Community Projects:
Voices of the Trail

Mimi Dyer

The idea for the dramatic reading came somewhat out of the blue. We had been discussing the performance aspect of writing in our KCAC breakout session–in fact, Bernadette Lambert and I spearheaded the activity–so the concept was fresh in my mind. But I didn’t really decide to apply it to Pushing the Bear until I made the assignment to summarize 4 characters’ roles in the novel. When the students were sharing their summaries aloud, it came to me: Wow! This is great! It sounds as if they are speaking directly to me.

But I was hesitant to ask my ninth grade students to perform in front of their peers, so I called Hayes Elementary, our feeder school, and spoke with the AA, Traci Doe, who told me that 3rd graders study the Trail of Tears each year. And voila! Now I had an audience. So I had them revise their pieces for a 3rd graders. We shortened the sentences and looked carefully at all the vocabulary to make sure that it wasn’t too difficult.

The next hurdle was to select a date for the performance. I suggested that the 24 of us go to the elementary school, but the third grade teachers really wanted a field trip, so the decision was made for them to come here. Well, originally I thought it would be a small group and that we could have them in the small rehearsal since it’s so cozy. Little did I know that the ENTIRE third grade wanted to come–182 of them! So the main theater stage became the only option.

Next I had to clear the date with the performing arts department. After all, it IS their stage. We had to sandwich our date between the two spring performances, and thus May 1 became the target. We had to wait until 10:30 because the drama class was rehearsing. Blocking on the main stage was out of the question, so we used the rehearsal theater. Because I was still trying to get the last of our curriculum finished, we had only one rehearsal before the actual performance.

May 1 came quickly, and we spent part of first period running through our lines in the little theater. Everyone and everything was in readiness; right on time the buses came to let off their charges. Shortly thereafter we had a theater full of munchkins. And they were so well behaved and respectful of the performers.

The play went without a hitch. And then we all adjourned to the courtyard for a "meet and greet." For about 15 minutes the 3rd graders asked questions of the big freshmen, including a few about the play but more about life as a high school student. We left them awaiting their buses to return to Hayes, and a good time was had by all.

When I read the student reflections about our performance, I was gratified that we had made the effort because almost everyone talked about how engaging it was and how much they appreciated the opportunity to do something different. Some even said that it was the first time they had performed anything and that they actually liked it. They unanimously encouraged me to create this kind of activity for future classes, and I am committed to doing so.



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