Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Bella Vista students to perform ‘Tall Tales’

Oct 31, 2019 02:16PM ● By Julie Slama

At Bella Vista Elementary, fifth graders will put on “Tall Tales and Heroes” Nov. 20–21. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” is a game show where questions may stump contestants, such as asking, “Who was Martha Jane Canary?” 

At Bella Vista, about 40 fifth graders will know the answer — she is better known as the American frontierswoman Calamity Jane, one of the heroes highlighted in the school’s upcoming musical.

“Tall Tales and Heroes,” written by Grace Hawthorne, will be performed at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 20 and at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 21 at the school, 2131 Fort Union Boulevard. The 35-minute free performances are directed by community volunteer Rebecca Kitchen. Assistant directors are fifth grade teachers Janeen Delcher and Wendie Nielson. 

The musical also brings in stories of John Henry, Molly Pitcher, Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett and Johnny Appleseed amongst others, with music composed by John F. Wilson.

“There are a bunch of songs, roles, lines, parts, and parts in the chorus for the kids,” Nielson said. “They all have costumes and props. Some kids just love it. It’s a great opportunity to build their confidence.”

Confidence, in fact, is one of the main reasons she likes supporting and putting on the production.

“Some kids may be not as academically strong, but they just shine. They realize this may be something they are good at and can be successful at, and it may be that kids can find they can do things they didn’t think they could. It may help them be willing to stretch and try something new that they never would have before,” she said.

This is the sixth school production Nielson has supported and she has tales herself of students being successful. She said some students who are afraid to publicly speak stand up and recite lines, and some, who are just learning English, take it upon themselves to learn and memorize their parts.

“They memorize their lines on their own, but the two classes rehearse together. It helps bond the classes and there’s a different connection that they might have than from just playing together at recess,” she said.

That’s because they’re part of a larger project, so they’re learning teamwork as well as their individual lines, Nielson said. 

“They’re becoming supportive of each other. We put this together in seven weeks,” she said.

After tryouts were held in late September, the students began rehearsals once a week during the school day. By the second week of October, the students started multiple practices during the week, and in moments of free time, they learned the songs.

“We couldn’t do it without the help we get,” Nielson said, saying that for at least four years, Kitchen has volunteered, and several other parents have stepped in through the years. “With the extra hands, we’re able to practice individually and in small groups. We’re pretty lucky that we can do this at Bella Vista. Not all elementary schools do, and while some do music or art, we do this on top of having art for our students.”

It also ties into the students’ core curriculum learning about tall tales as well as encouraging reading and communication skills.

“We do tall tales, what they are, learning about exaggeration, vocabulary associated with it,” she said, adding that she plans to have students reflect in a writing assignment after the musical about what they liked of their play experience and how it may help them in the future.”

Nielson also said the play connects to the core curriculum by exploring point of view, characters, setting and plot; analyzing physical qualities and characters’ reactions to situations; sequencing events; understanding theme and using figurative language; and reading aloud. 

“There are also other benefits, like learning common knowledge shared by a group, building self-confidence, taking pride in oneself, and trying new and hard things,” she said. “What this does is it really gives them a lot of confidence that boosts their self-worth and self-value.”