The theater is full of third-graders, musicians and a puppet with an infamously long nose.
Years of work and love went into this production of “The Perilous Predicaments of Pinocchio,” and it’s all about to pay off. Children guffaw when donkey ears appear on the wooden boy’s face, they gasp when a shark attacks him and cheer when he turns into a real boy.
In this re-imagining of “Pinocchio,” it’s not just honesty that turns the protagonist into a human hero. Pinocchio learns that going to school and doing his homework is part of realizing his dreams.
“We’re socializing kids to live performances and incorporating literacy,” said Michael Williams, executive director of the Tidewater Winds. Next fall, the group may perform “The Little Prince” for Chesapeake and Norfolk students.
John Brewington, VBCPS performing arts coordinator, began working on the project three years ago during the onset of the pandemic.
David Messick of Rainbow Puppets rewrote the original Pinocchio story by Carlo Collodi, and worked with Brewington to create a cleaner, more direct, story line. The resulting book was given to all of the third-grade audience members.
“Kids have the book,” Brewington said. “We wanted them to read the story before the show.”
The book’s appendices describe the pieces of a concert band and the difference between string puppets and hand — or “big mouth” — puppets.
“This is also one of the most unique puppet versions of the show,” Messick said, “because it is told with a very limited number of marionette (string) puppets.”
The plan is to make the performance an annual event for VBCPS students.
“Third graders are so impressionable,” Brewington said. “They’re open to learning about character, and they love a good story. A rising tide lifts all boats, so they also learn about music and reading, all while having fun.”
Because of the pandemic, the Sandler Center performance was for many students their first field trip and the first time they were inside a professional performance hall.
“My students were mesmerized,” said Sarah Fagan, music specialist at Pembroke Elementary. “They loved it, and so did the teachers!”
And the learning didn’t end with the show. Missy Sullivan, a gifted resource teacher at First Colonial High School, wrote a guide to help teachers break the experience into lessons about the story, about music and about puppetry before going to the concert.
A follow-up lesson came several weeks after the performance, Maestro Brewington, Williams, narrator Kathryn Barrett and members of the Tidewater Winds visited Brookwood Elementary third graders for a workshop on music, storytelling and puppetry.
Brewington asked students if they remembered the performance and read their Pinocchio books. Students raised their hands in agreement, then listened to musicians perform part of the score.
“That was the overture,” Brewington explained. He invited student volunteers to play maracas while Williams had the cricket puppet from the show buzz around and make funny faces.
The students then split up into rotating small groups, where Brewington conducted them with a baton, Barrett encouraged them to play out their own story for the local news, Williams explained more about puppets and performance, and Tidewater Winds members reviewed the musical instrument families.
“What is this stick?” Brewington asked one of the groups.
“A baton!” one student answered. Students discussed woodwinds, brass, percussion and string instruments, and how a good story has a beginning, middle and end.
Brookwood music teacher Joy Stasiuk said the Sandler Center performance and in-school workshop helped bring alive lessons about musical instruments, the elements of a story and more.
“We experienced the story of Pinocchio and had interactive experiences with the students,” Stasiuk said. “It made it more relevant when the students were able to see the Tidewater Winds perform. The whole experience was just amazing.”
The Pinocchio performance at the Sandler Center was part of Tidewater Winds’ launch of the R.i.M.E (Reading in Music Education) Project with funding support from National Endowment for the Arts, Virginia Commission for the Arts, Arts Alliance, Virginia Beach Cultural Arts Commission, Chesapeake Fine Arts Commission, Norfolk Arts, Beazley Foundation and Towne Bank Foundation.