Schools On Stage at the Guthrie Theater

This spring, a group of St. Paul Preparatory students had the opportunity to participate in the Guthrie Theater’s Schools On Stage program. This artist-in-residence program allows school groups to work directly with Guthrie teaching artists, giving students the opportunity to explore themes of the Guthrie productions and then work with Guthrie teaching artists to create original, ten-minute theater pieces.

Students will present an encore performance at
St. Paul Prep’s Spring Arts Showcase
Wednesday May 23, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

The Guthrie Theater, founded in 1963, is an American center for theater performance, production, education and professional training.

St. Paul Prep teacher Jessica Hovey applied to the Guthrie Theater’s Schools on Stage six week program. Twenty one SPP students joined five other high school groups from across the metro area. They worked with Guthrie teaching artists to create original theater pieces which they performed on the beautiful Guthrie stage in April.

The Schools On Stage experience has had a lasting impact on SPP students. St. Paul Prep parents shared their students’ excitement and confidence after the weeks of work at the Guthrie. They’ve noticed their students who had been struggling with their English abilities are now more relaxed when speaking, communicating more often and with greater ease.

Hours of intensive theater games and acting exercises culminated with each school’s final performance.

“I learned a lot from Schools on Stage.  It was just an amazing experience that I will never forget. I loved working with Adam and Laura.  They were absolutely amazing. Performing at the Guthrie made me more confident – now I will always have that with me when I perform.” ~Jennah (U.S.)

“It was really fun, having this.” ~Tusmo  (Kenya/US)

Everyone improved their acting skills and grew more confident on stage.

“School on stage was an amazing experience, I am glad that I had a chance to be part of it. With the program I was able to develop my acting skills and also show my potential and creativity, which I could hardly do otherwise. I hope that more students have the chance to be part of this great Guthrie’s initiative.”  ~Lucas  (Brazil)

St. Paul Prep students felt validated by the warm reception given to their theater piece. They were glad their story was accepted, even though the themes and outcome weren’t necessarily happy.

“What I will always remember from this amazing experience is how everybody changed during our work days.  It was so fun to watch the others and myself coming more and more out of ourselves. Some days we just didn’t care anymore how stupid our games and exercises would look for those who don’t know what we were doing… because we knew… and we had so much fun!!!” ~JoJo (Germany)

“I feel extremely lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know Laura and Adam, because they are amazing. I loved their games we played, the special approach they used to vivify our script, and their skill to make us enthusiastic about anything. I will never forget these classes.” ~Sará  (Hungary)

Teacher Jessica Hovey’s thoughts about the Schools On Stage experience:

Schools on Stage: How the Guthrie’s Educational Program Illuminated the Hope, Fears, and Camaraderie of Students from Around the World

When I applied for the opportunity to have the Schools on Stage program at St. Paul Prep, I had the greatest hope and smallest expectations of actually being chosen for the program.  I had an even smaller idea of how it would take shape and visibly form the group of participating students.

You see, St. Paul Prep is an international school with about 180 students from 24 different countries.  The 21 students in the program represented Kenya, Haiti, China, Hungary, South Korea, Germany, France, Spain, Vietnam, Brazil, Romania, and the U.S..  Of course, if you account for the diversity of our U.S. students, there was an even broader range of diversity represented through culture, ethnicity, and religion.

A few students asked to join because they wanted the experience to try acting, an impossible dream within their home country.  Other students just wanted to have fun and to try something new while meeting students from different countries.  And many students were hoping to improve their confidence or their English speaking abilities.  The Guthrie’s program did all of these, and so much more.

Over a 6 week period, we met for eight three-hour workshops lead by two incredible Guthrie Theater teaching artists, Laura Esping and  H. Adam Harris.  In these workshops, the students played games to help with focus and concentration; they learned to project their voices, to carry themselves with confidence and purpose; they wrote creative, hilarious, and heartbreaking scenes and monologues; they learned to work together to create something bigger than themselves.  And, using themes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a jumping point, they created a short play—from their own ideas, and images, and writing—a play that spoke to them, a play that involved them all, a play to make you laugh, a play to make you weep.

I won’t say it was polished, it wasn’t.  It was powerful. Over spring break, five students came in to school to spend a full day writing the script.  Looking through what they had written, the students gathered lines and developed a story.

The short play they wrote followed the life and decisions of a man made old by his own missteps and lost dreams.  There is love, dreams, coercion, denial, rejection, a mob, a long-lost child, and a too-late regained memory.  As the old man wanders through the fluid human set—a sea of languages and cultures—watching scenes replay from his life, we see his story unfold.  His story seems to unfold the hopes and dreams and fears we have all had, but also those of the students.  In an exceptionally visceral moment, we see them—on the brink of their own un-knowable futures—reach out and gasp as the old man falls back from the edge of the train.

His fall marks something profound.  I say “something” because it is different for each person, but it is there, and the goose bumps are tangible.  For some, it was a release, a willingness to let go, a freedom; for others, it was an escape, a death, a tragic suicide; and for still others, it was a hope, a dream of returning, or—perhaps more poignantly—a tender, heartrending display of love.

After his fall, the “old man’s” body is gathered and carried; his dreams, his memory, his hopes eulogized, and we are left with a brief glimpse of his “daughter” rising.  Hope, dream, and future all before her.  What an exhilarating, terrifying place for this girl and all the students to be.

Of the six schools participating in the Schools on Stage program, St. Paul Prep was 5th to perform.  This spot did nothing to mollify the frazzled nerves of the students.  During the break between performances, the students kept approaching me, worried that their performance was nothing like the bold, outgoing, sometimes humorous performances of the other schools.  They were worried no one would understand them, that they weren’t actors, that their story wouldn’t be understood.

Their performance was met with an outpouring of love and admiration. Audience members mentioned how they got goose bumps, how they cried, how they loved all the languages used. The students were more in shock than they were delighted as they left the stage. But they came back with something more forceful than their play: they came back with confidence, they came back with belief in their own self-worth, and they came back with a real sense of solidarity. And they came back knowing that their place on the edge of independent life in the greater world is individual, but secure; that there will be people from all over this globe to lift them up, to grasp their hands when they fall.

Jessica Hovey , English, ESL, Social Studies Teacher

“I gained a lot more of confidence when I act. Like I am able to put my self into the character. I think that it was just such a great opportunity. It was a once in a life time experience.” ~Wilhelmina (U.S.)

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Nacel Open Door

Nacel Open Door, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to international understanding and language education.

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