“Presidents! I mean, like, Barack Obama!”
This was the enthusiastic first reply to the question, “What interests you?”
As you may have guessed, we’re shoulder-deep in our first Prelude in-school residency program of the 2011-2012 school year! This time we are working with the 4th grade class at Roselawn-Condon Elementary School. After we discussed the elements of a story, we dove right into brainstorming ideas for the first draft of our script, which has since been transformed into an original production, proofread, edited, and is now the final draft we are rehearsing with. When we first began, Amy asked the students to contribute thoughts to the dry erase board about “What interests you?” and “What is important to you?”
I love these questions.
The possibilities are endless! For many of us, that is an easy question. I know I could quickly and effortlessly rattle off a whole whopping list of things that are important to me in no time. But to hear a nine-year-old exclaim “our President!” before voicing video games, fashion, or the name of the latest pop starlet or NFL player is pretty powerful stuff. The rest of the class readily agreed. It seems that Mr. & Mrs. Obama have a few fans!
Other ideas were added to our list: the solar system, food, endangered species, money, and family. That’s quite a hearty list for the simple question “What is important to you?” I even overheard a small group of boys in the front discussing gravity and the need for clean drinking water.
Over the next few weeks as the script unfolded, President & Mrs. Obama inherited a new home, conveniently located right next to the White House, complete with a handful of energetic monkeys and the unexpected advance of a slew of zombies. Would you believe that’s not even half of the story? With 30 eager children yearning for a role to make their own, creativity definitely takes the driver’s seat!
To the teacher, Mrs. Likens, it was important that the production focus on the students’ math skills. With the addition of a few realtors, a contractor, interior decorator, and gardener it was easy to work in some math skills when it came to laying out the garden and adding up the costs of building vs. purchasing a house. Due to the nature of the story we were also able to hone in on some other topics, like financial responsibility and the importance of good nutrition – for humans and monkeys alike!
Three weeks ago the students designed their costumes (and it was creativity overload at its finest!). They unanimously chose brightly colored frocks and neon locks for the zombies. We discussed how best to implement their designs, gathered the necessary supplies, and the following week during class time we started in on making the costumes with the children. They were so excited to be able to take an active role in designing what everything would look like and then actually constructing some of the costumes and scenery to their exact specifications. That same week while I worked on neon costumes with the zombies, Amy began rehearsals with the other characters. They worked on blocking, sequencing, and learned some theatre terminology along the way. This week we took time to choreograph an epic monkey v. zombie dance-off with the kids (Oh, yes. It’s just as awesome as it sounds), and to measure out the garden scenery, working on our counting, measuring, and division skills. In the next few weeks before our fast-approaching performance we’ll be focusing on rehearsals, speaking with volume, clarity, and inflection, physicality, and so much more!
My favorite thing is how the mood has shifted throughout the weeks that we have been with them. The first week everyone was, understandably, a little weary. The two fourth-grade classes of 15 students each that we had been assigned to work with were suddenly and unexpectedly combined into one class of thirty. The teacher had double the number of students and double the number of subjects to teach overnight, and the students had new peers and classroom dynamics to adjust to. We were two new, weird people, with these crazy ideas and strange activities, asking abstract questions and invading their classroom. But as the weeks passed, the level of trust and investment grew substantially. Now when we walk through their classroom door on Thursday mornings we are greeted with audible gasps of glee, frantic waves, loud whispers, and ecstatic smiles as the students race to put away their workbooks and pencils. They know they are rehearsing and performing a play. They know that they are the authors of their play, the designers of their play, and the actors in their play. But whether or not they realize it, they also learned new vocabulary and terminology. They are learning about government, leadership, division, measuring, counting money, and nutrition. They are learning to work together, manage their voices, communicate via body language and facial expression, and they are working on their reading and public speaking skills too. But Amy and I see it, and their teacher sees it, and hopefully, their principal and parents see it as well.
When test scores are of the utmost importance to so many schools and districts, it’s refreshing to think that we are able to help students achieve their scholastic goals while reinforcing their curriculum, integrating the arts, focusing on both classroom and life skills, and that we can still have an amazing, memorable, and fun time doing so.