Firenze's Light encourages the reader to SHINE ON! It is a message we both embraced and were eager to share with my students. One advantage of the Zoom platform is that I was able to record the reading to share with a larger audience. Now, others can enjoy the story told so expertly by Mary with her funny voices (my favorite is Kirie, the beetle), her humor, and her empathy.
I worked with the students for a month to prepare for Mary's visit. We studied all 12 of her Broadway shows, from her debut in Barnum to the recent, celebrated revival of Oklahoma! The discussions about the shows led to inquires into mythology and voodoo (Xanadu and Marie Christine), characters who are mean vs misunderstood (Chicago, Xanadu, and Wicked), history, humor, and the impact of costumes, wigs, and make-up. In fact, as very visual children they were captivated by Mary's hair across the spectrum of her performances.
As we went along, I wrote down their questions. In the final days before her visit we selected three main ones. You can listen to Mary's answers below (videos have ASL interpretation and captions are enabled).
Question #1 - Why did you want to be on Broadway?
A Visit with Mary Testa
Mary Testa ushering us into new territory with our first virtual guest artist visit (January 13, 2021).
Things went so well that I've already scheduled other guest artists for February and March. I know I am taking a leap of faith by planning ahead because our school schedule has changed every single month this year. But, I am determined to make it work somehow. And with my brilliant students, their supportive parents, and talented guest artists we will undoubtedly succeed.
Question #2 - What was your favorite show and why?
Question #3 - What do you do now that Broadway is closed?
Broadway Books First Class
Mary Testa inspired me to set aside my reservations about altering the structure of the guest artist visits. I was initially reluctant to accommodate for the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I figured we'd pause things and pick back up again when this mess was behind us. However, it was already a year since Tony Award winning director Kenny Leon visited in January 2020. I'd either have to compromise the in-person visits for something virtual, as the rest of the world has had to do, or place the program on an extended hiatus.
As I was grappling with this decision, I watched Mary Testa and Jonathan Freeman conduct a live signing on Instagram to raise money for Broadway Cares. They were charming. They also had some nice words to say about Broadway Books First Class. It was heartening to see that virtual events could emulate some of the warmth and connection of a face-to-face interaction. So, I decided to "take the plunge" (that phrase is a nod to Mary Testa's tour de force performance in Queen of the Mist).
Mary (a three-time Tony Award nominee) immediately accepted my invitation. We selected the children's book Firenze's Light by Jessica Collaco for her reading.