John Jay Middle School Drama Club Creates Opportunities for Community and Contextual Learning
Two rehearsals before opening night of “The Iliad, the Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less” and the students are running their lines. They’re gathered at tables in the John Jay Middle School cafeteria; perhaps self-sorted as gods, goddesses, and mortals. No one is stressed.
“I play Iphigenia, a princess. I get thrown off a ship because my father shot someone’s favorite deer,” said Kiera, an eighth grader.
“I play Iris, goddess of the rainbow, and Priam, King of Troy,” said Sofia, a seventh grader. “I thought this play would be fun, and it is.”
“I knew a bit about Greek mythology before this play—the Iliad, the Odyssey, Cyclops and stuff,” said Jason, an eighth grader. “We studied it in sixth grade. I play Pyramus and Agamemnon—both of these are new to me—and Hercules. Spoiler alert! All of my characters die.”
“The Iliad, the Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less” is a sprint through Greek mythology. It’s campy, kooky, and cultural. Students absorb information about the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the civilizations of Ancient Greece, and make clear-cut connections to works of literature like “The Odyssey” that are already a part of the core school curriculum.
The Drama Club is also about more than the play.
“I’ve done every single play in middle school,” continued Jason. “At first I didn’t know what acting was all about. I thought it was memorizing lines and saying them in front of an audience. There’s more to it than that.”
“Mr. Fritch says that acting is the study of people . . . and their behaviors,” said Jason, referring to teacher David Fritch who has directed over twenty-five shows at John Jay Middle School. “You can learn things from your character. Maybe in the process you will learn about yourself. It’s fun!”
“I don’t think I want to be an actor for a living but I think I will at least audition for plays at the high school,” said Jason.
“I’m loving everything. I found my calling in acting,” said Leigh, also an eighth grader. “It’s so much more than entertaining people. It’s about friends and the community.”
“Actors!” Mr. Fritch appears at the cafeteria door and leads the students to the theatre.
As students find their seats in the theatre, song seems to break out spontaneously. Everyone is singing “You’ll Be Back,” from the Broadway show “Hamilton.”
“Make a circle,” said Mr. Fritch, calling the students to the stage. “Breathe. Feel your feet on the ground. Think of a statue of your character, and become that statue.”
Students strike poses—a haughty king, a fierce warrior, a magician.
“At some point during the performance, you will need to find that pose,” said Mr. Fritch.
“The goal for today is fast, fast, fast, and then faster,” he continued. “Your line should come almost as the person before you says their last line. It’s a comedy. Timing is important.”
“We should go into our three-day weekend knowing we have a show,” said Mr. Fritch.
Two run-throughs later, there’s a show.
Principal Rich Leprine was among those in the audience for the dress rehearsal, as well as the final performance on Saturday evening.
“I continue to be amazed by our students and how they perform such difficult plays,” said Principal Leprine. “They are learning so much by doing and growing collaboratively each and every day. What’s exciting for me to see every year is how they improve dramatically from night to night with the performances.”