Forest Alphabet Saltspring School Tour
In March, 2015, the Children’s Forest tribe took their puppet extravaganza and forest rap to six schools on Saltspring, performing for over 5oo students in total. The troupe visited Saltspring Centre School, Fulford Elementary, Saltspring Island Middle School, Fernwood Elementary, Phoenix School, and Saltspring Elementary School. Each school offered a unique setting, audience, and opportunity for theatrical learning, and was gifted a copy of the book, ‘Forest Alphabet’ for their school library. Following each performance, the Forest Alphabet youth chatted with school students, showing their puppetry skills, and cultivating a network of youth speaking out for the natural world.
Daily Tour Log
Written by Alma Huuskonen, March 2015
Sunday, March 1st
We gather at the ferry terminal at 11am, excitement running high. We are about to leave for Saltspring Island, armed with puppets and catchy songs, to spread awareness about the Children’s Forest to 6 different schools. In our company, we have Sabina, Ashe, Mary, Alma, Marion, Katie-Rain, Laara, Aislin, Lilly, Ilo, Makawi, Sequoia, and Khalil. Quite the group to be travelling with for the next 5 days! Sarah also accompanies us on the trip, which was not planned but turned out to be immensely helpful. We pack all of our gear into the back of Sabina’s truck, not sparing a single square centimeter. Good. That way, we can be assured it won’t move around and get damaged. We split into vehicles. Ashe has Ilo, Makawi, Sequoia, Khalil, Aislin, and Mary in her van. Sabina has Lilly, Laara, Marion, and Katie-Rain in her truck. Sarah has Alma in her car.
The trip down island goes smoothly, ending as we reach Crofton at around 4:30.
While waiting for the ferry, Ashe takes a group of kids to walk around and burn off a little energy. It is raining, but they don’t seem to notice much. A few minutes before the ferry arrives, they come running back to the cars, holding shiny, black, plastic-y lumps in their hands.
“Look what we found on the beach!” They exclaim. “It covers the whole surface, some of the pieces are small like sand and some are big! You have to dig down a bit to find the real sand,” they explain further.
Sabina identifies the material as some kind of oil or tar composite material, although is not sure.
The ferry ride across to Saltspring is short, about 20 minutes. We land at about 5:30pm, and we are all very excited indeed. Many of us have never been to Saltspring, so it is a new experience. We are all trying to look out the windows (rather unsuccessfully, as it is getting dark), to catch a glimpse of “The Big Island”. It’s not much larger than Cortes in terms of landmass, but the population is over ten times larger. This means that the entire island is somewhat developed, with very few wild places remaining. On Cortes, the entire northern half of the island is undeveloped, which is part of what makes it so different from Saltspring.
We have about a half-hour drive ahead of us, as we are staying on the southern end of the island, and we arrived at the north.
We arrive at our destination at 6pm, guests of Lynn and Drew Thorburn on Isabella Point. We are staying in a beautiful guesthouse, overlooking a field that houses two horses, and past that, the ocean. We can’t see the view all that well, but we still all know that it’s going to be amazing. At this point, Mary, Alma and Laara are promptly whisked away to a dinner meeting that they had scheduled with the family of one of Alma’s friends, and the rest of the crew settles into the house. The evening proceeds nicely, with the kids doing an extra speedy rehearsal (called an Italian run) of their play, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. We need to be up at 7am tomorrow morning, as we have our first show at 9am, and we need to have ample time to get there and set up before then.
Monday, March 2nd
We awake between 6:30-7am, with the exception of Alma because teenagers have a difficult time getting out of bed in the morning. Breakfast is cinnamon-apple oatmeal, made by the lovely Ashe and Mary. By 8:15am everyone is in the car, driving towards our first performance.
We arrive at Saltspring Centre Yoga Studio, which is where we’ll be performing for the kids of the Saltspring Centre School. This school is very reminiscent of Linnaea, and the yoga centre has a lovely feel to it.
Mary, Alma and Katie (the appointed stage assistants) start setting up. The rest of the kids start their warm-up and grounding exercises. They also do an Italian run, just to make sure everyone knows the flow and sequencing of the performance. Suddenly, it’s 9am, and 45 kids between kindergarten and grade 5 start filing into the room. They are really sweet, and the performance goes well. The kids spoke some of their lines a little fast, but this is the first performance, and it was really nice all in all.
