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Theatre at Davidson Middle School

By Mentor Artist Margaret Hee

Attending Davidson Middle was not easy for me. I moved to CA at age twelve after my parent’s divorce and became caught up with a rebellious crowd. The summer after my 7th grade year my mother stuck me in theatre camp and it quite literally saved me. This past year (a good 17 years later) when Youth in Arts reached out to me about teaching theatre at Davidson I jumped on the opportunity. I hoped that if theatre helped me in my pre teen years, certainly it could help some other young creative minds at Davidson Middle School.

A lot has changed since I attended Davidson: it is a much safer environment with a plethora of resources. I had the opportunity to teach 180 ELD students across 5 classes 3 days a week and what I came to realize is that students really want to be heard. My initial approach was to teach theatre in the way I know best: with warm up, games, generative theatre exercises and rehearsal. Within a week it became clear that the students were not remotely interested in what I was offering. Given that they did not know me and I did not know them, I began having group conversations focused on their interests and concerns. Many of the students felt a lot of pressure in their academic classes and relished the opportunity to simply “free draw” or voice their opinions about what was happening in the world.

Instead of forcing self conscious students  to act in from of one another, we created stories and utilized shadow puppets as a mode of performance. They all responded to visual art, so with the help of Suzanne Joyal the students created their own individual Italian Street Paintings inspired by the prompt “We Dream of a World”. As noted before I led several group discussions and from these I compiled a group narrative monologue and then taught the students how to do voice-over recording to document the piece.

The highlight of the semester was when I brought a group of students from Redwood High School to present a production I had directed them in. Following the performance the Redwood students played games with the Davidson students and taught them movement exercises and stage combat.

This was ultimately the most challenging teaching experience I have had, but rewarding on many levels. Upon reflection at the end of the semester the students commented the following:

What brought us joy
I enjoyed everything we did. Love you Ms. Margaret!
I enjoyed the Italian Street Painting
I enjoyed the Redwood High School students and the teachers
The movies we watched
The theatre games!
Taking pictures with the cameras
Using shadow puppets
Having some freedom!
Making a poster using magazines
Working on projects with friends
Meeting new people

What we learned
Art can make you happy
How to tell stories through creativity
How to not be shy
I learned how to be responsible, respectful and most importantly to laugh!
I learned about foreshadowing
How to take photos and how to edit
How to create shadow puppets. That was fun!
Picture is texture
I learned how to communicate with others
I learned cooperation, friendship and being respectful
How to take pictures from different angles
I learned about balance in pictures
I learned that we should all have equal rights
I learned about different light and shade in pictures
Art!
To be creative
How to play the game BANG
This year I learned that you should treat others the way you want to be treated because it does not feel good when people say bad things to you

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