To the Editor:
I am very saddened to hear that the Island schools have discontinued the Fourth Grade Theater Project. Writing, producing, and performing the play was the absolute highlight of my daughter’s time at the Tisbury School. The memory of Justine Cassell’s “Seagull” that year still makes me smile.
I am also very unhappy about the way the decision was reached. It was kept close to the vest — so much so that the schools apparently even failed to inform the Vineyard Playhouse until it was time to schedule this year’s program. An absolutely unique program that has introduced 17 years worth of Island kids to the joy and discipline, the traditions and vibrancy of live theater was quietly killed without notice to the community, parents or the Vineyard Playhouse.
As an alternative to the Fourth Grade Theater Project, the Tisbury School proposes hiring a person to come in and run a drama program in class. No doubt it is cheaper in time and money (though I understand that much of the cost of the Fourth Grade Theater Project was covered by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts).
Yet it is hard to imagine a single person in a classroom, however talented, will equal the experience of rehearsing and performing a play in a working theater, with lights, soundboard, costumes, makeup, “Five minutes to curtain” — “Five minutes” and the applause of a packed house. What were they thinking?
I deeply regret that M.J. Munafo and the actors and tech people at the Playhouse have been treated so discourteously. I can only suspect that it was done to avoid a firestorm of protest from parents. M.J. and her colleagues have unexpectedly lost an important portion of their winter income, which, had they had sufficient notice, they might have had the chance to replace. That’s bad.
Even worse, the children in the fourth grade this year and no doubt in future years will have a narrower and less inspiring school experience. Certainly, they will have more classroom time to prepare for the MCAS examinations. But the loss of the Fourth Grade Theater Project, in order to focus more on the test, if that is what the thinking was, seems a step in the wrong direction to me. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the whole point of educating our kids is to raise well-rounded individuals, not to score well on the MCAS exams.
Petra Lent McCarron