Bethel Park students create production to promote reading

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For nearly half a century, youngsters have been hearing that "Reading Is Fundamental," thanks to the nonprofit organization of the same name.

And reading is fun, as demonstrated by students in the Bethel Park High School Drama Club, who took an invitation to help promote children’s literacy and ran with it.

They actually do a bit of running around the performance area during “Feed The Need To Read,” an original variety production.

“It’s completely student-written. For the past month or so, we’ve been meeting after school and planning this out,”said Patrick Raymond following a show March 7 at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. The high school junior is a member of the drama club troupe dubbed the Shake-A-Leg Players, which has received enthusiastic responses from audience members.

“The kids and I wanted to make it loud and energetic, and we wanted to bring the stories to life,” said Christopher Nagel, drama club director and English teacher. “We try to make it fun for everyone. It’s been a long winter.”

Mr. Nagel joined his students in the spotlight, opening “Feed the Need to Read” dressed in a book-built suit and performing a pro-reading rap.

The show featured skits and musical numbers full of pop-culture references, many of which predate the performers, let alone the target audience.

For example, one skit had a pair of reading frogs taking a leap of faith that their series of amphibian-related puns will resonate. A mention of Jeremiah elicits the response: “He was a good friend of mine.” Those who remember Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” had to appreciate the nod to the Top 40 of the early 1970s.

“Some of the jokes are more toward the teachers,” Mr. Nagel admitted.

At Abraham Lincoln, he held up a picture depicting the school’s namesake, while students shouted their recognition of the nation’s 16th president.

“This dude was an avid reader,” Mr. Nagel told them, encouraging the youngsters to follow his lead. “We want you to love reading. That’s not something that can necessarily be taught. That’s something you have to learn to do.”

For further encouragement, he had the drama club students join him for the closing number, chanting “R-E-A-D!” to the tune of another ’70s standard, the Village People’s “YMCA,” in an enthusiasm-filled performance.

“I love getting the kids involved and getting them excited about reading,” said sophomore Tiffani McGough.

The show originated when Memorial Elementary School’s Accelerated Reader Committee approached the drama club to have members speak to the younger children about the importance of reading. The high school students wanted to do more, so they wrote two age-appropriate assemblies, one for students in kindergarten through second grade, and the other for third- and fourth-graders.

Initial performances received such a warm reception that other schools are hosting the program, and Mr. Nagel said he has received inquiries from outside of the school district.

Members of the community can check out the proceedings May 10 during a book fair at Barnes & Noble at South Hills Village Mall.

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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