By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Southborough – After learning about the work and legacy of iconic 20th-century American artist Norman Rockwell, students in Fay School's sixth-grade drama classes collaborated to write short scenes inspired by three of his famous Saturday Evening Post covers. They examined the timeless paintings for clues about the backstory and the characters and then took on roles, designed costumes, and painted scenery to recreate every detail, from the handwriting on a blackboard to the scoreboard on a baseball field.
“Any time I look at a Norman Rockwell painting, I always wonder what the story is behind the
character,” said drama teacher Katie Long.?”How did that person end up in that situation? What's going to happen next? Giving students a chance to experiment with these characters seemed a natural inspiration for devising theatre.”
Long said that the students were immediately excited about the project. While there were lots of questions about each of the paintings, students saw the opportunity to create stories that would answer those questions.
“Many of our drama classes turned into mini history or social studies lessons. We talked about the fact
that the teacher [in one of the pictures] was probably unmarried and definitely did not have any kids. The students were surprised to hear that a married woman who was pregnant would not be allowed to teach!” Long remarked.
The students also had questions about the depiction of a jury. They asked, “”What is a jury? Who gets to be on one? Why is it important?”” Long said. “The most memorable question came from a student looking at a painting involving a classroom. He asked, “Why are the students all white?”?It was a great question and led to a discussion of the evolution of Rockwell's subjects from Boy Scouts to civil rights.”
On any given day in drama, Long explained, students are learning far more than theatrical skills.
“They are learning teamwork, compromise, listening skills, physical and vocal control, non-verbal communication, and the idea that it takes energy and concentration to be creative, just to name a few takeaways. They are also learning to look at themselves as creative thinkers with important ideas, as well as how to effectively communicate those ideas.”
The students performed their short scenes for classmates. Each story featured an original plot created by the students and included a tableau that recreated Norman Rockwell's painting exactly. By taking on the perspective of a character from the painting, the students are sure to remember these iconic works in a uniquely personal way.
While Long has done many different types of devising for shows, she said that this was one of her favorites.
“The best surprise I found working on this production was how the kids came together to form a cast. Creating a performance that can entertain and touch an audience is a powerful thing,” Long said. “Working with your peers towards this type of goal depends on trust and respect. Watching the students support each other, as well as give a great performance, was a remarkable experience.”