ARTICLE: Theatre Arts at Miller Elementary

Miller Elementary Students Present Creative Acting Performances

By Lisa Paredes On May 21, 2018 (Photos by Edward Tovmassian and Jennifer Griffith)

Joaquin Miller Elementary School students presented two different performing arts activities for their families and school community on Tuesday evening, May 15.

Jennifer Griffith’s first grade class wrote original fairy tales and then performed them on a stage in the Copeland Courtyard at the school. The stage was donated to the school by Burbank High School for use as an outdoor stage.

The first-graders also planned and painted the backdrops used in the performance.

“My first-graders definitely felt a great sense of ownership knowing they had written, directed and created their plays,” commented Griffiths. “We started with a genre study of fairy tales and learned the ‘ingredients’ of a fairy tale.”

“They then got in groups of four to create their own fairy tale plays. They ranged from Goldilocks and the Three Bears with a modern twist to a version of Hansel and Gretel that found the characters lost in an open garden with no WiFi.”

Debbie Winstein and Michelle Fitzpatrick’s Kindergarten classes presented the play BFF in the auditorium that same evening.

A grant from the Burbank Arts For All Foundation provided funding so that Griffith, Winstein and Fitzpatrick’s classes could hire music teacher Johanna Chase to work with the students and help them write an original song for each production. Chase was already working at Miller as a music teacher for the entire Kindergarten class.

“Working with Johanna on the finale song was a great way to recap their work and teach them about the basics of music composition,” said Griffith.

“This is the latest of many grants that we’ve given to support the theater program at Miller over the years,” commented Program and Outreach Manager Saundra Montijo.

“Our first investment was for teacher professional development in 2012, followed by grants to further their fourth and fifth grade productions, provide equipment and – most recently – to support the development of original productions for Kindergarten and first grade students,” she added. “This grant is our third investment for Kinder and first grade theater.”

“We’re so glad to see their continued growth and how they continue to innovate and educate through the performing arts.”

Winstein and Fitzpatrick’s classes took seven stories from Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggie books and turned them into six acts of a play, so all of the 40 students could have a speaking part if they wished, explained Winstein.

“We read all the titles during the year and the students chose their favorites to get turned into our play,” continued Winstein.

“Since the books don’t have a lot of text, we looked closely at the facial expressions and body language used to convey feelings. This was incorporated into their acting warm-ups.”

“This is the third year doing a play with my class and I was excited that Ms. Fitzpatrick wanted to join in,” she added. “The hope is to show teachers the academic benefits of performance and the confidence gained when having ownership of the productions.”

“We had students who came into the year speaking little to no English and ended the year being on a stage with lines to speak. One of our students who had to be coaxed to at least be up on the stage without a speaking part asked three days before the show if he could have a few lines. Watching him come alive was worth all the hard work.”

“One student said they loved their characters and were scared before the curtain opened, but once it opened and they saw their family they were ‘okay,’” said Winstein.

“Another student has decided to become an actor because of his experience and yet another said our play as better than Mo Willems’ books,” she also said. “I wouldn’t go that far but the humor and message of friendship definitely resonated.”

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