The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
What happens when theater artists use their imaginations and learned theater skills while engaging in creative exploration?
The focus of Theater Camp is to allow the students to use their creative skills to produce an original play. Students were asked to use the book The Giving Tree as a touchstone to create their work, which could go in any direction they wanted to as long as it loosely followed that theme. They then learned technical and performance theater skills in their elective classes with the end result being their work would contribute to the final show in whichever direction their creative muses took them. They wrote original scripts, learned how direct, came up with their own costumes and makeup, and did their own light and sound design. They worked on monologues and learned how to move about stage. The night of the show, they presented a fully-memorized production from their own imaginations featuring issues that were important to them to showcase, which included bullying, the value of friendship, and family trauma. Allowing the students such freedom to create the show on their terms provided the best vehicle for them to retain what they were learning about theater and to help them answer what happens when theater artists use their imaginations and/or learned theater skills while engaging in creative exploration and inquiry?
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
Our goal was for the students to communicate meaning to family and community through the writing of a play based on The Wishing Tree. This directly addressed Standard 6 – convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work. To do that, they had to identify the meaning and figure out how to use theater as the medium to transfer that meaning to the audience. That led us to Standards 1-3, which is to generate, develop, and complete an artistic work. Standards 7, 8, and 9 were met by the students analyzing the story and determining key objectives to include in writing, designing, and directing a theatrical production based on the book The Wishing Tree. The entire week was focused on Standard 5, which is develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation. The students practiced acting, directing, light and sound design, script writing, costuming, makeup, props, the rehearsal process, and more. This culminated in a finished, refined production that they performed for the public, which addressed Standard 5. The writing of the script and creation of the production allowed students to delve into Standards 10 and 11, which relates knowledge, personal experience, societal and cultural context to make a work of art.
By the end of the project, I noticed that the students had migrated into a position of ownership of the camp. By allowing them creative leeway, they surpassed what they could have accomplished had the play been set in stone with a prescribed method of production. By giving them their creativity and letting them know we believed in their talents to back up the vision, they produced a work of art that was relevant and meaningful to their community.
I was surprised at how advanced the work of the students was and how their work on the project approached ?professional? standards. The show, which was mounted in five days from inception to finished product, far surpassed what you would think 10-15 year-olds were capable of.
One of my favorite moments happened when listening to students explain the performance and the process to their parents after the show. They were so proud and had the vocabulary to back it up. It showed understanding and application of content, reflecting the importance of arts for these students and their families.
The things that worked best for this project were using a common piece of literature as a theme for the show, having the students work towards a performance all week (which gave purpose and application), encouraging the students to take leadership roles, and using high school and college theater teachers working in collaboration to serve as faculty. Next, it’s important to give students who don’t desire to be in the spotlight a chance to shine. This could include students who do not want to act working in the capacity as tech directors, writers, and designers. These students are often overlooked, and their role is just as important as those on stage. Lastly, it’s important for teachers to have solid K-12 teaching experience so they know how to deliver content. Sometimes there are challenging students who sign up for camp, and it’s important not to dismiss their bad behavior offhand and to work with them to reach their potential. For others wanting to put together a theater camp, we would suggest creating more intensive tracts year after year for the more advanced kids that could be built upon over the course of five to six years. Another recommendation would be to have the older students take more direct leadership roles in manner of junior counselor positions. We also discovered the teachers who relied more on a lecture-type content delivery were less successful than those who used hands-on methods.