by Maya Sussman, New Sector AmeriCorps Fellow
“My child was beaming onstage. [Performing at the Showcase] has helped him overcome shyness, fears of performing, and he’s a much more confident person since.”

– Chibi Chan Preschool parent

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There’s nothing like a screaming baby to spoil a nice dinner out, make you get off the bus a stop early, or convince you to never see another matinee. So you can imagine my horror when, about two-thirds of the way through the BRAVO! @ The Brava student showcase, I heard a distinct wail rising from the audience below me.

At first I wondered if we’d pushed the Chibi Chan preschoolers’ bedtime too far, after their inspiring but surely exhausting performance. But from my seat at the back of the theater I could see them all sitting happily on their parents’ laps in the front row, gazing wide-eyed up at the 4th and 5th grade students from Mission Education Center, who were gracefully acting out memories of their home countries, desert crossings, and reunited families on stage.

I thought of asking the theater techs to turn up the speaker volume, in the hopes that the recording of the students talking about their recent immigration to the United States might drown out the shrieking. But as I silently willed the mother to take her child out into the lobby, I began to notice that the baby wasn’t yelling out of boredom or hunger. In fact, he was enjoying the show just as much as the rest of us, and screaming in support of his older brother on stage: “BRAAAAANDON! BRAAAAANDON! BRAAAAANDON!”

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“I felt very happy when I found out [I was coming to the United States] because I was going to see my mother, father, and two sisters. / Yo me sentí muy feliz porque iba a volver a ver a mi madre, padre y a mis dos hermanas.” (Mission Education Center)
While still frustrated by the distraction, I smiled at the realization that we had succeeded in creating a unique opportunity for parents, teachers, donors, teaching artists, board members – and even screaming baby brothers – to come together in support of our students’ creative accomplishments. Though they may not have all been as vocal as his little brother, another seven members of Brandon’s family had come to cheer him on that night, including his father, who had left work early to drive all the way down from Novato.  Brandon and his classmates also had the support of their school community, with their classroom teacher, afterschool teacher, and two other school staff members in the audience, not to mention Mission Education Center principal and Performing Arts Workshop board member Deborah Molof.

Before their students took to the stage, parents and school partners from Mission Education Center and the other five participating schools had the chance to get to know each other and the rest of the Workshop community. Thanks to donations from local businesses like La Victoria Bakery and Rainbow Grocery, the pre-show party was well-stocked with snacks, and many parents cooked or bought food to contribute. While students rehearsed in the theater, their guests were busy posing at the photobooth, making tissue paper flowers, and winning raffle tickets.

When I poked my head into the lobby between dress rehearsals and mic checks, I expected to see a typical pre-show atmosphere of quiet chatting and uncomfortable fidgeting, as guests anxiously waited for the theater doors to open. Instead, I was greeted by the buzz of uninhibited laughter, animated conversations in at least four different languages, and a crowd of families comfortably picnicking on the slope up to the theater doors.

pre-show collage

Thinking back to this pre-show energy and excitement, the shrieks from the lower section of the theater took on a greater significance. Perhaps Brandon’s baby brother was just sharing what we all secretly wanted to shout:

“That’s my brother!”
“Look at my students dance!”
“Can you believe how far they’ve come?!”

Fortunately, the screaming stopped as soon as the Mission Education Center students left the stage, and we were able to listen to readings from Marin County Juvenile Hall’s Loma Alta High School with no distractions. But when all 45 young Capoeiristas, dancers, and poets returned to the stage for a final bow, their littlest supporter was right by their side to cheer them on.

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Mission Education Center student Brandon brings his baby brother on stage for the final bow.

This event was possible because of all the amazing people who donated their leadership, expertise, time, money, and in many cases, delicious food!

Thank you to the amazing folks at the following businesses:

Asian Art Museum
BAYCAT (Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology)
Bi-Rite Market
California Academy of Sciences
Children’s Creativity Museum
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Goat Hill Pizza
Goood Frikin Chicken
ICHI Sushi + NI Bar
Juan Carlos Pometta, Eye of Passion Photography
La Victoria Bakery
Patxi’s Pizza
Paulette Traverso, Traverso Santana Design
Rainbow Grocery
Real Food Company
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco Ballet

Thank you as well to all the parents, teachers, administrators, and principals at the participating schools:

– Chibi Chan Preschool
– Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy
– Mission Education Center
– Visitacion Valley Middle School
– MLK Middle School
– ER Taylor Elementary School
– Loma Alta High School

And, a BIG THANK YOU goes out to the Showcase Committee for their hard work: Maya Sussman, Jessica Mele, Emily Bozentka, Kurt Kunselman, Carmen Milagro, Yashica Crawford, Beverly Mislang, Tina Banchero, Lorena Landeros, and Joseph Tomsovic.