After the performance, we have a 15-20 minute interactive time. The audience split into groups, and we went around with puppets and showed the kids how to use them. We also talked about different things, like how the puppets were made, the kid’s favourite part of the show, the differences between Cortes and Saltspring, and the forest. It was really nice, and as the time drew to a close one of the teachers suggests that we put on the Forest Alphabet Rap so that the kids would get a chance to dance to it, as they all seemed to really like it. The performing group teaches the rest of the kids some of the choreography, and everyone has a really nice time.
When this is done, we pack up, and head back to where we are staying to eat some lunch, before our second performance of the day. Ashe, Mary and Alma prepare sandwich-makings, and the kids assemble their own sandwiches, to avoid the inevitable case of “But I don’t like (insert ingredient that we accidentally put in every single sandwich)!”
After lunch, we get back in the cars and head up to Fulford Elementary, which is not far from where we are staying. We arrive there at about 12:45pm, so that we have enough time to set up before the performance starts at 1:15pm. Most of the group runs towards the playground as Mary, Alma and Katie start setting up. The space we are performing in is a bit odd, as it is kind of a junction in a hallway, with the library on one side, and hallways branching off everywhere. The group does most of their grounding exercises outside before coming inside and seeing the space they are to be performing in. They do their Italian in the space, but are rather distracted as they are kind of busy looking around at the unfamiliar setting. In a few short minutes, it’s performance time, and approximately 85 kids are entering. This time around, the performance is quite rushed, as the kids weren’t able to properly ground in the space beforehand.
We learn the absolute importance of being able to become familiar with your surroundings before performing, as not doing so altered the performance quite a bit. It is still sweet, but all of the lines were much too fast.
The interactive time after the performance was a bit of a hassle, as we have groups that were twice as large as the previous ones, and therefore have a bit of a difficult time managing to talk to everyone and keep their attention from wandering. We play the Alphabet Rap song for them, and the kids seem to enjoy dancing, and get quite energetic. The teachers probably aren’t so happy about us getting their kids riled up, oops!
After the performance, we pack up, and Sabina takes us down to Beaver Point, in Ruckle Park. It is a lovely sunny day, and we enjoy walking along the trail beside the beach, picking nettles for dinner and sunbathing on warm, ocean-side rocks. We spend a few hours there before heading back for dinner.
Dinner is prepared by Ashe, Mary and Sarah, and consists of pasta with tomato sauce, nettles and salad. It is very tasty.
After dinner, Sabina takes a bunch of the kids down to the beach, and starts a little campfire. It is really beautiful out there, under the bright, almost-full moon, with a crackling fire to warm your fingers. Since the kids have recognized that they rushed their lines today, they participate in an exercise that they came up with, called the Mississippi. It is the opposite of the Italian, and the goal is to go through the performance
It is great fun, and quite laughter-inducing.
After that, we all go to bed, tired from a day of performances and eager for the next.
Tuesday, March 3rd
Today we don’t have as early of a start, with our first performance being at 11am. Actually, let me rephrase that. Some of us don’t have as early of a start. A few decide to voluntarily get up at 6:30am, for no reason other than being awake. The rest of us are up by 8am, and Ashe and Mary provide some more wonderful oatmeal. We sit down and talk about out schedule for the day.
The first school we’re going to is Saltspring Island Middle School, but we are performing for a select audience only. This audience is the class of Ms. Sarah Bateman, teacher of the MYSEEC program at the school. MYSEEC stands for Middle Years Sharing Environmental Education Community. It is a specialized program that is completely based around environmental and ecological things. The class goes on field trips every week, and all of them seem to really enjoy it. They are between grades 5-8, and therefore are the oldest audience we’ve had yet, most of them older than our group. This fact scares the kids a little, because, you know, older kids. However, it is a group of kids that are in a program specifically because they love the environment, so it shouldn’t be that bad, right?
We load into cars by 10:10am, and start driving. We arrive close to 10:30am, which is a perfect amount of time for us to set up and get the feel for the place. We bring all of our stuff down to the classroom that we’ll be performing in. It isn’t a huge classroom, so we decide to set up at the front of the room. The different thing about performing here is that all of the students will be sitting at tables, whereas in all of our previous performances, the audience has been sitting on the ground. We hope that won’t throw the kids off too much! We set up, and soon enough, our audience has settled, and it’s time for the performance to begin.
