by Sam Abernethy, ES & MS Drama teacher, and Nasci Lobo, Director of Communications and Marketing
Collaborative inquiry is our core method of learning at YIS. So how does that apply when over 50 Middle School (MS) students work together to bring Disney’s The Little Mermaid to the YIS stage this November? The process of crafting a successful production takes an army of people - both students and teachers - all contributing the unique creative skill set of their role on stage, in the front of house crew, backstage, and off stage where so much work is done in preparation for the live performances. Many of the students are new to their roles, but some do have a bit of experience; and that’s the environment in which collaborative inquiry flourishes.
Students have the opportunity to sign up for the MS production club, run by ES and MS Drama teacher Sam Abernethy, at the start of each school year. Students choose a theater role they would like to explore while they are part of the club. Roles aren’t just those we see in the limelight on stage; they include members of the audio-visual technical team, the stage crew for set and prop design, costume designers, directors, and choreographers. Students become part of a team to inquire into the responsibilities of the role they choose, and over the course of the school year, develop skills, dispositions and knowledge relevant to the evolution of the production.
Students in the Little Mermaid production practice singing in the Drama room.
Of course, students require some guidance and direction. A team of inspirational teachers helps them navigate the complexities of producing a live musical. In addition to Ms. Sam, MS and High School Drama teacher Ms. Lisa, Gr. 5 teacher Ms. Chelsey, Gr. 4 teacher Ms. Amy and Art and Design Assistant and MS Dance Club teacher Mr. Raynald work with students in all aspects of the front and back of house of a musical production. These are the experts students approach when they want to inquire about how to operate the lighting and sound controls in the auditorium, or the spotlights that light up the stage; or how to choreograph and execute a dance sequence. That training may be supplemented by research online that the members of a specific team conduct themselves, or by the previous experience of some of the team members.
What do the students think about their experience? Sound Director Connor, from Grade 8, says, “ I have worked backstage in other productions, but wanted to learn something new to see what working in the front of house is like so I could help the actors do their best.”
Marina from Grade 8 and one of the students playing the role of Scuttle the Seagull comments, “I like singing and watching musicals. Acting in this show taught me what type of acting I like and what types of shows I want to be in.”
Sal, also from Grade 7 and in the role of Scuttle for another performance, likes the character because of the sheer extravagance and eccentricity of the bodacious bird. “ But I hope my stage fright doesn’t get the better of me”, he quips.
“Singing is rewarding. It allows me to escape from my daily personality and mortal flesh and blood!”, comments eighth grader Kei, who plays the evil sea witch Ursula. She adds nervously, “but don’t expect a lot from me, please!”
With just under two weeks remaining before the two community performances, the students and teachers are in the final stages of refining their skills. Dialogues and lyrics have been repeated daily, whether at home or at school; costumes have been assembled after rummaging through the props of the Drama Department; prop designs have been drawn, erased and redrawn. Dress rehearsals will begin soon, and before we all know it, the curtain will rise, and Ariel and her friends will be with us here in Honmoku. What the audience will see is the result of the collaborative inquiry that is at the core of learning at YIS.
Tickets for the performances on November 25 and 26 can be purchased online.