January 20, 2012

When "Children's Theatre" Grows Up

One of my greatest passions in life is theatre.  Since my first leading role as Mrs. Claus in my own 3rd grade play, Santa Claus Takes a Vacation, I have been hooked, (line and sinker!), so much so that my undergrad degree is actually in Theatre.

If James Lipton, of the Inside the Actor's Studio fame, asked me what profession I would do other than teaching?  Simple.  Anything theatre.  Anything.  I could live in a theatre, on a stage, with only the ghost light on.  In my world, it's pure magic.  I feel theatre with my whole being that it's as much a part of me as motherhood.  My rival passion for teaching is equally as strong, so what happens when these two collide?  Children's theatre.

Ok, let's be honest, sometimes "children's theatre" has a stigma of being kitschy or cutesy in a way that it falls into a "not-real-theatre" category.  I've had to work hard to get over that silly stigma in my own mind in order to create an environment that truly allows students to experience the magic I see for myself.

In the fall, I hold weekly meetings that follow a workshop model, using a lot of improv to teach creativity, imagination, thinking and speaking on the spot, and getting comfortable in front of others.  After each activity, game, scene, etc. we reflect with positive and specific comments of what was working and what we liked about the choices the actors made.  It's a very supportive, collaborative, and hilarious experience for all participants- myself included.  The workshops are my way of getting to know the strengths and potential in these children.  Then in the winter we begin rehearsals for our spring play.  Many of them have participated in 3rd grade or in a summer workshop, so by the time they're in 4th grade and part of the cast for the play they have a solid foundation in performing on stage.

This past wednesday I held auditions with the 4th graders who will be the main cast for our spring play, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I had them fill out an audition interest form to gather information about their special talents, performing experience, intent to participate, and finally the type of character they would like to play.  Typically, I'd give them a cast of characters and let them rank their top three.  But let's face it, Charlie..., is a delicious story with some of the most memorable characters in the Roald Dahl collection, and they all wanted to be one of five main characters.  Instead of the cast list, I described the characters by type:
- calm and logical
- extreme and loud
- inspirational and creative
- an elderly person
- good at sharing information
- wise and loving
Students ranked these types of characters and then responded with why they wanted to play their number one choice of character.  Reading through their responses to these questions, I find myself going back and forth between hilarity and being humbled.

Question: I want to be part of this production of Charlie... because:
Student Answers:

  • I think plays just make me feel great and relaxed
  • I love being onstage because it makes me feel special
  • I love to act in front of large audiences (this student underlined large on her paper)
  • I like acting and now I have something to do after school
  • It makes me feel free
Question:  I would like to play this type of character because...
Student Answers:

  • I would like to be extreme and loud because I want to show something I am not.
  • Being creative and inspirational is what I want to be in life and even on stage.
  • (student chose "extreme and loud") It gets the inner me out in the fun.
  • (student chose "inspirational and creative") It sounds like what I love in a person.
Question: What are your special talents:
Student Answers:

  • limited hula-hooping
  • shopping
  • meeting people
  • smiling
  • winning 50pp in Mario Kart 7
  • making high-pitched sounds

The final question on the page is "I also want to tell Mrs. Hunter..." so they can write whatever it is they need to write.  This group was very sweet with their compliments and sharing that they do, after all, like me.   But there was one response that really stood out, it was simply "I trust you."

Suddenly "children's theatre" becomes a self-defining, legitimate, life-changing and hilarious experience.

1 comment:

  1. The marvelous experience of directing youth theater...there's nothin' like it!