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Lawrence Middle School’s Nation of Stars – Acting Out

Through a comprehensive theater program designed to encourage students to expresss themselves through different types of art, seventh-graders at Lawrence Middle School are “Acting Out” in a good way.

Last November the to teach a new class at Lawrence Middle School called the LMS Nation of Stars – Acting Out. Amiet, most often a music teacher at Eldridge Park Elementary School, goes to Lawrence Middle School to teach the class to twice a week to select seventh-grade students.

The purpose of the class, according to Amiet, is for students “to explore through arts, including performing, musical theater, and behind-the-scenes.”

The grant included funds for Shannon Horton from Odd Act Theater Group in Hamilton to serve as an artist-in-residence. Horton does warm up exercises with the students, as well as improvisation games. She also teaches them the technical information – such as the correct vocabulary for theater.

 “I love that theater gives children a unique outlet I don’t feel they get anywhere else,” Horton says.

There are 33 students taking the class this year. Divided into two smaller groups, the students are encouraged to be silly, but also respectful. One warm-up acting exercise used in the class has a student make a funny facial expression and sound, which the next student must mimic back to them before turning around and making a different expression to the next person in the circle. By the end, everyone is laughing and having fun.

As they go around the circle, Horton encourages the students to “keep the pace” because it builds energy. That energy is what helps them perform.

Each marking period the students each perform for a grade. One unit was about theater. Students were divided into groups of two. Each group had to perform a scene. The students were graded on movement, expression, projection, creativity and memorization. Even if they never perform in another play, these same skills are needed when speaking in class, giving presentations, college interviews, and job interviews. They are life-long skills.

When one of the groups finished their scene, Amiet gave them helpful tips to improve it. They were given a second chance. The second time was much better than the first. They concentrated on their lines and their actions, which made the scene more believable.

Another unit of the class involves the study of musical theater – how it differs from regular theater, as well as opera. Musical theater adds the challenges of singing and dancing, while still trying to connect to the audience.

Included as part of the grant was funding for a field trip to Lincoln Center in New York City to allow students to learn about improve from professional comedians.

This summer Odd Act Theater Group will teach two different two-week classes at Lawrence High School as part of the Lawrence Township Recreation Department’s Summer Camp program. The Theatre Camp meets afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m., and may be paired with a morning art class, which meets from 9 a.m. to noon. Cost is $240 for the full-day program or $180 for the half-day program. The first session begins on June 20; the second session begins on July 9. Contact the township recreation department at (609) 844-7067 for more information.

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