Welcome to Zakland


By Marilyn Delk

Joy and enthusiasm as well as literacy and inspired self-confidence are being spread in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms throughout our community this week; generating all of these positive outcomes is talented, creative force of nature Zak Morgan, currently being presented in all local schools by Darke County Center for the Arts as the third presentation in its 2021-2022 Arts In Education program. Zak’s zany program delights students and educators alike, as the engaged youngsters have a really good time while subtly being taught lessons covering many disciplines.

Zak performs in front of a Zakland backdrop featuring figures included in his songs. The show opens with the delightful “Sailing On a Sea of Smiles,” a song urging the audience members to “put a smile on your face, make the world a better place,” followed by the kids being asked to “Raise your hand if you’ve ever done something to make other people happy.” The enthusiastic response to the request is the first of many instances where the students are encouraged to participate physically as well as verbally, which they confidently do with pleasure throughout the fast-moving show.

Next, Zak sang about going to Sea Island on a family vacation with a tempting cooler full of good food—not good-for-you food, but the really good kind like Tootsie Rolls and soda pop — in the back seat. The young Zak was admonished by his father to set a good example for his younger siblings and not break into the cooler until noon, and responded that of course he could be trusted to be “a good boy — at least 26 percent of the time.” A member of the audience raised his hand to point out the awful truth of young Zak’s pronouncement — “That means you were not a good boy 74 percent of the time” — aptly demonstrating superior math skills while also proving the audience’s intense involvement in the edifying, delightful performance.

After riffing on the mythical benefits of the fictional “best machine ever invented,” a machine providing candy “that makes you smarter,” Zak moved on to the non-fiction tale of Johnny Appleseed with a song based on historical fact but also filled with fun. Audience members placed imaginary cooking pans on their heads to emulate the real John Chapman, then sowed imaginary apple seeds as the entertainer sang about the benefits of apples to youngsters who were learning not only about good nutrition but also American history.

Before Zak launched into his song about the “Funny Farm” where “the bees don’t sting and the weather’s warm,” he asked his audience to emulate his Grandma Lucille, who would always shake her head and say “unc-unc-uh” when admonishing her grandson if he said something wrong. The room was then filled with shouts of “unc-unc-uh” at a silly song about farm animals making the wrong sounds, with the youngsters almost beside themselves while trying to correct the entertainer’s obvious mistakes. At the song’s end, Zak admitted that what he had just said was all just-pretend, then impressively taught his enthusiastic audience how to authentically moo like a cow.

After urging the audience to pretend they were frogs and interactively communicating facts about the nocturnal amphibians with his song “When Bullfrogs Croak,” Zak brought out his puppet friend Marty the Frog to further delight those assembled. However, immediately giving up on his innate ability to do the right thing, the puppet disappeared in embarrassment after making a mistake. The following song, “Tiodnaci,” encouraged Marty and the entire audience to “get up off the ground, and turn that word around,” to reassure one’s self and others that “I can do it.” The show ended with Zak’s song “It’s An Amazing World We’re Living In,” containing words of inspiration and wisdom and leaving his audience feeling uplifted and joyous.

While students are in Zakland, all are equal while learning about alliteration, imagery, and rhyming, as well as metamorphosis and other features of the natural world; all are also empowered to expand their creativity and spread their imaginations. However, if you ask the audience members what they thought about the show, they will simply answer, “It was fun!”

Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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