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Theatrical genius and funny hats: Monroe Elementary wows parents, critics with winter show

JANESVILLE

Monroe Elementary’s holiday show finished its run Friday.

True, the run was only one day long, but it was masterful, and this critic believes it could be a contender for several Tony Awards including best show, best choreography and best use of variably-sized costumes, hat division.

But my excitement about the show has led me to get ahead of myself.

At this time of year, elementary schools all over the country are celebrating with holiday sings, winter musicals, and seasonal band and choir shows.

Out of all these divisions, kindergarten and first-grade performances offer the most scope for artistic greatness, those moments of unexpected drama or comedy that live with us forever—until the video gets accidentally deleted from Mom’s iPhone.

This critic attended “The Littlest Christmas Tree” at Monroe Elementary. Directed by music teacher Adrian Farris, the show told the story of Santa’s search for the right tree.

The kindergartners took the stage for the first show. Many appeared as Christmas trees, their minimalist costumes consisting of pointed and terraced green felt hats. This was a good choice, as it allowed the actors to express their own notions of trees with their outfits and gestures.

Some of the girls went for the traditional, fancy dress and shiny shoes look. Other went for fancy dresses but paired them with boots, a look that said, “Excuse me, but I’m old enough to pick out my own clothes.” Very powerful.

During the highly choreographed songs and during scene changes, the hats acquired lives of their own, slipping to cover one or both eyes of the wearers. The youngsters soldiered through, adjusting the hats as needed or taking them off entirely. It was a beautiful expression of how the actors were feeling at that moment, and the audience giggled and took photos.

Both the kindergarten and first-grade shows were choreographed but not synchronized.

Not that we’re finding fault. It’s hard to move your arms in a circle at the same time as 65 other 5- and 6-year olds whose hats may or may not be falling over their eyes.

It would remiss not to mention the spectacular singing.

In the dressing room before the show, Farris reminded his performers to “sing with nice and strong voices, but no shouting.”

There might have been a little bit of shouting. It was most noticeable during the 80s-style rap song about short evergreens. The lyrics included, “You’re tiny, you’re small, you’ll never be a Christmas tree at all. Oh no, no, no.” This was followed by gestures of scratching a record.

As in a vinyl record.

You know, the kind the actors’ grandparents listened to.

The shows were full of standout performances, and it’s impossible to mention them all.

Rowan Sanderlin, a first-grader, charmed the audience with smile and energy.

Sanderlin wore neither tree hat or reindeer antlers.

“I’m nothing,” he told a spectator in the wings. “I’m going to use my imagination!”

We see this boy doing great things.

Kindergartner Maia Esparza sang the brief solo about what Christmas really means. Her lovely voice, thoughtful expression and puffy skirt made her something to remember.

Both kindergarten and first-grade Santas, Rhylan Palomino and Kolbie Berg, wore their beards somewhere below their chins and hitched up their red pants with verve. They spoke fearlessly and articulated clearly, something you don’t always get in elementary school musicals.

Both shows were greeted with acclaim, and the audiences were then taken back to performers’ classrooms for project time. It’s not something you see on Broadway, but it worked at Monroe Elementary.


Education
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UW-Rock County officials still considering student housing

JANESVILLE

As the UW System considers merging its two- and four-year campuses, UW-Rock County still has student housing in mind.

UW-Rock County officials are closer to determining whether student housing is right for the college, but they won’t decide until at least May, Dean Charles Clark said.

Clark will present an update to the Janesville City Council on Monday.

Over the summer, Clark asked a committee to evaluate the desirability of adding student housing on or near UW-Rock County’s campus. The committee has organized public forums and contracted with a company to do a feasibility marketing study to get further input, Clark said.

The committee has finished preliminary work with the goal of making a recommendation by spring, he said.

Within the group of 13 campuses close to UW-Rock County’s size, more than half have housing of one sort or another, Clark said.

“There are actually smaller campuses than Rock that have housing,” he said.

UW-Richland has about one-third of UW-Rock County’s enrollment, but close to 20 percent of its campus is international students. UW-Richland offers a great international program, but part of the reason it attracts those students is because it has rooms for them, Clark said.

“That wouldn’t be happening if UW-Richland didn’t have housing,” he said.

In October, the UW System announced plans to merge two- and four-year campuses. UW-Rock County could lose its identity and fall under UW-Whitewater’s name while keeping its campus open.

Clark isn’t sure how the merger will affect interest in student housing. The merger is moving forward, and the switch could happen as soon as July, though it will take years to iron out kinks, Clark said.

“There are so many details to be worked out that all of the details won’t be settled, all the questions won’t be answered on July 1, 2018,” he said.

UW officials reset plans for a UW-Rock County dormitory in summer.

Back in 2013, the Rock County Board agreed to donate land to the Rock County Foundation to build a dorm. Those plans never took off, and the land was never donated.

The foundation is no longer involved in the plans. If a dorm were built, a private developer would build it, and another company would manage it.

“We are nowhere near that stage,” Clark said.


Angela Major 

Beloit Turner’s Steve Dillard and his teammates celebrate after Dillard hit a last-second 3-point shot to defeat Evansville, 47-44, on Friday in Rock Valley Conference action at Beloit Turner High School. Both teams are 2-1 in conference play after Friday’s game. Story, Page 1B.


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