During the performance, we—the audience—are amazed by what our students accomplish. What we only vaguely realize is how much our students have learned along the way. In the educational setting of a school (even an elementary school), the stage serves as a microcosm where so many of the skills needed in our contemporary society are used, and therefore taught. It is because of these skills that we, at Albert Einstein Academy, have the whole school on stage.
What are the skills taught in drama? There are the obvious ones we see in action on stage, the more subtle ones developed in preparation, and then there are the skills that come from repeated experiences with dramatic production.
The obvious skills are the ones we kvell over, feeling pride and joy. Lead actors speak publically to the audience with or without a microphone, projecting their voice, enunciating their words, and demonstrating a level of self-confidence we often do not see elsewhere (drama is not just for the extrovert). Additionally, we witness their zest as they take on characters and smile at their successes. In the best tradition of school plays, we usually get a taste of flexibility and resilience as one or more glitches are taken in stride.
More subtly, the weeks of work from the auditions to the dress rehearsal build what we might deem the academic lessons. Practicing lines means improving fluency in reading and memorization. Familiarity with the show and significant time with it help students understand the messages of the story more deeply and, often, personally. In 21st Century educational terms, equally important are the skills learned by failing: grit and perseverance as errors occur, changes are made, rehearsals run long, or many wait while a few iron out a scene; teamwork as groups share the stage, cast members learn their places and movement, supporting roles wait quietly, and everyone helps each other; and the skills built on both, contributing to successful problem solving and failing forward (seeing failure as important to higher achievement).
Why include students who can barely stay awake for a night performance, though? We include the Gan and First Grades because of the trajectory that early involvement establishes as a foundation. Our stars in this week’s show did not start out school ready to sing solos or take on lengthy passages; the grew into their abilities. Thus, we include the whole school to teach optimism, a growth mindset (to borrow from Carol Dweck). Other emotional learning includes: social intelligence to know how to deal with specific peers on stage and empathize with their struggles, how to take theater cues and personal cues, how to concentrate on one’s part and relax into the flow of muscle-memory, and gratitude as modeled by others at the end of every performance. Great job, everyone!
When I say the whole school, I mean it. There is a reason we include teachers in the production as well. Throughout the rehearsal process, teachers model many of the skills associated with teamwork and failing forward. The teachers work together to improve blocking, staging, and costumes. They do this work publically so students see how we solve problems together.
I cannot forget the parents. As one parent noted, parents volunteer behind the scenes and on stage “to teach our kids that making time for community involvement doesn’t have to only mean sports or tzedakah. [It shows] them that skills and talents exists outside of careers and throughout their lives.”
“The Star (of Judah) Wars” was not just a successful production for our school, nor was it “just” a Chanukah show; this production was an affirmation of our educational aims and of the best our school offers its students. No wonder our graduates are ready for the world they enter!