Fantasy play is a natural part of childhood. But when we add structure to that play, the fantasy is no longer personal. It becomes a story to share with an audience. The Older Group child, both developmentally and in reaction to experiences and observations, is gaining awareness of how he or she is seen by others. That sense of being judged grows more intense as children move away from middle childhood and into adolescence. Perhaps that is why so many of us are intimidated by the idea of performing. Performing is the product. It is the part of the process that we share and, with that, make ourselves vulnerable to the judgement of others.
As with other areas of our curriculum at The Antioch School, dramatic arts evolves naturally out of play. Older Group children still regularly engage in fantasy play, but they are also drawn to more structured play as well. They enjoy group games and activities that have rules and an identifiable goal. Our first exposure to theater in the Older Group is always through theater games. Some of the games help players observe one another and respond accordingly. Others require quick responses that propel the action forward. All of the games are physical. All of the games are noncompetitive and work successfully when each child understands and contributes individually to the group goal. Theater games help children respond appropriately to verbal and nonverbal cues, gain awareness of oneself and others in space, and help children understand the impact they have as individuals on a group process. The theater games the children play help prepare them as they work together to create performance pieces.
For our spring musical, the children select the musical and cast themselves. Children started talking about ideas for our spring musical on the very first day of school, and after Winter Break we brainstormed production ideas. The children chose Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, before leaving for spring break, the children cast themselves.
The spring musical is the result of countless decisions and compromises. Not only do children choose the play and cast themselves, they also design and build the sets and props, figure out how to create special effects, alter songs (typically written for professional adult singers) to fit young voices, sometimes re-distributing solos into group numbers. Actors make decisions about characterization, costumes, and physicality. Lightboard operators and the running crew determine the smoothest transitions between scenes. During rehearsals, the actors listen to one another’s ideas and try out different blocking. They experiment with character interactions and relationships. These decisions and compromises are what makes our spring musical unique and special. The amount of work can seem daunting, but no one person carries the responsibility; we all do. Together.
We share stories. We take risks. We make mistakes. We trust. Theater is part of our curriculum and the foundation of some of our best-loved school traditions because stories connect us. Risks help us grow. Mistakes lead to learning. Trusting one another and ourselves strengthens our community. How lucky we all are to be part of a school that values the arts!