Broadway has nothing on Hamden Hall in terms of original theater productions as Lower School faculty – led by theater teacher-extraordinaire Lisa Daly – have created six in-house performances, one more innovative and inspired than the next.
Ms. Daly has worked for the past three years with several Lower School grades to devise new pieces of theater that connect with classroom curriculum.
“Watching students come to life and grow in confidence is the ultimate reward, and the process of creating original work is so joyful and rewarding. Students of all ages have so many incredible ideas, and being able to incorporate their ideas into a stage performance really inspires me,” explained Ms. Daly.
Oftentimes, ideas for productions grow out of classroom curriculum – as it did this year for the fifth-grade site-specific theater performance.
“I joined the students as they were learning about mythology in Latin class. I worked with them to take their learning a step further, and for them to step into the shoes of a God or Goddess. Looking at what elements make up a myth, each student created their own God or Goddess with a super power, a symbol, and an area of weakness. From there, we conducted a writing workshop where students wrote a monologue in the voice of their God. We then went from ‘page to stage’ by students embodying their God and acting out their monologues,” said Ms. Daly.
She further noted that the performance took place in the Lower School Art Gallery alongside the students’ art show The Art of Antiquity, for which art teacher Sue Bennett worked with students to create beautiful Greek vases. The cross-curriculum undertaking also included Latin teacher Stephanie Spaulding and Grade 5 teachers Emily Schimelman and Monica Emanuelson.
For the recent third-grade musical, Ms. Daly worked in conjunction (for the third year in a row) with Grade 3 teachers Alexis Harris and Emily Anderson.
“We talked about possible play options and ultimately settled on a play focusing around our social studies Arctic unit. In the classroom, we had a picture book, Welcome to the Icehouse, which jump-started the playwriting process. We used the animals from this book and attributed character traits that each animal could embody,” said Mrs. Harris.
From there the three educators collaborated to write a script that tied together students’ understanding of the Arctic.
“A key component in the storyline was the need for the animals to appreciate the strengths in each other and find ways to collaborate to make the world a better place, a scenario that is embedded in our day-to-day teaching,” Mrs. Harris said.
Bringing their own expertise to the process were Lower School teachers Rachael Jungkeit on music and Mrs. Bennett on artwork.
Ever the educator, Ms. Daly noted the benefits of including theater in the classroom.
“Being able to utilize theater to approach classroom material from a different viewpoint is really exciting to me. I love being able to take what students are learning and create characters, stories, and dramatic interpretations that expand their understanding. Theater in the classroom instills numerous life skills such as teamwork, creativity, healthy risk-taking, focus, determination, sense of humor, and flexibility – just to name a few,” said Ms. Daly.
Immeasurable are the long-term benefits inherent with getting students on stage early in their development.
“As with each grade, I start the process with some basic theatre warmups and games that help students become comfortable using their voices and bodies to represent various emotions and to try things that may be out of their comfort zone. We work on understanding the various elements that go into a theater production, as well as the skills needed, such as voice projection, body language, and energy,” said Ms. Daly.
Mrs. Harris noted that the groundwork cultivated by Ms. Daly is evident in the classroom long after the curtain closes on stage.
“We noticed students’ confidence and teamwork not only grew while they were on stage, but has translated into the classroom as well,” she said.
Next up is a Grade 1 celebration of the Chinese New Year, which will be performed Friday, Feb. 1. Ms. Daly took pen to script in collaboration with first-grade teacher Becky Godinez, as well as Mrs. Jungkeit and Mandarin teacher Chien-Ju Lin on the musical element of the production.