Wow – what a summer!
First, allow me to uplift our amazing Meridian Community College (MCC). If you want education, they’ve got it and it’s not just an hour or two on one afternoon. The MCC courses offered include fantastic programs for children, like College for Kids (CFK). Also, the MCC courses include all elements of the arts -- creative writing classes, classical ballet, plus nursing, general education classes, 2 year programs, University Transfer, Career & Technical, Continuing Education, Workforce Training, online classes, and well, take a look: www.mcc.cc.ms.us.
Today, I want to especially offer a shout-out about College for Kids. 2012 is my 4th year as the Performing Arts instructor. Every year I am convinced I have the most talented classes ever, but this year, I am certain of that fact. As you are reading this column on Friday morning, my classes are performing their short plays/vignettes on the big stage at MCC. What excitement – plus, I must offer this telling fact. My classes filled early and had not even one absence during the entire period.
Yes, this year CKF registered nearly 700 children – that’s right! Kids arrived from Meridian and Lauderdale County, adjoining communities, and a few from cities located across the U.S. Many enterprising grandparents from our area make arrangements for the grand’s to visit during the CFK class time and enrolled them, because, most of the time, this type program is not available in their hometowns. My hat is off to CFK Director, Tanya Thompson, and Assistant CFK Director, Joy Smith, for their cool and concise management of a program that can sometimes be a “little” nerve-wracking, I’m certain, but the programs run so smoothly, who would know?
Here are some of the CFK classes offered: Art Made Easely, Balloon Art, Basketball, CSI Meridian, Cheerleading, Computer Wizards, Cooking For Fun, Creepy Crawly Creatures, Drawing, Dancing with the Starz, Electronics, Golf, Jewelry Creations, Lego Mania, Jr. Police Academy, Mad Science, Nursing, Performing Arts, Spa-La-La, Puppetry, Tennis, Woodworking, plus many more. Ages 6-13 – call 601-482-7445 to register next year. Registration begins each April.
This year, I wanted to reintroduce Jim Henson and his magical world of the Muppets to my students. Reintroduce, because there is not a person (or child) alive today who hasn’t enjoyed Kermit and Miss Piggy. But the most important fact, in my Mississippi mind, is that Kermit was actually created on the banks of Deer Creek located a mere ten miles from the Mississippi River. Jim, as an eight year old boy, lived in the community of Leland, Mississippi. He enjoyed playing at Deer Creek with his best school chum, Kermit. Jim’s grandmother accompanied the boys and encouraged them as they played with frogs and the creepy crawly creatures found at the creek. As the historic facts reveal, it was on one of those days that the boys found a frog and studied the features of his face, then with grandmother’s help fashioned a frog puppet from one of her old green wool coats. They used ping pong balls for the eyes. And, as they say, the rest is history.
With this inspiration, several years ago, I wrote a short play entitled “Jim Henson and His Mississippi Friend, Kermit.” I have taken the play to schools and libraries located throughout the state. The play production is never old to me as I take great joy from the faces and talents displayed by the kids and their performances. Always on the last day of the workshop, we invite the parents and community. ~Come to our play~ and we perform for packed audiences – what a thrill!
We begin the first day simulating a Production Studio with a Casting Call. I have long tables where we sit for the Cold Reading of the script. Students volunteer to try out for parts, and with my talented assistant (this year, Cassandra Allen), the parts are decided. We begin our Run-Through practices the next day. The Dress Rehearsal is the day prior to the actual production. Then we add costumes, set, props, and lighting, plus, perhaps, a tiny bit of improv. One of the highlights of the class is a tour of the MSU/Riley Center and the Grand Opera House of Mississippi, built in 1889 – the students, with sparkling eyes and bow-drawn-mouths, are amazed with our Meridian Treasure. I must quickly add that many locations throughout our city assist with tours of their facilities – it’s a community-thing. Finally, the day of the performance dawns -- the programs are printed, the lines are perfected, the costumes are adorned, and we are not ~ SAVING OUR DRAMA FOR OUR MOMMA~ any longer. It’s BREAK-A-LEG – the old theatrical term meaning “good luck.” The show must go on, and, indeed, it does, and in a mighty way.
It is my great hope that my students remember these CFK days with joy and amazement. One thing for certain – the kids will NEVER forget the story of Jim Henson and Deer Creek when Kermit, the Frog, was first discovered in the minds of small children – more specifically, Jim Henson.
The final monologue of the play:
Yes, Jim Henson, as an eight year old child living in Mississippi, first dreamed of a frog puppet. He worked hard, achieved his education, and never gave up his dream of becoming the most famous creative puppeteer of our time. It all started on the banks of Deer Creek located near Leland, Mississippi. It’s important that our Mississippi students learn and appreciate their creative heritage garnered through famous Mississippians including Jim Henson, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Elvis, and many, many others.
Jim Henson quote: “When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is still to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.”
Here are a few awards achieved by Jim Henson:
Eighteen Emmy Awards during his 30 year career.
Seven Grammy awards.
Four Peabody awards.
Nominated for an Oscar, 1965
The world’s most watched TV show, 1976, The Muppet Show, 235 million viewers.
Anne B. McKee is an author and storyteller. She lives in Meridian. Visit her website at www.annemckee.net.
Wow – what a summer!