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4th-6th Grade Play

The 4th-6th class writes, produces and performs an original play every year in May. The process of writing our plays was developed by Norah Dooley and the class teachers and has continued with the Village School teachers since then. The children draw on their understanding of the year's theme subject, based on both fiction and non fiction sources, to choose a focus for the annual play. Under the guidance of the class teacher they start the writing process with a series of short writing exercises and improvisations. Next they produce their own scripts for each scene, again using research and improvisation. Teachers then take each child's script and create a place for characters and lines, choosing the most appropriate lines for each scene. The resulting composite script is adjusted throughout the rehearsal process, so the children experience the whole process of writing and staging a play. Music and songs are chosen, when possible, from contemporary sources. The students create the set at the Royalston Town Hall and perform the play twice in public, with lighting and a full set. The play is a strong unifying unforgettable event for the students.


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How the 4th-6th class writes an original script

and performs their own play:

How the Play Process Meets and Exceeds the Common Core Standards: The Magic of Writing the Play. Read More >>

Threat to the Throne :: The Making of the Village School Play

This year's play is set in the European Middle Ages, this year's central theme study for the Village School 4th-6th grade class. It is set in a fictional kingdom at around 1150 CE, shortly after the failed Second Crusade, which accounts for the background of one of our characters.

The aim of our annual play is for the children to bring together various strands of the theme we have studied throughout the year. It also gives an opportunity for the whole class to work together in realizing a major project. The children cooperate in coming up with a plot and characters for the play, a key feature of which is that everyone gets a part. The development and writing of the play also covers a large number of the recently established Common Core State Standards, and you can read an article on this by Curriculum Director Wendy Davenport, here on the website. We cannot pretend that following the CCSS is our primary motivation in writing and performing our plays (which, in any case, predate them) but it does show that the standards are not incompatible with creativity.

As usual, the class initially divides into groups to develop ideas together, and these are then displayed on the classroom wall as we combine ideas and begin developing the plot. Some characters are clear from the start; others don’t emerge until several scenes have been written. This year, we were faced with writing parts for nineteen characters, as we were last year, so our final script worked out rather longer than usual, in order to give everyone a good part.

Our story evolved from an original idea of having two princesses (or noble ladies as they were finally developed) vying for the hand of a king. This was combined with the problem faced by ordinary people when our king Edmund extends his forest land (as medieval kings did), and what happens when an over-mighty lord became too powerful an influence in government, as our marshal Stephen does.

Another strand of our play involves the king's wish to build a cathedral, and this arose from the time the class spent studying gothic cathedrals, and they way they were built. The class worked on groups to make complex models of cathedrals for themselves, which helped them understand both the overall design and some of the ground-breaking architectural features of cathedrals in the 12th and 13th centuries. These include 'flying buttresses', which our master mason, Robert, proposes for his design. The script also mentions the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral in England, built between 1220 and 1260 (very fast!) and which the class visited in February. When the king and his mason talk of the soaring music in the cathedral, the authors know what they’re talking about, having heard a choir singing there themselves.

The character of Catfruit was conceived in response to the children's study of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, which they saw performed in England by the Royal Shakespeare Company, under its alternative title of Love's Labours Won. In Shakespeare's play a character called Dogberry frequently mangles his words, or misuses them, in an effort to impress with his grandiloquence. The children studied the play under the guidance of Village School parent and high school English teacher Carrie Hawkins before we left for England, so they were able to understand and appreciate the voice of Dogberry. 'Catfruit' is the result, though our script has saddled him with dialogue more convoluted than even Shakespeare could devise!

George Bennett, 4th-6th grade teacher - May 2015


investigation payout plotting reporter singing store girls

Background to the Play

This year the 4th-6th grade class studied a new year-long theme, The American West. We covered the Lewis & Clark expedition, the Louisiana Purchase, and the development and institution of new states. We also looked at westward migration, immigration, slavery and (briefly) the Civil War. To provide a narrative thread, we read several books in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, which underlined, among other things, how important the railroad was to western settlers.

Our play refers to a number of themes that the children covered during the year, both collectively and in their individual research projects. We spent some time looking at western migration and one day converted the classroom tables into covered wagons, so the children could spend the whole day enacting typical wagon train episodes.

Our play takes place in the late 1860s, in an area not unlike the Dakota Territory (North and South Dakota became states in 1889). As often happens with our plays, we have taken a few liberties with chronology to enable us to bring in narrative strands which don't exactly overlap historically. Thus, although the Gold Rush of 1848/9 was largely over by the early 1850s, we have made one of our characters a disillusioned gold prospector.

We have also put our North-West Railroad company slightly ahead of history, since the first Transcontinental Railroad wasn't completed until 1869. However, within another decade, there were half-a-dozen railroad routes to the West Coast, so our fictional firm isn't too implausible.

Following the landmark Homestead Act of 1862, emigrants from the east could claim a 160-acre piece of land in return for a small filing fee and a commitment to live and work on the claim for five years. This was an opportunity for ordinary people that was unique in world history. The Little Housebooks show how the Ingalls family filed on a claim and then struggled to make a living on it in the following five years. In our play, the Mason family has made a similar commitment, though the father, Seth Mason, has gone to California in search of gold.

Finally, we decided quite deliberately not to bring any Native American element into our play, since there was no way to do so while remaining historically accurate and having a happy ending! Nevertheless the class did study westward expansion from the perspective both of settlers and Native Americans, and the children are well aware of the other side of the story.

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Past Performances:

Opening scene of Village School student written and produced play Threat to the Throne 2015

Scene from Threat to the Throne: Two sisters vie for the King's attention

Scene from Threat to the Throne: Catfruit mangles English, but provides useful information

Divided Scenes from Threat to the Throne: Plotters conspire, while King plans to fight back

Oh Gwen, 2 sisters arguing

Catfruit

Double Side by Side scenes, King and Would Be King

Directions::

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Contact Information::

Email: info@villageschoolma.org
Phone: 978.249.3505