I often hear beautiful and excited voices in the hallway at TMS, “Today is art, Ms. Cooper!” There is magic, freedom and play in art. Art helps children develop many fundamental skills such as creativity, problem-solving, confidence, visual learning, motor movement and coordination, focus, collaboration and perseverance, just to name a few. These skills are extremely important to develop as they are needed for all of their academic work and life skills.
In art class there are two different types of experiences. The first one is a process art experience where the child engages in art by exploring the materials, thinking about how to put these together and expressing him/herself to create art. This encourages exploration and imagination. In this case, no two pieces of artwork in the class will be similar as children internalize and focus on expressing who they are within those materials. There is a magical flow between the child and the materials in use.
The second is a product art experience where the child follows directions given to create a predetermined end product such as a color wheel. This art experience is important because it balances the creative process with the technical process of different techniques available for them to express freely. I like to compare this process to learning a language. The more words (“techniques”) you learn, the better you will express (“create”) and communicate what you want to say. In this case, the result of the artwork is similar to one another for there is no room for the creative process and imagination to engage.
These two art experiences support children’s development in different ways. One triggers and sustains their natural freedom of imagination and creativity, and the other develops the discipline of following instructions and developing motor skills necessary for any variety of art form such as printmaking, painting, moulding, etc.
At TMS, art class is a time to express, explore, imagine, think outside the box, socialize, collaborate, and learn from observation. Keeping the child’s imagination and creative natural instinct alive is fundamental for their development now and into the future.
Who doesn’t love to try on a different persona? To be someone completely different, with a completely different personality, qualities, attitudes, capabilities and problems; to be funny, angry ridiculous, serious, sad or distraught. Every year, Upper Elementary students become someone else in a different time period, in a different setting, and with a unique set of circumstances through their involvement in a school play.
PREPARATION IS A FULL TEAM EFFORT
Mrs. Beck chooses plays early in the school year according to what the students will be studying in Culture. After a final decision is made, Ms. Cooper and I meet in October to brainstorm about a setting and props that need to be made, and in November, we do a read-through of the play. I then begin to prepare students for auditions. From that point to the final show, the Upper El classroom buzzes with excitement, anticipation and maybe a little bit of anxiety. Their heads spin with ideas about their character’s actions and words, phrases or the lines they want to add to make their scene more humorous. (We often go with their ideas, because they really are funny!)
Here is the story of Pandora’s Socks and Other Fractured Greek Myths:
EXERCISES DETERMINE ACTING ROLES
In the past, students would prepare for a role by trying to memorize some lines or by simply reading from the play with inflection. This is often an unreliable way to predict a student’s performance as a character. So this year, I prepared made-up scenarios for students to role-play. Various scenarios were printed out, cut apart and placed in a basket for students to pick from, such as: You just got home and discovered that your little sister completely messed up your room while you were at school, and now you’re in trouble and YOU have to clean up your room before you can go out to play. OR, Your best friend let loose the news that you have a crush on someone.
There was only one stipulation in the exercise: the role-plays had to be convincing. Not surprisingly, we saw a range of reactions from each scenario. The exercise was voluntary, but eventually, even as shy students watched their classmates, they too wanted to give it a try. It was a lot of fun and a great way to practice “acting”!
Next, students signed up for their top three character choices in the play. They practiced monologues of each of these characters and were able to demonstrate their acting abilities. Once auditions were finished and roles were assigned, students received their scripts to take home over winter break. When everyone returned in January, teamwork was in action.
Rehearsals involved working on one scene at a time, often in small groups, to develop and hone the students’ characters. Students enjoyed getting to see their friends rehearse their scenes and provided positive feedback or ideas to help develop the scene. In music class, Mr. Sherick guided students with music for the play.
FROM RESEARCH TO SET-MAKING
In art class, Mrs. Cooper organized and rotated students in groups to work on props and the set backdrop. Since the play backdrop featured constellations, students researched Greek mythological characters and their constellations, and traced and painted them on the backdrop. More tech savvy students worked on designing the program and creating it on the computer.
From October through to the final dress rehearsal, Mrs. Struck and I designed, created costumes, and also recycled current costuming. There is always a need to have something newer and fresher, and we have learned to become very creative with improvising.
By late February, the stage, the sound system, mics and lights were all in place. Then began the process of “blocking” where we worked out entrances and exits, placement of props, who will be responsible for the props, and figuring out where the play needed better flow. We brainstormed ideas and even new dialogue where necessary. Students with natural “stage manager” abilities initiated guidelines to help smooth out behind-the-scenes disorganization. After each complete run-through of the play, we gathered as a group to evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. We took time to make sure everyone was acknowledged for what they did well.
And then . . . the magic happens, and the characters come to life before an enthused audience. The energy is high, but the students are confident in their abilities because of all the hard work put into rehearsing.
The whole process of preparing for the play develops a multitude of skills and enrichment for the students. Their creativity flows, their input is valued, their responsibility for their part of the play becomes heightened, and they become more mindful of how they communicate with others. They work as a team in a non athletic way, problem-solve, and design a performance around a script. They develop a character, and figure out effective character interaction with other characters in the play. The students get to know each other in completely different ways, and develop new, better or strengthened friendships through the process. But most of all, they get to have fun.