When sophomores tackled Antigone this fall in English classes, it wasn’t with the usual trepidation most high school students experience when encountering Sophocles. Instead, the students in classes with Mrs. Arons and Mrs. Kahan were joined by actors from Writers’ Theatre, who helped students interpret and act out the play. Writers’ Theatre is an award-winning organization located on Chicago’s North Shore that specializes in creating Writers’ Theatre Residency Programs. The company specializes in creating customized programs and workshops for schools using academic and creative exercises to increase student enthusiasm for learning.
Each quarter, staff from the Writers’ Theatre works with a different grade to bring various texts the students study to life. These activities include ensemble-building activities that are creative and teach visually, interpersonally and kinesthetically. The quarter culminates with a group performance. In addition, Writers’ Theatre staff is working with all faculty to teach theater ideas and techniques. By pairing students and teachers with professional artists who use writing, theater and ensemble exercises enhances creativity, imagination and literacy in the classroom. Additionally, with the long academic day at the Academy and the numerous extracurricular commitments our students encounter, bringing drama to the classroom allows all students to appreciate an art that only a few would otherwise experience.
Each day in sophomore English class this past quarter, students spent the period analyzing and acting out Antigone according to how they thought the characters would behave or act. Daily lessons included warming up in a circle with activities such as talking in different voices or making tableaus to reenact a scene from the book.
After analyzing and reviewing the text of the book, and after a month of preparing to perform, the sophomore class acted out the play in front of a live audience of faculty, friends and family. The audience was blown away by the performances as each English class presented a skit using either a shortened version of Antigone or by creating a “news report” on Antigone. Sophomore Ilana Peritt says, “When it came time for the final performance, I found it interesting how each class had a different interpretation and approach to the book. Not only was this approach to learning fun and enjoyable, but it also gave me a better understanding of the complicated relationships within the play. This exposure to new ways of learning was far different from anything I’d ever done before, and I love trying new ways to make school interesting and fun. I can’t wait to see future performances run by the Writer’s Theatre.”
Eliana Dachman says, “It was a really interesting experience to learn how to study the characters and their feelings and be able to perform as that character. I learned how to convey my character’s point of view using my voice and my body. I look forward in the future to bringing the characters to life.”
Funding for the Writers’ Theatre program comes from a George Shay z”l Endowment Fund, an endowment gift to an ICJA academic department from alum Scott Shay (’75). The English department won this year’s grant in order to make drama and the arts more formally part of the Academy classroom experience. Academy’s Teachers annually submit a grant proposal to a committee of lay and professional leaders who select a department to receive the funding. The purpose of the endowment is to enhance the learning environment and appreciation of academic arts and sciences. The endowment is intended to foster a passion for general studies, consistent with Torah values.