Thursday, February 9, 2012


Periaktoi sounds like some kind of scary contagious medical condition, but it's really a 3-sided panel used to make quick scene changes in theater.  An 11 second YouTube clip is worth at least 42 words.

For the last couple of weeks I've been painting periaktos (that's the plural form) and other random scenery things with my friend Kate.  When we're done, I'll post some pictures.  But, the experience is dragging up memories of other scenery painting and drama experiences that I've been involved in over the years.

When I taught 3rd grade in National City, my teaching partner, Carol, and I put on a play with our 3rd graders.  "What He Deserves" was about a greedy guy who tried to con the king and queen.  In the end he got what he deserved.  The king and queen gave him the most precious thing in the kingdom - a perfect turnip - which was the gift his poor neglected sister had given to the royal couple.

Carol always taught our students music - the recorder, Orff Ensemble (percussion instruments), singing, and music theory.  I always taught our students dance - mostly line dancing and square dancing.  So, of course, we had to add instrumentation, singing, and square dancing to the play.  Carol and the students rewrote lyrics to familiar songs and they learned how to sing them and play them on their instruments.  I remember the chorus, sung to the tune of Guantanamera:  "Rich greedy mister, so very mean to your sister."

I was also in charge of the scenery.  And, until last week, I didn't realize that what we had made were periaktos, kind of.  We painted the scenery on big appliance boxes - the castle on one side and the forest on the other.  The kids turned the boxes around for scene changes - just like periaktos.  We also made a gigantic papier mache turnip and a very uncomfortable top hat out of poster board and felt.

Doing projects like this used to be fun and maddening.  In the middle of it all you begin to wonder what in the world ever possessed you to take on such a project with 50-60 overly excited 3rd graders.  But, it's all worth it when you get to sit back and 'relax' during performance time.

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