Student Matinee Preview

StageNotes - Make Believe

Education @ Hartford Stage
Student Matinee Preview

By Grace Clark, Education Enrollment and Marketing Coordinator

Paul Heath remembers seeing ghosts and other characters in Hartford Stage’s A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas long before they could fly. It was two decades ago when Heath, then a fourth grade teacher, took his students from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Hartford Stage for its first matinee production of the classic tale.

Education students enjoying a matinee performance. Photo by The Defining Photo
Education students enjoying a matinee performance. Photo by The Defining Photo

“I’ve seen it just get better and better,” said Heath, now a principal at Tatham High School in West Springfield. “This is like a Broadway show.” Hundreds of students from Connecticut and across the region will again have an opportunity to see the production of A Christmas CarolA Story of Christmas, the beloved tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, who discovers the true meaning of the holiday, beginning Tuesday, November 27.

Since summer, school organizers have been furiously securing tickets for this season’s matinees, which commence on Tuesday, October 30, with one of Shakespeare’s greatest history plays. “Henry V gives students the chance to dive into an interesting historical context and offers rich relevance to young people – particularly young people who are learning to lead in our current world,” said Hartford Stage Director of Education Jennifer Roberts. “The play centers on a young leader who, in previous plays, was characterized as immature and unruly. Now as king, he works to unify his country, to inspire an army, and to make choices that affect people in every strata of his society. We watch a young person grow into a leader, despite others’ expectations for him; it is a refreshing reminder of one’s ability to change and correct course, to turn out differently than what everyone might have thought, and to travel a curvy path that leads to one’s full potential.”

In the second half of the season, students will see productions of Dominique Morisseau’s powerful Detroit ’67 on Thursday, March 7, and The Goodale Brothers’ delightful farce Jeeves & Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense” on Wednesday, April 17. Detroit ‘67 takes place during the historic race riots that erupted in that city. Jeeves & Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense,” a play derived from the writings of P.G. Wodehouse, is about Bertie Wooster, wealthy British man with a penchant for telling stories, who decides to stage a one-man show with disastrous results. His loyal valet, Jeeves, steps in to try and save the day.

“It’s a rich season for students,” Roberts said. “They’ll get to experience a range of stories, voices, and styles over the course of the year. These young people are our next generation of theatre-goers.”

Many school principals, teachers and program organizers who have attended Hartford Stage matinees over the years have said Hartford Stage productions leave an indelible mark on students, particularly those who experience live theatre for the first time.

“These plays have had enormous impact on our students – not only in how students have come to appreciate theater or deepened their understanding of the texts, but also in their curiosity about the world and their place within it,” said Amanda Navarra, instructional coach at Manchester High School. “I have had the opportunity time and again to witness students watching a live play for the first time exit the theater with stars in their eyes, captivated by the power of the performance.”

After seeing The Age of Innocence last season, one Manchester student wrote: “I enjoyed [it] so much that I even went out and bought the book the same day. It is a great learning experience to hear the actors talk about how they prepare and it is very interesting to see how the stage changes.”

Heath, who has attended all but one year of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas since its debut in 1997, said the caliber of special effects used to bring the story to life has drastically changed in the past decade, leaving students mesmerized. “Before, [the character of Jacob] Marley just kind of came out of the floor and rose up; now he has wires and flies up…it’s unbelievable seeing the kids’ eyes.” The ghosts now fly and glow in the dark. Heath added, “Not many kids get to see live theatre. All they see are movies, television, and video games. They don’t [normally] see special effects right in front of them.”

In addition to the live theatre experience, educators say Hartford Stage matinees have been instrumental in supporting student experiential learning. “Each year, I work to integrate at least one of the productions into the curriculum so that students have the opportunity to see drama realized,” said Kathleen Koljian, an English and Language Arts teacher at Windham High School. “Their ability to analyze the work and a director’s vision of that work deepens their understanding of the drama.”

Each student matinee production is followed by a talkback with the cast. All teachers and students have access to an online study guide created by the education staff at Hartford Stage. Some classes also have a Hartford Stage teaching artist visit their classroom beforehand to help build context about the production they will see.

“The pre-workshops break down key characters, plot developments, and themes so that the students have some familiarity before seeing the show,” said Carol Gale, a Humanities Teacher at Global Communications Academy in Hartford. “This is particularly helpful before a Shakespearean play where the dialogue can be very challenging or a one-actor play where the action does not carry the plot as easily because all the dialogue and interactions have to be imagined.”

At Tatham High School, teachers create assignments to prepare students for the English dialect and vocabulary of the production and require students to write about the characters. “Not many field trips are truly educational,” said Heath. “This one is – so, it’s really a great experience for our school.”

For more information about student matinee performances for the 2018/19 season, or to make a reservation, please visit or contact Grace Clark at (860) 520-7244 or