I started my teaching career in a tiny school district with few alternatives for middle school extracurriculars, but I was already planning to launch a theatre club before the school year started. I knew at least one student would be interested when a student informed me on the second day of school that he wanted to be an actress.
It took me a few months to fine-tune the club’s logistics, and I was worried that there might not be enough students interested in performing in the spring. I created permission slips and placed an ad in the morning announcements once I received permission to perform a play and was sure that I could do it. Students had picked up all of the permission slips within a day, so I had to print more. The group now has around 80 members.
Following the auditions, I set aside one rehearsal every week after school. Students who did not wish to perform might join the crew, which included props, costumes, lighting and sound. It was a lot of effort directing the players on stage and giving jobs to the crew members: I had over 80 pupils who all needed to do something. I was stressed because this position required so much time. We constructed props and costumes out of discarded materials because we did not have any financing, but by some miracle, we got the job done.
What the Drama Club Gave The Students
Despite the stress, there were some actual benefits: I was able to develop stronger bonds with every member of the cast and crew. Instead of sitting in a classroom looking for a text’s topic, we were suddenly looking for skills that my pupils had no idea they possessed. They provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at their passions.
It was evident that no one had noticed that some of them had incredible singing voices, could sew incredible costumes or could build massive wooden props. The theatrical club cultivated such abilities for the majority of them, and many students went on to enrol in junior high electives that matched those talents.
Social life may be difficult for many middle school pupils. Cliques arise among students, and many students lack a sense of belonging. Athletes, musicians, gamers, cheerleaders, painters, gifted and talented kids, and students in resource courses were among the 80 students that took part in the theatrical club.
Over the year, I observed as new friendships blossomed among all of these disparate groups. Sixth graders discussed their plans for sleepovers with their fifth-grade friends. After practice, students who had never talked before joining the group would stroll home together. Parents then posted photos of the drama club kids having cookouts together during the summer. The group, which began with minimal funds, formed bonds that lasted much beyond the spring show. Students who had previously stated that they had no friends now had 80.
Many of the kids who joined the theatre club were introverts who would chuckle when I encouraged them to speak from the diaphragm during voice projection rehearsals. Each rehearsal began with improvisation games, which had a huge influence on encouraging my pupils to let go of their inhibitions. They discovered how to laugh at themselves as well as with one another. They became more self-assured and at ease when speaking in front of a group. Many of these quiet, shy children went on to perform in the school talent show, something they would have avoided earlier since it was too nerve-wracking for them.
The effect of this transformation, this increased comfort with public speaking and performance, was also visible in the classroom, where students’ presentations were considerably enhanced and group work became simpler. And incoming pupils were always greeted by someone.
I used to leave rehearsal feeling like I was in over my head a lot of the time. At times, I convinced myself that there was no way I could do it again the next year. But at the end of the play, I was a whirlwind of feelings and realisations: I had directed the entire show, but every piece of set and costume had been built by students—and it all looked fantastic.
So many of our children require someone to engage in their passions and offer them a way to succeed outside of the classroom. The advantages of an investment like running a theatre club are great, even though it takes a lot of effort and patience. I was a first-year teacher with no idea what I was doing, but by the end of the year, many kids had established unexpected friendships, shy people were playing main roles, and the entire class had put on a production that audience members thought was the greatest they would ever see.
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