the pedagogy and the pride of waldorf school plays
The Davis Waldorf School Class of 2014 performed their musical Good Village Salem: The Unsung Story. When the final song concluded, parents, friends, faculty, and alumni applauded the students' stage performance. For a Waldorf school, the applause is more than a traditional response to a production that was well executed, more than an appreciation for the actors' abilities. A Waldorf school play has a pedagogical basis.
It is just as much about the process as it is the performance. Through the grades, with a curriculum that is rich in biographies, legends, and stories, the class teacher chooses a play that can bring the curriculum to life for the students. Learning about the fall of Troy and the rise of the Roman Empire, for instance, is brought not only through main lesson lectures, but also through a play.
The work of producing a dramatic retelling of a story requires reading and memorization, delivery and recitation, collaboration and cooperation, music and singing, art and crafts. In this theatrical medium, skills that are honed in the students in language arts, practical arts, and performing arts are creatively taught and practiced. Additionally, in the eighth grade, the elements of theater such as the script, the cast, and set are introduced so the students can further their appreciation of this age-old craft. The curriculum lives through the play. For our eighth grade musical, I wrote a play that retold the circumstances of the Salem witch trials, which is pertinent to our studies of colonial American history. Its themes included the entanglement of law and religion, women's roles, community versus individuality, friendships and reputations.
On a deeper level, the teacher has the opportunity to meet the child's soul force by thoughtfully giving the child a particular character to portray. Through the character, the teacher is able to individually tailor a lesson for the child, whether the child needs more practice in reading or memorization, or that the child needs to learn some kind of social dynamic, or some underlying truth about him or herself.
After all the practice and the hard work, the play is ready to be performed. The theater arts is meant to be shared and experienced by others, the audience. A dialog, a relationship, is formed in that beautiful moment of a live performance. This is what makes a play so thrilling and raw and powerful. When the play is performed by the children of parents who make up the audience, the pride of the production completes the arc of a Waldorf school play.
The applause on the evening when our musical ended was as much for the performance as it was for the pride for the students on a job well done, on an effort made, on the creative spirit released and shared and enjoyed.