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The Play Festival And Pageant In The Open Country

All down the ages echoes the footfall of the pursuer, and man has been fleeing for his life, from the dinosaurs and monsters of the primeval world, from savage beasts and still more savage man with club and stone and arrow, and always from cold and pestilence and famine. These have made man their prey. He has not dared to pause in his flight to look about him ; his course in life has been determined by the bitterest necessity. Even to-day there is little freedom of choice for the peasant peoples of Europe. For the first time in the history of the world, there has been given to a great people here in America the possibility of living a satisfying life. But we are trading the gold for the tinsel, we are throwing away the pearl for the shell in which it was imbedded, " For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world and shall forfeit his life ? " This is the question that should be written on the plow handles and carved on the doorposts of the American farm. What is the advantage of increasing prosperity if more acres are to mean longer hours and less time for the family and enjoyment ? The farm is constantly losing its most capable young people, because the conception of life that lies behind it is forever opposed and uncongenial to the spirit of youth ; for to that spirit, life is ever the paramount thing. But the farmer has put prosperity above living, and to this ambition, as to Moloch, he is sacrificing not his own life alone but the lives of the entire family.

Growing out of the Rural Life Commission appointed by President Roosevelt has come the " Country Life Movement," and this movement has seen its vision. The question of the open country is not one of better agriculture alone, but of better living quite as much. The farmer must be made to realize that there are other things of value than land and hogs. He must aspire as well to social and political position and influence, to founding a family and a life that is satisfying to all its members. He must enjoy the beauty and feel that he is a co-worker with God in the wonderful processes of growth and development. Life in the country has been too dull and hard and sordid. In some way there must be infused into it variety, sociability, and an appreciation of spiritual values.

One of the most effective means of injecting this new life into the country is the play festival. The play festival is not a new thing historically, as the Roman Church has had its pageants and fiestas for centuries. The peasant peoples of Europe have had their harvest and other festivals, coming several times a year, when nearly the whole community assembled on the village green for a general merrymaking ; but there has been a headlong haste to get somewhere in America that has not left us time to consider where we were going, much less to admire the flowers that grew by the road-side. We have so mixed the peasant peoples of Europe that they have not been able to transplant their customs and festivals. We have denationalized religion and subordinated the church, so that it could not organize the social and recreational life, and we have produced from these conditions a life on the whole overserious and rather sordid, which has relegated to a very subordinate place the natural pursuit of human and spiritual ends.

t can almost be taken for granted of any new educational or social movement that it was " made in Germany," and the play festival is no exception. t is encouraging to note that it has not been a spontaneous expression of the spirit of the people, but a matter of promotion. They sought to get their people out of the beer gardens to take part in various health-giving exercises and to enjoy life in the open. The beginnings were more than twenty years ago, and these festivals have now become common throughout the empire. Some of them, as the one of the Rhine Lands and Westphalia, include a whole province or more, and many thousands of people come by train to see and take part. The festival lasts for an afternoon and an evening, with games, gymnastic drills, athletic contests, music, and dancing ; but its influence lasts for the entire year, for it tends to introduce these events into the schools and into the homes, and its spirit into the life of the people.

The first rural play festival in this country was organized by Principal Scudder of the New Paltz Normal School in 1905. The students went out from the normal school and taught the children at the country schools to play the games and to take part in the contests. They found that the children did not have basket balls and could not purchase them, so they made basket balls by wrapping pumpkins in hay and sewing them up in a canvas cover. There were no baskets, so they used barrel hoops instead. They started volley ball and tether ball. They had match contests in prisoner's base and pullaway, and there were potato races, relay races, dashes, and jumps. t was decided to start the test of the Public School Athletic League, which says that " boys under thirteen shall be able to run sixty yards in eight and three-fifths seconds, to chin a bar four times, and jump five feet nine inches standing." The country people said that may be all right for city boys, who do not have anything to do ; but country boys are strong from farm work and they can do these things easily. Much to their surprise, scarcely one was successful, and the boys began to train all over the county. About the middle of June a great play festival was held at New Paltz which was attended by more than four thousand people. t has been one of the annual events in this county ever since.


