Teaching and learning is more than pencil, paper, multiple-choice bubble sheet and smiley faces. There is something else and it’s called experience. Technology has not trumped the experience of live theatre. This was proven to me when I took a small group of English language learners to The Pasadena Playhouse for a matinee performance of Bernard Weinraub’s word premiere play ABOVE THE FOLD, starring Academy Award-nominee Taraji P. Henson. The play is about a newspaper reporter who navigates the ethical minefield of covering a rape case on a college campus in The South.
In preparation for attending this show, my students and I dove into the meticulously prepared education and immersion guide. Prepared by Pasadena Playhouse Community Organizers Kenia Brown and Lemuel H. Thornton, III, this interactive guide provides the necessary background to spark conversation and writing activities for students. For example, page 3 lists the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and page 5 explains the jobs of members of the creative and design team. There is a Q and A (question and answer) interview with the playwright where he explains that the play is not based on any particular news story, or case, but rather on the way media has evolved, for good or ill, through the emergence of new technology. There is another Q and A with the lead actress wherein she encourages the audience to keep an open mind whilst watching the conflicts that materialize on stage. This education guide contains enough data for a couple of days worth of classroom activity.
Organizing a group visit to the theatre is simple. For instance, The Pasadena Playhouse has a Group Sales representative who arranges special ticket prices for groups. Call the venue in advance of the date you and your group wish to attend. Then, reserve seats and pay for tickets in advance. Your group tickets will be waiting for you at the Will Call at the Box Office when you arrive at the theatre.
Something special about the Pasadena Playhouse is the great attention to community outreach. For example, my group and I arrived early and met Lem Thornton, an MFA, and a community organizer for the theatre. He gave our group an introduction to the century-old playhouse and to the play. He also engaged students in a brief Q and A about media ethics. My students, for whom English is a second language, got the opportunity to polish their extemporaneous speaking skills outside the classroom, in beautiful, relaxing setting.
I cannot wait to take more students – and non students – to the theatre. To go to the theatre en masse spreads goodwill, builds community, and leads to the very important question where shall we go next to chat over a meal, and partake of good food and good conversation?
Community plays an important role in building a sound quality of life for all people. I draw upon my research and scholarship on the topic of cultural studies looking at works by Walter Benjamin, Audre Lorde, and Benedict Anderson to encourage other educators, researchers and scholars to take classroom learning beyond the school walls.
Taking students to the theatre, and preparing them ahead of time for their visit, enhances students’ social and language skills., and makes the world more friendly.
Educators, when is the last time you took a class to the theatre?