Stage Partners Education Director, Maria McConville, sat down with director and teacher Peter Royston between productions, to chat about why theatre is the BEST teaching tool there is, bar none. He was fresh off his production of A Wrinkle in Time and had plenty to share...
(And check out he 5 FREE LESSON PLANS we commissioned him to develop for A Wrinkle in Time stage adaptations...)
MARIA: After working off-Broadway, what brought your focus to connecting the professional theatre to theatre education?
PETER: Theatre’s in my blood, I can’t get enough of it, and I’ve always wanted to share it! I grew up onstage and backstage in community theatre and that creative camaraderie fired a great passion in me that continues to this day. When I graduated from college, I longed to create a theatre company in NYC and follow in the footsteps of Joseph Papp, Hal Prince, and directors from the other side of the pond like Peter Hall and Peter Brook. Working with a wonderful group of actors and artists, I was able to direct and produce shows rehearsing in the evenings, but during the day I worked for Alan Wasser, the Broadway General Manager of such shows as Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and many more.
It was through Alan that I became linked to the educational community. Alan asked me to write a study guide for educators bringing students to see Les Miserables and the success of that guide led to more until I had written over 50 study guides for Broadway, Off Broadway, touring, and regional productions.
From writing educational material and lesson plans for shows, it was a short trip to getting those plans up on their feet, first as a teaching artist and now as a drama teacher. But I’m very glad to have such a wide range of experience to draw on in my teaching – whether it’s with an audience or a class of students, I love sharing my passion for theatre!
MARIA: What about the practice of theatre makes it such a great tool when teaching History or English or even Math?
PETER: For me, theatre is the BEST teaching tool there is, bar none. Whether it’s reading through a scene from a classic play, writing your own sequel to your favorite book and putting it on stage or bringing a scene from history to life, using the theatre and theatre skills in the classroom encourages greater retention of facts and a richer understanding of source material. I wrote my thesis for my Masters in Educational Theatre on using Theatre in both the Science and English classrooms. During fieldwork, science teachers I worked with were happily shocked at how useful (and fun!) theatre exercises were in bringing sometimes very complex scientific concepts to life. So for me, getting up on your feet and starting the Theatre process, in whatever class you’re in, should always come first.
MARIA: What themes or lessons do you hope students experience from A Wrinkle in Time?
PETER: When we were rehearsing A Wrinkle in Time, the kids were a little shocked at first at its imperfect heroes: the bullied, reserved Charles Wallace and especially the uncertain, angry Meg. I still remember the little gasp the girls who were trying out for Meg gave when I said, “I don’t think Meg likes herself very much.” But these imperfections give her so far to go - the kids who see the show as well as those who act in it go along on an amazing journey of growth with Meg. When Meg asks for a magical gift, Mrs Whatsit tells her, “To you I give your faults.” What a message for young people to take away from a story: that your faults can be your weapons against darkness, that it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to be imperfect.
MARIA: Are the lesson plans you created for the stage adaptations of "A Wrinkle in Time" intended for the classroom or the rehearsal process?
PETER: The exercises in the lesson plans can easily be used in both the classroom and the rehearsal studio. In the classroom, they would be a great way to bridge the gap between the novel and its theatrical adaptations. As a director, I know how hard it is to give up any valuable rehearsal time, but beyond its breathtaking science fiction/fantasy adventure, A Wrinkle in Time is a very human story: folding these exercises into the rehearsal process – perhaps tackling one exercise for each week of rehearsals – will, I hope, make for a richer exploration of the story and its characters.
MARIA: Do you have a teaching motto?
PETER: This may sound funny, but I always tell the young people I’m working with, “Be Ridiculous.” During the Circle Time when all the cast and crew gathered before one of our presentations of A Wrinkle in Time, one of the younger actors said that he was in awe of the other actors, that whatever paths they took later in life, the fact that they had gained the confidence to get up in front of people and tell a story would always serve them well. I couldn’t have put it better myself. There’s an old saying, “Knock hard, life is deaf.” Theatre encourages young people to “knock hard” through innovation, audacity, taking risks, being over the top and not taking themselves too seriously.
[Check out the 5 FREE LESSON PLANS we commissioned him to develop for A Wrinkle in Time stage adaptations..]
A writer, director and a teaching artist, PETER ROYSTON is a former Off-Broadway director who has worked in various capacities to bridge the gap between the entertainment industry and the educational community. As the co-founder and co-director of Theatre Direct’s educational program, Broadway Classroom, Peter helped to bring thousands of students to Broadway, to experience – and learn from – the history, grandeur, and just plain fun of live theatre.
As a teaching artist, Peter has worked with school districts in Westchester and New Jersey to create theatre residencies and theatrical productions. For the sixth grade and the third grade in the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow school district, Peter has created theatre residencies bringing stories and historical events to life on stage with the students; he has taken these residencies to districts in Westchester and New Jersey. In 2012/2013, Peter was asked by Disney Theatrical to the first public school production of their new adaptations, The Lion King KIDS and The Lion King, Jr.
As a writer, Peter Royston is the author of over 50 study guides for Broadway, Off-Broadway, touring and regional productions, including The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon (co-author) and. Les Miserables (co-author). He is the creator of the award-winning study guide and educational program for the 2004 Broadway production of Sly Fox, by Larry Gelbart, which brought together the disparate worlds of the educational community, Broadway theatre, and the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art (MOCCA).
Read more at: https://peterroyston.wordpress.com/about/