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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spinning Dot: spotlight on a community partner

A scene from "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing."

It's important to us, as educators and as a community, that our children grow up understanding the value of different points of view, different cultural perspectives, and different kinds of people. Starting in kindergarten, we look actively for experiences that will open the students' imaginations to embrace concepts of otherness and see them as opportunities for learning. (For a lovely glimpse of children connecting with a story from another place and time, take a look at Imogen's latest post. Shiyu provides another example here.)

When Spinning Dot Theatre first formed, just over a year ago, Jenny Koppera and I connected immediately over our love of theatre, education, and global awareness. Jenny was as thrilled with Summers-Knoll as I was with her brilliant ideas for her fledgling theatre company, and she immediately started working with our team to bring workshop performances of her productions-in-progress into the school so that our students could help develop the work through their reactions and feedback. The relationship was magical from the beginning.

Spinning Dot is a company committed to bringing plays and stories from around the world to their audiences, specifically with the goal of deepening global connections. What better way to engage a child's heart and mind (serendipitously the subject of Karl's blog this week) in grappling with new ideas and unfamiliar cultures than through rich, adventurous, theatrical storytelling? Like fiction and poetry, theatre develops empathy, involving the children emotionally with characters and narratives that may come from all around the world, but speak to them with voices that matter here and now. If theatre is a gym for compassion (not my phrase, I can't remember where I heard that), theatre that brings global stories alive is a gym for cultural empathy. It develops muscles of inclusion, understanding and emotional memory, bonding ideas together.

Most recently, Spinning Dot brought us their one-person production of Sedna, an Inuit tale of the goddess of the sea, developed by artist-in-residence Kelly Joyce Fielder. It's a moving, haunting, spectacular piece of dramatic storytelling, set inside a muslin tent that simulates an igloo. Only a small audience can fit inside the tent, so Sedna was performed three times, once for each of our early childhood classes, so that the children could experience the magical intimacy of the story. With shadows and projections on the white fabric, haunting music, puppets and inventive lighting, the story enveloped the children on all sides and held them absolutely spellbound. You may have already seen Val's and Elaine's blog posts on the subject. The artistic seeds planted through an experience like that are incalculable. You can see a small patchwork of images from Sedna here, though it doesn't capture the breathtaking magic of the show.

I'm thrilled to say that this is far from the last we'll be seeing of Spinning Dot. In January they are coming back to share their production "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing" with all our students. (I've seen it, it's astonishing.) They will perform separately for the older and the younger halves of the school, and will follow up their performances with workshops with the students. We're also looking forward to being able to preview other new productions-in-process and be a useful (we hope) part of the artistic development of their work.

Spinning Dot Theatre is one example of the many inspiring organizations and individuals we are lucky enough to connect with, and who generously share their time and expertise with our children. These connections and experiences have become so seamlessly interwoven with our learning that we take them as normal, but the educational layers they add to our process are myriad. Whether it's a visiting artist, a field trip host, or an act of neighborliness that advances our students' process, I want to thank all of them for the doorways out into the endlessly eye-opening world that they offer to the children.

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