By Elise Walter (Education Intern) and Amanda Jane Dunne (Education Associate)
Friday, March 11 was the culmination of the Northlight On Campus residency with middle schoolers at Fairview South School in Skokie, Illinois. The showcase was 35 minutes long and included singing, dancing, and original and adapted scenes the students had created around the theme and title of the show “All I need to know, I learned already.” This tribute to learning in, around and outside the classroom, acknowledged that some of our most important lessons are learned before we enter high school.
The Fairview students absorbed much about theatre practice over the course of the residency. They could define ensemble, memorize a script, attempt basic characterization. They knew the basics of rehearsal and performance etiquette. In the final week of tech rehearsals, their understanding of performance became more sophisticated. They began to project and fill the space without reminders. They developed an instinct for timing and delivery— moments we’d seen a dozen times became comedic. During the final performance, they knew to pause for laughs and to maintain momentum and energy when a line was dropped.
The students learned one of the most important things about the theatre the night of their final showcase: the show must go on. As students arrived for call, we learned that two students were very ill, and one student decided to drop out of the drama club that afternoon. It was a frustrating reminder that some students (and parents) considered NOC a casual extra-curricular activity instead of a serious commitment. The remaining students accepted these hiccups with grace. We turned it into a learning moment. The way to handle these moments is to focus on the wonderful, hard-working ensemble around you and figure out a solution. Lines were re-assigned, and most were memorized in the hour before the curtain went up. It was gratifying to see that the vast majority of the students had taken the responsibility and professionalism of being an ensemble-member to heart.
This was the first performance showcase of its kind at Fairview, and students turned out in force to support their peers. They also came to check out the program for themselves. One boy (he had dropped out in the third or fourth week) told a Teaching Artist that he’d be back for sure, to stay, next year.
Northlight on Campus had a wonderful inaugural run. And we learned a lot from what we saw the night of the performance. We had been very ambitious with this group of students that had no exposure to theatre before our program. We certainly realized the necessity to spend more time on character development and voice work next year. As theatre artists we watched the show with analytic eyes, scrutinizing the performance so that we can make improvements in the program next year. However, the great thing is that the student’s had no point of comparison -nor did the teachers, parents or school administration. They were delighted with what they saw. And now we can look ahead and get excited about next year.