Boulder Valley School District

Manhattan Students take charge, bring traveling theater to elementary students

Randy Barber

With a flurry of activity, students from Manhattan School of Arts and Academics recently rushed into Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies, quickly unfurling backdrops, pulling on costumes and taking the stage at a speed that would likely even impress professional stage builders.

The middle school students, who performed a collection of short plays at three Boulder Valley elementary schools, only had a short amount of time, because they have to get back on a bus and back to class.

“We are doing this within our class period, we are trying not to miss any academic classes, so we had to go to schools that are close,” explained Manhattan Language Arts and Theatre Teacher Mona Estrada.

“It was fun to get pulled out of class, doing a performance and coming back as if nothing happened. It was super exciting,” said Manhattan eighth-grade student Lena Servetar.

“It was definitely a rush,” added Manhattan seventh-grader Jordan Diamond. “It is what you would imagine it is like when you’re trying to get 100 kids into a bus with all of these props. And then you really had to hustle to help the teachers get the puppet heads into the elementary school. It was definitely a struggle, but we got through it and it was worth it in the end. It was kind of fun. To be honest, I liked it.”

While the teachers are there to support and to keep the kids on time, this is truly a student production. Everything from the scripts to the backdrops to big-head puppets were created by an art and theatre class from Manhattan.

“The students collaborated and came up with what plays they were going to do, they broke off into groups and my art students started making these giant puppet heads and the backdrops. The theatre kids started working on scripts and figuring out blocking,” Manhattan Art Teacher Alaina Mcqueen said.

“We mixed up the groups and we asked, ‘what are some of your favorite stories? Brainstorm a story you loved.’ It was so collaborative,” Estrada added.

The students chose Hansel and Gretel, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Gorilla, Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, and Puff the Magic Dragon and then began working on writing the stage adaptations. The art students created one big-head puppet for each story.

“We started with one cardboard box,” explained Diamond, who was in the the Art Focus class. “That is how every head started and we had to someway figure out how to make the cardboard box into the shape we wanted for the head. That was definitely difficult, especially making the cardboard box round for a witch’s head or a dragon head.”

“I think we did pretty well given the small amount of resources,” added Diamond. “It was very fun.”

Throughout the process, McQueen and Estrada acted as executive producers, supporting students and guiding them through the process.

“At first it felt like it was going to be a total disaster and everyone was going to hate it, but performing in front of the kids and seeing their smiles was just incredible,” Servetar said.

“At first they wrote gigantic scripts and we told them, ‘that isn’t going to work.’ Then they chopped it up and that was too choppy. They had to keep rewriting  and rewriting,” Estrada said. “They didn’t like that, but finally they came to something that worked.”

Estrada believes that effort provides students with a taste of the world they will experience after school.

“That is how all of our jobs are. We all have parameters, we all have limitations. We have to be able to take a big idea and condense it into a jewel,” Estrada said.

Manhattan Principal John Riggs says that combining the Art and Theater Focus classes created cross-curricular learning that got kids out of their comfort zones.

“We have kids who are extreme introverts working with extroverts. They had to figure out how to collaborate and work together,” Riggs said. “I’ve seen great growth in them. There was great leadership on their part to come here and share their talents with the schools.”

“We asked at the beginning how many wanted to be on stage. So few artists raised their hands. By the end, they were jumping in and getting on stage. It was so great,” Estrada added.

All of the students’ hard work was on display as they performed at BCSIS, Eisenhower and University Hill elementary schools.

“They have really enjoyed the experience of coming to the elementary schools and watching their reactions,” McQueen said.

“They are really reaching out to the community and showing them their love for art and theatre,” Riggs added.

And as quickly as they came, the Manhattan students rolled up their sets, gathered their costumes and were back on the bus on their way back to school.


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