Studies show that students benefit from live theatre as it enhances literary knowledge, tolerance and empathy amongst learners. But what happens when you push students further, challenging them to become the characters and perform the play themselves? Mrs. Lauren Mauger, a veteran English teacher at Archbishop Carroll, decided to try something new.
Her students would become the actors in the play A Streeetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. Inspired by the collaboration and critical-thinking skills of her sixth-period students, Ms. Mauger took her own background in theatre and changed her lesson plan from a simple auditory classroom reading to an on-stage performance. After all, “theatre is meant to be seen” said Mrs. Mauger. Although many of the students in Mrs. Mauger’s class were not members of Archbishop John Carroll Theatre Society (ACTS) or familiar with live theatre, the students would perform the play in front of the entire senior class.
A project of this magnitude is no small feat, but Mrs. Mauger had a plan. She wanted to showcase the strengths of each individual student and incorporate student choice into the project. Mrs. Mauger asked each student to write down their desired role on a note card. “Once directors were chosen, they then worked with Mrs. Mauger on which students should perform which roles,” explained Zach Butler, who played Stanley Kowalski during scenes 1-3. To ensure everyone had a role in the production, and to not overwhelm a small few with too many lines to memorize, Mrs. Mauger divided the play into four sections. Each section had a different Stanley, Stella, Blanche and director.
The alternating cast was a challenge, but the class responded to this with creativity. “Stella is pregnant throughout the play, so the actress playing Stella is always fanning herself. Stanley, the antagonist, claimed his chair at the head of the table. Blanche, an insecure, aging Southern Belle, was always presented in heels and with a clutch holding her makeup,” noted Mauger.
Student response to the creative assignment was positive. Jess Sulouff said that the last week was a challenge but a learning experience. “Some of us struggled to remember our lines. Unexpected problems came up, but we handled them. We quickly realized that you can’t expect things to always go your way and you need to work together for everything to come together.”
“We were shocked and nervous when we were first told about the assignment. But at the same time, we trusted Mrs. Mauger and were ready to take on the challenge” continued Sulouff, who played Stella Kowalski during scenes 1-3.
Mrs. Mauger was impressed with the insight and hard work of her students. “They tried to understand what motivated each individual character and what prevented them from attaining their goals.”
In the end, two hundred and fifty senior peers watched in awe as their classmates performed the play. “It was incredible watching our friends, who didn’t act, on stage performing. We didn’t know they had it in them!” exclaimed senior Maria Montanez. “I learned that I am able to do more than just be an athlete” noted senior Harlem Jennings. Catherine Sexton loved that the play pushed her step outside her comfort zone and Abby Wright said it is “a lesson she will always remember.”
Well done, Mrs. Mauger. Your creative and memorable assignment was nothing short of magic!