CAPE Classrooms: The Colors of Your Love at Waters Elementary

 In Michelle Green Arnson, The CAPE Blog

CAPE Classrooms is our series highlighting great work from our programs across Chicago.

On a cold afternoon in February, parents, siblings, friends, and school faculty crowded in and took their seats in the wide hallway outside Room 208 at Waters Elementary in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. They were all there to watch a performance by the students in CAPE’s after-school drama class. The photos below tell the story of their project.


Second grade teacher Olga Johnson and CAPE teaching artist Alexander Starr kicked off their second year of co-teaching in SCALE, CAPE’s after-school program. Before beginning their new after-school project together, the pair and their fellow CAPE teachers and teaching artists at Waters participated in professional development sessions that helped them articulate goals and make plans for the school year ahead.


Olga and Alex knew they wanted to incorporate literature, world culture, and trickster tales into their students’ theater work, explaining,

“For hundreds of years trickster tales have been created in societies around the world and passed on generation to generation.  As entertaining flawed characters they also represent positive and important lessons in how to practically live within the community.  In one way tricksters are crafty and manipulative, the rogues of their society. Yet through the journey represented in each tale, tricksters acquire positive behaviors to create a better place for themselves and those within their community.”

Olga and Alex began their project by reading books, playing theater games, and exploring stories from around the globe with their 20 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade students. One day, a student came into class with her own original trickster tale, and plans began to change…


“Initially, we had planned on exploring traditional trickster stories from around the world, and then create masked performances of some of them.  After we saw how many students had been motivated to share their own trickster tales with the class, we felt that their original and creative work needed to be the final performance.” – Olga and Alex

The students began writing individually and in groups, performing each other’s work in the classroom, while also creating a dramatization of Jabuti the tortoise, a trickster tale from Brazil, in which everyone could take part.

Finally, the big day arrived! It was important to the students that their parents understand the writing, storytelling, and performing processes they’d been exploring with Olga and Alex, and so they began by teaching several theater games to their parents and explaining how those games had contributed to their performances.

Once everyone had warmed up, played, and laughed together, the students performed several of their original trickster tales in small groups and then took questions from the audience about their stories and performances.

And then it was time for the big show! The students acted and sang The Colors of Your Love, telling the story of Jabuti the trickster tortoise, a very mean vulture, the price of jealousy, and how to forgive. Every student had a role to play and even the shyest were smiling proudly throughout the performance, particularly when their play concluded to tremendous applause from the dozens of audience members…

This is just one of the many after-school classes that are part of CAPE’s SCALE program.  SCALE supports pairs of teachers and teaching artists as they work to weave together the arts and other academic areas in an after-school setting, which allows the educators and the students greater flexibility and freedom than they often experience during the school day.

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