News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
By Michael Gold
“Fleas, they were biting my knees, I saw some dolphins eating cheese…”
“Ice cream once ruled the world, it was very, very cold…”
“I ran out of juice, and I started to cry, then I forgot that I ate a fly…”
They weren’t in school, but the kids were cool as they performed blues songs, which they had written, at Arc Summer Stage theater camp in Pleasantville in early August.
In a class for children in grades K-1, two girls recited a poem, “No more homework, no more tests, it’s time to give my brain a rest!”
They took turns throwing a large, soft cube in the air. The cube had instructions on each side and the kids had to follow whichever one landed up, such as making animal noises of their choice, or even yodel.
“Why do we play crazy cubes?” the counselor asked.
“It helps us warm up our voices!” the kids responded.
The counselor said the cube provides a cue, like you would get on stage.
Another exercise, called a “compliment web,” involved taking a piece of thread and offering a compliment to the child holding the other end. Compliments included: “She always shares,” and “She’s always so funny and cute.” Older kids who participate in the compliment web are encouraged to offer a compliment about the thread-holder’s personality.
A class of older elementary school children practiced how to perform on camera by making a cookie commercial. The counselor said, “Picture your Oreo. Practice the line, ‘If you lick right when you get them, no one else will want them.’”
The children were allowed to modify the line any way they wanted, but they had to hit the blue “x” mark on the floor, so the iPhone camera, being held by a counselor, could record the image in the frame.
One boy said, “Lick your Oreo to keep it safe.” Another licked his imaginary Oreo and pretended to go crazy to show it was gross.
Stephanie Kovacs Cohen, artistic director of Arc’s Educational Stage, asked the kids, “What did you learn?”
“You have to get sillier,” one boy shouted.
Then Cohen asked, “Do you have to hit the mark?”
The kids shouted yes.
Cohen said, “Hit the mark to be on frame. Be loud and proud.”
She then instructed the children in something called a slate, where actors introduce themselves on camera. The counselor filmed the kids practicing how to do a good slate. Then they were asked to do a “bad” slate, for fun.
A boy ran up to within inches of the camera and shouted, “This is so weird!”
A girl called out, “Dude!”
Older children, in upper elementary and middle school grades, rehearsed two different plays.
Seventeen kids in grades 6-8 worked on a play Cohen wrote with help from the actors, called “Cornerstone.” The play centers on a bunch of youngsters who find an abandoned hospital in the woods while hiking. In the hospital is a box of letters that the patients, all children, wrote to friends, parents and even the deity.
“Dear God, could you please send me home in time for prom?” one of the letters read.
Stacey Bone-Gleason, the director of “Cornerstone” and also the arts manager for Arc Stages, prompted one of the actors, “I want to see your response on your face.”
Another group was rehearsing “Warriors for Peace,” a show Cohen developed to help the campers learn how they can make a difference in the world.
“Theater is a tool for self-expression,” explained Galit Messman, Arc Stage’s director of education. “It’s also about how to accept others’ ideas, how to collaborate. You’re in a safe place, in order to be a positive force for those around you.”
During the school year, Arc Stages offers K-12 students additional opportunities for performing.
The young actors’ groups play characters they help to create around a theme, such as “sky,” “rainbow” or “animals.”
For tween and teen student groups, Arc Stages “tries out shows to see which shows are exciting, challenging and fun for the kids,” Messman said. “We’re constantly trying to find shows with a lot of roles.”
One show, called “Toys,” explored themes of jealousy and appreciating who you are. This past spring, the kids performed, “Something Rotten!” a musical inspired by Shakespeare.
“Educational theater gives you courage and confidence,” Messman said. “Theater is meant to use art to find empathy, to take on the role of someone else and give everyone a chance to shine.”
Arc Stages has, since 2015, partnered with schools in Westchester and Connecticut to teach students to write plays, using school curricula as guidelines, a program called “Visions and Voices.” For instance, the students may write a play based in ancient Greece.
Another word for this creative work? Fun.
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