At San Francisco Waldorf School, we don’t shy away from the big questions that children ask themselves, those questions that may never be articulated with words, but that nonetheless live strongly in each child’s soul. “Who am I? What is my place in the world? What is my relationship to the people around me?”
Through the study of History and mythology, and in the early years, the immersion in fairy tales and fables, the children learn how people through the ages have approached these questions. When the students begin to act out the stories they have heard, they become even more intimately aware of the twists and turns life may take as human beings struggle to know who they are and why they are here. Why did Moses expect so much of himself and of others? How did Penelope outwit her suitors? How did Odysseus learn to think for himself? Am I like Loki, who loves to make mischief, sometimes even at the expense of my family and friends? What qualities in Joan of Arc allowed her to achieve what no other trained military expert had? Do I possess any of those qualities? How did the love of Rama and Sita endure through so many trials and hardships?
A well-written play bathes the students in one of humanity’s most noble and unique qualities, that of beautiful and expressive speech. On the stage, the children experience the wonder and power of speech in a unique way because it is spoken aloud and “by heart” and it is brought to life through the child’s own gestures, movement and facial expressions. Ask a twenty-year-old Waldorf graduate to recite her lines from the Fifth Grade play and sit back as she speaks not only her own lines, but most likely, many of her classmates’ lines as well. One tiny aspect of the question, “What is my place in the world?” is answered through this immersion in artistic language. “I am a human being, capable of expressing the fullness of my existence and of communicating with other human beings through the gift of speech.”
Producing a play involves many skills and requires the children to rely on each other in ways unlike any other experience. Arranging props, designing the lighting, fitting costumes, moving scenery at just the right moment, backstage prompting, providing musical interludes, and the acting onstage all must work together to achieve a successful performance. The intensity of the children’s desire to succeed, both as individuals and as a class, creates an atmosphere of powerful social learning. Students see their classmates’ special qualities and gifts in new ways when they are utterly dependent upon each other onstage. Tempers may flare and patience may wane but in the end, the students stand together to take their bows, having experienced both the pleasures and the challenges of an artistic social endeavor.
I hope these words have brought a new thought or two to the question of why we devote significant time and energy to drama in the Waldorf curriculum and why the children anticipate their class plays with such joy and enthusiasm.
- Mary Barhydt, 8th Grade Class Teacher