Teacher Feature: Two Year Olds Explore Sets & Theater

This week we are featuring a lesson from one of SEEC’s two year old classes. The teachers Melinda Bernsdorf, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt used Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors as inspiration for talking about and designing a theatrical set with their class. After experiencing the Infinity Mirrors, the class went to the theater to rehearse their performance and talk about sets and props while on stage. Below you will find images from the lesson and a reflection from Melinda, Brittany, and Brittany.

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Here are some pictures from the day’s lesson:

SEECstories.comThe first Infinity Mirror room that the class visited is entitled “Souls of Millions of Lightyears Away”. Before each group entered the space, their teachers asked them to think about “What story might take place here.” When the children exited the room, some of their answers included a story about “outer space” and “rainbows” and a story that included “flashing light, jingle bells inside a cave.”

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The class then visited “Dots Obsession Love Transformed Into Dots”. This space also inspired the class to think about a variety of stories including some about “Spiderman”, “a circus with balloons”, and “soccer balls”.

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The final mirrored room that the class saw is called “All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins”. Possible stories that could take place in this room included a story about things “that live in space” and a story about “polka dots on (people’s) cheeks.”

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The class finished their trip by stopping in “The Obliteration Room” where they were given polka dot stickers to put on the walls. It was fun for them to help take part in designing the space.

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After their trip to the Infinity Rooms, the class went to the theater to rehearse their play entitled Abiyoyo. While on stage, the class was given the chance to hold the props, run through the play, and discuss potential set designs.

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In their reflection, the teachers noted this time on stage as a trying part of the lesson. The children had just completed an immersive experience while visiting the Infinity Rooms and were having a hard time focusing on their rehearsal. Upon identifying the problem, the teachers were able to work quickly to try to resolve it so the class could experience a successful rehearsal. Since the class was struggling with staying in their positions, Melinda Bernsdorf grabbed blue tape to mark the ground.

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After placing the blue tape and with the guiding support of Brittany Brown and Brittany Leavitt, the class was able to focus on the play.

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After thinking about how sets help tell stories, the class designed and created their own set for the play Abiyoyo which they performed in front of their families.

A reflection from Melinda Bernsdorf, Brittany Brown, and Brittany Leavitt:

This lesson was a part of a month long exploration of musical theater. Our class had been examining different plays and musicals as well as talking about the areas of work that go into putting on a production. As a class we had been working on our own production of Abiyoyo, which we had adapted from the book Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger. In the weeks leading up to this lesson, we had talked about stage make-up, choreography, costumes and props, and set design, discussing how each had an impact on furthering the story narrative.

We had been anticipating the Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit and because of the high level of interest in the exhibit, we had to schedule our trip long before we knew what our class would be exploring. It worked out beautifully that we could use Kusama’s immersive art to extend the ideas we had been discussing. We hoped to dive further into the concept of set design and setting as storytelling devices. We intended to use each different area of the exhibit as a different “set” and discuss what story was taking place. We also had a more challenging goal of using Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors to get across the concept of remaking a whole world or reality within a tiny space, like how the set of a play can bring a world to a stage.

From the first room, our students were open to the idea of telling stories about their surroundings and were imaginative in their ideas. In this way, Kusama’s art was very successful in showing how set design and setting are important aspects of storytelling. The more abstract ideas of directly associating that with the play we were producing in class may have been lost along the way, but that was fine. Our main goal was facilitating an incredible experience for our students and pushing them to wonder and dream about what they were seeing, rather than just being present for the moment.

Our visit actually went much more smoothly than expected. We had anticipated a high volume of visitors and had some plans in reserve in case there were long lines for the infinity rooms. We also had a strategy in mind for which rooms we thought would be most valuable if we discovered that we could only see one or two because of time. We knew that we could only ask our students to stay engaged for a limited time if most of what we were doing was waiting. Luckily, none of this ended up being a concern during our visit. We were able to walk up to each area and enter almost immediately. However the rooms were small and only allowed for a few students to enter at a time. While waiting for each student to have a turn, we talked about the storytelling aspects of our environment. These small amounts of down time enabled us to have open ended discussions with our students in small groups while still in the museum space. Our class had the opportunity to share their ideas while they were still surrounded by the experience.

We followed our visit to the Hirshhorn Museum with a trip to the theater we were using for our play. Each day this week we had been spending some time rehearsing in this environment, allowing our students to become comfortable on stage and in the space. This ended up being the least successful part of our lesson on this day. The transition from the time spent exploring Kusama’s art to the more focused work of rehearsing our play was difficult for our students. We had been able to maintain their focus for an extended period of time in the museum, and if in the same situation again, I would give myself permission to let go of the second part of the lesson. Trying to make the connection by physically having our students experience both the Infinity Mirrors and the theater was unnecessary and too much. It would have been more appropriate to revisit the lesson the following day as we assembled our own set on the stage.

We concluded our exploration of musical theater by putting on our Abiyoyo play at the end of the week in front of an audience of our students’ families.

Stay tuned for the Roundup on Theater for more ideas from Melinda, Brittany, and Brittany and to learn more about their class’ exploration of musical theater.