I have done it. I have stepped over the edge of reason in my job. I thought I had reached this summit last year when a colleague and I organized a re-enactment of the Civil War for the entire fifth grade to perform. We put Scarlett O’Hara in the midst of the battle scenes for a twisted take on the entire event. She even flirted with Lincoln, thanks to my other theater friend who helped write the script.
Now, another colleague, the artistic director from The Shakespeare Studio, and I are the co-teachers of drama club at our school. We have seventy-five kids who eagerly attend. So, we have decided to have three performances in May. (I’ll get back to this).
I have learned a few things about trying to trail-blaze something like theater arts in elementary school. First of all, theater kids are always just plain, cool. I don’t care what age they are. They have this inherent knack for understanding the global view of the world. Many of these kids can be “restless” in the classroom, so they desperately need the outlet.
There are no drama clubs in elementary school. That is the other thing I learned.
If you have ever directed 26 kids in a play, you know that theater has to be a burning passion in your soul. Or you are a psychotic overachiever.
I also learned that kids dig Shakespeare. Witnessing kids of all academic propensities recite and understand Shakespeare, humbled me beyond recognition.
Our school has a faux stage. One year, the teachers ate lunch up there, with the curtains closed . The entire year, I dreamed I was on the stage eating when suddenly the curtains opened to a cafeteria of a million children watching me eat. I bless the day we were given our very own room to microwave, vent and hide. Set building on a faux stage should be a competition on the Amazing Race.
Back to Drama Club. We have seventy-five kids. Did I mention we have seventy-five kids in our drama club? My colleague and I are a bit like Lucy and Ethel on a good day. Think of the episode where Lucy and Ethel are working at the chocolate factory.
We have three performances looming. Our idea is to do one musical, one “straight” show, and one work by Shakespeare. Thank goodness our Shakespeare guru has shown up in our hour of need. I cannot say how many, “What are you thinking?” comments we get.
I learned that plays and royalties are expensive. Musicals are outrageous..don’t get me started on anything Disney. There are contracts to sign and papers to fill out. We have to decide how much we will charge and how many will attend. We need a rehearsal schedule, costuming, set materials, and builders.
Last week, during our improvisation practice, a group of kids became a giant JENGA game. They collaborated and improvised so well, that the entire room knew what they were doing. One Jenga piece would be pulled by a player while the kid-tower stayed in place. They left us all speechless with their unbelievable creativity.
Foreign language, art, music, and theater arts are deemed disposable subjects. I won’t get on my drama box about how important these subjects are. We all know that deleting these options from the curriculum is a travesty. Enough said.
I have seen theater arts change how children perceive themselves. Under-the-radar students suddenly become confident and capable. I have yet to find a child not find a role in a theater arts project; tech, lights, costuming, etc… I can pull up the standards that connect to all of this. I can even put them in a spread sheet. But then my Excel obsession would resume, and my loved ones would shun me.
I’ll keep the updates coming about our performances. Until then, we will JENGA and know that it is all “vale la pena”. (Worth it all!)
Smile next time you see a theater kid.