Right away, it is apparent that our kids are feeling quite shy, and that really shows through their performance. The audience does look quite a bit older than the performers, so that is probably throwing them off a bit.
After the performance, we split into groups for the interactive time, which our kids seem to struggle with more than they have in the previous schools. It seems to drag on forever… In reality, it was only about five minutes later that we are called to regroup in the front of the room, and for all the students to sit down again. The teacher, Ms. Bateman, tells us that whenever there is a presentation in their class, the students always give the presenter(s) feedback as to what they thought worked really well. The kids are all super sweet, and seem like they really sincerely enjoyed the performance. They give lovely feedback. Anyhow, it was not our best performance, but it was nice to hear good feedback.
After the performance, we go down to Churchill Beach to eat lunch. It is another beautiful, sunny day, and quite lovely to be outside. The next school that we are performing at has 120 students, which will be our biggest crowd yet. We are a bit nervous, so we try to make a plan as to how the interactive time will happen. Before we can make a perfect plan, however, it is time to leave the beach and make our way to the school.
We pull into the parking lot of Fernwood Elementary, and it looks like a pretty generic school. When we walk through the doors, we are informed that there are two different locations that we could possibly perform in. The first is a library, and the second is a gymnasium. We look at the library first. As we walk in, a couple of the kids immediately say “Oh, it is so nice in here!” This has nothing to do with the décor, as it is a pretty normal library, with bookshelves and some tables, and, oddly enough, carpeted walls as well as floor. It has more to do with the energy of the room. It feels so warm and welcoming. There are a few concerns, as carpet really eats sound, some of us are afraid that the kids won’t be able to speak loud enough, and the rap song might not be loud enough either. It is quite a nice space, so we keep it in mind as we visit the gymnasium.
It is a pretty standard gymnasium, quite large, very echo-y, and a bit bleak. A couple of the kids think that it is a good place to perform, and as a group, they can’t seem to make a unanimous decision. Sarah steps forward and says, “What kind of energy do kids bring to a gymnasium, and what kind do they bring to a library? Gymnasiums have a restless, energetic feel, while libraries have a quiet, attentive feel. Keep that in mind while trying to make a decision.”
After that, the kids quickly agree that the library will be the best place to perform, and we start setting up. As part of their grounding exercises, we decide to lead the kids through a projection/enunciation practice, to ensure they will be able to speak loud enough for the entire audience. Right before the audience enters, during sound check, Alma plays the rap song to get the kids excited and energetic. It is their anthem, and seems to work quite effectively in pumping them up and exciting them about their performance.
A minute later, the audience enters. It is made up of mostly very young, very small children, which is good. This is the kind of audience that the kids feel most comfortable performing for. The show starts, and immediately we can tell that this is going to be the best one yet. The kids speak slowly, clearly and loud enough for everyone to hear. They are very articulate with their puppets, and interact with the audience a lot. Most of the interactions that they do are unscripted, and totally improvised, but they are also fantastic and the audience loves it. Everyone in the room is smiling, and it is a very empowering fifteen minutes. We thought that the large number of people in the audience was going to be a bad, scary thing, but in fact it seems to be the opposite. It encouraged the kids to be more theatrical, more outgoing, and the audience responded to that energy. It was absolutely fantastic. After the performance, the kids do their little personal introduction, an ‘Ent’ and a copy of the book are gifted to the school, Sabina does a bit of talking, and suddenly there are hands in the air. Lots of the audience members seem to have questions, so our kids sit up at the front and answer as many as they can. Since we don’t have a whole lot of time, we aren’t able to answer everyone’s question, which is unfortunate.
We move on to the puppet interaction time, and spread out into the audience with a puppet or two in hand. The audience seems to love the puppets, and the teachers all look happy that their students are having such a great time. One of them even mentions that their class will probably make puppets soon, seeing how big of a success they are! All of the teachers and students are lovely, and it’s just a really nice school in general. All too soon, it’s time to pack up and head out. All of us are full of leftover excitement from having such a wonderful performance.
