Theater is a vibrant, joyful and contagious aspect of Saint Ann’s. Beginning in the Lower Middle School, in 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 might make people tick. Based on fables, fairy tales, myths, poems, stories, plays, music, world events, images, and 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.
In the acting classes at the middle school level, we emphasize the exploration of acting techniques, participation in improvisational work, and the creation of original character pieces and scripts. Students also analyze both classical and contemporary texts as the process of fine-tuning an actor’s instruments—the body, voice, and imagination—continues. All theater students in the middle school are encouraged to collaborate and perform in workshops and class projects.
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 production. Students study the history and variety of clothing and costume throughout the world. We also encourage working backstage as light and sound operators or as members of costume and tech crews in school productions to round out a holistic understanding of theater. Sixth graders may also choose Breaking the Code, a class geared toward filmmaking, video and the study of media.
Beginning in seventh grade, classes in acting (Theater Workshop and Art of Comedy) are offered, along with Acting Through the Ages, an intensive two-period acting styles class for interested students. Seventh graders may choose to participate in a collaborative documentary filmmaking class. Eighth graders may also elect a film and video course that involves writing, directing, performing, and videography, which culminates in an annual film festival of the students’ work. Seventh and eighth graders may also take Playwriting, in which students write every week and share their work with the class. Playwriting classes culminate in festivals of readings and staged readings of student-written plays. The playwrights direct their own plays and act in other playwrights’ plays. Students also gather to read plays of different genres together.
Puppetry classes are also an essential part of the theater program and 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. Throughout the year, puppet plays of different genres are performed throughout campus.
The high school theater program includes a variety of challenging and exciting 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 are invented. The use of imagination and empathy remain 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 students a sense of theater at the professional level. Recent high school course offerings have included Acting, Acting Intensive, Performance Art and Shakespeare Workshop.
High school theater classes meet two to four periods a week. Students are encouraged to perform in acting workshops such as The Scene Marathon and Will and Friends From Brooklyn and class projects and plays during the year, and to devise their own pieces. Students create experimental autobiographical works that are performed and experienced throughout campus as well as at sites beyond school walls. Sometimes theater classes collaborate with classes from other disciplines on performance projects that bring a lens to topics in history, philosophy, art, science, languages or music. Disciplines within the theater department (such as dance, film, costume and puppetry) regularly collaborate. Audition coaching for summer programs, college and professional work is readily available from theater department faculty.
The production aspects of theater are also taught in depth in the high school, and opportunities abound for students to involve themselves in school theatrical productions. Technical Theater students are responsible for mounting theater department productions. Similarly, 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, and a spring Clothesline Show exhibits the students’ individual projects. Advanced tech students may choose Play Production, in which many aspects of stage managing, lighting, and crewing a show are explored in greater depth.
Most performance-oriented courses in the theater department present workshop performances. In addition to these, participation in major annual 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 included.
At Saint Ann’s, plays and musicals reflect all levels of student training and experience without compromising any of the excellence or rigor of the performance and rehearsal process. Projects are chosen that challenge students intellectually and artistically. Younger and older students work together onstage and backstage. The play’s the thing in which students often mentor one another and find a “home” in the theater. Guest artists sometimes add their expertise, and student designers, composers, playwrights, choreographers, singers and musicians contribute their work to theater department productions and concerts. There are two major middle school and two major high school productions (drama and/or musical or opera) annually.
In recent years, major theatrical productions have included original plays premiering at Saint Ann’s School and published works:
Into the Woods, The Emperor’s New Toga, Much Ado About Nothing, The Ash Girl, The Fourteenth Floor, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Brooklyn Bridge Project, Saint Joan of the Stockyards, The Follies of A Day or The Marriage of Figaro, Mnemonic, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Sweeney Todd, The Bacchae, The Secret Side of Nowhere, Ondine, The Tempest, Pippi Longstocking, Beauty and The Beast, Shakespeare in Hollywood, Little Shop of Horrors and My Name is Rumpelstiltskin.
Our playwriting program combines the performance and academic aspects of the discipline. Students study dramatic literature and produce plays, but both are perceived from the viewpoint of the playwright. The prime focus is the act of playwriting: each student writes, casts, and directs his or her own play. The process culminates in two annual high school Playwriting Festivals, one of staged readings in the lobby or the rotunda and one presented in the theater during the final week of school.
The Theater Department also includes an in-depth filmmaking program. Four levels of 16mm and digital video production, including a ninth grade videography course, are available to high school students as electives. Students write, produce, direct, shoot, and edit their own projects. Both classic motion picture cameras and the most recent digital video technology are available for use. Students also study film history and analyze the language of film. There are one middle and two high school film festivals annually. Students may also collaborate on original soundtracks and scores for film and video projects.
Dance is an 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 modern dance classes, technique and movement patterns–including those of classical ballet and African Dance–may be taught. Dance Fusion is a course for fifth and sixth graders that focuses on various styles of dance from different eras, countries and traditions. In the seventh and eighth grades, High Velocity Dance introduces students to a sophisticated repertoire and new choreographic challenges.
Three levels of high school Choreography classes give students an opportunity to design lights and have costuming input for their original dance concert pieces. Technique and individual movement are related to design and expression. Emphasis is placed on improvisation and the students’ choreographic vision and voice. Faculty and guest choreographers teach, choreograph and direct pieces, as well. Students work collaboratively and as solo performers with equal confidence and joy.
African Dance classes, which are both accessible and rigorous, accompanied by professional drummers, are offered to students from the fifth through the twelfth grades. These classes focus on the traditional dances, languages, cultures and music of the African Diaspora with special emphasis on the dances of West Africa. The program also explores social and political contexts for performance across cultures. Students with interest and prior experience are sometimes invited to drum in performances. Currently, students are studying Haitian dances, culture and history in preparation for the annual dance concert.
School trips to performances, guest artists/teachers and workshops expose students to many forms of dance at the professional level. There are sometimes opportunities for international trips that focus on dance and provide context and creative collaboration.
The theater department attempts to give each student transcendent moments as artists and humans. We encourage our creative community to find the love for one another and for art–wherever art can be made.