Third through sixth graders from four schools in Clayton and Fayette counties enjoyed the American Magic-Lantern Show, thanks to a grant from R.J. McElroy Trust, of Waterloo.
The seven hundred children from local schools that attended the Magic-Lantern Show at the Elkader Opera House on February 12, were in awe as most of them had not been to the building before.
“Wow,” and “Awesome,” being the most popular phrases that described their wonderment.
Due to the snow on the day of the show, Clayton Ridge school of Guttenberg was closed and those kids missed out.
The shows that were planned for 10 a.m., and 12 p.m., were changed to 1 p.m., and 2 p.m., to accommodate the schools that were re-scheduled to start two hours later that day. This meant that unfortunately what were intended to be 75 minute performances, turned out to be 30 minute performances.
Seemingly this was enough time for the attention span of third through sixth graders because they were all exceedingly well behaved. Terry Borton the operator of the Magic Lantern was a great showman and completely captivated them.
The schools that did attend were Central Community, Elkader, Valley Community, Elgin, Edco, Colsburg, and Starmont, Strawberry Point. Borton was assisted by local student Sophie Landis.
Borton had the children stomping their feet and singing old-time songs. He took them back in time to the era of the magic-lantern show. He used old advertising pictures and began to tell the story of American history. He went through the arrival of the first Europeans, adhering the still unchanged history books, he told how Christopher Columbus was the first to arrive, he covered the Native Americans, the origin of Thanksgiving. He explained how the Pequot Indians (Aboriginals) were killed within 50 years.
He kept the interest of the children through a series of slides and broke that up with songs such as, “My country tis a place,” and “America the beautiful.” The children seemed to love the audience participation part of the production; there was much laughter and squeaks.
One of the slides which involved a rat entering the mouth of a sleeping man, was considered the most controversial of its time. Borton explained the meaning of controversy to the children with great ease and there was much hilarity at the rat and many of them shouted out, “Sick.”
Following the production there was the opportunity for the children to ask questions on the technicalities and workings of the magic-lantern. It is hard to know how much of all the information, that they were given, will be retained.
One student, Johnny Haid, a ten-year-old student in fifth grade at Central school in Elkader said that he really enjoyed the show.
“I mostly remember the cartoon guy in the slide that moved his eyes back and forth, and the one with the rat, there’s a small slide and a big slide and a thing that you turn that makes the rat move into his mouth,’ Johnny explained. “It was funny, I learnt how it was in the old days and I liked the singing, especially the National Anthem,” he added.
Johnny had never been to the opera house before and described it as “real nice” and “kind of antique,” – “it was pretty,” he said.
With a 900 seating capacity for the two shows – it calculates that 200 children from other schools missed out on this wonderful opportunity, mostly due to the weather.
When asked if he would like to return to the opera house to see more shows, Johnny answered yes, he would like to see a hip hop show! He also mentioned a magic show and that he would like to act. He said that if there was an opportunity he would go to the theater by himself.
This production was only possible because of the grant given by the R.J. McElroy Trust. The Opera House Board of Directors were able to organize the event, pay all the costs and make seats available to children at $2 if they could afford it and $0 if they could not. As the opera house is a non-profit organization it relies upon grants and sponsorship from local businesses and arts councils to bring enrichment to the community through theater.