Theaters packed with school children waiting for a show are far noisier than a comparable number of adults.
The middle-school pupils packing Fort Lewis College's Mainstage Theatre on Thursday were waiting to hear a twelfth century Persian poem dramatized by the college actors.
The theme of play - "The Conference of the Birds," adapted from Farid Uddin Attar's work - is "We are one."
But at this point, we were still separate.
It was still every squirmy middle-schooler for herself or himself until the cast entered from the rear of the theater and started talking to individual children.
Kathryn Moller, head of the theater department, with her cast of seven and her production crew of around 20, had worked for 14 weeks to establish the performance the children saw. The company built a flock to put the work together, like the birds they portray.
In this, they paralleled the great British theater innovator Peter Brook who founded the Center for Theatre research in Paris in the 1970s, to serve as a meeting point for artists from around the world. There Brook and the actors explored what the theater could offer beyond the limits of language. As the troupe played its theatrical games, Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière adapted Attar's work as a play.
The poem is said to come from the tradition of the Sufis. Sufis sometimes are called the mystical wing of Islam, but the Sufi story is they predated all religions.
They asked the world's great spiritual leaders to meet with them, and they liked Mohammad best of all because he didn't say a word.
Sufis value silence.
The Fort Lewis players performed on an oriental rug as Brooks' troupe did, before a background on which an array of handsome images was projected.
They were flanked by stands supporting stylized moths on wire rods.
The moths would be wiggled to great comic effect to illustrate a metaphor within a metaphor about how moths react to flames.
The play overall dealt with a flock of birds who felt driven to find the king of the birds or God or the Simorgh. If they didn't, they feared they would be lost.
Though in the collaborative spirit of the enterprise, no actor led the play - Amelia Charter, as Hoopoe, served often as the narrator and carried out her part clearly and winningly. Her character convinced the other birds to overcome their fears and cross seven arduous, metaphoric valleys.
The other birds - through movement and subplots - kept their young audience entertained and virtually squirmless as the philosophy unrolled.
Only after the birds' life-threatening journey was finished, did they discover Simorgh had been within them all along.
Whether middle-school children can take in such a simultaneously simple and complex story, it's difficult to say. But they were canny enough to ask smart questions after the play.
One child asked Moller if this was a parallel with "The Wizard of Oz."
Moller replied that she could see the similarities, but this poem was written 800 years before L. Frank Baum tackled that story.
Another child asked "What's the moral?" and an actor answered "That's your work. We've done our work."
It's a well-deserved claim in this instance, one that many theatricals would be proud to speak.