Messages Across Time and Imagination
By Aurelia Clunie, Education Associate for Student Audiences
What is the Postcards Exchange? If you visit the theater’s upper lobby, a display will answer this question: The Postcards Exchange “is a question and answer exchange between 4th and 5th grade West Hartford students and artists and actors from Hartford Stage.” For nine years, Hartford Stage has participated in this “artful dialogue between Actor and Audience.” Guided by West Hartford teacher Cheryl Stidolph, fourth and fifth grade students in enrichment programs at West Hartford Elementary Schools take an in-depth look at a play by studying the source text, characters, and script. Each student is assigned a character from the stage adaptation on which to focus. They then develop questions for the characters and send them to actors in the show. The dialogue is self-described as “artful” because students also design the images that are used on the front of the postcards. Throughout the years, these students have employed various techniques including collage, silhouette, and puppet-making.
The students participating this year hail from Morley and Norfeldt Elementary Schools. They read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and watch an animated version to familiarize themselves with the story. They also read Michael Wilson’s stage adaptation and compare the adaptation to the original. They look to see which characters have been cut or added for this staged version. The students then participate in workshops taught by Hartford Stage teaching artists to gain a deeper sense of the world of the play. Through drama exercises, students imagine the climate of life in Victorian England, as well as the need for forgiveness and the spirit of giving embodied by the story. Concurrent with these dramaturgical explorations, the students design the postcards and draft questions for their pen pal characters.
Actors respond in character, sometimes as artistically as their young counterparts. Actors decorate postcards, and sometimes write full letters in response. Actor Noble Shorpshire, who plays Jacob Marley and Ms. Dilber says, “The postcard questions are almost always unexpected in their innocent probity, which may send you on a fool’s quest or deep into character, history and culture, the discoveries of which are often surprising…”
Postcards to Charles Dickens will be on display in the upper lobby December 4 through 27.