Oakland educators are encouraging kids to “clown around”

On March 10, students from seven schools in the Oakland Unified School District participated in the 2018 Prescott Theater Circus showcase. The circus partnered with the Oakland Spirit Orchestra and the Museum of the African Diaspora to create the show entitled “Uplift.”

Energetic students in colorful costumes and bright red clown noses danced, tumbled and juggled across the Oakland Technical High School theater stage. Others students walked on stilts and rode unicycles. The upbeat music provided by the youth orchestra kept up with the entertaining stunts, as the performers had the audience laughing throughout the showcase.

The idea for the show began when students took a field trip with the circus to the Museum of the African Diaspora, in San Francisco, to view an exhibit called “En Mas.” The exhibit’s name comes from mixing the two phrases: “mas, and “en masse.” According to the museum, “Mas” is synonymous with “carnival” and “en masse” is a French phrase meaning “all together.” The exhibit featured Caribbean art and history from a variety of artists including John Beadle, Christophe Chassol, and Charles Campbell. Student performers were encouraged to incorporate the lessons they learned into their original showcase acts.

David Hunt, the executive and artistic director Prescott Circus Theatre, said he believes it is important to expose the children to the lessons from the museum. “The story of the Caribbean,” he said, “is also deeply rooted in the African diaspora involving the transatlantic slave trade but also the perseverance and the deep spirit of culture. We called it ‘Uplift,’ or celebrate, which is really about under any circumstance, we have our own spirit and selves to celebrate. And we think that’s the heart of the work we do.”

The showcase offered two free showings to the community. “This was actually my first time seeing this event. I was totally amazed by how it uplifted me, and to see children still interested to do something,” said Tayisha Hadley, who had come to watch a family friend’s daughter. “There are a lot of children out there who don’t have support. This is something they can do to uplift, to laugh and to show that they can do something. I would totally tell anyone to come just to see that.”

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