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Finding Their Voice Through Theatre

As ArtsEmerson student employees and Theatre Education graduate students at Emerson College, Kristy Mandour and Alyssa Mulligan jointly taught an extracurricular theatre course at Citizen Schools in Roslindale this past semester. Here is Alyssa’s reflection on the experience.

By Alyssa Mulligan

“What do YOU have to say?” Kristy Mandour and I proclaimed, as the group of new faces blinked back at us. Through an association between Alyssa CSArtsEmerson and Citizen Schools, Kristy and I found ourselves at Irving Middle School teaching a ten-week Theatre Apprenticeship to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. “We want to hear YOUR voice,” we pressed on. We explained that instead of providing scripts for them to act out, they would have the challenging task of creating original material. Then at the end of the ten weeks, they would perform their original pieces for the Citizen Schools’ WOW! Performance. Our enthusiasm for the project was met with a variety of reactions: nervous excitement, mild indifference, and also straight-up resistance. We realized that in order for this to be a success, we would need to both expand their theatre skill-set and help build their self-confidence.

We started each session with exercises to warm-up their body, voice, and mind. Then we began activities to help them learn about character, projection, Kristy CSsetting, ensemble-work, and more. The students learned new theatre terminology, like “monologue,” “objective,” and “improvisation.” Another word that we delved into was “Metamorphosis,” inspired by the performance of ArtsEmerson’s Farfalle that they would be attending in May. They utilized the theme of metamorphosis as a jumping off point to write their own monologues. Each of their characters experienced a life-altering change, just like a caterpillar to a butterfly. 

Week after week, the students’ confidence in their work continued to grow. They started taking bolder risks in both their acting and written work. And they began to trust us more, and in turn, trust in themselves. Meanwhile, Kristy and I were fortunate to see our Theatre Education graduate studies in action. It was a wonderful balance of give and take: we guided their journey, as much as they shaped ours.

The Citizen Schools’ WOW! Performance is drawing near. And the reality is that Alyssa CS2once the students are met with a large audience, they might get cold feet or forget a line. That’s the beauty of live theatre: you never know what may happen. But for me, it doesn’t matter if they are word-perfect or even the next Marlon Brando. It has been a successful experience, and the proof is in the process, not the product. The students crafted their own voices, and we heard what they had to say. And that is an incredible thing.

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