MS Playwriting Festival
Theater is a vibrant, joyful and contagious aspect of Saint Ann’s. Beginning in the fourth grade, formal theater classes stress how the human body relaxes, moves through space, and communicates. Students learn how the body makes sounds and how it can observe and understand what makes people tick. Based on fables, fairy tales, myths, poems, plays, music, images, the students’ own writing, and daily life, young students explore the various possibilities of the body and voice. They are introduced to character work and learn to appreciate and serve as an audience for their peers. Each class works as an ensemble.
Puppetry classes are offered to the fifth through twelfth grades. Students create all types of puppets and the year culminates in an outdoor puppet parade in which the whole school participates. By sixth grade, courses in technical theater and the study, design, and production of costumes have joined the options for middle school students. These classes involve students in scenery design, stage painting, construction, lighting, sound design, and costume design and building for school productions and individual projects. The history and variety of costumes throughout the world is studied. Sixth graders may also choose a class geared towards filmmaking, video and the study of media. Beginning in seventh grade, classes in acting (Theater Workshop and Art of Comedy) are offered, along with Double Theater, an intensive two-period acting class for interested students. Eighth graders may also elect a film and video course that involves writing, directing, performing, and video making, which culminates in a screening of the students’ work. A playwriting class is also offered to seventh and eighth graders. It culminates in two festivals of readings and staged readings of student-written plays. Project Design, a costume class for eighth graders is another option and these students often design costumes for the Middle School Dance Concert.
In the acting classes at the middle school level, emphasis is on the exploration of acting techniques, participation in improvisational work, and the creation of original character pieces and scripts. There is also analysis of texts-classical and contemporary-as the process of fine-tuning the actor’s instruments-the body, voice, and imagination-continues. All theater students in the Middle School are encouraged to perform in workshops and class projects where they can put their class work to use.
The high school theater program includes a variety of challenging electives. Acting classes encourage ease, assurance, and expressiveness through the use of games, improvisation, monologues, and scenes. Students learn how to break down scripts, analyze a variety of contemporary and classical texts, and approach a character. Rehearsal and performance techniques are further developed, characters are created and scripts invented. The use of the imagination remains key. Ensemble work continues to be stressed. Class trips to the theater, guest teachers, student site-specific performances, and demonstrations all play a part in giving the students a sense of theater at the professional level. Recent high school courses include Acting, Acting Intensive, Experimental Improvisation, Brooklyn City Limits: Live Improv, Actor’s Voice, and Shakespeare Acting.
These classes meet two to four periods a week. Students are encouraged to perform in workshops and class projects during the year and to create pieces. At times theater classes collaborate with teachers from other disciplines on performance projects encompassing a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, art, math, languages, music, dance, etc. Private coaching is readily available as well. Many Saint Ann’s students have participated in the English Speaking Union’s Shakespeare Competition.
Playwriting falls somewhere between the performance and academic categories. Dramatic literature is studied and plays are produced, but both are perceived from the viewpoint of the playwright. The prime focus of the course is the act of playwriting: each student writes, casts, and directs his or her own play. The process culminates in an annual Playwriting Festival in our theater and a festival of staged readings in the lobby of The Bosworth Building.
The production aspects of theater are taught in depth in the High School. Technical Theater students and the tech crew are ultimately responsible for mounting all theater department productions. Similarly, the costume design classes operate on both the theoretical and the practical levels. Costuming is approached from historical, literary, and aesthetic perspectives, and the students design and build many of the costumes for school productions. Costume students participate in crews during school productions. More advanced tech students may choose Play Production, in which all aspects of stage managing, lighting, and crewing a show are explored in depth. Opportunities abound for students to involve themselves in productions. A costume exhibit happens in the spring in which students’ designs are shown. Students may choose to design costumes for the High School Dance Concert.
Four levels of 16mm and digital video production, including a ninth grade videography course, are available to high school students as electives. Students work “hands-on” – writing, producing, directing, shooting, and editing their projects. Classic motion picture cameras and the most recent digital video technology are available for use. Students study film history and analyze the language of film in these classes. Annually, there is a middle school film festival and a high school film festival in the spring. Students may also create original soundtracks for film and video projects.
Most performance-oriented courses in the Theater Department present workshop performances; in addition, participation in major productions is open to all students in both the Middle and High Schools by audition. Collaboration and individual expression are hallmarks of these productions. As many auditioners as possible are usually included in these productions. If a student is not in the current production, then he/she gets included in a subsequent play. The plays reflect all levels of student training and experience without compromising any of the excellence or rigor of the performance and rehearsal process. Younger and older students work together onstage and backstage. The play is the thing-and it is a joyful thing-in which students often mentor one another. In recent years, major productions have included: Animal Crackers, The Little Prince, Anything Goes, Macbeth, The Madwoman of Chaillot, Nicholas Nickleby, Saturday Night, Interview and Angel City, Mr. Toad’s Mad Adventures, Much Ado About Nothing, East of The Sun And West of The Moon, The Witches, and Alice in Wonderland. Guest artists/coaches sometimes add their expertise to these productions. Two middle school productions, two high school productions (drama and/or musical or opera), a Scene Marathon, a Shakespeare Workshop, an improv show, site-specific student pieces and happenings, staged original play readings, and our annual Playwriting Festival are presented during the course of the school year. A student-directed mini-festival of one-act plays has also been part of past years’ events. Student composers, choreographers and musicians also contribute their work to Theater Department productions.
Dance is also an exciting, powerful and integral part of theater at Saint Ann’s. Modern dance classes in the Preschool and Lower School emphasize exercises that relax and strengthen the body and imagination while focusing attention on space, movement, and rhythm. Dance electives are offered at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels to middle and high school students. In all modern dance classes, technique and movement patterns-sometimes including those of classical ballet and African-are taught. Dance Fusion is a course for fifth and sixth graders that focuses on various styles of dance from different eras, countries and traditions. Sections on Brazilian, tap, jazz, swing, Irish step dance, Butoh, and hip-hop have been offered. In the seventh and eighth grades, High Velocity is an offering that introduces students to an even more sophisticated repertoire and new choreographic challenges. Three levels of high school choreography classes make use of the latest video and multi-media technology in addition to giving students an opportunity to design lights and to have costuming input for their original dance concert pieces. The classes are partly choreographic in nature, and techniques and individual movements are always related to design and expression. Emphasis is placed on improvisation and the students’ choreographic vision and voice. Professional guest choreographers teach and direct pieces as well. African dance classes, accompanied by professional drummers, are offered to students from the fifth through the twelfth grades and focus on the traditional dances, languages, cultures, and music of different African regions. School trips, guest artists/teachers, and videos expose the students to dance at the professional level.