The Performing Arts: Connections to the Community

December and January seemed to race by this year, and as a result, I am finally sitting down in what is almost mid-February to capture some of the extraordinary happenings of this past winter. School wide performances and assemblies are common this time of year, but Hamlin’s middle school had three recent performances that were not so common in their audience, venue, and format. It has led me to ponder on how the performing arts – specifically Hamlin’s drama, music, and dance programs – have the power to connect us to our community – internally, locally, and globally.

Connection amongst students

Heidi Abbott pushed into fifth grade Toolbox and seventh grade Health & Wellness sessions to explore a style of drama known as verbatim theater. In traditional verbatim theater, the playwright interviews many people who are connectedEmpathyProject to a particular topic and uses the real words from the interviewees to construct the script. Heidi was inspired to bring this style of theater to Hamlin as a way for our students to build empathy and self-awareness. In the aptly named “Empathy Project,” each Hamlin fifth grader was paired with a Hamlin seventh grader to interview and later embody in a dramatic performance. During the interviews, the fifth graders took a transcript of the seventh grader’s words and also paid careful attention to their partner’s body language and speech rhythms. The questions ranged from how the girls spend their free time to what word in the Creed is the hardest for them to uphold. Throughout the workshop sessions, the seventh graders had an opportunity to review the script and provide feedback on the fifth grader’s performance of them. During the final sharing, approximately 12 fifth graders performed for all of the fifth and seventh grade students and teachers. During the post-performance reflection, the fifth graders shared how valuable this exercise was in developing their sense of what it is like to be in seventh grade at Hamlin. The seventh graders articulated a greater sense of self-awareness and even set goals for their high school interviews next year. Above all, this project forged a bond between two grade levels that would otherwise not have an opportunity to connect on this personal level. Read more about verbatim theater in the classroom.

Connections to the local community

On December 17, Margaret Clark and Jill Randall brought a group of Hamlin students to the Century Club for the organization’s annual Holiday luncheon. Students in the Red Chorus (Grades 4-6) and Gold Chorus (Grades 7-8) serenaded the club’s members with songs of the season. Members of the 7-8 dance elective and Grade 8 students in the PE dance rotation performed several winter-themed pieces as well. In Wanda Holland Greene’s introduction to the performance she noted the poignant connection between the Hamlin School and the Century Club, a women’s club of which Sarah Dix Hamlin was an original founding member. The club members joined the Hamlin performers in singing the final three carols, and the effect was an intergenerational shared experience among nearly 200 girls and women, all of whom had ties to Sarah Dix Hamlin’s vision for the Century Club as a place for women to come together and give voice to their ideas.

Connections to the global community

Jill Randall and Hamlin 7-8 Dance Elective students launched the On/Line Teen Dance Film Festival this fall, inviting submissions from any middle or high school across the US or even internationally. The Dance Elective students developed a rubric for evaluating the submissions and ended up choosing 11 final films, including 5 from Hamlin students. At an assembly last month, the entire middle school enjoyed the screening of the films, which included submissions ranging from North Carolina to Bangkok. It was powerful to see young people connect with a common vocabulary: movement. Additionally, the medium of film allowed the young dancers to share in performance spaces that would otherwise not be able to be viewed, be it a hallway or a secluded garden. The students were excited to begin making connections with other dance students outside of the walls of Hamlin.

Thanks to Heidi, Margaret, and Jill, our students are exploring the Project Based Learning concept of an authentic audience in a multi-faceted way. On that note, don’t miss the opportunity to be in the audience for the Grade 7 and 8 Drama Elective’s production of “The Curious Savage” tonight at 7:00 PM in the gym!