by Leigh Stein
When I’m not fielding phone calls for TOON or dressing up like Penny the mouse to go on tour with Geoffrey, I teach drama to elementary school-aged children in Brooklyn. This June, I directed Stinky, the play, with twenty second graders, for a spring show on the theme of tolerance.
I’ve always loved this book’s message about making friends with unusual characters. Many of my students are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and they hail from all different parts of the world–Russia, China, Burma, Israel, India, and Pakistan. Most of them are bi- or tri-lingual. While rehearsing the play, I watched them make insightful connections between the friendship Stinky and Nick ultimately share, and the friendships they have in their own lives, with other children from wildly different cultural backgrounds.
My cast included seven rats, three possums, two slugs (played by twin brothers in a tour de force of slowness), three birds, two narrators, a toad, a boy (Nick), and a monster (Stinky). My colleague, Erin Lynn Welsh, designed the set (with trees painted by our fifth graders!) and the masks, which the cast made out of simple paper plates. I played a tree in the background (can you find my hat?), whispering line prompts when necessary.