Book Review: Three Plays for Small Classes March 24 2017

New Release!
Vivian Jones Schmidt's Three Plays for Small Classes
Now available in the bookstore!

Three Plays for Small Classes offers class teachers an inspiring start at approaches Three Plays for Small Classes
to drama with only a few in middle school. Vivian Jones-Schmidt demonstrates her Waldorf class teaching experience in the ingenious re-telling of profound tales through the scripts she offers. Drama is a source of endless redemption for pre-teens and for students of all ages, really. To use these plays in school to emphasize the lessons already included in the middle school curriculum is to underscore memorable aspects of history, literature, and science as well as to unite students socially at a difficult age. Everything needed to do a play without needing to worry about “too few” students is offered in this rare collection of finely written plays. All teachers should take a look! It’s worth it as these stories prompt inspiration, aspiration, and fun — good medicine all around for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes!

Vivian Jones Schmidt is an experienced teacher in both Waldorf and mainstream schools. Her understanding of the whole arc of child development, as well as her commitment to beautiful writing, both lifelong missions of hers, are clear in these little gems of scripts! Class teacher, music teacher, early childhood educator. art teacher, Vivian captures the perfect solution to good stories and succinct scripts for middle school (and for others, too).

Here is an excerpt from this wonderful new resource:

Introduction by Vivian Jones Schmidt

          Finding the courage to write a play requires both inspiration and a certain amount of desperation. As middle school classes, particularly in young schools, often consist of seven or eight students, the desperation comes with the territory. Hundreds of already published plays are available for this age group, but rarely does one find a pre-published play that appropriately meets the developmental and curricular needs of a small Waldorf class. This was the situation I faced in both my second and third classes. Every class was expected to present a play, every year, at both schools. I studied a lot of plays before coming to the conclusion that I would have to write my own.

          The first play in this volume, “A Merry Adventure of Robin Hood,” was written for a sixth-grade class. As I looked around for an inspiration that would align with the Roman/Medieval history theme of the year, I picked up Llancelyn Green’s Robin Hood. Immediately, images of my students in the various roles appeared in my mind, and I knew I had found the perfect source material.

          The next year, seventh grade, the student mix was somewhat different but the size of the class was similar. Again, I sought inspiration in the curriculum. Seventh grade is the first year for chemistry in a Waldorf school, and the history theme is Renaissance/Reformation. Combining the two into a play about a search for “The Philosopher’s Stone” seemed like a natural choice.

          That class performed James Thurber’s Many Moons as their eighth-grade play, and I highly recommend it for a class of nine students [or eight students plus one adventurous math teacher], as its fairy-tale quality appeals to all ages. The next eighth grade I taught, however, had only seven students, so once again I was searching for an appropriate play. I shared my frustration with the class and asked for ideas. One student said, “What about The Wizard of Oz?” Knowing this class, if I had suggested this source, it would have been rejected out of hand. But as the idea came from a fellow student, they were immediately enthusiastic, so I agreed to study the story and see what I could do. The play, “The Silver Shoes,” is the result.

          Casting a play is always an interesting process. Some teachers simply assign parts, and some who assign parts do so out of their understanding of what it means to assign parts “pedagogically.” Certainly, a discussion of pedagogical assignments in class plays would be a welcome exploration. For example, is a role assigned because it reflects how that child is seen by peers or by teachers? Is it assigned to be the opposite of the child’s apparent role in the class? My approach has always been as follows. We start reading through the play a few months before the performance date, devoting 20–30 minutes a day to the process. Each day, different students are assigned to read the various roles. After a few days, I ask the students if there are parts they have not read that they would like to, and each student gives me a list. When we’ve finished reading the play, I ask each student to give me a prioritized list of the four roles s/he is most interested in playing—plus a list assigning every student in the class to a role. Remarkably, these lists are very often so similar that, in the end, everyone [including the parents] is satisfied with the casting of the play. This approach avoids direct engagement with the question of “pedagogical casting,” but interestingly, the assigned roles have always seemed to be both a reflection and an expansion of the students’ basic classroom presence.

          Is there anyone who doesn’t love the process of working with and presenting a middle school play? Each rehearsal is a challenge, but the rehearsal process itself brings to light new and deeper levels of understanding of oneself and one’s students as human beings on journeys of self-discovery. By the time the costumes and sets become priorities, the class has found a unity in its diversity—a unity that perhaps has never been present before. I hope that every teacher who finds something useful in these plays will also find something remarkable and inspirational in preparing for a performance. And, listen, if I can write a play, so can you.