Cleveland Play House - Putnam Sentinel
Following the morning's performance, Cleveland Play House actor Joseph Johnson builds upon the themes of the play in the classroom (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

OTTAWA — Just before their holiday break, the students of Ottawa Elementary and Glandorf Elementary were treated to a very special performance, courtesy of the Cleveland Play House. Following the performance, Ottawa Elementary students also participated in workshops with the actors that built upon the themes explored during the show they had just seen.

“The program runs two different shows,” says Neil Macke, a former student at Ottawa Elementary who now works in Cleveland Play House’s artistic department, assisting with casting, contracting and the logistics that accompany a busy regional theater. “The kindergarten through fourth grade show is titled, “Together,” and then we have a second show called, “Kick,” for fifth through eighth grade students.”

The Sentinel spoke briefly with the fourth grade students of Mrs. Schumaker’s following the performance. The students, to say the least, came away very impressed by what they saw.

“I think it was inspiring because it shows people how to encourage others and to help them make good choices,” reported fourth grader Jaylah.

In addition to having a positive message for students, there was a good deal of audience interaction as well, as told by another student, Dezmynd, “I think it was really fun to see other people go up and do all those things that they did. They had them hold up a limbo stick and then someone did the limbo under the stick. Then they had them hold a jump rope and they made it wiggle and they called it a snake. They had to jump over it. And then, they had to sit on a balloon and pop it.” The entire class agreed that the balloon popping was very funny.

It was not all fun and participation though, as Macke explained when discussing the goals of the performance, “The show “Together” explores themes of respect and community,” says Macke. “It has underlined tones of police awareness, social and economical issues, and differences in diversity. Issues that students face in the classroom, and also within their home life. The show explores how these issues can affect young people outside of the classroom, and how that can translate to classroom participation and the feeling of being comfortable within their school setting as well.”

Even before the post-show workshops, the students showed that they had understood the messages the play communicated, with fourth grade student Jaxton saying, “They were trying to achieve kindness, respect for others, and to ask for help when you need it.”

Having grown up in the area himself, Macke knew a show like this would be valuable for the students and the larger community, saying, “Working for CPH for about three years, I’ve seen this program in action. I wanted to bring that opportunity to a community that I am a part of, grew up in, and experienced in my childhood and in my education. I wanted to bring it back to this community.”

“We incorporate a lot theater techniques and theater games. We try to show that the entertainment artform of theater can be expressive not only as an artform but as an education tool of understanding and realizing emotions and feelings, not only as their displayed in a show, but how you display emotions and feelings everyday as a student.”

The theater company makes an effort to ensure that the plays remain useful long after the performance as well, as Macke explains, “The workshops are based on lesson plans and meet a lot of title 1 requirements for the school. As the actors go in to lead the workshops, they provide the educator in the room our lesson plan, which outlines how we develop the workshop. So they can continue to pull scenes and relative information, and incorporate those things into their classrooms and their lessons beyond our time in the school. And, all the students who see the show get a family guide sent home with them. The parents can also continue the conversation and discussion on what they saw in the show and the themes as well.”

“Theater is supposed to spark questions and leave you wanting more and have that dialogue and conversation continue. That’s the great thing about the theater for young artists program and classroom tour, it’s exploring social and emotional themes that our students face daily. It allows them to express themselves honestly, open up, and ask questions via our actors as a third party representative in the classroom. Theater can really tap into that emotional side of what these students might be facing.”

“Cleveland Play House is a large regional theater based in Cleveland, OH. We run nine education programs out of our company. One of which is the Keybank Classroom & Nurturing Program. The program is designed to bring theater and theater education programs out into the schools themselves. Due to limited resources, most schools don’t have the capability of bringing students to a theater program like this. So we design the program to bring it to them in their classrooms.”