WE DID IT! Our goal was to raise $14,000 to take our Play On! program to 2 middle schools in the South Bronx, and thanks to viewers like you, we raised $16,175! This money was donated by 99 different people in sums large and small. So now we’ll be at MS 223 in February, and MS 22 in May. Thank you so much!

Here’s our Member Telly’s firsthand account of doing Play On! in a school last semester:

Play On!

I’ve been away from my Jaradoa family for a while. Since January, I’ve been on tour with the national company of Rent, traveling the country (and the world – with stops in Tokyo and Seoul) with a show I love. But, I really missed my Jaradoa peeps and all the fun things we do with the company.

So as soon as I got home, I jumped back into Play On!, an innovative program created by Jaradoa that uses acting and playwriting to improve reading and writing skills in the classroom.

April, Daryl and I got to work with four enthusiastic 5th grade classes — first by putting on our imaginary costumes to transport the kids from the classroom setting to a collaborative, theater environment where creativity is encouraged, and ideas are safe for sharing. We taught them how to play “Zip Zap Zop”, a popular theater
game used to warm up the senses. Then, we dove right into the lesson.

I was the Guest Artist of the day. The day before, Amanda was the Guest Artist and performed a monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the students. (You heard me. Shakespeare for 5th graders. And they totally dug it!) It was their job to observe, listen, analyze the text and find clues to answer questions about the dramatic action: Who’s talking? When? Where? What’s the conflict? I had picked a song that was also challenging for the kiddies: “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd. (Yes. Sondheim for 5th graders. And they totally dug it!) Most of the students had never heard of Shakespeare or Sondheim, but they had NO problem analyzing the text and making very educated guesses about the dramatic action and characters in the pieces. Afterwards, I revealed to them the
actual scenario of my song in the show (minus the blood, gore, and guts of a murderous street barber who cuts up his victims and bakes them into pies! They are, after all, 5th graders.)

Now, to the real work… April asked for volunteers to come in front of the class to talk about the characters they’d created. She led them in the creative process of deepening the first character, developing a second character, and creating a conflict for the two-person scene. After the students gave a summary, Daryl or I would do a short improvisational scene with the students to get them started on the actual dialogue.

The imagination of a 5th grader is astounding. Characters have ranged from talking mice trapped in refrigerators to grumpy people who live in giant noses. One student’s play was of particular note. He was reluctant to get up and tell us about his controversial character in front of the class because it was a Nazi. He said it was a “bad” character, and we told him that characters, like people, aren’t inherently “good” or “bad.” Characters (and people) are three-dimensional with justifiable wants and desires, and it is our job as actors and playwrights to understand them better. After the Jaradoans and the classmates encouraged him to dig deeper into this character, he developed a play about a Nazi doctor who truly didn’t want to fight for Hitler, encountering an injured American soldier on the battlefield at the famous D-day battle. The student went from not wanting to share his idea with the class to creating the beginning of what could be a meaningful, deeply moving play, all with the encouragement of his classmates and the guidance of artists asking the right dramatic questions! And no doubt he will use the reading comprehension skills he learned in creating his play the next time he reads a book or writes a short story! Theater and literacy — working hand in hand. Play On!