Posted 10 January 2014 12:00 AM by Sofie Rose Seymour, Target Arts Teaching Artist Assistant at the Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown

“…and when we were backstage I was nervous and scared, and then I remembered, no wait, then we went out on stage, and I was nervous still, and then I remembered how you taught us to be brave and…”

We’re backstage before our second and final show, and one of our students is talking to me at least a few miles a minute in a perfect stage whisper. It’s hard to believe that this is the same student we met the first day of class ten weeks prior. Our first day, we played a game where each of us said our name, made a noise, and did a gesture. In our class of quiet wallflowers, many students (including the dancer practically levitating with excited energy before me now) refrained from doing any more than whispering their name so quietly we had to ask them to repeat it a few times before looking towards their teacher Ms. Sheung for an amplified version. Now, I’m a little worried her stage whisper has gotten so good that it might carry out onto the stage where another class is performing, but I’m not about to cut her off as she continues “…and then I was brave, and then we did the show, and I danced, and then we walked off stage and I wasn’t scared anymore!”

If the above doesn’t give you enough of an idea, let me say that introducing children to theater is incredibly affirming work. First, they think you are the coolest, most talented person in the world. I had a student write me a letter wherein they called me the best dancer in the universe, and I want nothing more than to replace my resume, headshot, and cover letters with photocopies of that note. Second, (and admittedly more important than my artistic ego) investing in childhood experiences in the arts reaps immediate and fairly dramatic (forgive the pun) benefits. The students who quietly murmured their names are almost unrecognizable as the ones who confidently – bravely – took the stage to perform “The Boy Who Saw Goodness Where Others Saw Nothing.”

In one of our last rehearsals, I had a moment where the students were rehearsing the dance portion of our show with such high energy that they were running around the circle so fast a student lost a shoe, while hooting and hollering. As I tried to rein them in (just a little bit), I was struck by the fact that in our first few weeks of rehearsal, when begging for volunteers, I never could have imagined that these students were capable of making this much noise or having this much energy in the classroom – much less that I would be asking them to calm down from this level rather than constantly pushing them to be bigger, louder, more confident. Noise level in a classroom isn’t always directly correlated to confidence level, but for these students, the change in both was pretty amazing.

Exploring theater with these young artists has been a joy, I am so proud to have worked with such an incredible class of third graders. As creators, they pushed themselves to meet our expectations, and then beyond, creating and mastering difficult melodies, inventing beautiful dance steps, and embodying a wide range of characters. As an ensemble, they worked together, so that our dancers and actors came in one day having learned all the singers’ songs, while various students in the actors and singers groups danced along, and if someone forgot a line, you could bet someone in another group could help them out. As artists, they grew from shy and tentative to exuberant, enthusiastic, and most of all, brave.

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