Sharing the Spotlight

In the Middle School, the first milestone of the performing arts program starts with an idea. That one idea, agreed upon after multiple brainstorming sessions by the grade 5 class, then morphs into something tangible (and so very Ellis): a completely original play written, performed, and staged by the Middle School’s youngest students. 
This fast-paced introduction to the Middle School’s collaborative theatre arts program sets the stage for girls to see the theater as a place for teamwork, creativity, and community. 

Throughout the performing arts arc, Middle School students are encouraged to pose and explore questions through a creative lens—questions about the roles they’ll be taking on, questions about themselves, questions about each other, questions about the world around them. Together as cast and crew members, girls make meaning of those questions via the creative process. They’re literally and figuratively empowered to use—and raise—their voices. From speaking up about a line they’re uncomfortable reciting or belting out the finale song as part of a larger ensemble, in the performing arts, girls learn together by doing. As a result, they gain an invaluable sense of shared accomplishment. 

“There is no doubt that intentionally providing this brave space for girls to push themselves, see failure as feedback, and bounce back to ultimately achieve success as a team has an important impact on their future,” shares Middle School Head Michelle Rust.

In grades 6, 7, and 8, the theatre arts are offered via electives and extracurricular activities. Girls may choose whether they want to participate in the communal grade 6/7 play, the grade 8 operetta, and/or take a performing arts elective which includes offerings on Shakespeare, comedy, musicals, and acting. During these rehearsals in acting, improvisation, and public speaking, students are interdependent; they depend on one another to succeed. Every girl works toward the common goal—a successful performance—and contributes to it.    

Together in the theater, students solve formal and personal conflicts. They dissect lines, interpret characters, determine staging. They stretch their abilities—take risks, fail, and try again—as an ensemble, constantly pushing each other to hit that note, try out for that part, or nail that dance routine. 

“A production is bigger than just one person,” shares Lydia Gibson, Middle and Upper School Performing Arts Teacher. “In order to create a fully developed and enriching experience, multiple aspects must come together: lighting, sound, set, costume, performers, directors, stage management, etc. It takes communication, creativity, and the ability to release and promote ideas in order to work with others on the bigger picture.”
   
“The skill sets gained through performance can be incorporated into any environment in the girls’ lives. It’s crucial that they learn what a supportive, energizing and creative environment looks like from a young age, because it will help them soar in any future endeavors they face.”

The many hours of practice Middle School students put forth in the art of performance will culminate next week for the Class of 2024 as auditions for “Fame Jr.,” the Grade 8 Operetta, are set to begin. While students are not required to take part in the operetta, the majority do and have prepared for their final Middle School stage debut by singing in the choir, performing in Ellis plays and talent shows, taking music classes and electives, and playing in the orchestra in grades 5 through 7.

“All of these opportunities throughout Middle School allow girls to find their niche in the performing arts. Whether it’s through stage design, dance, or instruments, the goal is for our students to provoke emotion and reach the audience in different ways,” said Elisa Hill, Middle and Upper School Music Teacher. “Collaboration is the nature of the theater, and the work they’ve done together up to this point prepares them for their final show together as a class.” 

A coming-of-age story about the legendary New York High School of the Performing Arts, this year’s production of “Fame Jr.” will, much like the show’s plot itself, highlight the camaraderie and combined effort it takes to put on a performance amidst a young cast of aspiring artists. 

Whether they’re center stage or behind-the-scenes, the Ellis Theatre Arts program inspires girls to take risks—big and small, individually and collectively. It’s in that area outside of their comfort zone, where girls are learning their lines or practicing in full costume for the first time, that Middle School thespians learn to give and receive feedback, communicate through conflict, and realize that they can accomplish more together than on their own.
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