Octorara students were given a unique opportunity this summer to express themselves. Saskia Blaha, a 2006 graduate of Octorara and current theater major at N.Y.U., organized and ran a Summer Theater Workshop for elementary and middle school students.Blaha said something inside compelled her to use all that she has learned so far to hopefully inspire someone else while she was home from school this summer. "These kids are at a really impressionable age where you can really spark something," she said.
The week was jam-packed with drama-related activities including free dancing, music, making costumes, props, and masks, learning stage directions, and writing scripts. The big finale for the week was a project-sharing day on Friday.
Earlier in the week each of the students chose a favorite character from a favorite story and tried to absorb that character, whether through the way they move, the way they live, or through their appearance. The final project was a play performed by the students in small groups. Using their characters, each group produced an original script and acted it out in front of the families and friends.
"The kids had to be really creative and had a lot of fun doing it," Blaha said. "It was a really intense week and we had a great group with really wonderful ideas. Their genuine creativity each day and willingness to try something new was wonderful."
Throughout the week, Blaha had the help of her sister, Geneva Blaha, Melissa Brun, and Gary Niles. They each brought something unique to the experience.
The students (divided by grade into morning and afternoon sessions) began each day with series of warm-ups, stretching, dancing, and singing. They also were taken on a fantasy carpet ride each day, during which each student would lay flat on the floor, close their eyes, and imagine they were flying through the air and landing wherever the director lead them.
The purpose of this exercise was to relax their minds after the intense exercise portion of the workshop. For many of the children, this daily activity was their favorite part of the week.
Blaha and her volunteer assistants taught the children about tempo, music, and energy, and also about the history of the theater, including Ancient Greet, Asian, Shakespearean, Contemporary, and Broadway theater. Blaha will be traveling to Shanghai this fall to study Chinese Opera Theater, and if she is able to hold the program again next summer, plans to incorporate more about Asian theater into the lessons.
On the day of the final project, the students began the program by performing a song. Their performances were certainly one-of-a-kind, with seemingly unthinkable blends of characters, like Peter Pan, Batman, and Mary Poppins performing in the same play.
Blaha said for most of the students it was their first time ever singing and performing in front of a live audience. "That they were able to do that after only a week says a lot about their growth," she said. "They have in turn inspired me."