Crying and Laughing America through the Eyes of Children


Festival – Contest

Crying and Laughing America through the Eyes of Children

Moscow: IGUMO IT

November, 2, 2009– April, 2, 2010

 2010 faces important dates related to American culture: the 100-th anniversary of O’ Henry’s and Mark Twain’s death. This same year also marks the 175-th Anniversary of Mark Twain and the 125-th Anniversary of his pinnacle work “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

In commemoration of the two brilliant American authors – Mark Twain and O’ Henry, Moscow English Language Teachers Association (MELTA), Institute for the Humanities and Informational Technologies (IGUMO IT) and newspaper “English” of the publishing house “The First of September” organized a special event dedicated to the lives and works of these outstanding people. The festival has brought together inspired and creative secondary school students as well as university students of English to commemorate, to honour and to remember Mark Twain and O’ Henry. The Festival was sponsored by the English Language Office and Public Affairs Section of the American Embassy in Moscow.

The mission of the Festival was to promote awareness and appreciation of the life and work of Mark Twain and O’ Henry and to demonstrate the relevance of their stories and ideas to citizens of the world.

O’ Henry knew people very well, especially the ordinary people of New York. His stories were very often with a happy unexpected end, which were far from real life, but at the same time he could not shut his eyes to the dark sides of American life. In his stories one can feel satirical criticism of the American way of life. Most of his short stories are full of warm sympathy for ordinary American people.

Mark Twain is best known as a humorist, his wit is the sparkle that enlivens all his works. While Mark Twain uses his unique humor to engage and amuse his audience, his work also contains social criticism that provokes each reader to think deeply about our world. Through his stories and essays, Mark Twain searched for truth and wisdom. He has left behind a legacy that still evokes deep attachments to such characters as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Jim, while at the same time provokes thoughtful discussion as it challenges his reader to look critically at society.

The project to mark the dates entitled “Crying and Laughing America through the Eyes of Children” started in November 2009, and was proclaimed to 190 secondary schools of the Moscow Eastern Administrative Area and IGUMO IT. The event gathered over 600 participants: school students from Moscow Eastern Administrative Area; university students from IGUMO IT, Moscow Pedagogical State University, Moscow State Regional Pedagogical University, Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, St. Petersburg Institute for the Humanities; guest theatre team “Constellation” from Moscow Pedagogical State University (directed by PhD Professor M.Y. Blokh).

The event combined the following proceedings: Drama Festival of School English Theatres, Research Project Contest, Memory Date Show and Best Question to M. Twain Contest. The festival-contest included several stages and preliminary selections and finished on April, 2, 2010.

The first stage included preliminary ranking of school-teams’ dramatizations of the literary works (younger school students – those of M. Twain; senior school students – those of O’ Henry). On March 4-5, twenty best teams were given a chance to rehearse their shows in IGUMO IT and to get specialist advice by Moscow Armen Dzhigarkhanyan theatre producer Yu. V. Klepikov, theatre producer V.A. Polyakov and IGUMO Theatre Arts Faculty Dean N.K. Telyakevich, Ph D. Four best teams were selected to present their theatrical performances in the venue of IGUMO IT on April 2 at the closing ceremony of the Festival. On March 25-26, school 1475 provided a 500-seater venue for Drama Festival of School English Theatres. The jury of the theatrical contest included specialists of English and theatre arts, representatives of MELTA, the local (EAA) and IGUMO governing bodies and the alumni of USG – Elena Markova, Anna Shirokikh, Tatyana Kobzina, Olga Boltneva, Galina Gumovskaya, Alyona Gromushkina. (The criteria for the jury of Drama Festival of School English Theatres are included in Appendix 1 to the report).

The initial program of the Festival Final Event had to be a little bit changed because of a great amount of University students’ applications for participation in the Research Conference “Pillars of American Literature at the Turn of 19-20 Centuries”. Instead of working at two Festival areas on April, 1, the organizers decided to hold The Research Conference beforehand, on April, 1. University students prepared talks based on their research devoted to various aspects of literary works by Mark Twain and O’ Henry. The students of IGUMO IT, Moscow Pedagogical State University and Moscow State Regional Pedagogical University presented the results of their research in English and in Russian. Four best reports were chosen by the jury of Research Project Contest headed by Prof. E. Yakovenko to be presented at the Festival closing ceremony.

