African folk-tale play for schools-Fancy Nancy & the Ants

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14 characters. Flexible casting; 16 pages in length. Approximately 15-20 minutes running time. A West African folktale (with classroom materials) adapted by August Mergelman. (3 Credits)

Fancy Nancy & the Ants is based on a West African folktale. With help from her two friends, Tortoise and Monkey, Nancy weaves an intricate plan to rebuild her flood-ravaged island. The fierce rivalry between two heavy lifters, Elephant and Donkey, is the first angle she works—to great success—that is, until high-minded Giraffe butts in. She then turns her attention down toward the earth and discovers an untapped power—that of the ants, but how will she be able to circumvent Giraffe’s watchful eye? The answer, of course, is more trickery. This wonderful play also includes added materials including improvisation and acting exercises, a project for students and questions for discussion and research. You can find these other fantastic plays by August Mergelman in our Script Library: Spider BesiderPersephoneThe MagpiesBy JoveA Merry Interlude at CamelotMum’s the WordThe VixenCouthPantalone’s New PantalonesThe Honest ImpostorThe Weaver Girl & the CowherdThe Dragon & the PearlPolly Peachum & the PiratesLady Scottish PlayPenny from HeavenThe Cat NoirTrade Trade SecretsJackie & the Beans TalkNorth Paws.

As a playwright, August Mergelman has one simple goal: to bring classical works to the modern audience. It seems that so many of the world’s great dramas are obscured by their own magnitude. August does not believe that any of history’s great playwrights would truly want their works to be intimidating or bewildering. First and foremost, they were showman; they crafted their works to be engaging, challenging, and most importantly, entertaining. As a fourth-generation Colorado native, August is proud of his western heritage, which is manifest in several of his western settings. His works have been featured in the Playwrights’ Showcase of the Western Region and the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association’s Playwrighting Competition.

Excerpt from the play:


Fancy Nancy — a resourceful storytelling spider
Monkey — Fancy Nancy’s able and chatty assistant
Tortoise — a ferryboat and an accurate scale
Elephant — a forgetful pack animal
Donkey — an enthusiastic pack animal
Bird — a gossip
Giraffe — a idealistic busybody
Ants (3+) — diligent, but selfish, workers
First Storyteller — one of the keepers of the story
Second Storyteller — another
Third Storyteller — another
Fourth Storyteller — another
Fifth Storyteller — another
Sixth Storyteller — another

(The action takes place on the shore of a lake and a nearby island. The two locations are always visible—the mainland right and the island left. A sign reading “Stories bring people together” is prominently displayed center.)

(Storytellers enter right and position themselves center.)

First Storyteller
(Reads the sign.) “Stories bring people together.” (Thinks for a moment.) Well, not the kind of stories that are read silently—only the ones that are shared with others.

Second Storyteller
(Reads the sign.) “Stories bring people together.” I think it means something else. When slaves were brought to the new world, they took their stories with them. Stories can keep cultures connected, even over great distances.

Third Storyteller
The story we’re about to hear was inspired by Anansi, the legendary spider trickster from African folktales. Like a stowaway, the story of Anansi came to North America from Africa, where she became known as Fancy Nancy…

(Fancy Nancy enters left.)

Third Storyteller
Mostly because of the fancy footwork she performed in sticky situations.

Fourth Storyteller
Fancy Nancy lived on a small island in the middle of a lake. Now, it was not a big island. In fact, it was kind of small, but for the animals that lived in the area, it was very special, for it was the spot where Fancy Nancy told all of her famous stories.

(Monkey and Tortoise enter right and join Fancy Nancy.)

Fifth Storyteller
She lived on the island with her friends, Monkey and Tortoise. Monkey was always there to give Fancy Nancy a helping hand, and Tortoise was always there to carry animals across the lake. Incidentally, Tortoise wasn’t just a ferryboat, he was an accurate scale.

(With some nudging from the others, the Second Storyteller steps onto Tortoise’s back.)

Three and half yams, same as last week.

(The Storytellers nod in amazement. Second Storyteller steps down and back in place.)

Sixth Storyteller
The others knew he was honest because he was so consistent—not to mention grumpy.

Fancy Nancy
As my first husband would always say, “It’s the smiling ones you have to watch out for.” Right, Monkey?

(Never ceasing to smile broadly, Monkey chatters and nods eagerly.)

Fancy Nancy
Poor thing tried to befriend a hyena. Mistook the hyena’s laughter for friendliness. Never seemed to follow his own advice, that one.

(The remaining animals enter right. During the following narration, they create the impression of floodwaters rising by gradually rising to their tippy-toes and treading water with their arms. By the end, they are all on the mainland, right.)

First Storyteller
One day, during the rainy season, the water in the lake rose to a level higher than any of the animals had ever seen before. It was a flood, all right, and when the water receded, it took much of the island with it. Nancy explained the situation to the animals of the mainland.

Fancy Nancy
Animals of the mainland, our oasis is a mess-is! There’s barely anything left of it, and I know all of you love this island as much as I do. Right?

(The animals murmur in agreement.)

Fancy Nancy
Why, it’s the best place for all of us to get together so that I can tell you my famous stories. And you all love my stories, don’t you?

(The animals murmur and nod.)

Fancy Nancy
I thought so! So let’s get crackin’! We can have the island rebuilt before sunset. All we need is a lot of know-how and a little hard work.

(The animals, except Tortoise and Monkey, murmur excuses and quickly scatter off right as Fancy Nancy watches helplessly. Slowly, even Monkey begins to leave.)

Fancy Nancy
Monkey, get back here!

(Monkey returns, grinning and chattering. Nancy sighs.)

Fancy Nancy
Oh, Tortoise. Why did I have to go and say the “W” word?

You scared them all away, all right, but don’t give up hope.

Second Storyteller
And she didn’t. She knew there had to be a way to build their beloved island back up to its original size. Fancy Nancy thought and thought.

ALL Storytellers
Think, Fancy Nancy. Think!
(A storyteller holds up a cue card and prompts the audience to repeat the line.)

Fancy Nancy
(To audience.) I’m thinking… (Gets an idea.) Ah-ha. That’s it!

(Nancy huddles with Monkey and Tortoise. A moment later, they break.)

Third Storyteller
Ready to play out one of Nancy’s schemes, the three of them waited by the shore.

(Elephant enters through the audience and lumbers toward the lake.)

Third Storyteller
When they felt the earth rumble, they knew Elephant was near. Just in time. Fancy Nancy turned to Monkey and pretended like they were having a conversation.

Fancy Nancy
(As Elephant nears.) …You say, “ten thousand sixty-seven yams?” I don’t know, Monkey. I don’t think Elephant can carry quite that much. I think his record was only ten thousand sixty-six.


I can settle that question for you right now, my dear admiring fans.

Fancy Nancy
(Pretends to be surprised.) Elephant! Your big strong ears must have been itching. We were just talking about you.

My record was exactly ten thousand sixty-… um… Let me see… ten thousand sixty-…

Fourth Storyteller
Elephant had difficulty remembering things, especially numbers.

Funny. It was right on the tip of my tusk.

Fancy Nancy
Well, there’s only one way to know for sure…Tortoise.

Good idea, but what’ll I use for weight?

Fancy Nancy
Um… I know! Why don’t you use some of the logs that washed up on the shore?

Okay. I think I will.

Fifth Storyteller
And with that, Elephant stepped up onto Tortoise.

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