Passionate Playwrights

“Actors, neutral position,” LS Arts Integration Head and Drama teacher Sarah Bellantoni said to the section of Class 3 students who were spread out across the Black Box Theater. Standing up tall, the students placed their hands gently at their sides.

“Take a deep breath in through your nose,” she instructed and began to lead the third graders through a series of stretches. Next, they shifted into a “1-10” warm up exercise, where students struck a different pose on each number related to their chosen scene.

The first student set the stage as “scary and smelly with fish on the floor!” eliciting from students theatrical twists of their bodies and scrunching of their faces.

A second said, “We’re all models on the runway,” and students displayed powerful and playful poses with their hands on their hips, up in the air or out in front of them.

“Wonderful. Now, take a seat right where you are,” Ms. Bellantoni directed.

Prior to this class, Class 3 conducted interviews with someone from their home community (parent, aunt, sibling, etc) in order to create the narrative for a scripted scene. In advance of their interviews, they discussed the difference between “open” and “closed” questions to ensure they would receive more than a Yes or No response. 

“Who remembers the difference between a script and a story?” asked Ms. Bellantoni. The budding actors discussed vital aspects, including dialogue and stage direction, prompting Ms. Bellantoni to ask, “What exactly is a stage direction?”

Several hands shot into the air and one student explained that it tells an actor where to go and how they should move. “It’s something you don’t say out loud that’s written in parentheses,” she said. “You don’t tell the audience what’s happening, you show them.” Ms. Bellantoni nodded and praised the student’s keen memory.

“Come find your worksheet and grab a freshly sharpened pencil! You are all ready to be playwright extraordinaries,” Ms. Bellantoni stated, smiling. With that, the students quickly grabbed their work-in-progress’ and set up workspaces around the Black Box.

The students, in pre-designated pairs, immediately dove into their scenes and deliberated over possibilities for their setting, plot and characters. One pair shared that their scene involved one student’s sister, who had trouble with sleepwalking and, one night, wound up in bed with her aunt. “She was really embarrassed!” she said, giggling.

Another group was working on staging their grandmother’s tale of losing her best friend’s favorite headband, while a third duo dramatized the moment when one’s mom got lost at a water park. The actor explained that she emphasized emotions in the dialogue and will also do so when performing the scene. “My mom was really scared,” she explained. “But in the end, she found her family, so she was relieved!”

Ms. Bellantoni walked around the theater, conferring with each group, and offered helpful comments and encouragement.

As the class wrapped up, Ms. Bellantoni announced that performances would commence the following week. (She assured students that they wouldn’t need to have their scripts memorized.) Following that, students will participate in this exercise again, but with a twist – they will interview Professional Community members to inspire their written acts!

“Amazing job today, playwrights!” Ms. Bellantoni concluded. “See you soon!”