McNeil students go ‘buggy’ over picnic

Ever look at a picnic through the eyes of an army of ants? A beautiful monarch butterfly? A stink bug? How about a maggot?
The students of McNeil Canyon Elementary School offered that perspective May 8 in the school’s 30th annual spring concert. Kindergarten through sixth-grade students performed “Bugz,” a musical play for young voices by John Jacobson and John Higgins. Joanna Greene and Corise Story directed the school performance, with Debbie Piper serving as artistic director and Lenore Swanson the musical director.  
“It was really neat to see the whole school community working together for the last month or so to make the play a success,” said Story. “The hard work of the students, staff and parents all contributed to making a wonderful, wonderful experience for everyone.”
With family and friends crowding onto gym bleachers, cameras and recorders poised, the evening began with three pieces performed by the McNeil Band, a group of fifth- and sixth-grade musicians performing under the direction of Amy Johnson.
No sooner had the applause died down than the fourth-grade boys skipped into the spotlight and danced an Irish jig while weaving the ribbons on a May pole.
With the mood set, the school’s drama club announced it was “time to go on a picnic. Time for fun to begin. Frisbee and football with all my friends. I hope summer will never end.”
From sets to costumes, singing to choreography, the “bugz,” as they are referred to in the musical’s title, flitted, flapped and crawled about as they extolled the joys of a picnic, the bounty of food and the threat of finding themselves unwanted guests of human picnickers.
A chorus of ladybugs, adding a splash of bright red and black and looking oh so prim and proper in shoulder-length black gloves, offered hints for overcoming the unfriendly behavior of others.
“If someone treats you rough and life is kind (of) tough, you think you’ve had enough, but be a lady.”
As the audience soon discovered, however, it was more than the unkindness of humans that was causing problems. There were hard feelings within the bug kingdom that became evident each time the stink bug appeared.
The sweet scent of flowers provided one solution, but an even more long-term response to unpleasant situations came from the most unlikely and least attractive source: the maggots. As older classmates helped kindergarten-aged actors exchange their white wrappings for beautiful wings, the performers sang, “…clouds don’t stay forever, rainbows do appear. So even though its stormy, there’s one thing very clear: things change.”
With that point made, the entire McNeil student body took center stage, bringing the performance back to where it all began with words perfectly setting the stage for the end of a school year and the beginning of summer vacation: “Going on a picnic can’t be beat!”
“It was a huge success for our school,” said Story. “It was really neat after all that work to sit back and watch the kids shine and do better than you ever expected. It was a really, really wonderful thing.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at