Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season.
Happy holidays, friends! It’s the holiday season, so naturally I’m getting into the holiday spirit by—in true educator fashion—creating fun and festive curriculum content! It’s the most wonderful time of the year for students of all ages to learn about giving, sharing, and caring for their fellow humans.
This month, we decided to expand our STAR Academy after-school theatre education program to include a day camp called “Play in a Day”. As to the camp’s concept, the name says it all. The goal was to put on a short play with a group of children, grades pre-K through 5, in just one day.
Sounds a little crazy, right? But, last Saturday, that’s what we set out to do. Rather earlier than I am inclined to be up and about on a Saturday morning, I set up shop at Naples Performing Arts Center, one of our Education partner organizations. Armed with a pack of scripts, markers, name tags, odds and ends from our costume shop, a playlist of holiday tunes, and one fabulous Gulfshore Playhouse intern, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the campers.
Was I nervous about this undertaking? Apprehensive? In a plot twist that might surprise you: No.
A big, big part of being an educator—and I have found this to be especially true in theatre education—is not underestimating your students. It is amazing what young artists are capable of, even as young as pre-school, when given the opportunity to shine. It’s also necessary, of course, to provide support structures and permission to fail. Thrusting young artists into the spotlight without any scaffolding is irresponsible. But giving them the space to spread their wings and the encouragement to fly is vital.
And fly, they did. Our small but mighty band of young artists, from pre-K through 5th grade, tackled that well-loved classic: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. An abridged version, of course. With Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula on our stage at the Norris Center, it only seemed right to draw our inspiration from the same source.
Our STARs started the day by building a strong foundation to stand upon. Through engaging games and activities, they learned their stage directions, theatre vocabulary, and warmed up their bodies, voices, and imaginations. They got to know each other, forming a supportive ensemble that would carry them throughout the day. It was a joy to see our returning STARs helping and guiding our younger and newer STARs, treating them, in the spirit of the season, with kindness, patience, and care.
In the afternoon, our STARs rehearsed their “junior” version of A Christmas Carol. They couldn’t wait to get their scripts in their hands, try on the smattering of costumes I pulled from our stock, and start performing! In the few hours we had, these young artists made me immensely proud. They memorized their lines and blocking, made nuanced character choices, and took my direction with gusto. Even our littlest STARs, not yet able to read, put their own dramatic “flair” into beloved characters like Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Believe in young artists. Nourish their growing hearts and minds. Tend to the spark of imagination and creativity that burns inside of them. Give them a chance to show you what they can do. You will be surprised to see how brightly they shine!