Mr. Patrick Derksen, a grade 7 & 8 teacher at Border Valley School, has been using drama and theatre productions as a way to engage students and build meaningful connections with the community.
As a middle years teacher, Mr. Derksen has been able to combine his love for teaching with a lifetime passion for theatre and the performing arts. "I love the kids and I love the staff," says Mr. Derksen, who believes that "in middle school, you've got to think on your feet a little bit more and go with the flow and it's great."
Five years ago he decided to approach his principal with the idea of doing a spring drama, and they've been doing it ever since. Mr. Derksen credits both strong community support and strong administrator support as the reasons for being allowed to continue doing major productions year after year. "They're really supportive and they show up in droves" says Derksen. The success of the spring drama has grown, and it's "really great to see that it can become part of the community fabric," says Derksen. Citing strong community involvement as a key ingredient, Derksen says "I had people in the community sewing dresses and getting me in the local paper," and "the more that you can involve the community in the process, the better it is."
Mr. Derksen finds plays and also write his own plays. He finds that the advantage of writing his own plays is that everyone can be involved. The scripts can also be modified to best suit the wants and needs of the group he's working with. "When I write these plays," he says, "I (often) have specific students in mind for the different parts." Mr. Derksen believes the key to successful school theatre is involving all students. He recalls his own years as a junior high student in a small school and being asked to help write the school play. Developing a script and then acting in the play was so much fun, and it's this same opportunity that he now aims to bring to his students. At Border Valley School, every single student in Grade 7 and 8 is involved in the drama – about half of them are acting and then the rest are doing backstage or promotional work.
When asked why drama is important in the middle years, Mr. Derksen notes that drama can be tied in well with the Manitoba ELA curriculum. "There's lots of different outcomes that you can meet using drama and it’s such a vivid application of those outcomes as well," says Mr. Derksen. He adds that the application of those outcomes becomes real with their "friends and their parents and grandparents coming to actually see what they’ve done." Bringing theatre to life is something the students are very proud of and "gives them a real sense of leadership," says Derksen.
Mr. Derksen's passion for playwriting has enabled him to also reap success beyond our school division. Mr. Derksen has recently become a recognized and published playwright with the Theatrefolk Publishing Company. Theatrefolk publishes plays designed for schools and student performers, and also provides educational theatre resources. His play entitled "A Lighter Shade of Noir"----a spoof on the film noir genre--has already been purchased by people around the world.
When asked about what advice he would give to other rural teachers wanting to develop theatre in their schools, he says "I guess the number one thing is to get everybody involved. So, whether they want to act or not, you find something that they’re responsible for so that they can be a leader and that keeps everybody motivated and working on something."
Border Valley School is looking forward to presenting this year's spring production entitled "Rainbows vs. Bunnies." There will be one official performance of this production, and it will take place at 1:00 pm on Friday, May 8 (note: there will be no evening show this year).
In commenting on the theatre accomplishments of his middle years students, and his recent success as a published playwright, Mr. Derksen astutely notes, "it’s called a play for a reason – you get to play."
[Mr. Patrick Derksen's comments and quotations in this article were taken from a Theatrefolk podcast interview--Episode 126: Middle School Theatre in a Rural Community. To listen to the entire podcast interview, see http://www.theatrefolk.com/podcast/middle-school-theatre-in-a-rural-community/ or click on the graphic below.]
See also the below photos of the Border Valley School production of "A Lighter Shade of Noir."