The students in Ms. Stuart’s class for 3-5th grade students with special needs have something in common: they love to play. What is it about play that makes it such a powerful learning tool for youth? In my theatre residency at Vallecito, they have exercised their ability to play well while cultivating imagination, focus skills, body and vocal expressiveness, and the ability to work together as a team.
At the start of our 10 week residency, Ms. Stuart’s students were very enthusiastic about drama, and eagerly “played” with each other using theatre games such as move and freeze, pantomime and the group mirror game. Students moved as their favorite animals, portraying cats, dolphins, birds, elephants and others, and then told and acted out stories about these animals. They told stories of animals who wanted to make friends, animals who needed help, animals who were happy, and animals who loved their families.
By the middle of the residency, after students had some practice with storytelling, we chose puppetry as a way to deepen their storytelling and story enactment skills. Each of the youth created his/her own puppet that embodied an animal or a hero/heroine that he/she wanted to portray. Puppet interviews followed, and during these interviews we learned lots about these puppet characters! For example, one student, Carl, created a puppet with a magic eye that could see into the minds of all creatures. Another student, Amber, created a bird puppet with many wings that could fly animals who were hurt to any hospital in the world so that they could get help.
In the end of the residency, students playfully enacted scenes with their puppets. As so often happens, these scenes were full of real-life themes and lessons. In one of those scenes, an elephant puppet named Ray was sad that his friends had left town, and asked for help from a monkey puppet named Chris. The monkey puppet offered to help cheer Ray up by sharing his snack and inviting him to play a game of catch. In the puppet world, as in the human world, the power of play to help us solve problems is an invaluable tool. It is certainly a tool used and cherished by the youth I worked with at Vallecito, and a tool whose value will continue with every new child born on our planet. Thanks to the youth who remind us about the power of play!
YIA Mentor Artist: Suraya Keating
Theatre Arts Residency Spring 2013