Within the last decade has come the development of the county work of the Y.M.C.A. This work is without equipment and with only one paid worker, who is both physical director and general secretary. He organizes groups of young fellows, usually under eighteen years of age, at various centers about the county. They have Bible study, corn clubs, athletics, a summer camp, and an annual conference. There are now sixty of these rural secretaries. In every case they are organizing athletics over some part of the county of which they have charge, often at the district schools. They generally hold a play festival, in connection with the county fair, where it is usually one of the most attractive features. The Secretary of Windsor County, Vermont, has attracted much attention in the country at large by the organization of this work in his county.


It is impossible to say at present how many counties are already conducting organized athletics, with a play festival at or about the close of the school year. t is certainly a far larger number than any layman in the field of recreation would be likely to suspect. In lecturing to teachers in different parts of the country, I often have superintendents come to me and say that they are organizing the recreation in their county or that they are planning to for the coming year. Usually they have had very inadequate preparation themselves, but some of them are making a good showing on paper at least. A set of instructions is generally sent out from the superintendent's office, showing the games and events to be participated in, and giving some brief instructions for training.


Hamilton County, Tennessee, has employed a man during the past year to organize the play of the children at the different schoolhouses about the county. He teaches the games, organizes teams, and arranges for contests and tournaments. A certain amount of time is taken from the school day for this purpose. t has been found that this organizing of the play has increased the attendance nearly twenty per cent.


Dr. Earle of Des Plaines, Illinois, introduced a bill into the last legislature of the state of Illinois, calling for the establishment of recreation districts about the state at any time that the taxpayers might desire to do so. Any one hundred voters could bring this up to a vote at any time, under the conditions of the bill. This bill failed to pass the last legislature, but it will be reintroduced this year. This is interesting, as it is similar to the arrangement that already prevails in the country sections of Germany.


Perhaps the most feasible way to organize a play festival at present is at a county teachers' institute. At the institute the whole matter can be brought before the teachers. Its purpose may be explained, and the teachers may be taught the games and their cooperation enlisted in making the festival a success. Definite events should be set for the contests at least three months before the festival is to take place, and, if possible, one or two preliminary contests with other schools should be arranged in order to stimulate the interest. The play festival should be a big event for the town where it is held. The merchants will readily contribute the prizes, which should be inexpensive but real souvenirs of the event.


The most serious criticism of the play festivals that have thus far been held in this country is that there has been too little in them for the adults. They have been too largely devoted to the children. The play festival should be a holiday for the whole countryside and should bring out every one. t should be a play exposition or fair where all sorts of recreation are exhibited, especially the particular sorts which are fitted to the needs of the country community. There should be events for the adults, and for the adults of the particular locality, such as fly-casting contests, clay-pigeon shooting, or target practice. In the future there may well be volley ball and indoor baseball.


In selecting the events the effort should be made to have such a series of games that every child can take part in some-thing. t would be well if a printed list of these events could be sent around by the County Superintendent, so that it could be posted in every schoolroom. This announcement should state also what prizes, if any, are to be awarded to contestants, and the teachers should be requested to explain the coming festival to the children and to interest as many as possible to take part. Some of the events that should be scheduled are the following :

Games of the little children, circle games, etc.

Pullaway and Prisoner's Base and other games of low organization.

Playground baseball for boys.

Playground baseball for girls.

Long ball for boys.

Volley ball for boys.

Volley ball for girls.

Tether ball in teams of three.

Tennis, singles and doubles for boys.

Tennis, singles and doubles for girls.

Basketball for the girls.

Basketball for the boys.

One-hundred-yard dash for boys under sixteen.

Sixty-yard dash for boys under thirteen.

Sixty-yard dash for boys under sixteen.

Sixty-yard dash for girls under thirteen.

