Students get theatre experience on field trip

Hilltop Country Day School eighth graders get backstage tour, more

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  • Eighth grader Ciera Ciaramella, Education Director Lori Lawrence, eighth grader Audrey Lipson, and Artist in Residence Perry A. Kroeger demonstrate the variety of mask styles created for Growing Stage productions.




  • Eighth graders Audrey Lipson and Ciera Ciaramella are welcomed by The Growing Stage with their names in lights.




  • Audrey Lipson and Ciera Ciaramella learning to perform with their newly created bird puppets.



— On May 9, the eighth graders of Hilltop Country Day School were treated to a unique experience, spending a day with the professional artists of The Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey.

From the moment they arrived, the girls were afforded backstage tours, behind the scenes insights, interviews with the actors, designers, teachers, and directors, and opportunities to create their own puppets and learn how to perform with them on the stage.

This was a chance to see how a professional theater operates and to learn what it takes to be part of a creative environment, according to a school news release.

On arrival, the girls were welcomed with their names in lights, scrolling on the marquee. Greeted by the executive director of the theater, the education director, the marketing director, and the artist-in-residence, they then went to breakfast at the nearby restaurant, which gave them a morning meeting with the professionals to share backgrounds and interests.

The students were able to voice their interests in dance and karate, and the Growing Stage staff spoke of the paths they had taken to prepare for their jobs, through education and work experiences.

It was informative for the students to learn of the post-secondary schooling and training that led to jobs in theater.

After breakfast, a full tour of the theater was hosted by the staff, from the light booth on the third floor to the trap stage door that goes beneath the stage, to the ticket booth in the lobby.

This was a time to view posters, old photos, and hear the stories of the historic building from its vaudeville days in 1919 to the present, when it is considered a historic landmark, restored to its original design with a national reputation in family entertainment.

The students watched the performance of “Knuffle Bunny” from the catwalk, the area of the balcony where the lights are hung, and then were given a backstage tour and meetings with six professional actors following the performance.

The “Knuffle Bunny” director joined the students during lunch so they could ask questions about the production, the rehearsal process, the directorial decisions, and the process by which a popular children’s book becomes a play.

Back at the theater, the third floor workspace became a puppeteer workshop. Artist-in-residence and designer Perry A. Kroeger showed the students how to make one of the puppets that had been featured in the show using cereal boxes, socks and cardboard.

After constructing their own puppets, the students brought their “birds” to the stage, where teaching artists provided a lesson in the actor’s tools including voice, body, and imagination.

They then were directed in a short skit, using their puppets, which they will perform for other students at Hilltop School on June 2.

The eighth graders were able to learn quite a bit with hands-on experience as actors, designers, puppeteers, interviewers, critics and audience members, the release states.

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