By Joan Weber
On January 13th, students at Violetville Elementary-Middle school who participated in the Truancy Court Program’s Kids & Theater program presented a morning of theater to their families, fellow students and staff at the school. The actors were dressed in their purple for Violetville’s “Purple Friday”. The production included a staged reading of a play written by half of the students in the class. The other half presented a performance of the play “The Pirates of Pelican Point.”
The Kids & Theater Program was first presented last spring as an after-school program at Hampden Elementary-Middle as an arts enrichment program for students enrolled in the Truancy Court Program, who were given priority enrollment. Enrollment was opened to students from the whole school, which allowed a nice cross-section of students to work together. The spring program focused on play writing and culminated in a performance of the original work for family and friends.
For the first sessions at Violetville Elementary-Middle this fall, teaching artist Caitlyn Joy, a local actor and playwright, and I worked with all the students on both acting and writing skills, including beginning-middle-end storytelling, improvised scenes and theater games. Then the students were given a choice to pursue either writing or acting. The writing students worked with Caitlyn to write a play through a process of improvisation, writing exercises and group discussion. The other half of the class auditioned for, were cast in and rehearsed a short play under my direction.
Each time I work with kids doing theater, I learn new things from them and about theater. The program at Violetville taught me again that when faced with challenges, kids will respond to the call. When the stakes are personally high, such as performing in front of the whole school, kids can accomplish more than they think.
Our lead girl in Pirates of Pelican Place stepped into the role one week before the performance. She took the script, went home and memorized all of her lines in just a few days. She performed in front of the whole school after having had only one rehearsal. She proved to herself that she could reach her goal, even when it seemed insurmountable. The rest of the cast supported her both onstage and off-stage. They came together as a group to give the best performance they could.
Theater has been a great match for the Truancy Court Program. Theater is a fun way for students to learn hard lessons about the benefits of responsibility, commitment and working as a group, in addition to the practical skills of speaking well in front of a group. Watching the students at the end, as they took their bows in front of the school, you could see the pride of accomplishment on their faces. As we celebrated with cookies and punch after the show, the smiles didn’t leave their faces as they received the compliments of their families and their peers. They knew they had worked hard to earn the co mpliments.
Joan Weber is Director of the Education Division, Creativity & Associates, Westminster, MD. She has spent 20 years working in arts education and education. Reach Joan at email@example.com