Eleven 10th Grade Actors, One Imaginary Invalid | by Nita Davanzo, High School Drama Teacher

Having not yet met the 10th grade class, I arrived to their classroom just three short weeks ago ready to dive into the always thrilling, ever daunting, sublimely challenging and thoroughly rewarding process of putting on a play. Stepping into the classroom that first day, I was reminded of my experience as a 10th grade Shining Mountain Waldorf student, and the excitement and apprehension at the thought of putting on a play in such a short period of time. My 10th grade memories of self melded with my current self, and off ‘we’ and the present day 10th grade students went –  on a journey through Moliere’s play The Imaginary Invalid.

         After spending the first few days getting to know the students, it was soon time to cast the play – 11 roles for 11 students. It is never an easy process to cast a play, especially in a Waldorf High School where one’s goal is not simply to create a strong and stellar final performance, but one’s goal is to also – and most importantly – support the students to grow, develop, strive and shine. Similar in ideal to SMWS’ Positive Coaching philosophy, drama and theater in Waldorf education is undertaken with the rehearsal process as the true focus. During a class’ rehearsal process, self-discoveries are made, new relationships are kindled and forged, ideas of self are broken and created, and the bonds tying the class together are stretched and strengthened. With the focus on the rehearsal process as one of growth and transformation, the end result is indeed a strong final performance, although that has not been the shared goal. As in athletics, a winning team is most likely one that knows itself and seamlessly works together out of respect and integrity, so too goes it for an ensemble of actors in a play.

         To bring the philosophy stated above out of the general and into the specific, in our particular play, taking place this next week, each student was cast in his or her role with a greater purpose in mind. Whether to stretch the student to explore unexamined parts of themselves, or to highlight and give that student confidence in abilities and characteristics already within them, or for a myriad of other reasons, each student was assigned their character with conscious and conscientious intentionality. While I – and certainly any teacher and director – cannot know all the intricacies, challenges, joys and successes that each student will meet and grapple with in their role, I can certainly imagine some of them and be there as director to support, guide and shape their experience and development through the rehearsal process.

         For this particular class, I chose a comedy. Having never met with the 10th grade before our rehearsal intensive time together, I trusted my intuition and what basics I knew about the class and chose a play which had characters who were melodramatic, fantastically outrageous, conniving, supremely foolish and full and nobly hearted. (All the trappings of a well-rounded adolescent experience!) I chose a play and the characters within it in which the students could shape and change and add their own interests and tastes to. I often think of a play as having a life of its own, and needing us – actors, directors, designer, musicians, etc – to bring it to life. In this way, the actors are essential in the (literally) creative process for they give life to the story – their lives. In this play, while I directed and guided at the helm, each student had his and her own addition as, ideas, visions and ideals to ask and give to the story and its characters. While we began a few weeks ago with a simple script, we will end in performance with scenes not originally written into it, music not noted, relationships not referred to – all out of the students vibrant hearts and creative minds.

         While this particular play may lack a deep meaning in and of itself (it has no great moral lesson hidden within its acts and scenes!), the students themselves give it purpose and meaning with their commitment to explore, their willingness to develop and transform, and their desire to grow.

         Come and give the 10th grade students your support this Thursday and Friday, Nov. 19 and 20, at 7:00pm in the SMWHS Assembly Hall. A short talkback and discussion with the actors and myself will be given after Thursday’s performance.

Join us! You will be glad you did – I promise.