Black Fox plans ‘Tennessee History Live’ production
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Apr 10, 2014 | 927 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PAULA DUFF GARNER looks on as students rehearse for a production called “Tennessee History Live” at Black Fox Elementary School.  Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
PAULA DUFF GARNER looks on as students rehearse for a production called “Tennessee History Live” at Black Fox Elementary School. Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG

What some may just consider an elementary school song-and-dance production may be more than what it seems.

An event being planned at Black Fox Elementary School that will allow fifth-graders to share the stories of important people throughout Tennessee’s history has drawn the attention of several groups throughout the community who have one goal — to make it happen.

The school will be hosting a production called “Tennessee History Live,” along with a student exhibit and a fundraising auction, this Friday night at 6, with doors opening at 5:30.

Teacher Pam Coleman said the event has been funded with some $2,000 in grants from the local Allied Arts Council.

Throughout the event, students will act, dance and do other things to portray historic figures from Tennessee, everyone from Elvis Presley to Myra Inman, the namesake of Cleveland’s Inman Street. The audience will “meet” a dozen historic figures, ranging from a black woman who grew up in slavery and later became a successful doctor to a man who became the president of the United States.

As poignant as some of the characters’ stories will be, Coleman said it is also worth noting the hours and hours students, teachers and volunteers have put into the event.

Teachers oversaw the students as they researched the people they will be portraying.

Sara Cross has visited the school on numerous occasions to assist the students with painting set pieces.

Many of the costumes were made at the school. School nurse Melinda Tripp has been doubling as a seamstress when she is not busy helping students who have gotten hurt or ill. Others were donated; the costume for Myra Inman is on loan from the Museum Center at Five Points.

Local dance instructor Paula Duff Garner has visited the school to teach the kids their moves, and dance practices have happened whenever and wherever possible, whether they be onstage or in a hallway.

Coleman said the production may sound like a frivolous effort, but it has been an experience that has taught the children both about themselves and about the people they are portraying.

“I found that kids really became more confident,” Coleman said.

She said one of the male students taking part in the event had been known as the “class jock.” He has since expanded his horizons and now says he enjoys things like dancing. One of the girls used to mumble her lines because she was too shy to speak, but she was able to memorize her lines and can now speak into a microphone with clarity.

Many students acting in the production said they enjoyed learning about their characters.

Fifth-grader Emma Holder, who will play Sarah Tucker Johnston, said it’s been “kind of educational” and “a bit like time travel.” 

“I didn’t really know about her,” Holder said. “Whenever they [the audience members] leave, I want them to know more about her.”

Classmate Michaela Bidon, who will play Nancy Ward, eagerly shared several of the facts the audience will learn about her character.

All of the students in the fifth-grade class have helped with the production in some capacity. Students have painted, danced, written lines and done other things to prepare.

Practices have been happening at least twice a week for the past couple of months and every day this week. The entire production has been “a huge learning experience” for everyone involved, she said. Even the grown-ups have had to learn things like how to stretch a dollar for what could have been an event costing more than $2,000.

Black Fox Elementary is just one local school that regularly holds theater productions to allow their students — and by extension, everyone else involved — to learn and show their appreciation for the arts at the same time.