Photo: Susan Michaud’s second grade class explores their emotions with Portland Stage

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Bath, ME (May 20, 2021) – The Portland Stage PLAY Program brought performing arts into Dike-Newell School this month through virtual dramatic reading and an acting workshop that had students out of their chairs and exploring their emotions.

Portland Stage actors brought four children’s books to life in their dramatic reading performance: Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris, The Happy Book by Andy Rash, Kevin the Unicorn: It’s not all Rainbows by Jessika Von Innerebner, and Boxitects by Kim Smith.

“All of our PLAY series have a common theme and we pick books surrounding that theme,” said Portland Stage Education Director Hannah Cordes. “This spring, our theme was Big Feelings: Processing & Expressing Emotions. We thought it was an appropriate theme given all the big feelings that students have been holding and handling during the pandemic. These books honor the fact that it is ok to not be ok and helps students think about how they can support each other through all their big feelings!”

After watching the performances, students in Susan Michaud’s second grade classroom turned on their laptops and introduced themselves to Portland Stage Education Administrator Julianne Shea and Professional Teaching Artist René Johnson, who portrayed the main character in Ambitious Girl.

Shea and Johnson lead the class in a discussion of the performances that began with each student opening their imaginary actor’s toolbox. Inside they found “voice candies” that allowed them to talk like the book characters, sunglasses that allowed them to see different places in the books, and a body suit that allowed them to share the feelings of the characters. With each new tool from their imaginary box, students became more involved, jumping out of their chairs when they felt the success of teamwork in Boxitects, and hanging down their heads when they felt the sadness of Clam, a character from The Happy Book.

“Elementary school students are in such an important developmental stage where they are figuring out who they are and how they express themselves,” said Cordes. “Talking about feelings, how we express them, how they can sometimes be hard and confusing. How we help each other through big feelings is huge steppingstone for their self-discovery.”

“This was definitely a big hit for our kids,” shared Michaud. “I saw some students who usually don’t participate in activities like this fully participating. When I asked them what they thought, they said, ‘We love it.’ ”

Cordes said it has been “a joy and a privilege” to be able to work with students remotely throughout the pandemic. She hopes the PLAY Program helps students feel more connected to storytelling and books, and inspires them to use their voices, bodies, and imaginations to bring characters and stories to life.