Potter students exploring books through theater with the Zeiterion

Feb 27, 2019

Potter Elementary School students are making history and reading come alive through a new partnership with the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

Throughout the month, students in fifth grade classes are learning the basics of theater and writing and performing their own scenes through the Page to Stage program. It is the first time the long-running program has been introduced to Dartmouth schools.

The program is designed to bridge theater arts with students’ regular English language arts curriculum, by incorporating the students’ regular reading of “Number the Stars.” The historical fiction novel, set during the Holocaust, tells the story of life Danish Jews during World War II.

“Students are very engaged and involved,” said Ashley Cubellis, Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. “Even students that aren’t typically engaged in regular classroom activities find this work interesting. They get to get out of their seats, work collaboratively, and create.”

Potter Principal Heidi Brooks noted the program is not only getting students valuable exposure to the arts and an important part of history, it’s also giving them a new outlet to think critically and experience the books they have just read in a different way.

“This opportunity is giving students a way to really think about the characters from different angles and maybe even something that wasn’t even presented in the novel,” Brooks said.

On Feb. 25, teaching artists were busy with lectures in all of Potter’s fifth grade classes.  In one classroom, Patricia Thomas turned part of classroom into a makeshift stage. Organizing students into parts - both acting and technical - students put on a short, two-minute opening scene she wrote in which residents of a small village first encounter occupying Nazi soldiers.

“I wrote it as a crowd scene to set the mood of the village and the Nazi occupation,” Thomas said, noting students will be building off of it throughout the program with their own dialog, props, lines, and plots.

In another classroom, Arla Berman led her students through a monologue-writing exercise in the novel’s setting. It helped students learn the basics of script writing, and allowing emotion into their acting.  

Students will be participating in Page to Stage through April. On April 2, students will be invited to a live performance of the novel at the Zeiterion.