Yellow school buses surrounded the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Center this week as 10,000 10-year-olds descended on the popular downtown Dayton venue.
The idea was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Schuster by entertaining 10,000 children who were born in the year the Schuster Center was built. School groups from throughout our region were invited to attend free of charge, thanks to the generosity of Vectren Corporation, the Dayton Rotary Club Foundation and some anonymous sponsors.
The special event featured a lively appearance by The Mayhem Poets, a slam poetry performance group from New York.
With the help of talented violinist Josh Henderson — who attended the University of Cincinnati's renowned CCM — the trio covered topics ranging from the dangers of gossip to puppy love. The one-hour show was a mix of improv, stand-up comedy, hip-hop, theater and lots of clowning around.
"I loved it!" proclaimed Joel Aparisio, a student at C.F. Holliday Elementary School in West Carrollton. He said he likes to write poetry because it's fun and gives him a chance to share his feelings.
His fifth-grade teacher Bonnie Ott said she found the performance inspiring.
"It was fantastic because they talked a lot about so many issues — global warming, friends, even silly things," she said. "It was appropriate to inspire these kids to become writers."
Onstage, the three energetic guys dressed in jeans — who met as college students at Rutgers University in New Jersey and have been performing together for about 10 years — spouted their own original poetry as they cavorted around the stage.
There were frequent pop-culture references ranging from Angry Birds and Harry Potter to Gossip Girls and Game of Thrones.
Volunteers from the audience were asked to come on stage to help create on-the-spot poems created from single words strung together into sentences.
The poets — Kyle Rapps, Scott Raven and Mason Granger — introduced themselves by name — in poetry, of course — and shared personal experiences through their poems. One of the most touching was Rapps' Mother's Day tribute to the dying mom who reared him single-handedly — often working three jobs to support her family.
"Her love was an inexhaustible natural resource," Rapps said, calling her "The Queen Bee of Bedtime Stories."
Project involved educational poetry sessions
Through a partnership with local Miami Valley school districts, the Victoria Theatre Association anniversary project also involved educating teachers and instructors on the "Spoken Word" style, an art form that is being used in the classroom to develop writing and performance techniques.
The Victoria's education engagement coordinator Vicky Fanberg said that both teacher and teen workshops were held at the Schuster Center. In one session, teachers learned how to teach math through poetry. Teachers' guides filled with activity ideas were also provided.
Jennifer Gillespie, vocal music teacher for Fairborn Intermediate School, said 700 students from her school had come down to the Schuster for the event.
"I thought it was just fabulous!" said Gillespie, after the show. "It was very creative and encouraged the kids to use their imagination — not just in words but in music and art as well. They were truly engaged, and I know their written poetry will be better next year."
Gillespie said it wouldn't surprise her if the kids who attended the program headed home to write poems.
That's the idea, according to the three poets, who were taking a break in the dressing room between performances on Tuesday. Referring to the Schuster balconies, they said it was the "highest up our audiences have ever been."
"We loved the idea of taking the chaos that's in the universe and rather than acting out violently, turn it into something useful through poetry," explained Rapps, who said their dream is to take the show to Broadway and television. They've toured nationally and internationally.
"We want to give our audiences a different idea of poetry," he said. "It's not just ‘Roses Are Red' or Shakespeare."