We head down to Drummond Park, which is quite near to where we are staying. Celebratory ice-cream is eaten, and energy is expended.
Later that evening, after dinner, we all head down to the beach again. It is beautiful, with the moon and the fire and all that, and this time we have marshmallows, which makes the kids quite happy. It has been a very good day.
Wednesday, March 4
Today is our last day of performances. It has been quite the journey so far, and we are hoping for a good ending note. Our first performance is at Phoenix School, at 10:15am. This is not too early, so we have a nice morning, eating breakfast prepared by Ashe and Mary. We set off at about 9:45am, which is perfect.
When we arrive at the school, we are informed that they don’t have any classrooms that are large enough to accommodate us, so we are going to have to perform outside. This is yet another new experience, as performing outside is quite different than indoors. We start setting up, and we realize that we have arrived at morning recess time, which means the entire audience is milling around outside with us, which distracts our kids from their warm-ups. This is unfortunate, but cannot be helped.
The students at Phoenix are a whole range of ages, going up to grade eight. Fortunately, there are not many eighth graders, so it isn’t too scary. Suddenly, it’s time for the performance to begin. It is evident that the kids were once again feeling a bit shy/unsure of their surroundings. Performing outside really does have a different feel to it, and since we had never practiced outside, I think it kind of rattled a few of the kids. The performance is still fine, however, and the audience seems to enjoy it. We split off into groups for our interactive time, and that goes quite well.
After we are done, we head over to Mouat Park for lunch. We circle up and discuss the highlights and lowlights of that performance (as we do after every performance), and eat. We also collectively come to terms with the fact that our next performance is going to be the last of the entire trip. That is quite wild to think about, and some of the kids express that they wished it weren’t. Most of us are tired, though, and feel that six performances is adequate for this trip.
We get back into the cars and head towards Saltspring Elementary School. When we arrive, there is a bit of confusion as to where we’ll be performing. The school scheduled a particular room, but then didn’t realize how much space we needed and therefore wouldn’t be able to fit the entire school in that room. That leaves us with one option: the gymnasium. We walk over to the gymnasium to scope it out, and realize how ridiculously massive it is. After some debate, we decide to set up in the middle of one of the wall that is opposite the door, right in front of the stage. We do not perform on the stage, although some of the kids express interest in doing so. We ultimately decide it is not a good idea, as we have never performed on a stage before, and the performance isn’t really suited for it anyways. In the hallway, we bump into Mischa, who used to live on Cortes. He accompanies us back to the gymnasium and helps us set up.
During sound check, the rap song is played again, so the kids can dance and get their energy up. We have been informed that this audience is going to be about 180 people, which is our largest audience so far. As the rap plays, we notice that Mischa is quite the accomplished dancer. We last-minute organize for him to join in the performance in the last verse of the rap song, and dance with our kids. They all seem pretty excited about this idea, which is really nice.
Next thing we know, there are 180+ kids filing in to the gymnasium. The performance starts, and it goes really smoothly. The audience isn’t quite as interactive as those at Fernwood, but we know that was the highlight of the trip and are not expecting to replicate it. Mischa joins in the rap, and that works quite well as it adds something personal to the performance for the kids in the audience. The interactive time follows the same model as Fernwood, with us taking questions from the audience, then going around with puppets. It is a lovely experience over all, and a nice ending note.
It is about 2pm by the time we’re leaving the school, and Sabina decides to take us up Mount Maxwell. It is a lovely place, with a stunning view. We eat some snacks, run around, read bits from the forest alphabet book, and discuss the performance. Sabina also tells us a bit about Robert Bateman, who we are going to see next.
We arrive at Mr. Bateman’s house, and he greets us warmly. He lives in a lovely spot, overlooking Ford Lake, in a beautiful house. We get a detailed tour of said house, which is really quite interesting. The interior is more like an art gallery than a house, with art from all over the world dating from all different times placed on every wall and surface. A few of the pieces are by him, or his wife, but mostly they are from other people. It is a very neat experience, and lots of the kids are wonderstruck by the very different way of living, and the beauty of it. He talks the whole time, telling us about each individual piece, and the aspects of the architecture of the house, and all that. It is quite lovely.
