Last week, in preparation for Whitby’s March production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, more than a quarter of the Upper School took part in an immersive theatre workshop led by Third Rail Projects of New York City.
Third Rail Projects is a Bessie award-winning theatre company, led by Artistic Directors Zach Morris, Tom Pearson, and Jennine Willett. For more than ten years, Third Rail Projects has been dedicated to reframing dance and performance and bringing art to the public through an array of media and within a variety of contexts including site-specific performances, dance theater, installation art, video and multi-media projects, and immersive performance environments.
The purpose of the workshop, brought in by Allyn Rathus, Upper School Theater teacher and director, was to introduce the students to a way of making theatre that pulls audience members in to the experience through verbal and nonverbal communication, and employing the various uses of the architecture of a performance space safely and creatively.
“I took a step back from "director" during this workshop. I wanted to be a listener, observer, and actor,” says, Rathus. ”I watched our fifth through eighth grade students slither along the floor of the PAC, roll on its bleachers, and climb on its railings with grins on their faces and laughter in their voices. Freedom filled the air as they took risks collaboratively.”
As the workshop continued, the playing space changed, and Rathus fascinated at the work that transpired:
“I felt the same freedom when I found myself following two of our students through the first floor of the Renaissance building. One of them was the "actor" and the other students and I were his audience. He led us without a word, but with eye contact and physical actions. We were captivated. We wanted to see every thing that he saw. We wanted to be thinking every thing that he thought. When our workshop facilitators called the activity to a close, we kept following our actor to see what he would do. It wasn't until he told us he was finished that we came out of our trance. This type of state is what we're hoping our MIDSUMMER audience members experience. And, in a school led by innovation, this is a next step for our productions.”
Last week, Ms. Rathus brought her field trip “in” instead of venturing out. By doing so, she was able to bring an experience that will continue to inform these performance students in deeper ways than one may expect of Upper School students. The realization of this depth of talent is not lost on Rathus.
“Since starting at Whitby, I've had moments during which I've found it hard to remember that our Upper School students are as young as they are. This was one of those moments. These students learned much more than skills for a specific production. They learned new ways of collaborating and communicating that will serve them far beyond their time at Whitby.”