Allie immediately puts her unique stamp on this endeavor as she is very clear about her objectives and preferred creative approaches. The fundamental dynamic she seeks is an organic, process-oriented evolution. Weekly rehearsal schedules are developed based on the ways in which the creative process unfolded the prior week. She selects plays with themes she feels are relevant to her students, including typical adolescent challenges, kindness, and emotional growth. She repeatedly instructs the kids to write about their understanding of each show’s themes and what each play means to them. This exercise will become a standard part of Allie’s process moving forward.
Allie works with her students to identify and articulate the messages they hope to send with the performance of each play. Their input is incorporated into Allie’s director’s notes for the playbill. She helps the kids draw parallels between their characters’ struggles/development/realizations and their own. In this way, the students find authentic connections to their characters and to the work. Allie also helps her students identify the “teaching moments” in the play that they need to highlight.
The small number of drama club students facilitates the success of this flexible, fluid, organic journey.
Over time, the drama club grows in size and popularity, expanding from 30 to 60 to nearly 100 kids. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep rehearsal schedules responsive to the constantly changing nature of the process – and address what is needed at any particular point in time. Allie contemplates how to maintain the organic nature of the process within an educational milieu in which parents and children need to operate within fairly clearly defined schedules and parameters. She ultimately asks the parents to indicate which days each month their children are NOT available. Every other day is a potential rehearsal. This way, Allie can schedule based on what the process dictates – but take into account the kids’ conflicts.
The program’s motto, “Commitment, Focus, Respect,” is continually reinforced through various initiatives: theater games in which the kids determine how these exercises reflect the three values…writing assignments in which the children reflect on what the motto means to them, how they can integrate these values into the theater program, and what personal actions they can take that are consonant with these tenets. Given this constant exposure, the students eventually internalize these core values.
Although Allie facilitates the development of the shows, she believes the evolution of any production should be determined by the students – it is THEIR show. She encourages the children to take ownership of every aspect of the process and approach it as a collaborative effort. Allie tends to push her students to a place they didn’t think they could go – then help them to retrospectively recognize their achievements.
The drama club is becoming known as an organically driven, process-oriented, student-centered endeavor. The kids assume all acting, stage management, tech, and crew roles.
High School Mentor Program
The drama club continues to grow with the addition of the high school mentor program. Alumni of the middle school club start to return to the program as mentors to help develop the next generation of kids in all theater roles, both on and off stage. The high school students are placed in leadership roles as they have an enhanced understanding of the many elements involved in the creation of a show.
The alumni mentors benefit from this experience every bit as much as their middle school counterparts. The older students begin to recognize their own growth in the theater as they observe and guide the kids who are just starting their journeys. The high school mentor program becomes a destination for many types of students: high-energy kids who learn to rein in and channel that energy productively…special ed students with few friends and limited participation in activities who become empowered through leadership roles in crew and acting roles on the stage. The program is a draw for many kids without a proverbial “home.” Allie is immensely gratified by the prosocial, developmental changes she observes in the lives of her mentors.
The Community Clamors For Musicals
In response to many requests from the community to expand the middle school theater program to include musicals, Allie collaborates with two colleagues who specialize in music and choreography to mount Honk, Blind Brook Middle School’s first musical. Although she is excited by the freedom she retains as the director, Allie experiences a great deal of self-doubt. She has never before directed a musical…she is no longer working on her own…she is unsure whether she has the requisite skills to manage seasoned colleagues. Nevertheless, Allie becomes increasingly grounded in her own competencies as she inhabits her new roles over time.
Time To Pass The Torch? Potential Shift In Professional And Personal Focus
On the personal side, Allie contemplates starting a family. Professionally, she has been beefing up her education credentials: she is now certified as a teacher and literacy specialist, has received an extension certification in K-12 theater, and has earned dual master’s degrees in childhood education and literacy. Perhaps it is time to pursue new life paths. Consequently, Allie prepares herself to step down from her role as director of the middle school theater program and find someone to take over this endeavor.
However, she realistically assesses the educational landscape, realizing that there have been numerous layoffs in the field, there are few available teaching jobs, and the positions that are open aren’t offering much money. Given these professional circumstances, Allie concludes she is better off remaining as a tenured teaching assistant with health insurance coverage.
She subsequently decides to shift her responsibilities with the theater program, giving up directing, but retaining the producing, theatrical design, and stage crew components. The new director’s artistic styles and sensibilities are different than Allie’s, but the two leaders manage to work well together.
But by this time, the program has grown tremendously, necessitating that Allie assume roles she doesn’t particularly like. She is inclined to move on from the program but acknowledges that so much of her identity is intertwined with this endeavor. Moreover, she wants to ensure that the annual musical production remains healthy and that a new production team is intact and truly invested before she leaves. She ultimately decides to stay until the transition is complete, then concentrate solely on her drama club.
Allie Takes The Drama Club In New Directions
Allie remains in her position as director of the drama club and decides to take it in new directions. At this point, the club has no showcase. The participants meet once a week, play theater games, and explore theatrical craft. Determined to create a new showcase for her students’ work, Allie makes adjustments to the program, calling it “From the Page to the Stage.” Key facets of Allie’s approach include:
The Drama Club Assumes More Shape And Dimension
Allie has molded the program into a series of units that address every facet of work in the theater, including creating and articulating a vision, script and character analysis, acting techniques, forming an ensemble, conflict resolution, stagecraft, backstage skills, production design, leadership skills, and training in directing and playwriting. The structure serves as a container within which the kids can immerse themselves in a creative process that unfolds organically.
UNIT 2 – aligned with middle school musical so kids on crew in middle school production can receive formal training in all facets of backstage work, and the drama club students can learn the backstage skills they will need for their final showcase.
UNIT 3 – Master Classes
UNIT 4 – Production Process
Hallmarks Of Allie’s Drama Club Program
Allie Makes Meaning Of This Endeavor
As she reads through the playbills from the middle school drama club productions, Allie is reminded of the reasons she loves teaching and directing children. She has always been passionate about inspiring young artists and facilitating their creative and emotional development. Since she approaches this theatrical program as a shared artistic endeavor, she recognizes how she not only inspires her students but, in turn, is inspired by them.
She is so proud of the values, beliefs, and perspectives the kids identify, flesh out, and share through their theatrical work. This initiative has convinced Allie of her long-held belief that every child is capable of growth. Upon reflection, Allie realizes she has been connecting with her artistic core as the process unfolds. Happily, she is now able to do so with less stress, given the greater depth and breadth of her knowledge and her ability to deliver it to her students more effectively.
Sherri Muroff Kalt, founder of Process Portraits, LLC and author of Portrait of an Artistic Journey: The Creative Process in Real Life Context, is a Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude graduate of Duke University with a B.A. in psychology. She began her career in marketing and sales in New York City with L’Oréal, Monet Jewelers, and Givenchy. READ MORE