He then invites us into his studio, and shows us different examples of work that he’s done over the last little while. Some of them are accompanied by a tale, or lesson, and it is quite gripping. He gives lots of wonderful little pieces of advice that we all store away in the backs of our minds. After what has seemed like no time at all, it is time for us to leave. Before we do, however, the kids perform the rap song for him and his wife. They seem to enjoy it, and we say farewell.
When we arrive back at the Thorburn’s, we eat dinner, and then have one last fire on the beach. The kids are quite tired from the huge adventure we’ve been on, and probably subconsciously relieved that it’s over, and they all dissolve into giggles (with the help of a few marshmallows). Later, we all crawl in our beds and sleep through the night.
Thursday, March 5th
Today we are returning to Cortes. Sabina will not be accompanying us, as she is flying off to a warm country to go scuba-diving for a month. Our ferry leaves at 12:30, so the morning is full of packing and cleaning. Before we leave, the kids perform the rap song for the Thorburns to say thank you for letting us stay in their guesthouse. Sabina’s mother also sits in on the performance.
All of a sudden, we are saying goodbye to Sabina, packing everything into the cars, and heading back home.
The trip back to Cortes goes without incident. All of the kids in the car with me fell asleep, but I’m not sure about the other car. Everyone is exhausted, as we have been on a crazy, action-packed, totally fun trip. We get back to Cortes at about 6pm, and I believe everyone keeled over with exhaustion the minute they got home (I sure did!).
Sabina left us with a haiku that summarizes the trip, which I am going to include here:
We’re standing as one
Speaking out for the forests
With hearts wide open
Youth Impressions – Cortes to Saltspring Island
Absolute highlights/impressions from the forest tribe as collected by Katie and collated by Alma:
Ashe – getting to know everyone; becoming a team, and realizing what it takes to pull off a trip like this
Aislin – going to see Robert Bateman and getting a tour of his house
Ilo – eating too many marshmallows; performing in general; playing on the beach
Makawi – loved Mount Maxwell
Marion – visiting Mr. Bateman; learning how to work as a group; having fun on the beach
Sequoia wants to go AGAIN!
Mary – creating relationships; supporting each other; watching the children learn, grow and succeed
Lilly – becoming a team; going to Mr. Bateman’s house
Laara – performing at Fernwood Elementary
Katie – eating way too many marshmallows
Khalil – going to Saltspring Island; playing at the beach
Alma – Was fantastic to finally get to Saltspring; loved all the performances and learned so much about group dynamics. Would love to go again.
Marion liked performance
Aislin liked the sandstone beach at beaver point
Lilly liked the first school, was interested to see the differences between schools
Alma liked being on Saltspring for the first time and was having fun
Sabina liked the beach under the moon
Khalil liked the beach
Katie liked the nettle harvesting that we did
Sequoia liked performing as raccoon
Ilo liked all the animals that we saw (donkey, goats, alpacas, eagles, deer, dogs, chickens, horses, seals)
Makawi liked seeing a “good luck eagle”
Mary liked seeing the swans
Ashe liked laying on the sandstone rocks at Beaver Point soaking up sun
Lilly liked being at Fernwood Elementary and roasting marshmallows on the beach
Laara learned lots from our two contrasting performances, didn’t have a very good time at the first one (MYSEEC), and enjoyed marshmallows
Aislin had a bad night, but had fun at our second performance despite that
Marion liked Fernwood school
Ilo liked sitting by the fire and talking about the book, and bringing owl to life
Makawi liked the interactive time at Fernwood, but didn’t have the greatest time at MYSEEC
Katie had a good night, and lots of fun
Khalil had fun at Fernwood
Mary liked the time we spent at Fernwood – fantastic audience
Ashe liked getting ice cream
Laara liked the interactive time at Phoenix
Aislin had a good day, liked meeting Mr. Bateman and getting a tour of his house.
Makawi’s favourite part of the day was going up Mount Maxwell
Lilly’s least favourite part was going to Phoenix, as performing outdoors was too strange
Ashe’s favourite part was seeing ravens, eagles, and red tailed hawks on Mount Maxwell
Khalil’s favourite part was having lunch
Marion’s favourite part was going to the mountain
Mary liked the full moon on the beach accompanied by children’s laughter
Moonlight heron was nice