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Opinion: School shows are a magical part of the holidays

Scott Simon with his daughter, Elise, during the holidays.
Caroline Simon
Scott Simon with his daughter, Elise, during the holidays.

'Tis the season of school shows, between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.

I love seeing children onstage, dressed up as trees, horses, gangsters, mad scientists, caterpillars or sugar plum fairies; and figures from the scriptures, literature, and history. I love seeing kids in long, white cotton-ball beards, or under cardboard crowns or tri-cornered hats; shoulders draped in royal robes, shepherd's smocks, or an uncle's old, suit coat.

I love to hear student orchestras tune up, striking top notes with guinea-pig squeals. I love to see parents and relatives nudge one another when their child has a line to recite. I cherish those moments you can sometimes catch, in the flick of a teary eye, when a costumed grade schooler squints into the dark seats and then lights up at the glimpse of a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend.

I love the excitement, the anxious laughter, the elbow pokes for missed lines, the microphones rustling in the folds of costumes, the student singers reaching for notes from their toes, even if there's a slight crack at Middle C. I love to see young actors speak lines for the first time onstage from Shakespeare, Dickens, or Hansberry; Bible verses, nursery rhymes, or a homegrown work by some sixth grade scrivener who wants remind grown-ups of the real meaning of hope this season.

I sometimes feel for students who get cast to play a reporter. "Here we are, live in Bethlehem," they might have to say, or purport to report from the moon, or ancient Rome, or Neverland. Every other kid in the production gets to wear a tunic, a poodle skirt, or a donkey head. But our reporter gets handed a mic (that's not even plugged in) and a fedora with a press card, and told, "Pretend you're on CNN."

I love to see students play adults. They may stand up straight and deepen their voices and then pretend to be exasperated, confused or silly. You might begin to laugh at their act until you ask yourself: wait... did they see that in me?

And I love those moments when a student sings, dances, or delivers lines with such finesse and conviction, you sit up and realize all over again how children grow up, and grow into their own works of art.

Our youngest daughter is a high school junior now. My wife and I realized this year that we have only a few more school shows left to see. That's the spell of theater, and of childhood: for a while, it totally enlivens and engrosses you. And then, the curtain closes, leaving you with memories.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.