Park staged something different this fall. Something special. Something more grass roots and student-oriented than usual. Something that Kyra Fries, Drama Department Head and Upper Division English teacher had been considering for more than four years. November 16 and 17 saw the debut of Red Curtain Drama: A Showcase of Original and Published Monologues and Scenes.
Red Curtain Drama was a compilation of student chosen (or, in a few cases student written) material pulled from books of monologues and scenes – snapshots of larger scenarios that brought a moment, an experience, a situation, or a feeling to the stage and therefore to the forefront of the audience’s mind. From start to finish, this project belonged to the students: ten actors, some Park Drama Department veterans, some brand new to the stage. The students loved this new experience: “I’m proud of us! We made a play, another show of expression in this world.” • “Working with a theater ensemble feels like a family.” • “Acting is a chance to learn from others and yourself in a creative way.” • “Acting is taking a character, connecting to it, then pouring your heart out on stage.”
During previous, more “conventional” performances such as The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2017) or The Phantom Tollbooth (2017), the process followed a familiar pattern of distributing scripts, learning lines, getting a feel for a particular role and acting. Simultaneously, costume designer extraordinaire, Betsy Platt (a beloved Park Pre-K teacher by day), would manage the costumes and set.
This time around, students in Red Curtain Drama participated in the entire process from start to finish. They examined improvisation, ensemble, and acting. They studied and researched scenes and monologues from various sources. Then, the group collaborated on which pieces to showcase and selected the final line-up of 16 scenes. After being cast for their roles, students rehearsed in new ways modeled on acting classes: listening, responding, and zeroing in on their scene and dialogue.
Acting is taking a character, connecting to it, then pouring your heart out on stage.
~ Grade VIII Student Actor
The group took the fundamental, student-oriented process even further. Halfway through the fall term, the cast went on a field trip to the thrift shop Savrs, where each actor was given a shopping budget. At the store, each student chose one item (either a costume or prop) that represented their character.
For this production, the set was simplified, consisting of blocks and homemade posters produced in Park’s Makerspace. Back in the theater, the students also determined their individual sound cues, choosing what music would introduce each scene, and selecting their unique light cues as well.
Drama is an incredible force in the education of children, supporting them on their intellectual, social, physical, ethical and emotional journey, the keywords in Park’s definition of whole child education. As Kyra Fries explains “Drama is the whole child. By embodying different selves, children come to know themselves more clearly.” The stage provides students with a safe environment to find their voice and explore who they are. Creating a production requires the actors work together to explore boundaries and move well beyond their comfort zones. Kyra continues, “by stepping in the skin of others, Park drama students build empathy, flexibility, and imagination. These are things at the core of being human, and by practicing them during rehearsals, Park actors are able to embody and take these skills beyond the walls of the theater.”
So, bravo to drama and all that it does for our children, bravo to Red Curtain for putting the process in the hands of the students, and bravo to the cast of Red Curtain for running with it.