Part of the eclectic culture of Central Virginia are the diverse educational opportunities. Thomas Jefferson obviously thought a good education was important by virtue of creating a fine University. But there is another school in Charlottesville practically in the shadow of Monticello (OK, it is across Rt. 20 but within a mile and a half) that would probably please Mr. Jefferson just as well via its commitment to infusing creativity with nurture of the intellect and stewardship for the earth. I refer to the Tandem Friends School. Tandem or just Tandem, as it is lovingly known, used to have a reputation as a place where rich hippies sent their kids who didn’t fit into mainstream educational institutions. It is different now in that it is more a place where independent spirits collect and though there is still an air of crunchiness to it, there is a diverse mix of kids in attendance who somehow peacefully meld into a cohesive, self-governing student body. It is a very cool place. It is where my daughter has chosen to learn.
Never more exposed to the Tandem magic was I than last night at the 7th grade’s presentation of Cafe 007, a live production of original skits, musical performances and songs. I have often wondered how Tandem, a small school of about 200 students scattered across 8 grade levels, boasted so many talented students. Most Tandem students are involved in the arts in some major way. They act in local theater companies, make their own films, play musical instruments, write and direct plays, sing in regional choral groups and win national recitation competitions. It is INCREDIBLE how creative these kids are. At any rate, last night I got a peek into why…
The arts are given as much weight in the curriculum as anything else.
In the middle school there is a cracker jack artistic team and in the case of Cafe 007 it is the formidable Lydia Horan who brings out the gifts of each student with a steady stream of positive energy and a knack for recognizing how best to display each student’s talents. She takes a bunch of hormone crazed 12 and 13 year olds and channels their energy into something truly entertaining. (I am not being nice because this is my child’s class. If you are familiar with my work as a theatre critic you know how merciless I am when it comes to quality performance – I take no prisoners and no one has asked me to give my opinion. I simply want to share how utterly impressed I am.)
The theme of the show was Freedom, Friendship and Foolery. It opened with a riff on the popular Gangnam Style dance in a number titled Freedom Tandem Style in which the kids were introducing a new student to the different aspects of Tandem life that are representative of the looser feel of the school than traditional institutions. It was hilarious! A raucous opening to the show that set the tone for the high-caliber humor these kids produced throughout the evening which gave an interesting perspective into the collective tween life perspective. There were funny spoofs on insider things like the Wild World of Meeting for Worship, (Meeting for Worship being a Quaker tradition regularly practiced at the school) in which various behaviors of students attempting to sit quietly are described by a biologist type character as though he were explaining the behaviors of wild animals. There were skits mocking icons of current popular culture like America’s Got Talent, Honey Boo Boo, Epic Rap Battle and Cups. There were skits about other things dominating their world like teachers, identity (nerds, superheroes, what it is like to be old) and life experiences such as going on a family vacation. A couple of student made short films were shown. Several kids played musical instruments. Poems were recited. Two pairs performed numbers from classic Broadway musicals (Friendship from Anything Goes and Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun). Monty Python characters and an original character called Grandpa Calder were running themes – a classic comedic device. One student performed an original song a capella and another read an original short story. Both were quite impressive displaying knowledge of structure and story arch.
It was never a dull moment! I was particularly struck by the quality of the show. These kids are sophisticated and funny I was surprised. Honestly, going into the show I thought I would just be playing the role of supportive parent but I really had a great time.
My one regret is an obligation to see a different show tonight meaning I will miss the second and final performance of Cafe 007.
Cafe 007 plays at the TFS Community Hall tonight at 7:00pm. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6.00 for students and seniors.