A flurry of color dances across the stage of the Humanities lecture hall. Children in the audience laugh as giant ducks, jellybeans, a dragon and an outrageous duke perform not only to produce simple entertainment, but also to educate.
Students of communication studies 696: ensemble performance workshop presented a theatrical adaptation of eight children’s books May 6 and 7, entitled “Dragons & Dresses & Ducklings, Oh My!,” that feature stories attempting to dispel negative images of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families.
All of the books have been censored from schools, libraries and bookstores nationwide because of their subject matter. Yet, Amy K. Kilgard, the director and associate professor of communication studies, said the purpose of the piece is about more than teaching; it is about allowing everyone to have a positive family model.
“Any family is a family if there’s love in it,” said Paul Miller, a junior communications major. “Love is love no matter what it looks or sounds like, as long as the caring is there.”
The students performed a series of scenes dealing with the acceptance of people who are different, as well as non-traditional family structures.
“There are so many negative images of LGBTQ families out there,” Kilgard said. “We here think that all families should have loving representation available.”
Many scenes depict interactions between same-sex parents, including two male penguins that have to adapt to being unable to lay an egg.
The students of the class had to get permission from all eight authors of the LGBTQ books, which according to performers took nearly all semester. The books include The Different Dragon, 10,000 Dresses, The Sissy Duckling, Jesse’s Dream Skirt, In Our Mothers’ House, And Tango Makes Three, The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans and Other Stories, and El Amor de Todos los Colores/The Many-Colored Love.
All students had to complete 180 hours of work in relation to the performance, including rehearsals and other preparatory work.
Communications major Joanna Witkowski said the project brought out a mix of emotions for her.
“It was kind of stressful as a whole, but it was great to do something and have the kids engaged,” Witkowski said.
The purpose of the play is to familiarize the LGBTQ community and relationships to those children who might not otherwise have that opportunity.
“A lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to get this type of education anywhere else and they don’t learn this type of acceptance,” Miller said.
Kilgard said that although fear was a powerful force behind the banning of these books, the messages of these pieces of children’s literature are not threatening or dangerous, just different. Each year, the bullying of LGBTQ kids becomes a more prevalent issue in the United States and Kilgard hopes that combining education and entertainment they can help dent the wall of intolerance.
“I think the younger the kids are when they are exposed to this sort of education, the more hope that is possible,” Kilgard said. “As a whole, when kids are met with a message of love, they respond positively and grow. This sort of message is something revolutionary for kids out there.”
In order to spur audience participation, the show uses a variety of techniques such as dance and even puppetry. In one scene entitled “The Different Dragon,” a hulking dragon puppet with a large head, two hands and a mound of cloth covering the controllers, plays badminton
“I think it’s really important the work that we are doing,” said Albert Afan, a fourth-year communications major and one of the puppeteers “It’s a real fun and simple way to teach and promote tolerance.”
The piece is highly interactive with kids, and at one point, leads to an impromptu game of “duck, duck, goose.” Whether the performers were ready, children lined the edge of the stage to participate in the game.
Besides the two SF State shows May 6 and 7, “Dragons & Dresses & Ducklings Oh My!” will hold another performance May 14 at the San Francisco Public Library. Kilgard hopes this sparks other into action.
“We hope this is a model for other universities, public libraries, as well as other places that may not be as open to this type of thing,” Kilgard said.
The May 14 performance starts at 11:30 a.m. in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library, free of charge.