The carpet was red, the ties were black, the seals on the award envelopes were gold, the champagne sparkled and the winners dutifully and repeatedly thanked everyone "who made this production possible."
There really wasn't much difference between the Academy Awards and the affair that McGaugh School in Seal Beach threw Thursday evening for a few dozen of its own video stars. It didn't seem to matter that the red carpet was made of construction paper, the champagne was really sparkling apple juice and the celebrities were a bit on the short side. The tuxedos and gowns were real enough, and so were the awards.
Award for Video
Two fifth-grade classes at McGaugh had recently won a county and a state award for a pair of student-made video plays and the kids, parents and teachers--nearly 150 in all--were having a small celebration, Hollywood style. Many of the stars and their parents arrived in their finest gowns and pressed tuxedos and Lois Cohn, the school's media center teacher, was conspicuous in black dress, dark glasses, black and white boa and silver glitter in her hair. She called herself Fifi LaTour for the evening "because I've always wanted to be Fifi LaTour."
It was the members of Cohn's fifth-grade Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) class who had written, produced, directed, videotaped, edited and acted in "Mysteries at McGaugh," a brief bit of cinema verite in which a panel show host interviews two women who claim to have been previously painted but finally overlooked as models for Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." The video this year won a first-place award at the California Student Media Festival in the satire category, elementary school division. McGaugh was the only elementary school in the state to win a first-place award at the festival, principal John Blaydes said.
A tape of the video will go on to compete at the National Student Media Festival in Atlanta, where it will be the only elementary school entry from California. If it wins an award there, it will be eligible for competition in the International Student Media Festival in Berlin.
A second video--composed of excerpts from three live performances of Susan McDonald's fifth-grade class production of "Alice In Wonderland"--had won a first place award Thursday from the Orange County Department of Education in its sixth annual elementary school drama competition.
Both videos were produced using the equipment and studio facilities of Group W Cable in Seal Beach, which provided the hardware, and brief lessons in how to use it, free.
So, since show-biz and awards tend to beget more show-biz and awards, Thursday night the school's media center was converted into what Blaydes called "the Dorothy Chandler annex of the McGaugh media center." A table at the front of the room sagged under the weight of dozens of small trophies and Cohn and McDonald got to rip open dozens of envelopes and say, "And the winner is. . . ."
Every child in both of the productions received an award, in categories ranging from best lighting technician to best caterpillar. Everyone was a "best."
Acceptance speeches were frequent and ranged from the traditional ("I'd like to thank Mrs. Cohn for making this all possible.") to the pithy ("Hi, Mom.") to the poetic ("For some moments in life, there are no words.") to the brutally frank ("I don't know what to say, so I won't.").
Steven Howe and Robbie Prescott, who played Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the "Alice" production, came in character and made successive, identical acceptance speeches: "I'd just like to thank Mrs. McDonald for putting it all together."
Strong in the Arts
"We've had an emphasis on literature this year," said Blaydes, who wore a tuxedo with a pastel plaid tie and cummerbund and white Reeboks. "And we've been consistently strong in the arts. With the 'Alice' production, it just became so big and well done that it was decided to do it live and put it on tape."
As show folk will, the prime movers talked about the sweat of production.
"It took a lot of planning and a lot of work, but the kids were so receptive and cooperative," said Cohn, who said she decided to propose a video production for her class after being given a video camera last year by the school's Parent-Teacher Assn. "We were hoping we'd get a good turnout tonight, but we really didn't expect to see all these tuxedos and gowns."
"I never dreamed it would get this big," McDonald said. "I've never seen kids like this. We're going to do 'Peter Pan' next year."
"I felt best when it was finished and I saw the credits," said Brent Haywood, a student cameraman on the "Mysteries" production. Haywood, looking satisfied, was dapper in a white dinner jacket with a white carnation tucked snugly into the lapel. Standing with him, dressed in a black formal waistcoat, was Carl Corbin, who played the Seven of Hearts in "Alice."
Both boys, Corbin said, had borrowed the suits from the wardrobe of a production of "The Electric Sunshine Man," a play about Thomas Edison, that they had performed in at the school earlier in the year.
"A night like this kind of completes the learning experience for them," said a black-gowned Peggy David, whose daughter, Lauren, participated in "Mysteries." "Lauren was so excited about this that she was dressing me up, too. It's almost like we're playing a part here along with the kids."
What if "Mysteries" should go to Berlin? Will success spoil the fifth grade? Cohn doesn't think so.
"If that happens," she said, "I guess we'll just have to have a car wash and a bake sale to make money for the plane tickets."