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Readers’ theater serves up smiles

by Luanne Williams

It’s hard to say who is more excited when Barbara Pann’s Oral Interpretation class shows up at an area elementary school – the children in the audience or the Wingate University students prepped for their readers’ theater performance.

Unlike a typical play, in readers’ theater actors don’t memorize their lines or use elaborate sets and costumes. Instead they focus on vocal expression to help the audience understand the story.

“This experience was by far one of my favorites since I’ve been here at Wingate University,” says music education major Ariel Ray. “It was such a wonderful experience to see the faces of these kids light up, and to see their different reactions to our stories. You could tell they loved the interaction; and as a future teacher, I loved being in this environment.”

Pann’s classes began giving interpretive readings in elementary schools in February. To prepare for recent performances at Wingate Elementary and East Elementary, Ray reviewed her lines multiple times. She says she tried to make each one exciting by adding movement and vocal changes. And she spent time trying to rethink the stories from a child’s perspective.

“As I grew older so did my sense of humor, so I had to take a step back and think about what would and would not be entertaining and comprehensible for the children,” she says.

Pann says the 18 students in her spring Communication 350 course are mostly communication majors. She wants them to work on language skills and voice inflection. But she also has another goal in mind in offering up the performances of fractured fairy tales for young audiences.

Wingate Elementary second-graders get a giggle out of a theatrical reading of fractured fairy tales during a recent performance by Barbara Pann’s Oral Interpretation class.

“I want them to feel the elation that actors feel when they get applause,” Pann says. She knows that some of her students have never been on stage.

Even those, like Ray, who have been in theater productions their whole lives have found new inspiration in the elementary classroom.

“There is no audience quite like that full of children,” Ray says. “Even when there were mess-ups, there’s something about performing for a child that is much more forgiving and understanding.”

Pann’s students have performed “Stone Soup,” Robert Munsch’s “The Paper Bag Princess” and other children’s stories that have unexpected twists. Pann has been happy to see such positive responses.

“I asked my students for feedback about what they got out of the events, and several of them wrote ‘smiles,’” Pann says.

Ray agrees: “The kids were so well-behaved, and when they laughed and smiled it truly put an immense amount of joy in my soul.”

This won’t be the only opportunity the Oral Interpretation class gets to showcase their skills. At the end of the semester, Pann usually stages a Lyceum for all her performance classes.