Wherefore Art Thou, Blue Cluster?

Posted on Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Teaching Artist instructor stands in an oval with students in front of the stage in Gaynor's Performing Arts CenterStephen Gaynor School began an educational partnership with New Victory Theater this year. Students participated in a drama workshop taught by Teaching Artists from the New Victory Theater and then went to see The Acting Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet on November 9. New Victory is a cultural nonprofit dedicated to empowering artists, educators and families through the performing arts. New Victory opens new worlds for Pre-K to 12th grade students, teachers, and school communities in New York City and beyond through extraordinary performances and extensive education and engagement programs both online and in its historic Times Square theater. 


Blue Cluster students seated in the audience at New Victory TheaterGaynor Drama Teacher Meredith Akins took the Blue Cluster to see the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. This contemporary take on the classic play included break dancing, stage combat, and hip-hop. The adaptation was put on by The Acting Company, known for launching the careers of Patti LuPone, Kelley Curran, Jeffrey Wright and many others. The Acting Company has been called the “major touring classical theater in the United States” by The New York Times, and stages work from Shakespeare to Stoppard for 25,000 theatergoers annually. After the show, students attended a talkback and were able to ask the actors in Romeo and Juliet questions about the creative process.


A Teaching Artist stands inbetween two students in front of windows in the North CafeteriaBefore seeing the show, New Victory Theater Teaching Artists came to Stephen Gaynor School to facilitate a pre-show workshop to help students understand the themes in the show. Teaching Artists are performers who are also educators, and they draw on their professional experience to engage the students. The Blue Cluster was split into three groups, forming a total of three workshops; one in the North Cafeteria, one in the South Cafeteria, and the third in the PAC. During the workshops, students learned Shakespearean insults, created tableaux, learned breakdancing, and faced off against each other in “duels.” The students put together a sentence of Shakespearean insults compiled from words provided by the Teaching Artists. A favorite insult was “you saucy, onion-eyed apple!” The tableaux, or “frozen pictures”, were based on the keywords of hate, revenge, love, and sadness. In one workshop, the students created their tableau in groups, and brainstormed the scene they wanted to create together. Blue Cluster students assembled with one student lying on the ground reaching up towards the other four. Another student's arms are being held by two students, one on each side of him, while the last student crouches on the ground,In the other workshops, the students posed by themselves or in pairs, producing a wide array of poses. This activity helped the students become more comfortable with expressing themselves through movement, which would be key for the next activity.

The students then learned a retro break dance move called the “Top Rock.” For the final part of the workshop, all three activities were combined together. The students in each workshop were split into two groups, to mimic the families of Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and the Capulets. They then “dueled” each other, by first performing their newly learned breakdancing skills, then posing in one of the previous tableau themes and yelling a Shakespearean insult at the other team. The Teaching Artists wrapped up the workshop by asking students what they’d learned, and how they thought it might relate to the production of Romeo and Juliet they were going to see. Two Teaching Artists stand on the stage in front of the students, on either side of a whiteboardThe workshops were a great way for the students to experience theater by incorporating dancing, positioning, and acting into one session, and got them to look forward to the show! Ms. Akins said, “It was our first time since 2018 having Teaching Artists come to Stephen Gaynor School, and the students had a lot of fun learning and performing their new skills for each other. Thank you to the Teaching Artists and New Victory Theater for partnering with us and giving our students this opportunity!”