The Gotha Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team took home first place at the state competition and now will prepare for the world finals in June.
| 10:28 a.m. April 21, 2021
Imagine being a child at the airport with your family and accidentally grabbing the wrong bag — a bag belonging to the mystical Mary Poppins.
Now imagine taking a peek inside, only to fall into a fantastical world where you meet colorful characters and seek a means of escape. That’s the general premise of the eight-minute skit that helped Gotha Middle School’s Odyssey of the Mind team win first place in a recent state competition.
The annual competition — which is a creative problem-solving program involving students from different academic levels (from kindergarten through college) — requires teams to choose one of five problems to solve creatively.
For the Gotha team, overseen by Alessandra Romano and her husband, Roberto Sanchez, the final choice was to run with the performance question that asked students to create a short theatrical piece showing a character going from the real world to an imaginary place — and back. Along with the story, the creation of props, acting and writing also fell on the shoulders of students. They began to prepare last October.
“The team starts brainstorming on what are other different worlds that are related … so different worlds could be someone dreaming, or Alice in Wonderland fell in a hole and is in Wonderland now,” Sanchez said. “Some of this team landed on Mary Poppins, and Mary Poppins, nobody knows where she came from, but she is definitely not from this world.”
In this first of three components — with others being style and spontaneous question on the day of the competition — the group of 17 students, which included Romano and Sanchez’s oldest daughter, began developing the idea.
As the story goes, a boy named Maxwell is with his family — including his mean bully of a sister — at the airport, when the bag mix-up with Mary Poppins happens, and he falls into her bag. In that world, Maxwell is welcomed by a captain — like in the movie — as well as penguin characters; one of which is a villain who wants to use Maxwell’s coins to escape and become a movie star.
By the end, Maxwell escapes from Poppins’ bag because he finally stands up against the penguin villain, before standing up to his sister in the real world — it’s ultimately the creative solution and moral that was needed as part of the challenge, Sanchez said.
With the script written, the next phase was to start building the props for the skit. Most of what was created for the skit came from each student’s own homes.
Meanwhile, to make Mary Poppins fly during the play, the students created a metal-framed box that has two bungee cords hooked to a harness worn by a student. Combining the box with a rolling black backdrop featuring stars that seem to move gives the sense of falling, which was used to help characters go from one world to the next.
Between the flying contraption, props created with found items and a motorized device that could play a violin, wind chime and a beat-up drum with one single motion — based on Bert’s one-man band in the movie — the team wowed the judges and walked away with the Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award.
Following the win, the Gotha team will present at the world finals in June. Although for Sanchez, it’s more about the journey than the destination.
“I always tell them the competition itself — or the competition day — is just the reward,” Sanchez said. “The actual experience — or what you’re actually getting — is all those months of preparation … how to use a drill, how to do brainstormings and how to deal with teammates who might not be thinking the same thing you do; all of that is the prize.”