Whittier fourth-graders design, perform play for school community

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Whittier Elementary fourth-grader Brady Schanken approached his teacher, Caitlin Florek, with a proposal last fall: he wanted to spend his 15 minutes of quiet time in class writing a play.

She agreed, kicking off the start of a class-wide, student-led production that has stretched over several months and been embraced by his classmates, Whittier teachers and parents, and Otterbein University.

“All I did was say, ‘Yeah, you can do the play,’ and it just took off,” Florek said.

On May 20, Florek’s fourth-graders will perform “The Quest to Find Kindness,” which Schanken wrote with fellow classmates, Josephine Cam and Ava Hatmacher, for the entire school. 

“I’m excited for everybody to come watch it and see us perform,” Hatmacher said.

While Florek worked with students on editing the script and creating monthly goals to put the play together, she said the production is completely student-driven. 

Once she shared her edits with Schanken, he followed up with Principal A.J. Hoffman; Erica Sypek, another teacher; and Yani Owens, the school psychologist, to review their play, which is dedicated to lessons the school had on kindness at the beginning of the year. 

“I wanted it to teach a moral of how to be kind and how there are nice people in the world who are willing to help people and how you should help people,” Schanken said.

He handed the script to the music teacher, Andrea Avers, who helped with the microphones they would use while on stage. He, Cam and Hatmacher met with art teacher Summer Weinheimer on designing the set backdrops and props. Their classmates volunteered to help, with two students cataloging and designing all the costumes needed. Another student wrote music with his guitar teacher that he will perform for the play.

Parents have also volunteered, helping donate materials and create props.

Tom Carter, Whittier’s physical education teacher and Otterbein alum, reached out to the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance to connect with Florek’s class. A college professor and theater students provided lessons on projecting and how to add actions while delivering lines. During a tour of the university’s Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall, Whittier students got a behind-the-scenes look at how a theatre operates and learned about staging and props.

“I’m really, really excited because we’ve come so far and we’ll be able to get ready and be able to do it,” Schanken said.

With the performance date approaching, Florek has dedicated some time during class, if students maintain good behavior, to run through the play. Monday’s practice served as the first time students practiced without a script.

“It makes me feel really excited just seeing how our whole class has memorized their lines,” Hatmacher said. “Someone has 54 lines and she did every single one without using a script. I think that’s really neat.”

Students said they’ve learned more than putting a play together from the experience.

“A lot of people think the play isn’t learning but it teaches us on how to work like a team,” Schanken said. “It’s really cool that we can have other people in our class do different jobs. We couldn’t do it without everyone. We needed every person to make the play happen.”