Jefferson Elementary students enjoy 'Creative Dramatics'
They giggled and laughed as they jumped, hopped and plopped onto the floor, while singing impromptu songs about their feelings.
While lying on the floor, they imagined their bodies turning to liquid, while all of the stress in their life floated away.
A group of 27 fourth and fifth graders in the West Jefferson Hills School District gathered at Jefferson Elementary School last week to learn teamwork, focus, self-confidence, acceptance and tolerance through the Pittsburgh Public Theater's Creative Dramatics program. The program, in its 25th year, pairs two diversely populated school districts for a collaboration that allows students to work together and, in the end, perform an adaptation of Shakespeare at the O'Reilly Theater.
“We would like to introduce students who normally wouldn't interact together and give them a creative way to come together,” said Katie Conaway, director of education and outreach for Pittsburgh Public Theater.
The program pairs a school in the Hill District with a school in the Fox Chapel Area School District and a school in Beechview with a school in the North Hills School District. For its 25th anniversary, Conaway said, she sought to expand the program from its six staple schools.
That allowed this year for a collaboration between the West Jefferson Hills School District and neighboring Clairton. During the program, students will meet 12 times. Four of those will be with students from their collaborating district. They will have the chance to show them their school and, in turn, tour the other schools. On stage, they will perform together.
“It's mostly learning about the similarities that they have,” Conaway said.
At Jefferson Elementary, the students last week still didn't know what school they were partnering with for the program.
Peyton Oeler, 10, a fifth grader at Jefferson Elementary, put her hands over a wide opened mouth in excitement as she learned her peers would be working with students from neighboring Clairton. She said she can't wait to show the students around her school and the art room with its 3-D printer.
“I thought this couldn't get any better but it just keeps getting better and better,” she said.
Alayna Button, 9, a fourth grader at Jefferson Elementary, who someday dreams of being an actress or a wildlife rescuer, said she can't wait to see what the Clairton students think about acting.
She also is excited to tour their school.
During the program, students are paired with professional actors who create a fun, welcoming setting.
No acting experience is required, Conaway said, and the performance includes no props, sets or costumes.
“They're just using themselves to form a scene,” she said.
Lori Gephart, gifted support teacher at Jefferson and Gill Hall elementary schools, said she's excited to introduce her students to Shakespeare in a fun way.
While she said she hopes the program teaches the students tolerance and acceptance, she said she thinks most of them already have that quality.
“Honestly, I think they're just going to be thrilled to make new friends,” she said.
Peyton, who hopes to someday become an actress, also hopes the program will help her with her future profession.
It's important to learn techniques and work with new people, she said.
“It's just awesome. I don't even know a word for it. I don't think I could be more excited,” she said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.