Trinity’s Project Discovery

DSC_2376In 1997 I had the opportunity to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Mrs. Mumford’s English class. This was important for two reasons: one the show’s memory stayed with me for 20 years, and two, I enter my classroom on a daily basis aspiring to be half the teacher Mrs. Carol Mumford was.

Twenty years later, I find myself in the same theater, about to watch the show as a Project Discovery participant, this time as a teacher. We frequently hear about Project Discovery, I mean it’s been around for 50 years, but people outside of education rarely get to hear what the experience is truly like. It is informative, inspiring, and fun! This year is particularly special because of something called the 11th Grade Project. Thanks to Trinity’s vision, a grant from RISCA and some private donors, every 11th grade class in the state of Rhode Island has the opportunity to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For free. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you that the word “free” is hard to come by in the classroom. From pencils to tissues, teachers fund so much of their classrooms, it’s astonishing that an event of this magnitude is something that teachers do not have to beg, borrow and steal for!

Project Discovery is not just a day where students and teachers see a show at Trinity; there are also workshops involved. For our Project Discovery experience, we were treated to two workshops. One was run by the theater’s master electrician and one by the education coordinator. In one workshop, the students heard that the theater offers jobs that are behind-the-scenes, and learned about the design process and the tinkerings behind the magic. In the other, they learned about Shakespeare (we don’t cover him until the spring!) and the process of taking a piece and seeing it from different angles. (An important lesson for adults as well!)

Now what about the show? If you regularly read Motif, you likely saw my review and know how much I loved this production. How would my students react? How would a theater full of adolescents react to the ’80s tunes as a backdrop to Shakespeare? My students not only loved witnessing the magic of theater, but it was apparent that the students from other schools did as well. I have to admit I watched my students more than the show at times, I was so intent on witnessing their reactions. Watching their faces erupt into laughter and hearing the laughter all around us, I know the process made a few future theater patrons.

So what is it like for  a teacher? Project Discovery day is one of my favorite days teaching. And NOT because it provides a field trip, but because it provides such a wonderful teaching opportunity. I teach theater etiquette; for example, you won’t see my students on their phone during a play (ask Patti LuPone — it happens more than you would think). I teach them that there is something insanely real about a live performance, and teach them questioning techniques (Mrs. McLoud’s classes always stick around for the Q&A). I teach them that it’s okay to leave your screens for a while, to immerse yourself in a story, and that something as “scary” as Shakespeare can be enjoyed without subtitles. It’s okay to step outside of your comfort zone, it’s okay to do something different. And Shakespeare is cool. As much as I love reading Shakespeare, it isn’t something the vast majority of high school students enjoy doing. However, watching Shakespeare is something different entirely.    

Last year I took student to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I knew right away that I had to repeat the process. As much as Trinity has made theater fans out of my students, they have made me a Project Discovery participant for life!

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