NYCCT Teaching Artist, Meghan Grover, takes us inside the classroom to show us how she uses imaginative play to bring books to life for her students!

The After School Reading Club (ARC) partners with New York City Children’s Theatre to send teaching artists, like myself, to temporary housing shelters to lead the “Literature at Play” program with young people mostly in elementary school. Using a weekly book, we create theatre activities to support language and literacy skills as well as emotional development.

In January, 2019 I began a new residency. I often lead “Literature at Play” sessions with a focus on games and devising, but I found that I was doing most of the talking. I have wanted to shift my focus to imaginative play, centering the participants’ voices, which is an integral part of my pedagogy.

Using the practices from NYCCT’s training, reflections from my other teaching jobs, and my studies with the MA Applied Theatre program at CUNY, I have begun to create a structure in which the young people can express themselves freely through their own personal connections to the material.

Here is a sample of a session with the ARC program:

We have just finished meditation, singing, and movement that has scaffolded the ideas of our book, Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared). The young people jump up and down, “Are we going to start the book now?”

As we read the book, we make personal connections to the text using sounds and gestures. We learn about the character, Nia, who has just been given a turtle, Alfie, for her birthday.

And then…. shock!

We discover that Alfie has disappeared out of his tank… he’s trying to find Nia a birthday gift…

“Where do you think Alfie will go?” I ask the young people.

“CANDY WORLD!” “Toy store!” “The zoo!”

“Okay, friends, let’s become turtles. Where do we begin?” I ask the young people.

“A TURTLE TANK!”

“How do we build it?,” I ask.

The young people begin to move the small couches and chairs so that they surround us. We crouch down in our tank.

“How do turtles look?” I ask.

Some young people tuck their heads into their chests, others inch their head out far away. Another person moves from side to side, “I’m doing a turtle shimmy.”

“Can you teach it to us?” I ask.

We all do the turtle shimmy.

“What are all of your names?”

We learn that there is Tiger, Fluffy and Princess (who are both Ninja turtles), Roam-y, Gummy Bear, and Dolphin (that’s me).

“What do we need to do?” I ask.

“Get out of here and get Nia a birthday present!”

“Let’s break the glass! We are ninja turtles!” Fluffy says and scoots the chairs away so we can all get through.

“Where do we go to get the first gift?”

Gummy Bear Turtle says, “Gummy world!!”

We go on little turtle cars and follow the Gummy Bear Turtle to Gummy world. From there, we dance, get stuck in gummy sugar, eat lots, and nearly get sick. Next we leave for Target where we purchase “L.O.L. toys” and clothing. Then, we go to Marshmallow world where we pile marshmallows on our shells… then we take a plane to Italy.

In Italy, I notice that some of the turtles are running around the room. Calming the energy a bit would support us, so I invite us to all get a delicious plate of pasta, smell the food and blow on it. We slowly breathe in and out for about a minute.

We are more relaxed now, and Princess Turtle leads us in a ten-minute cooking session on how to make the best cake in the world. It has five layers.

We take a plane back home. The support teacher, Ms. M., becomes Nia. Each turtle gives her their gifts. Princess Turtle says, “Nia, you have to make a wish on your cake!”

Nia closes her eyes and says, “My wish is that everyone who wants to gives me a hug… when I open my eyes in 3-2-1…”

Nia opens her eyes, and everyone hugs her!

“Happy birthday!!” we say.

I say, “Let’s go back to our classroom to finish reading the book. How do we get back?”

The young people jump up and say, “Magic!! We are ourselves again!”

We finish reading the book and talk about the differences between our adventure and the book’s adventure.

“I like our story better,” a young person says.

Theatre has the power to transport us into different roles and worlds so that we can make personal connections and meaning, problem solve, and have fun!  I seek these beautiful moments of engagement with drama: when each young person can express themselves, listen to one another, and live in a world from their imaginations where we all value each other’s voices.

I look forward to deepening my practice through my studies and reflection here. I cannot thank NYCCT enough for the opportunity to collaborate with the ARC Program. Thank you!

Meghan Grover

What is the ARC Program?