You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shakespeare for Kindergarten?

I want to follow up on my previous post about the value of the arts. I'm interested in the idea of transformational experiences and watershed events. Epiphanies come rarely, though I can definitely say I enjoyed a degree of transformation in the past few days.

This week, our school worked with Quest Theatre from Calgary. Our end product of the residency was a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Initially, I was skeptical and not looking forward to the disruption that would ensue. When I saw the script, the schedule and the play choice, I was even more skeptical. A Midsummer's Night Dream is probably my least favorite Shakespeare piece - partly because I don't fully understand it and partly because I really love things like Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet. So, I grumbled about the 7:45 Monday morning meeting. I took a stack of marking the first time my class went to work with the guest artist. I was skeptical about my students' ability to successfully perform the difficult opening scene for the production. But slowly, over the week, I was reminded of the power and value of drama.

My experience this week was very similar to my experience as a teacher. At the end of my first year of teaching, I was offered a full-time middle school Drama position. Definitely not my first choice, but in the early 1990s, teaching jobs were scarce. I really wanted to stay at my school, I had taught one drama class in my first year, and I was taking over from a master teacher who really helped me along. Taking that teaching position changed my teaching career in an incredibly positive way. I learned the value of developing strong relationships and found great joy in having my students come to class happy and leave my class happy. Somewhere along the way, though, the value of the arts got shuffled lower on my list of priorities.

The second time I took my class to the work on their scene, I decided I would watch, help and participate. And, with my attention firmly on my kids instead of my e-mail or marking, I was taken by how much fun they were having. I jumped in to a game of "Splat" with my class and remembered exactly how much fun it is to be the drama teacher. On third day of the residency, the transformation was well in motion. Many of my students who struggle with reading were so motivated and excited about the performance, they went home and memorized all of their lines. They were having fun on stage. They were incredibly motivated because, as the bard once noted, "The show's the thing."

I finally got a chance to see the entire school perform yesterday morning. And, in most of the students, I saw a spark and energy. I'm proud to say that my class performed the opening scene and got the show off to a tremendous start. They had a difficult scene, yet they were performing Shakespeare with great joy and commitment. When the kindergarten class pulled off their dance scene (think fairies, Shakespeare and "All the Single Ladies"), I witnessed the power of interpretation. Parents, teachers, and the Quest instructors looked on with genuine pride. And, for the first time, I really understood the play. Remarkable.


  1. One question. What is "splat"? We had Quest at my daughters school and they did a montage of Robert Munsch stories. I saw first hand the joy you speak of. I also think I also recognized the author's cocaine use:)

  2. Splat is a fun little drama game...and I wasn't aware that Munsch was into blow! Thanks for reading.