At about six-feet tall, Oskar is pretty big for a 10-year-old kid. But that’s show business. Oskar is the stressed-out main character in “Oskar and the Last Straw,” an award-winning show by TheatreWorks for K-5 students to demonstrate how to handle stress effectively.
A popular guy with kids, Oskar also stars in “Oskar and the Big Bully Battle,” which shows kids how to recognize bullying and the difference between being a “BYstander” and an “UPstander.”
The two shows, produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s Education Program in collaboration with the Palo Alto Unified School District, are touring the Bay Area through April 13.
“Oskar and the Last Straw” played to the student body of about 100 at Sierra School, Santa Clara on March 7. The kindergarteners and first graders got front row seats in the outdoor breezeway, where they giggled at Oskar’s antics, beginning with his silly solo dancing.
Oskar loves to dance when nobody’s looking, but his bright orange backpack starts slowing him down as it gets heavier and bigger each time a new stress is added to his load: soccer cleats, an art project, math homework, a box of popcorn, a party invitation, which means he needs to buy a present.
On and on Oskar’s stresses accumulate until finally, Oskar becomes so burdened by the last straw added to his backpack that he tumbles over backwards and can’t get up—until he learns effective ways of handling stress.
“I learned that you shouldn’t just sulk around. You have to do one thing at a time,” said first grader Vedant.
“Oscar, at first, thinks about things as difficult that are not that hard,” said fifth grader Raquel.
“Don’t try so hard. Try not to get overstressed,” said Shreya, a second grader.
Raquel shared a time that she felt overwhelmed.
“At my old school, I was sick for a week, and I had so much catch up work to do,” recalled Raquel. “But I got help from my parents and a couple teachers.”
What did the students like about “Oskar and the Last Straw?” Raquel said that she liked the dancing. Vedant liked “how Oskar can learn to do one thing at a time.” Shreya liked “everything!”
“The valuable lesson is allowing the students to go along with Oskar and see and experience his journey. They get to see him make mistakes, and they get to see him grow and change,” said TheatreWorks Director of Education Amy Cole-Farrell.
Sierra School, 220 Blake Ave., is a private, K-12 school with an emphasis on individualized learning. In 2017, it brought “Oskar and the Big Bully Battle” to its campus.
“We love the messages and the creativity,” said Vice-Principal Sandy Prince, adding that TheatreWorks is organized and on time.
Prince appreciates that TheatreWorks provides a study guide and lesson plans for teachers to use in preparation for the 35-minute shows, which are followed by 10 minutes of Q and A.
“The students connect really well to social issues. They understand how other people feel,” said Sierra K-1 teacher Leigh Monistere.
In “Oskar and the Last Straw,” Oskar, played by Sean Okuniewicz, has two sidekicks who help him learn how to lighten the load in his backpack. Beth (Brigette Losey) and Frank (Lorenz Angelo Gonzales) play five or six roles each, making split-second, madcap costume adjustments. All agreed that the program reinforces their own personal coping skills.
“Sometimes when I’m talking to the kids, I feel like I’m reminding myself,” said Okuniewicz.
A free performance of “Oskar and the Big Bully Battle” is scheduled on March 31, 2 p.m. at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos Hills. For free ticket information, visit www.theatreworks.org/special-events/freeoskar or call the box office: (650) 463-1960.