Behind the Scenes of a Waldorf Class Play
Dear Families and Friends,
Last week Ms. Vivian’s class marked the start of what we call “play season” – the time of year when students and their teachers begin to work on and present their class plays. Each new play is like a “festival” in the life of the school: everyone looks forward to them with great joy and anticipation. At the same time, behind the scenes, many pedagogical purposes are achieved through drama in a Waldorf school.
Working on a play is a tremendously rich social experience for any class. It breaks up the routine of school, fosters cooperation and interdependence, and allows different children to step into different roles and explore their own multi-dimensionality.
Casting a Waldorf play is not about assembling the “perfect cast.” Each play is cast by the teacher who either chooses the play (or sometimes writes their own), taking into account the class and individual children’s needs. Roles are filled on a pedagogical basis. As a result, a natural, outgoing leader is not necessarily given a major role and, conversely, a quieter student may appear in an unlikely principal role. In both scenarios, students can be stretched to develop something new in themselves. Sometimes a child (or the parents!) may need to wait a year or more before having their preferred role in a class splay. Waldorf teachers take the long view …and cast their students with many years in mind!
The process of staging a play is a dynamic group process. Children generate ideas, solve challenges, support one another, and integrate many art forms. Last week’s Class 5 play, The Epic of Gilgamesh, featured scenery and props made by the students, music, stage combat, percussion arrangements, and so on. Speech work––individual and choral––is another key artistic element of any Waldorf play.
Reinforcing the Curriculum
Finally, Waldorf class plays help reinforce the curricular themes of each grade. In the younger grades, simple stories and folk tales are brought to life, while in the intermediate grades, passages from mythology and history are interpreted with deep understanding. From the trial of Joan of Arc and the life of Pythagoras or Galileo… to the numerous Shakespearean love stories and comedies, Waldorf class plays are strongly resonant and joyful interpretations of the curriculum.
Celebrating the Ephemeral
Of course, the real magic of theatre is its ephemerality: once the play has been presented, the stage is struck, the costumes are neatly hung on the rack and everything disappears from sight. The children learn to “let go” of the material, such as scenery and props, and move forward. For us, the audience (as well as the students!), any given play lives on as an imagination… something that is not fixed and dead, but rather stays with us for a lifetime as a living memory. The students experience their plays in the same way.
In drama or theatre, as in all facets of Waldorf education, learning is fundamentally experiential. It relies on being present at school and participative, so that through the curriculum we may learn more about ourselves.
Best wishes, Phil Fertey