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Focus on the Process

April 20, 2016

Teachers as learners

Thanks to dancer Erma Colvin who provided this blog post.

IMG_0318In today’s world so much focus is put on the final product as opposed to the process. Dance schools now go to dance competitions. All sports are rated by how well they do in competition. Schools are rated by the standardized tests their students take.  There seems to be a competition for almost every thing we do in life.

For the past decade, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with middle school students at the Camden-Rockport Middle School in Camden. I do not know who has learned more from this experience, the students or myself. Yet again, the final product is of utmost importance. We work tirelessly for three months to produce 3 performances of an exceptional musical. So, for me, the process has become equally as important as the final product. My partner in crime, Dan O’Connell, the most dedicated parent volunteer I have ever met, spent every Saturday putting together the materials that the tech kids would need during the following week to construct the set. Incidentally, his middle school daughter is now a freshman in college.

IMG_0319The photos included are of Ursula, the sea witch in “The Little Mermaid Jr.”. The director, Allysa Anderson came up with the concept. I developed the plan, and the schematics. Students put in their thoughts to complete the project. The Ursula character consisted of a box 30 inches square and 6 ft. high. It was on wheels. The person playing Ursula stood on a platform inside the box. The eight tentacles were attached to the box on all four sides and were operated by 8 students dressed fully in black. Three tech crew moved the box from the back.

After I gave Dan the dimensions of the box, he carefully cut out all the pieces and labelled them as a kit. It would have been much faster for him to just build the box, then and there. However, that was not the goal of our tech crew program. The following week, we met with the tech kids for our two hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  There is nothing more exciting than seeing a middle school student, boy or girl, with a portable drill in their hand. Every week, they eagerly awaited their assignments and put together the pieces that Dan and I had made on the previous Saturday. The process of seeing their creation come to life on stage will never be forgotten. I watched them as they created the tentacles by adding purple glitter after I had cut and sewn all eight. They were thrilled to paint the box black and fought over who were going to be the Ursula handlers.

2016 mermaid shannon

Photo taken by Ellen Curtis

The role of a middle school tech adviser is unique. The students are old enough to be creative, to design sets, costumes and props, like King Triton’s crown that I left totally to three 6th graders and it was exquisite. They are physically capable of sawing, drilling, sewing and painting. The final product is so important but I cherish the long hours we spend with the kids in the old, decrepit MET basement section of CRMS, our home. There, the magic of the process takes place.

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