Middle School theater class brings together art and life
One of many reasons Middle School theater teacher Brit Christopher loves St. John’s fine arts curriculum is the skills students acquire through self-discovery. “We ask students to use theater to explore the world around them, put themselves in someone else's shoes, and think about how power dynamics shape our experiences,” she says.
The Prep community’s shared mission is to equip students with the capacity and desire to right wrongs, help the helpless, stand for justice, and serve their neighbors. Christopher says the drama program plays an important role in achieving those outcomes.
Spring semester theater classes involve a variety of conversations that explore the dimensions and paradigms of power in societal and human-to-human interaction. Students explore concepts like what makes someone powerful and in what contexts do we, as individuals, feel most or least powerful? The culminating major project of this semester, which took place over the course of five class meetings, instructed students to explore their own choice of power dynamic by writing a 26-line scene and producing an iMovie recreating it.
The first two classes involved storyboarding and writing the scene, the next three involved shooting and editing the video, which had required elements like filters, music or sound effects, a variety of camera angles and titles/credits. The assignment also called for students to present a scenario in which one character has more power than another, but the power dynamic shifts by the end of the scene. Students could choose to direct two other actors (family members), engage in a dialogue while playing one of two characters, or they could play both parts using separate cuts and creative editing.
“Humans are relational beings,” says St. John’s Headmaster Ed Hardiman. “Both inside and outside the classroom, our students come to understand that we can’t just relate to those who are like us and those who share our interests and tastes. I think assignments like Ms. Christopher’s nurture empathy in a very transparent and original way. We talk with these young men about acknowledging their vulnerability. We talk with them about developing a mindset where it’s not always about winning or straight As. It’s about admitting those truths and owning them and using that as a way to grow and become more human.”
Class member Raoul F. ’24 crafted a dialogue between a CEO and an employee in which he played both parts.
“My idea for this project comes from those times you hear about people who win the lottery, but you don’t get much detail about their life before winning,” says Raoul. “I thought this was a dramatic representation of what that might look like. The most difficult part was definitely the costume changes because I kept having to switch seats and take off a blazer. I also had to frequently change my hair.
“I’m very pleased with the scene’s ending because I thought it added a spark of humor, which is much-needed in times like these,” he adds. “The project really made me think about how quickly power can change in the real world and not just in cinema. It also made me think about how you view someone has a lot to do with what makes them ‘superior’ or ‘not superior’ to you.”