masks.
Then comes performance day.
The fourth-graders will present two performances, at 9: 30 a.m. and 10 a.m., of their environmental play on Thursday, for the entire school.
No word yet on who gets to keep the completed masks.
Fourth-graders Greg Bowser, Ross Cochran, Nicole De Vito, Erica Esposito, Ricky LaFond, Lauren McGlothlin, Catherine Myers, Jonathan Nuss, Peter Owens, Emilie Reinhard, Alison Rose, Katie Skojec, Erica Szalkowski, Danielle Walburn, Natalie Yelenik, Anisha Parikh, Robin Pubbi, Kylie Smith, Holly Schemm and Arlin Willett wrote the script and will perform.
An iron-working history
There is a long tradition of iron-working in our area. Indeed, Montpelier Mansion -- the Colonial-era estate off Route 197 in Laurel -- was built by the Snowden family, owners of the Patuxent Ironworks.
Beginning Jan. 31, the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center -- which sits on the same property as the mansion -- will present an exhibition of photos, documents and artifacts illustrating the lives of African-American workers at the historic Patuxent and Muirkirk Ironworks.
The exhibit, "SSS When the Iron Was Hot: African-American Iron Workers in Laurel/Muirkirk, 1730-1930," will run through Feb. 28. The exhibit is just in time for Black History Month in February.
Charles Dew, author of "Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge," will give a free lecture at noon Feb. 19 at the arts center. (Buffalo Forge was near Lexington, Va.) Reservations are required.
The center invites everyone to a reception in honor of the opening of this exhibition and to visit another that will run through Feb. 26 -- "Some Prints on the Square," new work by Lila Oliver Asher.
The exhibition will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 7.
Pub Date: 1/22/99