Last year Randy Barton took his Rembrandt assembly, which is a biography of the famous artist, to 27 Utah schools. This year, only four schools answered his ads. Barton gets no public monies to be in the schools. He charges $480 for a performance but may not be in the assembly business much longer because he says the schools don't seem to have as much discretionary money as they used to.
During his assembly, Barton, who wrote, produced, stars in and markets this video/live performance, pretends to paint while singing and talking as if he is Rembrandt. All the while, Rembrandt's paintings appear on a big screen beside Barton.
Other actors also appear on the screen, in short vignettes about Rembrandt's wives and mentors and portrait subjects.
In January, Barton took his show to the Rose Wagner Theatre, as part of the "Ring Around the Rose" series. Elaine Clark, who heads the series, says the goal is to give families a chance to see some of the same programs that schoolchildren get to see
(puppet shows, modern dance, opera, Ballet West) at an affordable $5 a ticket.
On that Saturday, Barton's 48-minute play seemed a bit over the head of the preschoolers in the audience. In fact, some of the little wigglers were removed by their parents or grandparents before the show was over. And Barton agrees that the best age for "Rembrandt" seems to be third- to fifth-graders.
He says some principals or PTA presidents at the schools where he performed last year might want him back in three or four years, when the kids who've already seen his assembly have graduated. He plans to stay in the assembly business at least that long.
Barton also dreams of expanding his repertoire to include an assembly about Einstein and one about George Washington. There's value in a show like his, he says. "It's a whole different way of teaching. I want these historical people to be real to the kids."