Queen’s Grant drama and dance field trips expose students to “real life” performing arts

Mills' dance students in front of the Charlotte Ballet.
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During the month of February, Queen’s Grant Theater and Dance Teacher Elizabeth Mills organized three separate field trips for Queen’s Grant’s budding performing artists.  

Dance students visit the Charlotte Ballet

On February 8, students from Mills’ dance program attended a performance of Innovative Works at the Charlotte Ballet.  The program featured three entirely new contemporary ballets choreographed by Myles Thatcher, Robyn Mineko Williams, and Charlotte Ballet’s own Residential Choreographer Sasha Janes.  The performances took place in a small, 200-seat theater that allowed the audience to be in close proximity to the dancers.  The students also had the benefit of attending a talk-back session following the performance.

This is the second year Mills has organized a field trip to the Charlotte Ballet.  Last year, the group from Queen’s Grant saw Sleeping Beauty.  Mills chose Innovative Works in part because it was a different kind of performance.  “I thought that I might go back and forth and do one that’s really well-known and traditional one year, and then the next year do something more modern and current,” says Mills, noting that many students participate in the dance program for several years in a row.

Mills wanted to show her students a different type of ballet, but initially, she was unsure how the ultra-modern choreography of Innovative Works would be received.  “I was afraid they wouldn’t really know what they were watching . . . I wasn’t sure how much they would understand,” says Mills.  “Since I’m a teacher, I’ve seen a lot of dances.  I’m used to watching them and critiquing them and comparing them.”

However, Mills was pleasantly surprised by how much her students drew from the performance.  “I think they enjoyed it last year, but they loved this,” says Mills, noting that they spent half of the next class period analyzing the ballets.  “They had so much to say,” says Mills.  “They were making guesses about what the choreographer was trying do.”

Seeing a live, contemporary ballet even inspired renewed interest in Mills’ dance program  “They’re already talking about next year,” she says, noting that some of her Dance 2 students are talking about taking Dance 3 next year after the performance.  “It’s making them want to come back and take more.”

After Innovative Works, students had the opportunity to explore Imaginon.

Theater students view Our Town

Mills’ theater students at the Triad Stage in Winston-Salem.

On Thursday, February 22, Mills took a group of theater students to see a performance of Our Town at the Triad Stage in Winston-Salem.  The group included students from Mills’ theater classes as well as members of Queen’s Grant’s Thespian Society and students who have participated in theater initiatives outside of the school day.

“I really wanted them to see something professional,” says Mills.  “I knew the Charlotte Ballet was there for the dancers, so I was trying to find some equivalent for the theater students.”

Last year, Mills brought her theater classes to see a production at Matthews Playhouse, but the production they saw there wasn’t exactly what Mills was looking for.  “Most of the audience was elementary school; many of the actors were elementary school students,” says Mills.  “It was definitely worth doing, but I wanted them to see adults performing.”

By virtue of a happy coincidence, Mills students were able to see techniques they are currently studying in class used in Our Town.  “The Theater 2s were really impressed because the director of the show had decided to use almost no props,” says Mills, whose Theater 2 students are in the middle of a unit on pantomime.  “They keep talking about how amazing these actors were at pantomime.  That was cool that they could see something they’ve been learning about in class in the real world.”

For Mills, the experience of seeing live, professional productions is vital to the study of theater.  “I can talk about the theater all day long,” says Mills, “but until they’ve seen a professional show, they don’t exactly understand what I’m talking about.”  Just like Mills’ dance students, many of her theater students are talking about taking Theater 3 next year so they can go on the field trip again.

Theater students participate in ASU theater workshops

Mills’ theater students with the Founder’s Bell at Appalachian State University.

On Saturday, February 24, Mills’ theater students participated in a full day of theater workshops at Appalachian State University.

The theater workshops were taught by ASU theater faculty as well as ASU seniors majoring in theater education.  Students attended sessions on a variety of topics like scene painting, stage combat, dialect, theater games, watercoloring printed costume renderings, playwriting, creating a character, and movement for actors.  Mills herself attended a workshop on Commedia, an Italian improvised theater form that she’ll be teaching in her Theater 2 class this spring.

This is the first time students from Queen’s Grant have attended ASU’s theater workshops.  “I like that this was an opportunity for them to learn from and interact with college faculty and to be taking classes in things that I might not be as comfortable teaching,” says Mills.  Additionally, Mills feels her students drew benefit from spending time with one another and other “theater kids.”

Mills hopes to participate in ASU’s theater workshops again next year.  “They loved it,” she says.  “It’s the best response I’ve ever had.”

Mills’ theater students in front of Chapell Wilson Hall at Appalachian State University
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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: marybeth@minthilltimes.com