Twenty-five-yard dash for boys under eleven.

Twenty-five-yard dash for girls under eleven.

Running broad jump for boys under sixteen.

Running broad jump for boys under thirteen.

Running high jump for boys under thirteen.

Running high jump for boys under sixteen.

Folk dancing by the older girls, in costume, if possible.

Exhibition drill of the Boy Scouts.

Exhibition of the Camp Fire Girls.

For adults : baseball, quoits, tennis, volleyball, indoor baseball, dancing. In some places horsemanship and lassoing, marksmanship, bait-casting, plowing, etc.


A play festival of this kind will require much preliminary work. t should be fully announced in the papers, and something should be kept running for some time beforehand in order to maintain the interest. It will take a large-sized piece of level ground, because many of these events will have to be run simultaneously in order to get through in an after-noon. The athletic field of a college, normal school, or high school would be the best place to hold the festival if there is any such ground centrally located, or the county fair ground. Everything must be in readiness at the appointed time. A large number of officials, twenty or thirty at least, will be needed to umpire and referee the different games, and there must be many others to help as guides and to assist in keeping order. It will help if each school will carry a banner and have some insignia on the sleeve which will facilitate recognition. The preliminaries should be tried out beforehand or in the morning, so that only the final and more interesting events may be left for the afternoon. A number of these may go on simultaneously, but so far as possible each of the more important games should be given a clear stage for a few minutes, in order to impress the game on the community. These games might be much shortened, but there ought at least to be three games of tennis played with every one looking on, croquet to the first stake, eleven points in volley ball, and three innings in indoor baseball.

Such a play festival as this will set the children to playing with a purpose in the school yards all over the county. It will lead to the introduction of many of these games into the yards of the farm homes, and sooner or later it should create in the community a spirit of play which the country has sadly lacked. Where there is a county school fair this play festival might well be one of the events at this fair, if this fair can be held in the spring. But if the fair is held in the fall, it will probably be better to have them separate, as the children will have to get most of their training while school is in session, and the whole organization would be apt to dissolve during the long summer vacation. Rural schools are very apt to change teachers in the fall, and many of the children drop out, so it will be almost necessary to have the festival either in the spring or, in the South and West, in the winter.

There are a number of normal schools that are now giving a play festival each spring, largely in order to train their students in organizing this work in their own schools later.

It is no light task to change the spirit of a people, to intro-duce idealism and romance and adventure into a life that has become overserious and overdull, to check the headlong haste that is going nowhere, and promote the earnest pursuit of well-selected aims. This is a problem that applies largely to all, but especially to the half of our people who are living in rural communities. t is one of the largest problems of constructive statesmanship that our educators and legislators have to solve, for the welfare of the country is dependent on the stability and dignity of our farming population, and the capable people will not stay in the country unless rural life is worth while.


The pageant is in general a condensation of history or literature, most often a representation by the people of a locality of the significant events that took place there. These pageants grew up naturally in the cities of the Old World, where a thousand years of history offered a succession of kings and queens, knights and ladies, of plots and romances and tragedies, that might appear upon the stage in the trappings and equipment and dress of successive ages. To represent thus the local heroes, around whom legend and childhood's fancies had cast the glamour of romance, in the presence often of the king and queen or some foreign potentate, seemed to the peoples of the Middle Ages alike the highest expression of patriotism and of themselves.

The pageants that have been given in Europe have had many centuries of history to draw upon for their characters and events. The people have a reverence for locality and its traditions, arising from the fact that most of the families are the descendants of others that have lived in the city for generations. None of these conditions prevail in this country, and historical pageants can never be as attractive here. Still nearly all the pageants that have thus far been given have been historical pageants, and most of them have been successful if the weather has been propitious. This serves to show how deep is the appeal which the pageant makes. Most of these have been a mere cross section of American history, representing primarily national events rather than local events or characters. The pageant usually begins with the Indians, to be followed by the pioneers, the French and Indian War, the Revolution, and the Civil War, with some local characters who figured conspicuously in these events. A few symbolic figures are usually seen, and there is often a prophecy of the future. t would seem as though most of the pageants that have been given have followed practically the same outline. These pageants have been held in a considerable number of cities in New England, where there is the most history to represent. They have called out enormous crowds, have some-times at least been self-supporting, and have awakened a great deal of civic pride and patriotism. Courses in pageantry are now being given in Columbia and, I believe, in a number of other universities. The position of Director of the Pageant has become a profession, and its future seems to be bright.

