The Marengo Elementary School Talent Show featured 77 different acts with 178 students. The more than two-hour entertainment program had skits, singing, comedy and much more. Photo by Steve Whitmore

There was a time when the arts were considered non-essential in the K-12 arena of public education. Not locally, perhaps, but most assuredly in the not-so-distant past, music, dancing, drama, painting; in other words, the arts, were placed on scrap-heap of public education to make way for a more concentrated and national focus on the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic.

Nobody disputes the importance of those essential tools in the quest for a solid education.

However, Marengo Elementary School (MES) educators and parents also believe that the arts are just as essential. Just look at the school’s Talent Show last week that feature scores of kids embracing the arts. In fact, the entire School District shares that value.

Jill Gold Wright, performance director of the Talent Show and MES parent, explained the importance of the talent show that has been in existence for at least two decades.
“It gives the elementary kids really a chance to shine in a way that they don’t always have in their day-to-day lives,” Gold Wright said before the nearly three-hour performance began last Friday morning at the South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS) auditorium. “When they are in the classroom, they can answer a question or when they’re on the playground, they can make a basket with a basketball. But this gives them a full 60-seconds, whether with a group of friends or completely by themselves, to have all-light, all-sound, all-costuming, all-eyes on them, and it’s really important for their self-esteem, their sense of self-worth. They come off the stage with eyes twinkling and a smile so huge because they have done something scary and they’ve succeeded at it.”

There were 77 different acts performing in the talent show featuring about 178 Marengo students from kindergarten through fifth grade, according to Kristen Swift, a co-chair of the talent show. The show was presented last Friday in the SPMS auditorium for about 750 students, administrators and parents from MES. On the next day, Saturday, Feb. 23, the show was presented to the community at large.

The show is in two acts, featuring such skits as Joy to the World, Folklorico, Ugly Baby Skit, Piano on Fire, Junior Jabbawockeez, Glow in the Dark Gymnastics and Hallelujah, to name just a sampling of the performances. More than 50 volunteers worked on the show in various capacities including directing, producing and stage-managing or simply running errands to make sure the show goes on without a hitch. Rehearsals have been ongoing since January and the day before the first performance, there was a seven-hour dress rehearsal.

“We have 77 different acts performing,” said Swift. “We have 178 kids representing grades kindergarten through fifth doing acts from dancing, singing, playing the Ocarina, DJing, gymnastics, magic, comedy. This happens every year.”

Gold Wright explained the painstaking process for the show.

“The first time we see all the acts together is for an audition that they sign up for,” Gold Wright said. “Then, if there are certain acts that need  some tweaking or need a little extra help, we have them go back and do some extra rehearsal and we bring them back for a callback a couple weeks later. I direct them and give them some help with their blocking. Everybody who auditions comes back and gets in.”

Gold Wright then talked about the seven-hour dress rehearsal, which she characterized as “massive.”

“Last night, the Thursday night before, we have a massive dress rehearsal in this space,” Gold Wright explained. “It’s the first time the kids were in their costumes under these lights with the sound pumping out through the system and we practiced their entrance from their seats, their performance and their exit out the other way, so they kind of know the pragmatics of how it works. It was long.”

The entire project is time-consuming, exhausting and requires a strong commitment to the arts. Is it worth it?

Gold Wright said a definitive “yes.”

“I think the arts are essential because through the history of mankind arts have been the record of how people have felt in society,” she said. “How they felt about their own individual existence. Almost everything we know about history is from paintings, from music, from performance, from voice, from poems which are to be sung aloud. Everything we know about the human experience we know through arts. We take that away, we take away a huge outlet of expression.”

Both Gold Wright and Swift said this show could not have been accomplished without the dedication of the volunteers and the school officials that support the effort.

“We just want to express our gratitude to the Middle School, the many, many parent volunteers,” Gold Wright said as the show was getting ready to start. “Obviously, it’s not just us. We have parents that are selling flowers. We have parents who were bringing food. These parents are doing restroom runs, helping get kids in their seats, making sure everything gets done. We are grateful for all of them.”

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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