After weeks of work, curtain lifts on “Bugz”

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

For the past three months, close to 50 third-graders at Black Mountain Primary School have been preparing sets, learning lines, practicing songs and creating tickets. They’ve been envisioning lighting and sound effects. They’ve been making costumes.

And now it’s show time.

All of that giggly work by the Primary Players culminates in performances in the school theater at 7 p.m. Saturday April 15 and 4 p.m. Saturday April 16.

This year’s third graders will perform “Bugz,” the story of a group of bugs on a trip to a picnic in the park. Each bug is unique, and not all the bugs appreciate one another. As one might suspect, the stink bug is not favored by the others. As the story unfolds, the bugs (and all the performers) realize the need to include others. They learn acceptance. Each year’s production contains a values lesson for the participants and audience.

This year’s production marks the 34th year of what has become a favorite school tradition for many. Each year, with the help of more than 10 staff-member directors, some four dozen third-graders participate in all aspects of the spring drama production.

More than 30 years ago, Cindy Medlock and Karen Bartlett, then teachers at the school, had the vision of exposing children to theater. Medlock eagerly approached the principal at the time with the idea of having a school play, something she picked up from another N.C. public school. The principal was all for it.

The first production was opened to third- through fifth-graders (the school was kindergarten through fifth grade at the time). Little did they know that their idea in 1983 would still be going strong today. The play has become a highlight of the third-grade year for many students.

The performance process exposes students to all the elements of theater.

“Putting on the show is a huge team effort that involves all sorts of talents and capabilities,” said Jillian Bowman, music teacher and performance lead director. “Staff directors help students find their gifts and interests, and where they will shine most.”

During the three-month process, students solve problems and find solutions; their own ideas help create the end result. As an example, Bowman cited the students creating special effects and lighting to enhance the show.

Students taking part in the annual production must commit to regularly attending the Wednesday after-school practices. They select an area of interest and work in that group, with a staff director’s guidance, throughout the process. Students choose from lighting/sound, characters, sets, tickets/programs and costumes. Selected as a North Carolina A+ school, the arts are a high priority at Black Mountain Primary.

Third-grader Norah Senna is excited to play the monarch butterfly in “Bugz.” She will be dressed in orange, black and white with wings. For weeks, she has practiced her lines. Now she’s eager to see the performance come together.

“I have liked getting to try new things and to be with friends at the many practices,” she said. “It’s been so much fun, and the directors have helped me a lot.”

Bowman is pleased the students get to have this opportunity. The benefits of participation are many, from building confidence to exposing them to new things to helping them think outside the norm of classroom academics.

“It can be window into future interests and activities for a student later in school, or as adult,” Bowman said.

Over these many years, the tradition has grown stronger. Staff director Patricia Berzinski said the commitment of the directors, usually 10 or more staff members, working weekly with the students, is key to the successful tradition.

“The staff directors realize that the end result is so much more than each part, and we all are excited to get to see it all come together,” Bowman said. “It is a blessing to be part of something greater than yourself.

“There is no way one staff member alone could handle all the many details to make it happen. The enthusiasm and dedication of the students, the support from home and the school administration help fuel the commitment of the staff members.”

Some of the directors, such as kindergarten teacher Ashley Stiles, were part of Primary Players when they were students at the school and remember it as a special time. As she has for many years, Styles is helping with costumes and characters for this year’s performance.

Berzinski loves watching the students “come out of their shell and really shine,” she said. “Some students I would never expect will surprise me the most at the final production,” she said.

Seating is limited for the performances, so contact the school office about tickets at 669-2645. Community tickets are $4 adults, $3 children.