Tag Archives: theater

Building Skills through Theater at Elysian Charter School

Photo Credit: Laura Foord

Photo Credit: Laura Foord

This fall, Arts to Grow kicked off our ninth program at Elysian Charter School in Hoboken, NJ with a Theater Arts program.  The class, which has 23 students in grades three through five, focused on theater performance and play development.

Our Teaching Artist Candace Clift lead the 12 week program. To help the students learn to function as an ensemble and build their focus, Candace had the students try an exercise in which they stood in a circle and only one student could sit down at a time until the entire class has been seated.  The students never knew who would sit next, and if two students sat at the same time then the entire group had to get up and start over.  Completing this exercise successfully required each student in the group to pay attention to, anticipate, and respond to each other’s movements.

When they first started, the students had trouble with this exercise.  Instead of giving up, they asked Candace for more time to practice.  Weeks later, they still began each class excitedly wondering how far they would get this time.  One week they had five students sitting down before they had to start over; the next week, they got up to eight!  The students were thrilled with their improvement and excited to keep going, eager to hone their ensemble skills even further.  After a few weeks of practice, they were finally able to complete the exercise and end with all of the students sitting down.

Over the course of the semester, the children wrote four short plays.  In the process they learned about concepts such as storytelling, character development, and setting.  One of these stories, “Cha-Ching!” tells the story of a female boxer, Rowina, who wins a match against the male Heavyweight Champion, only to see the prize awarded to her opponent instead.  When Rowina realizes the match was rigged, she and her coach convince the corrupt boxing promoter to set things right and give Rowina her well-deserved prize.  This and three other student-written plays were performed for the students’ peers, families, and community at the end of the program.

All Arts to Grow programs are made possible through the generosity of our donors.  To find out how you can help bring arts education to more children in need, please visit our website or click here to donate.



Throwback Thursday – Elysian Charter School Theater Arts Program, Spring 2009

Photo Credit: Marissa Lonardo

Photo Credit: Marissa Lonardo

This dedicated young actress is learning her lines for Elysian Charter School’s Theater Arts program in the spring of 2009.

Teaching Literacy Through Theater at Cypress Hills Summer Camp


(Photo Credit: Lu Bai)

Patricia Runcie, who ran ATG’s musical theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/IS 171 for the past 7 years, took on the new challenge of designing the summer theater program at Cypress Hills LDC/PS 65 this past summer.  With an objective of raising each child’s grade in literacy, she customized classes to fit each group’s needs and abilities—no small feat with 200 students in grades 1 through 5.  Patricia rose to the occasion and helped the children at PS 65 put their literacy skills into practice through theater.

Literacy and theater already go hand-in-hand; script analysis, for example, requires in-depth reading.  Patricia says that her students in the IS 171 program honed their reading skills by reading plays that are already considered great works of literature, whereas the students at PS 65 practiced their writing skills by creating a brand new show from beginning to end.  To ramp up the literacy component even further, she added exercises such as free writing and turning a piece of literature into a script.  The children focused on a new vocabulary word every day, with cumulative worksheets every other week that reviewed each word they had learned so far.  The kids were excited to master theater-related terms; the smaller children in particular delighted in showing off their knowledge of big words such as “protagonist” and “antagonist.”  Integrating these new words into their theater activities helped the students to truly commit them to memory.

As they set about writing their own show, the kids learned about concepts such as story structure, conflict and resolution, atmosphere, and setting.  These ideas were put into practice in the program’s culminating performance; each scene represented a different corner of New York City, with dynamic characters that changed and grew by the end of the plot.  The kids also learned to work together as an ensemble, a difficult but necessary skill that will help them function as members of a team in future endeavors.  Patricia believes that the students at PS 65 had a much more enriched experience than a traditional summer camp.  Her pride in her students in evident as she says, “I certainly feel that I set the bar high for these kids, and that they met it.”

Arts to Grow programs are taught by professional Teaching Artists, trained working artists with hands-on experience teaching students their art form.  If you’re interested in teaching for Arts to Grow, please visit us at artstogrow.org for more information.

PS 65 Summer Camp Puts Students in an ‘Empire State of Mind’

(Photo Credit: Lu Bai)

Students at PS 65’s summer camp in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn showed off their theater and literacy skills to parents, friends, and neighbors in a workshop performance on August 21st.  The students wrote the show, titled “Empire State of Mind,” with the help of teaching artist Patricia Runcie-Rice.  In the process, they learned about theater-related concepts such as story structure, conflict and resolution, atmosphere, and setting.

The story followed two homesick sisters who had just reluctantly moved to Brooklyn from the Dominican Republic as they were taken on a tour of the city by a cast of characters known as the New York Quartet.  The audience was swept along to iconic places such as Union Square, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, Times Square, and beyond.  The more they saw, the more the girls grew to love their new home.  In the end they joyously proclaimed, “We’re New Yorkers!” as the audience cheered.

Popular musical numbers were adapted to fit each scene and performed by ensembles of students, grouped by age.  Selections came from a broad range of musical styles and time periods, from Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” to Madonna’s “Vogue” to T.I.’s “Swagga Like Us” and more, ending on the titular “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes.

Life lessons on the theater stage


We are preparing for a new year’s theater production, the Wiz.  The kids are having fun learning the new production.  We had great fun too watching their rehearsals and their preview.  But it’s not all just fun and games.  Through our theater classes, our kids learn a lot of important life skills as well.  

Students learn the in and outs of theater production character – development, vocalization, movement, stage direction, coldreading auditions, costume and set design, lighting, and stage management. All programs culminate with a performance.  Through these lessons, our kids gain 21st Century skills of creativity, innovation, critical thinking and collaboration.  These skills will serve them a lifetime.  On top of it all, our kids develop confidence to face whatever future they dare to imagine.  

Don’t just take our words for it, check out what past participants in our Theater program learned in their own words: