“I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.”
“What play are we doing this year?”
This question inevitably pops up soon after school begins in the fall and reveals the central role the class play fills in the year’s curriculum. In a Waldorf School, children in every grade perform each year for parents and fellow students, not as an after school activity or club, but as an integral part of the school day. This performance - the culmination of months of work - is often the highlight of the year for students and parents alike. Why such an emphasis on drama within a Waldorf education?
For the Waldorf teacher, the class play represents an opportunity to weave together the threads of much that the class has experienced academically, artistically and socially in a given year. For the parents and friends of the students, the class play provides a visible and “dramatic” revelation of the child’s maturation and developing self-awareness. Most importantly for the children, the class play helps to develop poise, confidence and grace, allowing the children to experience the wonder and power of speech in a unique way because it is spoken aloud and “by heart” and it is brought to life through the child’s own gestures, movement and facial expressions. Theatre provides, as well, a unique opportunity to try on various personas, allowing the performers to strengthen who they are and to understand who they are not. It affords a therapeutic venue for seeing foibles in ourselves as well as others, and allows us to safely explore what it might mean to transform those shortcomings into assets.
Class plays are often written by the class teacher with he or she using story content covered that year and the children whom they are teaching for inspiration. A 1st grade play might depict a Fairy Tale written in simple rhyming verse, spoken primarily in a choral format. This is performed during the day in the classroom for family members. Fables or legends are commonly used in 2nd grade, and in 3rd grade stories from the Old Testament. Norse mythology in 4th grade are followed by Greek and Roman themes in 5th and 6th, and by then productions are performed in the evening using a suitable stage and lighting if available. Each year, the length and complexity increases often culminating in 8th grade with a Shakespeare production.
A teacher may also choose to work with another aspect of the curriculum. In 6th grade, my class performed a musical entitled “The Rocks Cry Out” – a reflection of our mineralogy studies. Another 6th grade class worked with a master puppeteer creating puppets for an ancient Incan tale to support our South American studies. The class play can truly reflect the needs of each individual group.
Finally, producing a play involves many skills and requires the children to rely on each other in ways unlike any other experience. Arranging props, designing the lighting, fitting costumes, moving scenery, backstage prompting, providing musical interludes, and the acting onstage all must work together to achieve a successful performance. The intensity of the children’s desire to succeed, both as individuals and as a class, creates an atmosphere of powerful social learning. Students see their classmates’ special qualities and gifts in new ways when they are utterly dependent upon each other onstage. Tempers may flare and patience may wane but in the end the students stand together. They take their bows, having experienced both the pleasures and the challenges of an artistic social endeavor.
Thanks to Mary Barhydt from the San Francisco Waldorf School for her inspiration.