When aspiring actors auditioned for the AHS spring musical this year they were presented with a new opportunity. They were asked if they would like to be considered for a role in a production of a children’s play to be presented to all K-3 students in the Arlington Public Schools. AHS drama teacher Michael Byrne had been thinking of creating this district-wide experience for some time. He believes strongly that young children should be exposed to live theater, and he also wanted to offer high school students the opportunity to perform for a young audience. So, he and Curriculum Support and Grant Specialist Chelsea Austin applied for and received an Arlington Education Foundation Innovations in Education Grant and the idea became a reality.
In May, over 1,950 K-3 students and their teachers from each of the seven elementary schools were transported by bus to AHS to see the 40-minute musical version of Tomie dePaola’s Caldecott Award winning children’s book Strega Nona. Prior to the event, each grade received a slideshow that described the process of attending the play, what to expect, how to be a good audience member, and what the play is about. Each grade also received a copy of the book, signed by cast and crew members.
Mr. Byrne reports that the audiences were very enthusiastic, with the students and teachers having a great time. Some classes even sent thank you notes! Mr. Byrne believes that all the goals mentioned previously were achieved. Additionally, since the spring AHS musical In the Woods had a limited cast, performing Strega Nona enabled more high school students to be involved in a musical performance this year. Some of the students in grades K-3 were able to experience live theater for the first time, and all young audience members were able to understand what it might be like if they choose to perform as they get older.
Several individuals joined Director Byrne to make this event a special time for cast, crew, and attendees. In addition to co-writing the grant, Ms. Austin was the producer and facilitated all logistics, including the buses and the scheduling of all the schools to attend. Performing Arts Director Jing-Huey Wei lent her support and communicated with all of the schools, their music teachers, and the larger community. Sophomore Devin Haley took the photographs, and community member Jonathan Mastro came forward as the Music Director.
The play was such a delightful success that the AHS Drama Guild offered a free performance for the community that was held the afternoon of May 13. Theatre for Young Audiences is an aspect of performance that has not been explored in APS before. Hopefully, it will become a tradition.