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Who Are They? Portland Stage – Part 3

October 11, 2017

PLAY

Portland Stage, located in Portland, Maine, offers vital theater arts education to learners ages 4-18 through our In-Theater and In-School programming. All classes and workshops are taught by professionally trained Teaching Artists and focus on literacy, cultural awareness, collaborative play, and creative thinking. Our teaching philosophy highlights process over product, deepening students’ ability to analyze, synthesize, and think critically while making connections to the thoughts and ideas behind the written word. This is one of a series of 6 blog posts outlining who we are and what we do, brought to you by Hannah Cordes, Education Manager, and Julianne Shea, Education Administrator. These posts will appear September 27 through November 1, 2017, on Wednesday’s.

Education Artists Bess Welden and Julia Fitzgerald at a Play in Schools dramatic reading Photo by Aaron Flacke

Portland Stage’s PLAY in Schools program brings children’s books to life through a school-wide dramatic reading, followed by interactive classroom workshops. The goal of PLAY is to connect theater with literacy by making literature performative and encouraging character recall, understanding of themes, emotional recognition, physical storytelling, and vocal characterization. We actively engage students in small groups/workshops using their bodies, voices, and imaginations to build understanding of the text while bringing the stories and characters to life.

Each school-wide dramatic reading includes three picture books and two poems centered on a theme. These themes range from Choosing Kindness to Made in Maine. It is exciting to explore books that young people know well and to introduce them to new stories. During the 2016-2017 season, we included Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship. Each time we announced the title of this book at the all-school assemblies, the room would erupt in cheers. Beverly Coursey, the principal at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, said it was like when Billy Joel announces that he will be performing “Piano Man”! There is nothing quite like listening to a room full of elementary school students laugh at a particularly funny story or moment! It is a privilege to witness this reaction to so many engaging stories. We ask each audience to pay attention to the three actor tools (Portland Stage defines these three tools as body, voice, and imagination) that will be used during the reading. That way when the students enter the workshop, they are prepared and empowered to explore their own actor tools to bring the story alive in their own way.

We then give students the chance to dive further into these works during workshops with our professional teaching artists. We are delighted by students’ thoughts and creations as they explore their actor tools through the texts and characters. On our third and final visit of the year to one classroom, the students were invited to write their own versions of Holly Meade’s If I Never Forever Endeavor. After a year of exploring their actor tools with Portland Stage Teaching Artists, the students wrote this poem:

“If I never endeavor to perform, I won’t get to try and be brave.
If I did endeavor to perform, I could play with my voice, my body, and my imagination!”

Nathan Pike from Ocean Avenue Elementary stated that his students’ “creativity, physical movement, and imagination” when engaging with stories “has dramatically improved since participation in the PLAY workshops. Portland Stage has become a vital component to the culture and learning of our students.”

Education Manager Hannah Cordes in a Play in Schools Workshop Photo by Aaron Flacke

Theatrically exploring text can help students find a new way in to reading. Alec Lapidus, PhD, and Heba Ahmed from the Literacy, Language, and Culture Program at University of Southern Maine produced a report on the PLAY program titled Multiliteracies in Maine: The Play Me a Story Program. They state that “PLAY caters to a wide array of learning styles and linguistic backgrounds, offering a variety of ways to interact with content, explore new ideas and concepts, and create meaningful output…As the learners use their body, voice, and imagination to observe, analyze, interpret, and express thoughts on the world around them, they become able to go beyond passively absorbing information provided to them…This multiliteracy approach is clearly indicative of the program’s awareness of the changing linguistic and sociocultural landscape not only in Maine, but also in the United States in general.” It is powerful to create a space were students can get excited about text in a new way. We hear feedback from teachers that reinforces the idea that for many students PLAY has opened a door for them. A 4th grade teacher shared with us, “This student struggles to remember letters, sight words, and other information. With the PLAY program, he could remember EVERY word and act out the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I know now how to teach letters, sound, math, sight vocabulary, etc. To this student!”

We are continually grateful to be able to bring theater to elementary school students through this program. Witnessing students get excited about literature, see professional actors fearlessly use their bodies, voices, and imaginations, and explore their own actor tools during the workshop is a joyful experience.

Interested in learning more about this program? Email education@portlandstage.org or call 207-774-1043 ext. 104

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