Children’s spring musical based on Kipling tale 

Elephant’s Child highlights importance of supportive family

The Myrtle Philip community school Grade two and three classes are presenting their annual spring musical, Elephant’s Child, next week.

The production is based on a story by Rudyard Kipling about how the elephant got his trunk. This musical adaptation preserves much of Kipling’s clever text and word rhymes while five original songs by John Jacobson and Emily Crocker help create mystery and humour.

"Kipling uses animals to tell his stories, like why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears, or how the leopard got his spots, or how the elephant got his trunk," says director-choreographer Sadie Culliford.

"But he uses sophisticated language like ‘best beloved’. That phrase in particular is quite catchy for the kids."

Elephant’s Child is no small production. A total of 175 children will make appearances on stage. Believe it or not, that number is small for Culliford who has directed casts of 300 in the past.

"I schedule a lot of extra practices and lunch time practices with different groups of kids at different times. I have parents helping me with some of the drama at lunch," says Culliford. "I’m a music teacher so I teach the music and movement and some of the dialogue in my classes. Their regular classes since January have been building up to this. We study other types of rhythm on top of this, but basically in every music class since January we’ve done a little bit of the musical."

Slotting bodies to be in various locations at the right time for rehearsals is the easy part. How do you get, and keep, the attention of nearly 200 seven and eight year olds?

"They actually follow direction pretty well," laughs Culliford in a raspy, barely audible voice, the result of countless hours of rehearsal, no doubt. "It’s knowing when to wait for them and when to get their attention and how much to ask of them. And I do ask a lot of them. I think that’s probably the key is asking a lot so they have high standards to reach. They also just really like the music. It’s solid."

Outside of music, other classrooms and teachers also get involved in the show by making time to study the setting and animals of the play as well as learning about the author and his other works.

"The children really get immersed in what Africa is all about," adds Culliford.

Along with the major set design by Carmen Traub, the cast members have been encouraged to create their own artwork which will be displayed on stage. Culliford is so pleased with the paintings, drawings and murals, she says it’ll be a shame to see them taken down at the end of the show.

The musical, and the entire process of putting it on, is a learning experience for the children, not only in the arts, but in life lessons.

"The Elephant’s Child gets reprimanded for asking questions and being inquisitive. So he sets off to find out what the crocodile had for dinner because no none will tell him," Culliford explains. "In the story, they actually spank him every time he asks the question. But, at the end, I’m adding a bit of my own narrative about the importance of having a supportive family unit. We discuss in class whether that would happen these days and that it’s good to be curious and discover new things."

The Elephant’s Child runs June 14 at 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at Myrtle Philip community school.

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