The Festival developments acquired additional furnishing when O. Kurenya, Associate Professor of IGUMO IT managed to get in touch with M. Twain and O’ Henry museums in the US and asked for copies of most interesting materials related to the life and works of the authors. They reproduce historical and cultural atmosphere of America at the turn of 19-20 centuries, most interesting episodes of the life of M. Twain and O’ Henry and their literary characters. Owing to the kind assistance of Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum (Hannibal, MO) and its executive director Dr. Cindy Lovell it was possible to get authentic materials providing the organizers and participants of the Festival with comprehensive information on Mark Twain’s biography and his funny literary characters.

The final stage took place on April, 2 at IGUMO IT and comprised a complex of events. It started with the foreword of Prof. Galina Gumovskaya, the project author. The opening ceremony began with a word of greeting from the guests of honour who contributed greatly to help the Festival develop. The first words of greeting were spoken by IGUMO IT Rector Prof. Marina Volynkina. On behalf of Public Affairs Section of US Embassy Moscow, Mike Snyder addressed the audience and sent the Festival good wishes. (Consider Festival Final Event Programme at Appendix 3).

Following the Program of the Festival four speakers shared with the participants and guests of the Festival their special academic expertise in the areas of literature, linguistics, and culture studies having subjected to analysis the life and works of Mark Twain and O’ Henry. The presentation of Maria Kondratyuk (MSRU) was dedicated to one day of Mark Twain’s life and compiled a description of his routine as well as the writer’s quotations. The next report was held by Ilya Fedotov (IGUMO IT). The report concerned the cultural and historic background of Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. It was devoted to the verbalization of concepts ‘school’ and ‘church’. The third talk was presented by Anastasia Shestakova (IGUMO IT). Her research report indicated the reasons for the nicknames of O’ Henry. It revealed the history of O’ Henry’s pen-name and considered different approaches to its origins. The last presentation was held by Julia Melnikova (MPSU); it claimed revealing insights into the life of O’ Henry.

A very attractive concert of Irish original music and song as a gift for the Festival was performed by the students of the IGUMO IT Faculty of Foreign Languages and was greeted as a natural continuation of the closing ceremony. It was prepared under the close supervision of IGUMO IT Associate Professor Ilya Kurenya.

The most attractive item of the finishing stage of the festival appeared to be the theatrical performances of the winners of the Drama Festival of School English Theatres. The top prize was awarded to school 1475; the young winning team brightly revealed their understanding of M. Twain’s characters. The second prize went to school 1200: they gave an impressive and sparkling musical based on Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. The third prize was shared by schools 1752 and 2036; the young actors displayed their skills and talents while competing with each other for the best fence painting the way Mark Twain’s funny characters used to do.

But the most memorable event of the Festival was a live personal appearance of celebrated American actor Ken Richters – a very special guest who honored the festival with his visit. Ken Richters – a character actor as Mark Twain – knows a lot about Mark Twain and his literary characters. He performed as Mark Twain hundreds of times in theatre, cinema and musical shows in 50 countries of the world. At the festival Ken Richters re-enacted Mark Twain and told the audience funny stories. The sparkling humor and gentle irony of Mark Twain and Ken Richters could not but cut to the quick both the old and the young.

After the performance, the University and school students had an opportunity to communicate with Ken Richters-Mark Twain. It was an exciting contest for the Best Question to M. Twain. The contestants prepared their witty personal rich in content questions to Mark Twain. Ken Richters showed fine appreciation of the students’ knowledge of the biography, literary works and characters of Mark Twain and said that Russian children are much smarter than American children of the same age. (A list of the questions is included in Appendix 2 to the report).

The final item of the festival was the award ceremony on which the participants were given certificates and memorable presents. The awards ceremony was conducted by Rector of the Institute for the Humanities and Informational Technologies Prof. Marina Volynkina and the guest of honour Ken Richters.


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