A New Lower School Opportunity: Theater

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

What a satisfying experience to teach Theater in Lower School! The possibilities for growth are endless with children of this age. They have few to no reservations about trying new challenges, as imaginative play is something they engage in naturally. Adding theater to an elementary school program is genius. Theater can help bridge the gap that opens up when children start to become self-conscious and start putting labels on things, people, and experiences. But that’s not the only thing a theater class can do for our children. Theater builds skills like teamwork, leadership, listening, following directions, memorization, growth mindset, public speaking, thinking on your feet, confidence, awareness, organization, dependability, accountability, and so much more. 

Presently, in our educational institutions, we are seeing that students are benefiting from teaching life skills and theater comes naturally equipped with so many of these lessons. Our students can gain empathy, tolerance, conflict resolution, resiliency, emotional regulation, confidence, perseverance, and more.

But let’s get real. The students don’t even know they are learning all of these things because theater class is just plain fun! We are having such a wonderful time together in class. I expected to face at least a little resistance from our more reserved students but have encountered the opposite. Our Waterford Lower School students are hungry for the outlet that theater is giving them. I have been met with so much energy and enthusiasm for this work that my job feels like my play time. They have been a joy to teach!

In our first term of grade V theater classes, we began with lessons on creating safe spaces, adopting a growth mindset, and what it means to be a member of an ensemble. We have learned about scene study, the elements of drama, and character development. We finished the term with a workshop experience of Shakuntala with cultural experts from India and then performed the famous witches scene for each other from Macbeth. The students were wonderful!!! They fulfilled many different roles: actors, stage managers, dressers, lighting technicians, and special effects. 

In our first term of Kindergarten theater, I enjoyed watching the students begin to get comfortable with dramatic play. In the beginning of the term, we read storybooks together and played along as the characters in each book. We explored a lot of different vocal and facial expressions. Also, I would often stop and ask them questions that went along with the story, asking each of them to use their imaginations with questions like “What color would YOU make the door in this story?” or “How would you feel if this happened to YOU?” or “What color or patterns would you paint on YOUR arm?” As they started to become familiar with the idea of dramatizing storybooks, we added exploration of body movement and blocking. Most recently, we added costumes, props, and stick puppets to help us play out these stories. The students enjoyed the 5-10 minutes of musical theater that was added to the end of most classes. As the term progressed, Kindergarteners learned to sustain attention through one story and one set of characters over two class periods as we expanded our exploration of each story. It has been satisfying to see their capacity expand. 

The students are having a great time and so am I. At the beginning of each class, the students will often ask me, “What are we going to play today?” and that question brings a smile to my face. I am looking forward to the future of the Lower School theater program and how it will continue to benefit our students.

During our performances of The Macbeth Witches, everyone took turns doing all of the jobs.....

Lighting
like lighting...

 

...more lighting...
...more lighting...

 

...special effects...
...special effects...

 

...more special effects...
...more special effects...

 

...everyone always takes turns being wonderful audience members...
...everyone always takes turns being wonderful audience members...

 

...stage manager...

 

...dressers/costumers...
...stage manager...

 

...dressers/costumers...
...dressers/costumers...

 

...and performers!
...and performers!


 

We had feedback after each performance and then they ran it again to workshop the feedback they received.

 

Curriculum Statements

The curriculum in our grade V theater program consists of gaining a variety of new theatrical skills and learning new concepts. The class begins with a formal teaching moment followed by the teacher demonstrating and then inviting the students to join in workshopping the new concept. Lessons that are presented include: Creating a Safe Space; Taking Risks and Making Mistakes are Good Things!; Cultivating a Growth Mindset/Giving Appropriate Feedback; Elements of Drama; Reader’s Theater; Workshopping the Middle School Play; Character Analysis; Macbeth Witches (In-class performance opportunity); Body Movement; Diction/Inflection/Intonation; Emotion/Motivation; Monologues/Auditions (In-class performance opportunity); Pantomime; Tableau; Masks; Improvisation; Musical Theater; Workshopping the Lower School Play; and Workshopping A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The curriculum of our Kindergarten theater program consists of dramatizing children’s storybooks with voice, actions, puppets, props, and costumes. We enjoy a musical theater unit wherein we begin with familiar action songs and nursery rhymes and build from there. We engage in dramatic play units and finish the year with a performance. We spend our class time creating a joyful creative environment as we normalize dramatic play.


Cherie Gallian Cherie graduated from Brigham Young University with a BFA in Musical Dance Theater, a triple major program. She has performed with professional, touring, and community theater companies in Utah and throughout the world. She has extensive costuming experience with professional and community theaters but her favorite people to costume are the students at Waterford. Her teaching experience comes from public elementary education, childrens' performance studios, and childrens' community performance programs. She has 6 daughters, 3 chickens (Henrietta, Polka-dot, and June), and a stubborn-but-snuggly-sweater-wearing dog named Pablo.