By: Sarah Kronisch, AVS drama teacher, lower school
Drama permeates every part of our lives, from making new friends, to giving a work presentation, and yes, especially to parenting! Acting skills are all essential life skills – teaching things like group work, practicing, improving and performing. Sometimes this is all disguised as silly games with weird noises and nonsensical movements, but assuming a role outside oneself develops empathy – and it is fun!
By asking students at a young age to continuously practice (and yes, it takes lots of practice) looking someone in the eyes and speaking in a clear, understandable voice (performance voice) we teach them that —
- They have a voice, and they are encouraged to use it.
- Having that voice is a powerful tool and a privilege. It needs to be treated with respect.
- Their ideas are valuable, and the best way to share those ideas is through clear communication.
Students will need the skill of speaking clearly in public for the rest of their lives. This is often not addressed until high school when habits have already formed.
Of course, the art of theater is larger than acting skills. It encompasses costuming: sewing on a button, dreaming up the look of a production. And writing: editing and fixing bugs in the script. Then there is the science of lighting and shadows. And the marketing skills needed to promote, attract and host an audience. Students learn how to manage a large ensemble and to compromise and adapt their vision for the good the project overall. There’s also some tough stuff: trying out for the part you want and dealing with the disappointment of not always getting what you want.
Starting a theater program from scratch allowed Katie McGee (now middle school drama teacher) and I to —
- stage the school’s first musical, “Shrek Jr”.
- tackle William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the round.
- bring to life the history of the Greek Chorus by performing Greek myths in traditional style at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park.
- have professional actors come to perform student-written works.
- create a musical to fit the specific needs of our community, “Finding Nemo: a Makeshift Musical”
- introduce Eastern contemporary physical theater: The Tadashi Suzuki Method.
- start AVS’ first set design class
We have tried some ambitious things so far, in learning Shakespeare or singing songs in front of the entire school. Most importantly, we have all created a space where students feel safe to try, fail, and try again. Everyone is in it together, and empathy rules. The results? I see students’ self-confidence grow. I see a willingness to try something that may seem scary or weird; students take risks. I see them including the entire ensemble and taking leadership roles. I see them thinking, “How would I feel if….” I see them see themselves through the eyes of theater.
Our upcoming theater production is an abridged version of Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear has a good motto for our evolving theater program: “To infinity and beyond!”