For the past two months our second graders have been working closely with Miriam Tobin, a Theatre Artist, to explore themes of civics, economics and citizen responsibility through the lens of playwriting and theatrical performance. In addition to collectively writing a play based on a “problem” the students observe in their own community, these classes are also learning about stage management and theatrical lighting, set, costume and sound design. In their classrooms the students have been learning key industry terms like “inciting incident”, “lighting board”, “technician” and “grid”. But last week, the kids took their learning beyond the school and onto the town when they attended The Snow Queen at the Denver Children’s Theatre.
Because the performance starred Ms. Miriam Tobin in the role of the evil and cold Snow Queen, the challenge for educators was not how to get the students engaged but, rather, how to get them to contain their excitement. Few, if any, of the students had ever attended a theatrical performance before. Jaws dropped as we entered the space and into a world of ice castles and ambient sound. Eyes twinkled as they saw their resident artist enter the stage for the first time. All of the sudden the students seemed to understand why Ms. Miriam always has white paint in her hair when she arrives to class every week; the Snow Queen is covered in a solid white shimmer from head to toe. “So that’s what make-up designers do”, I could hear them whisper.
After the performance the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center arranged for all of our students to participate in an informative Q&A session, a tour of the stage and backstage, and a mini acting class in the theater’s rehearsal space. The experience served to solidify a link between lessons learned at school and how this magical world of theatre actually happens.
Now I will be quite honest with you (and NO, I’m not biased :-)) when I say that our kids where the brownest, cutest kids in the audience that day. They were all uniformly dressed in their DCIS shirts tucked into their standard khaki/blue pants and skirts. The chaperones for our group were the teachers and staff from the school. Conversely, many of the other children who attended the performance arrived with chaperones that appeared to be their parents, wearing sparkly dresses and collared, button down shirts appropriate for an evening of live theatre on a NY stage. And while some might assume that these more “fortunate” kids would be the ones with the prior experiences to inform intelligent and relevant questions, it was OUR kids who were ahead of the game. During the talkback one of our students asked the actors, “What do you think the inciting incident of the play was?” Another DCIS student noted that she saw a “technician up in the grid changing a gel”. I mean SERIOUSLY! Our kids have been identified as less-than-proficient since I can remember, but last Monday these kiddos were on their game! They were beyond proficient! I was so, so proud of them.
It was a beautiful day. The students’ worlds expanded that day, and I got to observe it all happening. They were able to experience that which they had learned. Today many of the children tell me that they want to be a theatrical designer of some sort. Others say they want to be a “technician”. To me this means success. They are aspiring to achieve. And maybe this year they want to be a costume designer and next year they discover they want to be a graphic artist. The important thing is that they know that they have options, and that ultimately it is up to them.
Here are just a few pics from the day. None of them do justice to the experience. For a more accurate account of how things went down first close your eyes. And then, in your mind’s eye, look upward to the clouds scattered above. Watch as the clouds part and the vast blue sky beyond is revealed for all its wonder and size. And finally reach up and take a piece of that big, wide universe and smush it into your heart where it will stay forever. This is how I will carry the experience with me, and, I suspect, how the kids will too.