Actor-Educator Michela: Teaching and Learning with Theatre and Puppets

Guest Blogger and Veteran Actor Michela Micalizio

GUEST BLOG POSTER: MICHELA

You may recognize Michela as an actress who frequented the Dress Up Theatre stage not too long ago, playing roles like Blitzen in Santa’s Reindeer Revue, the Empress in The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Mama in Wiley and the Hairy Man. During the day, Michela is an 11th grader at Falmouth High School. When she grows up, she’d like to be a theatre educator, so when she had the opportunity to job shadow for her school, she came the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine! Here are her observations and thoughts on the experience.

DAY 1

Hello! My name is Michela Micalizio. I am a 17 year old junior at Falmouth High School and I was permitted to job shadow here at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine with the wonderful Reba Short, who might have the best job ever. She is the head honcho of the theatre, directing the shows and theatre programs in the museum. When I arrived, I sat down with Reba and three little girls to help with the Teensy Weensy acting class for ages 3-5. I knew I was going to have a good day when I saw three tiny girls eagerly and joyfully huddled around a window frame being held by Reba who was kneeling on the floor and operating a chicken puppet.

The girls’ mission was to collect food that was falling from the sky and feed it to the chicken. I was handed the chicken and accepted the mantle that comes with it. The girls would talk to the chicken like it was real; they were bubbly and enthusiastic, imaginative and creative, and silly and fun. They all varied in confidence levels, one girl was tentative and shy while another was a wild child, outgoing and loud. Yet it was clear to me that all of them felt safe enough in that theater to express their opinions and dance like goons. The chicken was a more approachable classmate, always receiving cuddles, being asked to dance, and joining in the activities on the girls’ requests.

I find that with puppets, a whole different door is opened in terms of communicating with kids. They may not actually believe it to be living, but it is something that is fascinating and relatable. Puppets are wonderful to use with children. But soon it was time to say goodbye, and Reba and I went on a floor check with marionettes: two fluffy “birddogs”. The puppets are sometimes scary to younger ones, so we had to be careful.

We only had one incident where an older brother asked to use the puppet and proceeded to chase and corner his baby brother who was reduced to tears. We had to be careful about which kids we could hand the marionettes to. But the next child we handed it to, not only did she respect the puppet and not scare anyone, but she named it, she spoke to it, and she walked with it like a friend. Mr. Red and Mr. Blue, the birddogs, went to the supermarket and another girl bought them lunch: raisins with maple syrup (the favorite food of birddogs) and bread (a LOT of bread). The marionettes Misters Red and Blue were a success.

When Reba made an announcement for a star show and only one kid and her dad showed up, she put on a show just for them. The kid never said a word, and was still as attentive and enchanted as anyone else, for she sat still and listened to the stories behind the Chinese constellations. Well, I am very excited about the next two days I will be here, see you tomorrow!

Michela as Mama in "Wiley and the Hairy Man," 2012
Michela as Mama in “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” 2012

DAY 2

Hey there! Michela Micalizio here again at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine. The second day of my job shadow began with a design meeting, planning out the set and lighting for Rumpelstiltskin. This is going to be a wicked cool show, let me just say. During the planning, kids would wander in and they would not be shooed away by us, we were in the children’s country, they have domain in their museum. Kids are free to explore anywhere and if we intrude, we are in the way of their leaping and spinning. When Reba and I performed her puppet show “What Does the Fox Say?” kids were laughing, interacting, and enjoying themselves. But as soon as we were done, we had to quickly get out of there because the kids were so eager to put on their own puppet show. It is bewildering and encouraging to see all these kids get so excited about the arts, theater and creating things for themselves. Tonight I get to sit in for a rehearsal of Rumpelstiltskin. That’ll be so fun! I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Take care!

DAY 3

Michela Micalizio reporting from the last day of my job shadow! Here at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, the “and theatre” part of it all is where it’s at. Rehearsal for Rumpelstiltskin last night was amazing! There are some extremely talented kids in this show. It will be performing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays February 14-23rd, as well as Wednesday and Thursday February 19th and 20th. I cannot disclose anything about the play, because that ruins the fun, but I will say to get very excited, this will be a show you shouldn’t miss.

Theatre is a place for timid children to find their voice; it is a safe haven for the downtrodden and a party for the meek. It really is magical. This morning I got to do a puppet floor check by myself! It was much less eventful than the first, however, and I returned upstairs. Reba then informed me that I was to help her with a performance of her show “The True Story of the Toy Fairy.” All I can say is wow! It was an interactive, imaginative and plain wonderful play where the kids got feathers to fly, magic glitter, and a tea party with the toy fairy! Today I saw a lot more of parents playing and joining in on the creation then I have the past two days.

Reba asked me then to help her prototype an exhibit that will be debuting in the museum in the near future. The Imagination Playground is truly a sight to see, with massive blue blocks to build any old thing you want! Reba had the idea to create an activity for kids where they help a monster rebuild his house. I was to play the monster today, and Reba wanted to watch and create a comprehensive guide for volunteers to do this in the future. Prototyping is like rehearsals for the museum staff, she says. And that went very, very well! I operated a sweet blue monster puppet named Sully, and a wonderfully forward 4-year-old girl marched right up and built him a house. Reba says in the past, she’s noticed that boys tend to build the structure of the house, one with walls and a ceiling, while girls would furnish it. This was true for this girl, too, as she proceeded to make a mailbox, a bed, a slide, and many lamps! This will be a wonderful exhibit, children and parents both getting lost in the possibilities of these blue blocks. This was an informational and downright fun job shadow, and I hope to volunteer in the future! Michela Micalizio, signing off.