Oh, the Drama at PHMS
by Jaki Jones
May 01, 2013 | 450 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PHMS Drama

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The drama department at PHMS has been making a scene for eight years, all due to the dedication and planning of drama teacher Ms. Susan Kaar.

Ms. Kaar enjoys her role as teacher as she continues to seek ways to inspire her students to love and succeed in theatre. Last October, she attended the California Educational Theatre Association (CETA) conference and was motivated by a workshop aimed at getting kids actively involved in the work of Shakespeare. She has successfully incorporated the teaching strategies she learned, including breaking his plays down into little pieces so it’s not so foreign to her students and allowing an approach that’s more active than merely desk-reading his plays. The six-week Shakespeare unit with her Drama I students concluded last month where they studied “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; her intention is to focus on the ideas, ease them into the language and have no fear of it. “I can already see how even the most reluctant kids are getting into it. We always start out with Shakespeare’s insults first and they have been working on Shakespeare’s duets. It’s a lot less intimidating and the language is much easier to understand. I think Shakespeare is really, really fun, and I just want my students to have a chance to enjoy it so they don’t hate it before they get a chance to find out how fun it really is,” she explained.

While at the CETA conference, she also learned about the Globe Education Academy. The Academy helps teachers find new ways to incorporate the study of Shakespeare into their curriculum. Kaar applied, was asked to interview, and subsequently received acceptance. The Academy includes a series of workshops, lead by UC Davis faculty and Globe Education practitioners, where students from middle school to community college work collaboratively while being immersed in the world of Shakespeare. The Academy also includes a two-week summer residency at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London where Kaar will continue to study the Bard, followed by a fall festival play finale at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, where some of her students will get to perform in November. Participating teachers and students will showcase scenes from a Shakespeare play and demonstrate strategies learned from workshops and seminars in the Globe Education Academy--a final day of celebration.

The first workshop with her students was held last February on the stage at the Mondavi Center, where Kaar took six 7th grade students. She and her students incorporated what they learned back at PHMS to enhance the Shakespeare unit. For example, her students sat in a circle with each student reading aloud just one line from a play. Her second workshop was on March 27, and the final workshop was on April 23 at Folsom Lake College. With the help of parent drivers, Kaar took a different group of 7th graders to each workshop. “Our kids held their own; I was proud of them.”

Ms. Kaar has created quite an all-inclusive, developed program at PHMS. “As I’ve been here, we’ve created performance spaces, and next year I will have 47 students competing for 30 spaces in Drama II, so it’s a very viable program. My students are performing all the time.”

Drama students produce five main-stage performances a year, including the student directed Spooky Stories in October--six short plays written and directed by the Drama II class; three fall performances; the Drama & Dessert fundraiser in February (it sold out this year) featuring the Drama I and II students; spring performances in March. The curtain will rise once more for the Talent Showcase on May 23. In addition, Kaar’s technical theatre class (formerly known as stagecraft) is an almost entirely student run class.

For the last several years, Ms. Kaar has kept a low profile during performances. “We’ve gotten to the point where there are stage managers, light-board operators and sound people who just do it all. We currently have a student-run program as far as our performances. These are 7th and 8th graders!” said Kaar. Four years ago, Michelle May (now a College Park junior) created the stage manager position. Currently it is 8th grader Becca Monroe at the tech helm, working the light-board, donning the headset and communicating with the stage crew. The technical theatre program is very hands-on and designed for those students who don’t wish to be in front of the curtain but still want to be involved in drama productions.

To encourage involvement in her classes, Ms. Kaar looks for one-act plays that even out the line distribution so that every student who wants an opportunity to perform has that chance. “I really want my classes to be more participatory.” What’s worked well for her drama program is building on the skill level of students beginning in the 6th grade, leading into very strong 8th grade Drama II and technical classes. “There really is no down time for the Drama II students,” she said. “They are continuously working on scripts.” Last March, the drama department produced the fairytale Twinderella, by Charlie Lovett. It worked well with her current class, but she is mindful to look at the personalities of each class and determine what plays would best fit the dynamics of the group.

Ms. Kaar is delighted to know that many of the leads in the musicals at College Park as well as the students working on the technical side of the productions are kids that came from her classes at PHMS--now that is truly dramatic!

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