Combining Art and Drama in the Classroom–Pageant of the Masters

andrea

By Andrea Maurer, Kindergarten Teacher

Snap the Whip! One of the paintings we acted out in our pageant.
Snap the Whip by Homer Winslow, one of the paintings we portrayed in our pageant.

I’m Andrea Maurer and this is my 22nd year of teaching. I’m so lucky to be in a career that I can be creative and share arts integration across the content areas. I’m thrilled to be sharing some ideas with you on ereaderstheater.com.

One of my teacher friends, Marci Ruiz, had a brilliant idea to combine drama and art in the classroom after attending the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. where they brilliantly stage reenactments of famous pieces of art, with costumed models standing in front of a painted background. The pageant is often described as “living pictures” because the staging looks almost identical to the original painting. Marci recreated the pageant “Kindergarten Style.” She researched the paintings she wanted to portray. She sought parent help to costume the students and with parent help, students painted the background of the paintings. On show day, the students would stand perfectly still in front of the painted canvas and portray the piece of art.  The students brought the painting to life by performing a short skit.

I borrowed the original concept from Marci. My teaching partner, Rachel Fessler, and I  decided to create a “Children in Art” theme, in which most of the sculptures and paintings have to do with children. We are happy to share this exciting project with you.

The cast of The Cider Mill
The cast of The Cider Mill

The Paintings/Backdrops
First, I did an Internet search for “children in famous paintings.” I found a great selection of artwork that represented children:

The Cider Mill by John George Brown
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_George_Brown
The Fourteen Year Old Dancer by Edgar Degas
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Dancer_of_Fourteen_Years
Getting Ready for School by John Falter
http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/artists-gallery/saturday-evening-post-cover-artists/john-falter-art-gallery
Trick-or-Treating in the Burbs by John Falter
http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2009/10/24/art-entertainment/beyond-the-canvas-art-entertainment/trick-treat.html
Retrato de Ignacio Sanchez and Child with Calla Lily by Diego Rivera
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diego_Rivera
Snap the Whip by Winslow Homer
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snap_the_Whip
4 Ring Around the Roses by Edward Henry Potthast
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Henry_Potthast
The Thinker by Augustus Rodin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thinker

Framing the Art
We found an 8×8-foot wooden frame in the back of our school stage. It was the perfect size to hold our canvases in place. I used white, brown, and black butcher paper to make the background canvases.

When the paper is mounted to the frame, sketch the painting with a light pencil mark. You can use an opaque projector to project the art. The students can paint the background with sponges. I find it best to let them sponge paint the large portions and have the volunteers add details and outlines to the paintings.

Use paper plates and sponges to paint the background. It doesn't have to be perfect!
Use paper plates and sponges to paint the background. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
Kindergarteners are busy painting the background. We sketched it in and they are sponge painting the background.
Kindergarteners are busy painting the background. We sketched it in and they are sponge painting the background.
Finished product!
The finished product!
All done and ready to mount on the frame.
All done and ready to mount on the frame.
Painting the background and stapling it to the frame.
Painting the background and stapling it to the frame.

The Costumes/Props
Print a copy  of each painting and make a master inventory of what costumes and props you need. Check to see what you already costumes and props you already have and  ask parents for donations. A parent volunteer could be the costume mistress to coordinate this part of the play. Goodwill Stores are always a great source of costumes and props.

Snap the Whip--look at the print of the painting and see how close we got!
Snap the Whip–look at the print of the painting and see how close we got!
Homer Winslow would be so proud of these little Snap the Whip boys.
Homer Winslow would be so proud of these little Snap the Whip boys.
The boys get ready for Snap the Whip.
The boys get ready for Snap the Whip.
Applying makeup for the Cider Mill. The girls love this part of the process.
Applying makeup for the Cider Mill. The girls love this part of the process.
My Calla Lily ladies getting ready.
My Calla Lily ladies getting ready.
Calla Lily Child
Calla Lily Child

The Script
It is important to expose your students to the artists and paintings through the Internet, books, songs, and poems. I like to project the paintings and we discuss the paintings to begin the project. We create a word web for each painting. We discuss the characters, setting, and what they think is happening in the painting. The students write a narrative piece and a non-fiction script on a single event from the painting as a group. We had two students work together to narrate what they learned about their artist and painting. Mrs. Fessler’s first graders were the narrators.

The Skits

We showed both paintings here.
We showed both paintings here. Retracto and Child with Calla Lilly. Students stay still then act out a skit and song.

Unlike the Pageant of the Masters where the people in the paintings stand still, the characters in our presentation actually do come to life. Each group or art piece of children has a short performance. We rang a little bell to begin the skit and then to cue the students to return to their position.

I like to integrate a poem, a song, a phrase, or a dance for each painting. These are my suggestions for each art piece that I used:

  • The Cider Mill –Students sang the poem I Love All Apples.
  • The Fourteen Year Old Dancer –Students danced to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
  • Getting Ready for School —Students recited the poem Going to School
  • Trick-or-Treating in the Burbs –Students danced to the song, The Monster Mash
  • Retrato de Ignacio Sanchez and Child with Calla Lily –Students performed the Mexican Hat Dance
  • Snap the Whip — Students learned a handclap to the tune of Miss Mary Mack. The students replaced some of the words with their own.
  • 4 Ring Around the Roses –Students sang Ring Around the Rosie
  • The Thinker —Students expressed what they think about. I use the sentence frame: I am thinking about _____________.

The Music

Students stand perfectly still and act out the painting.
Students stand perfectly still and act out the painting. The Monster Mash was the music selection for this painting of Trick or Treating in the Burbs.

Begin by thinking of songs that you can integrate with each painting to make it a total experience. I only used about 15 seconds of music for the screen to go up and down. While the audience was waiting, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Spring was playing.
Here is the music I played while the curtain was going up and down for each art piece:

The Cider Mill — Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (The Andrew Sisters)
The Fourteen Year Old Dancer  —The Nutcracker, Op.71: No. 2 March (Tchaikovsky)
Getting Ready for School —This is the Way We Go To School
Trick-or-Treating in the Burbs– The Monster Mash
Retrato de Ignacio Sanchez and Child with Calla Lily — La Granja  (Jose-Luis Orozco)
Snap the Whip —You’ve Got a Friend in Me
4 Ring Around the Roses — Here We Go Loopty Loo
The Thinker —If I Only Had a Brain

A little ballerina acting out the Degas painting.
A little ballerina acting out the Degas statue.

Slideshow
Gather all the images of the paintings. Put the images in a slideshow to project from your computer. You can use a projector to display the image on a screen in front of the students. At our school we have a screen that goes up and down automatically, but you can have a sheet on a pole with two older students raising and lowering it.

This is the painting being projected In front of the students. The screen lifts up.
This is the painting being projected in front of the students. The screen lifts up to reveal the students.

Tips and Ideas for Putting It All Together
Backstage: We used clamps from the 99 Store to hold the paintings onto the front of the 8×8-foot frame. As the art piece was done, we unclamped it and let it fall then pulled it to the back of the stage so the next piece was ready to go.

Show Organization

  • Narrators read about the painting and artist as an introduction to the art.
  • Music turns on, screen goes up (or down).
  • Music turns off, ring bell.
  • Students perform the skit.
  • Ring bell again for the students to resume their positions.
  • Music turns back, screen goes down (or up).

If you truly believe in celebrating the arts in your classroom, this presentation is so worth the time  and effort.  Starting from painting the backgrounds to learning their skit or narration to standing still on stage, my students had a learning experience they will never forget! And really isn’t that what teaching is all about?

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