There are some who think that the pageant is to be one of the largest factors in the rural recreation of the future, and this may well be so, but it must be a pageant of somewhat different sort from the ones that have thus far prevailed with us. There is no local history or historic characters of importance in most country communities. History itself often goes back only a generation, so that the pageant would reveal little that was not already familiar to the oldest inhabitants. The attractiveness of the pageant depends largely on the costumes, and there are no costumers in the country, and there are no fancy or antique garments for hire. The pageant is an out-of-door show and requires the time of many people. In most sections of the country it must be given in the summer or the late spring or early fall. These are the busy times of the year on the farm, which fact practically excludes farmers from participation in it, though it might be organized from the village people if there were significant events to depict. The pageant at Thetford, Vermont, was a success, and has done much to create a new civic pride and reanimate these dying communities ; but it is doubtful if such pageants could be largely duplicated in other rural communities.

It would be very difficult if not impossible to give a pageant entirely with adults in most rural communities, but I see no reason why this could not be done with comparative ease through the schools. I believe too that the pageant would be likely to prove one of the most educative things in the whole school year. The first pageants that were given in this country, so far as I know, were given by the Ethical Culture School of New York, where they were introduced purely for social and educational reasons. It would not be difficult to hold such a pageant anywhere, if there is a County Superintendent who can form a plan of what is to be represented and assign the parts to the different schools, so that the whole will fit together like the scenes of a play when it is finished. Each school might be responsible for the representation of some historic or literary event ; as, for instance, School No. i, the lives of the Indians School No. 2, the trappers and pioneers ; School No. 3, an Indian raid, the Stamp Act, or the Boston Tea Party, etc. ; or, if conditions were favorable, the schools might represent the industries of the county. Such a pageant would inevitably call out large numbers on account of the number of participants, and the merchants of the county seat could well afford to put up the necessary expense in order to bring the pageant there.

The pageant can be yet more easily organized through a high school, normal school, or college, and it will there have a much wider range of possibilities, as it can represent the history of other countries as well as this, and literature as well as history. Mount Holyoke has shown how interesting a mere dramatic and symbolic representation of the different subjects in the curriculum can be made. This is a form of pageant that could be organized by a high school quite as easily if not more easily than by a college, for the high school has practically the same subjects. t has boys as well as girls, and the girls can make most of the costumes as a part of their regular work in domestic economy. t might take much time to produce a pageant based on " Ivanhoe," but the pageant would surely interest the young people and the community in the story and make it real, as mere reading will never do. Such events will make school more interesting to the young people and will increase the attendance, will bring the school and the community together, and will add a bright thread to country life. If the pageant is given in place of or as a part of the graduation exercises of the school, it will not take much of any one's time, and it will make commencement much more interesting. The preparation of such a pageant will make history and literature live for the participants, and will be just as educative in a large way as any of the studies of the curriculum. The pageant may be rendered as a service to the community, and as such it may be a training in social service. American communities just now need to learn to play more than they need to learn to work, and the pageant will be a direct preparation for the students in a rightly proportioned life ; for to the actor and the beholder the pageant proclaims " Life does not consist in wealth or wisdom ; it must be lived and enjoyed to be worth while. Realize the past and the present, and feel the joy and the significance of living."

( Originally Published 1914 )

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Equipping The School Ground

Organized Play In The School Yard

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Recreation In The Rural Community

The Play Festival And Pageant In The Open Country

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