When Margaret Clauder stands on a stage, dressed as one of her characters and performing for children, there’s one thing she loves above all else. One thing that makes performing almost 100 shows a month worth all the work to make it happen.
“I love listening to the kids laugh,” she said.
Monday morning, Clauder – performing as “Meteorologist Maggie” – entertained and heard the laughter from every second-grade student in Abilene ISD as she performed her show “Weather Wonders With Meteorologist Maggie.” Young Audiences of Abilene (YAA), fronted by Executive Director Laura King, brings in several shows every school year for school children of all ages, and the April 18 program at The Paramount combined Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in two key educational areas.
“We want to expose our students to the arts, and in this case, it combines the TEKS in arts with the TEKS in science,” said Jay Lester, AISD Executive Director of Fine Arts. “In addition, this gets them into a beautiful facility and gives them the chance to have a positive learning experience.”
Some of the students might have been a little confused as to exactly what they were doing at The Paramount early Monday with one hungry student asking his teacher, “Is there a buffet in here?” There was no all-you-can-eat spread in the theatre, but there was an educational opportunity awaiting the students.
In the past, the AISD has partnered with the Children’s Performing Arts Series (CPAS) to present programs to elementary students in the second grade. Because COVID has made it difficult to schedule traveling performers for both CPAS and YAA, the AISD fine arts department asked if it could make a quick pivot this year to offer something live for the second-grade students. Normally, YAA brings in traveling artists to the campuses where they perform for students in grades K-5.
Clauder, who lives in Arlington, has worked as a performer for the Texas Commission for the Arts since 2006 and must audition every two years to remain on the organization’s roster. When she’s on stage, she’s an actress, magician, and ventriloquist, all in the name of both educating and entertaining school children.
In her latest performance, she entertained second graders from Bowie, Martinez, Ortiz, Purcell, Stafford, and Taylor elementary schools in the morning, and then at noon, she performed the same show for students from Alcorta, Austin, Bassetti, Bonham, Dyess, Thomas, and Ward elementary schools. The two programs focused on the weather as Clauder taught students about clouds, the weather cycle, electricity, electric currents, and the four types of precipitation that come from clouds.
Clauder, who has been performing since 1991 after spending several years as a traveling drug sales representative, used hand puppets, props, magic, her ability to throw her voice, and a drawing board to help her inform and entertain the students sitting in front of her. She has a cup that magically soaks up water (evaporation) when it’s poured into that cup and another cup that turns the water into ice when it’s poured into the prop cup. She has a bowl that turns water into a snowman (snow), and a cloud puppet that produces not only rain – which put everyone in the front two rows of the theatre in the Splash Zone – but also electricity (lightning).
She later used an Energy Rod to explain how humans can complete a circuit, at one point calling up about 10 student volunteers and making a human current to light the rod.
The veteran performer has 12 different shows she puts on across the state, including her favorite, “Mother Goose,” which she performs for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, teaching them rhyming words and how to rhyme their own words. She also has an “Under the Sea” performance, as well as a patriotic show where she draws Abraham Lincoln on her board with a movable mouth and has a conversation with him.
It’s all done in the name of both entertaining and educating children. But before she can educate children, she’s having to spend time educating herself on each of the subjects in her presentations.
“Before I started performing as ‘Meteorologist Maggie,’ I knew nothing about the weather,” Clauder said. “But I did a lot of research. I’m smart; I can read and learn, and that’s what I did. Now I find myself driving down the road pointing out the different types of clouds to my husband.
“It was the same with astronomy,” she said. “That was a little bit of a blow-off science class for a business major in college, but then I had to study it when I got this job. We talk about the planetary mnemonic to learn the order of the planets, and we also talk about the phases of the moon (waxing or waning). I made up a poem so the kids will know the difference between a waxing or waning moon:
‘When the light is on the right, the moon will soon be bright.’ (waxing moon)
‘When the light is on the left, a new moon will be left.’ (waning moon)
“So now I can look at the moon and know which phase it’s in,” Clauder said. “This has been very educational for me as well as the students.”
Her first goal, though, is always educating the students in her audience.
“With all of the shows I do, the hardest part is not forgetting lines for 12 different characters,” she said with a laugh. “But the shows all have elements of the TEKS in them, and I hope the kids will remember what we talked about and use it in class. Different kids learn in different ways, and my show encourages them to learn in their way.”