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Issue-Based Theatre Changing Hearts at Harding Elementary – By Hannah Gavagan

“Why are we doing these plays and scenes?” The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders of Harding Elementary heard me ask them this question about fifty times. Some of the answers I got were, “We want to change the world!” “We want to show people an issue in a different way!” “We want to help people be better people.”

Hunger Performance

Hunger Performance

The students not only created and performed completely original pieces over ten classes, but they told stories based on an issue that they cared deeply about. In the first few classes we explored the issues they see in the world. We talked about the root causes. About how they are connected. About how it can be really uncomfortable to talk about certain issues, but they won’t get any better if we ignore them. About how we can create art to lessen an issue just a little bit.

Bullying Performance

Bullying Performance

The students created their plays in groups that centered around an issue they wanted to change. The plays spanned many issues, including bullying, sexism, racism, and even a satirical play about politicians who are too selfish to care about the people. The students learned basic theatre skills, but the real magic was how they learned to collaborate, make mistakes (and learn from them), and take agency to shape the world into a place they want to live.

Issues Web

Issues Web

We opened the performances to the school and any family and friends. Some classes had small audiences, some performed to a nearly full-house, and all gave their creations away with full participation and excitement.

At the end of each class I ask the students what they celebrate about each other. When I asked the audiences what they celebrated about the students’ performances, my favorite answer came from a kindergartner. She said, “I celebrate how in the plays some people learned they were being mean and then was nice. I liked seeing them be nice.” And that is how Harding Elementary’s fourth, fifth, and sixth graders planted seeds of compassion, and hopefully, just maybe, changed a few hearts. – Hannah Gavagan

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