‘Tin’ has comforting message for elementary school students

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison


GROSSMONT COLLEGE–  Theatre Arts Prof. Jerry Hager wrote and directed Tin, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” that will be taken on tour at local elementary schools from now through Dec. 9.   Like many fairy tales, it has an important lesson.

Previewed on Saturday, Oct. 23 at Grossmont College’s Stagehouse Theatre before an appreciative matinee audience, the dramatic fairy tale imagines that an evil Jack-in-the-Box (Ryan Payne) has stolen the laughter from a little boy (Franceso Valenti), causing great worry for the boy’s father (Adrian Brown), and aunt (Angela Luevano). 

The plight of the family prompts the toys of the household to devise a plot for getting the laughter back.  The ballerina (Shay Tyler), with the help of a teddy bear (Kelly-Noelle Henry) and a music monkey (Andrea Gardner) decide to lure Jack out of his box to dance while the soldier Tin (Alonzo Jackson) breaks into the box to find the laughter.  The toymaker (Jade Wise), who serves as the narrator of the story, heightens the excitement by drafting the audience to provide the sound effects of a tenth character in the play: the trapped laughter.

The one-act play includes a brief recitation by the toymaker of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, familiar to anyone who watched the Disney animated movie Fantasia 2000, in which a tin soldier with only one leg falls in love with a ballerina standing on one foot, mistakenly thinking that she is like him.  Clearly this story is different than that one, as is demonstrated when our tin soldier comes onto the stage with both legs very much intact.  But as the play progresses, the issue of a one-legged soldier is revisited.

Although dialogue early in this performance seemed to drag,  it eventually conveyed some real excitement. The play was an arresting study in movement.  Not only did the soldier march, the ballerina dance, and the jack emerge from the top of a box,   but the teddy and the music monkey very credibly portray their emotions in mime.  

Although the jack may be scary, especially for younger elementary school students, one of the main messages of the play may be psychologically quite reassuring to children:  when they’re sad, their parents are very sad.  How they feel matters to their parents, their relatives and, in this play at least, even to their toys.

I was accompanied by my grandson Shor Masori, a 4th grader at Marvin Elementary School in San Diego – which turned out to be a fortunate choice because the touring production is not scheduled to visit his school. 

The actors and actresses in Hager’s company served as ushers and sales people before the play began and Shay Tyler persuaded this grandpa to purchase the $1 play poster for tacking up in Shor’s room.  Following the play, she advised, the cast would be available to add their autographs to the poster.

The autograph session gave Shor the opportunity to chat with Ryan Payne about how it feels to play an evil character.  Payne said such characters are fun because in creating them, actors don’t have to follow so many rules.  After all, the actor advised Shor, “evil people don’t follow rules.”

As the jack-in-the-box, Payne gave one of the more animated performances of the play, especially after he came out of the box for his dance of denouement with the ballerina Shay Tyler.  The high quality of Payne’s performance competed with the characterization of the tin soldier by Jackson, and there is nothing quite like an old-fashioned competition between evil and good.

During the introductions, Hager charmingly shared with the audience the history of the play.  Inspired after reading Andersen’s tale, the drama professor said he wrote the word “tin” on a piece of paper and kept it at his desk in the Grossmont Theatre Arts department.  It stayed there several years until at last he created the script.

Touring performances are scheduled Oct 26 at Winter Gardens School in Lakeside; Oct. 28 at Our Lady of Grace School in San Diego; Nov. 2 at San Altos Elementary in Lemon Grove; Nov. 4 at Avocado Elementary in La Mesa; Nov. 9 at St. John of the Cross in Lemon Grove; Nov. 16 at Pepper Drive School in El Cajon; Nov. 18 at Santa Sophia Academy in Spring Valley; Nov. 23 at Lindo Park School in Lakeside; Nov. 30 at Paradise Hills School in San Diego; Dec. 2 at Riverview School in Lakeside;  and Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 at Garfield Elementary in San Diego.

Preceding was reprinted from San Diego Jewish World.  Harrison, instructor of the Media Comm 132 class,  is editor of that online newspaper.