“It was a story of love. It was a story of war. It was a story of…of…I forget.”
Laughter and applause filled the room while the fourth grade students brought history to life, led by narrator Homer, with their version of The Odyssey for the annual fourth grade musical. Combining curriculum and drama, it was a highly entertaining and educational experience for students and audience members alike.
As a part of the fourth grade history curriculum, students learn about ancient civilizations. A play has always been a part of the curriculum, but the production has evolved through the years. For the last ten years, the students have performed the widely adored Mythical Musical. Last summer fourth grade teacher Matthew Fasano took on the task on writing a brand new show. “Mr. Fasano had wanted to do a new show for some time now and I was all for it,” said Barbara Haney, Lower School Division Head. Mr. Fasano was inspired by a group of students from the previous year’s class who wrote a song while studying The Odyssey, and he followed that direction. “It’s a funny re-telling of a story the students study each year,” Mr. Fasano explains. This group of students was enthusiastic to take on the task of something new.
“I was excited and sort of nervous when we found out it would be different,” Allegra, a fourth grade student, commented. “Our class got to do a lot of new things this year.” This fourth grade class has not only been the cast to debut “Noble Odysseus: Destroyer of Troy,” but they also had an added choral concert and were “the first fourth grade class to ever have a tie in the Athens/Sparta Debate.” Allegra beamed with pride.
Students received their scripts the day before winter break and started rehearsals as soon as they returned. After the initial read through, Mr. Fasano and along with Hayeun Kim, the other fourth grade teacher, cast each role for the entire class, and the real work began. The students began weekly rehearsals, worked on costume and set design, and new choreography.
After months of hard work, the fourth grade, clad in togas and armor and gladiator sandals debuted The Odyssey to their peers and families. The student actors captivated the audience with engaging connections to their characters. “They really took it on as their own--the humor they brought to it and the dancing was just fantastic,” Ms. Haney exclaimed after the performance.
Parent reactions mirrored the student’s excitement. “Noble Odysseus: Destroyer of Troy” was a hit.
The production is a team effort, and not just among the students. Music Coordinator, Ms. Abrams collaborates with Mr. Fasano on the music; adapting “The Monster Mash” for Noble Odysseus: Destroyer of Troy along with the new songs created for this show. Art Teacher, Ms. O'Mara creates sets, Middle School Dance Teacher, Ms. Culhane, choreographs the dance numbers and Drama Teacher, Ms. Sterman-Jones lends her expertise on the acting, and the students create their own costumes.
Fourth graders read The Odyssey throughout the year, and the play has helped them to deepen their understanding of the work and enjoy this part of the curriculum. Harper, a student in Mr. Fasano’s class, commented, “We may have a quiz on the book at some point in reading group, but it’s easier to follow along now.” Ms. Haney also teaches one of the reading groups and noted that since the students had a chance to act it out before finishing the book, they were able to visualize it better, “The new play really helps the students understand the history and the story.”
Aside from enriching the curriculum, creating a play is an opportunity for community building. “They get to work together and support each other,” Mr. Fasano explains. “Even if drama isn't their thing, it's an important exercise to work together on one product. It takes a lot of time but they learn a lot and their imaginations just run wild.”
Mr. Fasano intends eventually to have a few plays for the fourth grade to cycle through, so as not to have the same musical each year. But next year’s fourth grade will have their chance to perform Noble Odysseus: Destroyer of Troy in the winter.The first showing was a wild success and the fourth grade journey through The Odyssey is far from over.