By Ms. Paige Hoke, Director of Theater and Chorus
This year Lower School students in grades 3-5 have explored theater arts. An education in the theatrical arts grows skills of confidence, public speaking, empathy, and creative thinking. Each grade level meets for about nine sessions. In these sessions students explore the tools an actor has at their disposal onstage: body, voice, imagination, and cooperation. These tools are explored through guided exercises, games, and discussions.
The body is used onstage to develop the physicality of a character, portray emotions, and depict the movement of the story. Students are asked to explore height, weight, muscular tension, speed, width, and focus of movement. These facets of movement can all combine to help imagine how different characters might move. How does an older person walk? Or a giant? In a broader picture, this can help students to understand what it is physically like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
The voice is used onstage to speak the text of the theatrical piece. Students explore inflection, pitch, speed, accents, articulation, and volume. Students learn how to best project, or speak loudly onstage. Not only are these skills invaluable to a performer, but they carry over to other presentations or public speaking areas.
Imagination helps an actor develop the world of a play. A play may be set deep in a forest, and it is the actor’s job to transplant the audience there without ever leaving the theater. They must imagine the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings of the place they are pretending to inhabit. An actor must also imagine what it is like to be a different person. Have you ever heard the phrase, “the show must go on?” Actors must utilize imagination when something happens on stage that isn’t in the script. If someone forgets a line, an actor can imagine a new one. If something on the set falls down, an actor can imagine how their character might deal with that problem. This use of imagination leads to creative thinking and problem solving. An actor must always be ready to think on his or her feet.
Theater is a huge collaborative effort. Actors must work together to tell the story of the play. In larger productions, there are also designers, directors, and crews that are part of the theater processes. Students explore team building and working together.
After these four tools are well explored, each class works on a performance piece. While preparing their respective performance pieces, students learn about the rehearsal process. This includes reading through the script, character development, blocking the play, and performing for a live audience.
Theater is, of course, also a lot of fun. Students get to make believe, explore other worlds and people, and share great stories. Through this wonderful fun we get to learn about ourselves, learn valuable life skills, and take pride in working with others to achieve a common goal.