Riding his scooter along the sidewalk, a little boy happened upon a production of Twelfth Night being performed in the park across the street from his house.
“What is this?” he asked a woman standing near the sidewalk. She happens to be Flatwater Shakespeare Company’s Education Director, Ashley Kobza.
“It’s a play,” Ashley answered.
“What’s a play?”
“Well, it’s sort of like a movie, but in real life.”
The boy lingered near the sidewalk a bit longer and Ashley encouraged him to go closer to watch.
I had seen this exchange from a distance and watched the boy approach a man sitting far back from the audience with his dog. I was sure the boy was going to ask to meet the dog, but instead he asked, “can I leave my scooter here?” Man-with-Dog gave his approval and the boy dropped his scooter and moved closer to the audience.
He sat on the ground behind a few chairs that remained open.
Sneaking up quietly behind him, I tapped his shoulder and told him he could sit in one of those chairs if he wanted. He thanked me but indicated he was okay on the ground.
I moved back and continued to watch the show and take pictures from the back.
And slowly, the boy scooched nearer the chairs and then into one with a look over his shoulder at me.
I gave him a nod and a smile.
A few minutes later a couple girls who had been standing moved to occupy the two seats in front of the boy, impeding his view of the stage.
I snuck up again and had the boy move his chair over a bit–closer to some folks on a blanket–where he could once again see the action.
I continued my efforts to capture moments from the performance on camera from another area.
The boy approached me again.
“Thank you for getting me a chair,” he said.
“You are so welcome. What’s your name?”
“Umer,” he said.
“Umer! My name is Summer. Our names are kind of similar,” I said.
“Your name was in a movie I saw,” he told me.
“What movie was that?”
“Oh that’s right. I forgot there was a Summer in that. You’re the only Umer I’ve ever met!”
“Hmm,” he acknowledged.
“How old are you?” I asked, and he held up seven fingers.
“What movie is this?”
“Ah! This play is called Twelfth Night. It was written by a man named Shakespeare,” I said.
“Huh,” he laughed, “that’s funny.”
“Shakespeare is a funny name isn’t it? Summer and Umer and Shakespeare! We make quite a group!”
He then shared, as children are apt to do when we are apt to listen, that he got two SuperSoakers and his friends were coming to visit the next day and he would tell them to share. He told me that his friends lived far away but still in America.
“Do they live in a different state?” I asked.
“Umm, no. They live over by Pioneers Park (a park across town).”
“AH! Yes. That is still in America.”
“I’m gonna go sit by those kids over there!” He declared.
“I’m sure they’ll let you sit by them. Go ahead!”
I fell back once again, my heart expanded three sizes, and joined Ashley to chat about this glorious child as he made friends with the kids in the front row and took in the sword fight happening on the stage. Looking across the street, we saw a woman in a colorful sari trying to get someone’s attention.
Ah! Umer’s mother.
I waited for some actors to make their entrance so as not to impede the performance, then tapped Umer’s shoulder and, pointing across the street, told him his mother was calling him. He dashed off to the edge of the park and we watched the exchange as they had a conversation across the street from each other. Soon, Umer was back by his new friends in the front row having gained permission to stay.
Following the play, I chatted with friends about the “play within the play” of Umer and his discovery of theatre. He approached once again to say thank you, and my friend asked him what his favorite part of the play was.
“When the brother and the sister hugged,” he answered.
This seven-year-old boy, who happened upon his very first play, missed half of the story between chats, moving, making new friends, and talking with his mom, most connected with the reconciliation–not the sword fight or the clowning or the music.
He then darted about the park talking with as many people as he could as the crowd dispersed and the company packed up.
Umer’s actions and interactions were noticed by many and moved many hearts.
This is why Shakespeare.
This is why FREE Shakespeare.
And it takes a community to make it possible.
Thank you for being ours.