Bali in the Big Room

4-5 Play  - 19-XLBy tradition dress rehearsals are a little gnarly – and this one was no exception. On the morning of the 4/5 play some kids were fighting colds and a lead actor was out sick. A few students still needed prompting on their lines, and others couldn’t find their props. But when the play opened that evening to a packed house, Synergy’s Big Room was transformed into a Balinese festival complete with gamelan instrumental music, shadow puppets, and colorful sets and costumes based on traditional designs. The production featured magic, demons, monkeys, sword play, romance, and murder. The audience was dazzled, and when the play was over the actors received a standing ovation.

The play, “Rama and Sita,” was written by Jana Barber and Mahala Bundy. The teachers adapted a section of the Ramayana, a Hindu epic that is two thousand years old. Skylight students acted out the first half of the play; Eastenders played the second half.

“The Ramayana is one of two great epics in Hindu tradition,” said Mahala. “The play gave me the opportunity to introduce students to the Balinese arts and to teach Balinese music to 4th and 5th graders.”

To help the students prepare for the play, two teachers from the Bay Area Balinese dance group, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, came to Synergy to give a Balinese arts workshop. They taught dance, gamelan music, and shadow puppetry.

“It was the kids’ first day back from winter vacation and they were really pumped,” said Mahala. “They immediately began incorporating the gestures they learned in the workshop into their parts.”

Jana, who directed the play, was still euphoric a few days after the production. “The play is challenging on many levels – thematically, culturally, and musically – and the kids did well from beginning to end,” she said. “The fifth graders had to step up and take on bigger parts, but I also want to give a shout out to the fourth graders. They really took the reins and galloped as well.”

Synergy art teacher Pam Heyda helped students create the colorful Balinese wall hangings that formed the backdrop for the production, and parent Jackie Adams spent hours designing and making costumes.

“It was really fun but it was a lot of work,” said Synergy fifth grader Nikolai Crawford who played Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. When it was all over, he was relieved that he didn’t have to work on his lines (65 in all) anymore, but it was a let down, too. “We put so much work into it, and then it was over so fast!” he said.

As for Mahala and Jana, they didn’t get a chance to savor the moment – or even take a day off. Mahala had to jump right into preparations for the Spring Concert, and Jana began work on the eighth grade play.

— by Connie Matthiessen 

 Photos by Russ Curtis and Darya Mead
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