Striking it Rich: Gold Rush Plays at Berkeley Arts Magnet

How did 30 fourth graders at Berkeley Arts Magnet collaboratively work on writing a script, auditioning and performing a play successfully? With a lot of time, practice and guidance from their teacher, Ms. Madhuvanti Khare.

This month, Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) fourth graders performed two plays set during the Gold Rush and we were lucky enough to attend a dress rehearsal. Ms. Khare has been supported by Classroom Grants from the Schools Fund for the past 20 years to hold an annual production with her classes.

The process started months prior with the students choosing a book to adapt into a play. This year’s class chose “Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants,” a humorous tall tale about how Levi Strauss came to the aid of Gold Rush miners who had nothing but barrels to wear for clothes! They also chose a graphic novel, “Levi Strauss and Blue Jeans” which provided a more accurate biography.

The class cleverly chose to present both stories, one after the other, so that the audience is first humored by the outrageous tall tale but also learns the real story. After the books were chosen, Ms. Khare next projected a transcription of all the dialogue in the books, so that students could see the baseline script for their play. The students then added lines to the script where they felt like more context or explanation was needed.

Once the scripts were finalized, Ms. Khare arranged for not just one, but three table readings so that students could play different roles and get a feel for which role they wanted. The students then filled out a preference sheet and ranked their top 3 roles and every student was able to get a role they wanted.

Ms. Khare organized daily rehearsals so that students felt comfortable and well prepared for their roles. Like a sports coach, she even videotaped their in-class rehearsal so that students can see themselves through the audience’s perspective and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their performance.

All of the practice and preparation leading up to the actual performance brought a noticeable change in the students. Ms. Khare elaborates, “Students gained confidence through performing and they learned how to work as a team. They practiced how to be supportive and patient, they practiced being an audience and they learned how to maintain poise and composure under pressure. I am very proud of them.”

The result was a strong performance with the students demonstrating ease with their lines and stage cues. It was impressive to witness the focused and intentional actors and how their stories shone through.

The process wasn’t finished with the curtain call however, as the class watched a video recording of their performance the very next day. It gave them an opportunity to reflect on the performance, with students saying things like, “Next time, we should do this!” To Ms. Khare, this was the most valuable part of the process—for students to realize that growth is always possible and ongoing.

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