When I began this blog in 2014, my hope was that I could be of assistance to theater teachers around the world. Thousands of people read my blog every year and for that I am honored. Today I want to discuss lesson plan ideas which take very little time and effort which are prompted by the calendar for October. Here’s my blog post– October’s Curtain Call: Remarkable Moments in Theatre history.
In 1981 (I know it’s difficult to believe) when I began teaching language arts, education was a quite different then. One aspect I remember vividly is the lack of resources for teachers. Friend, there was simply nothing created for us to use in the classroom. Consequently, I created everything I needed. The job was difficult enough without that added challenge. I hold language arts teachers in high esteem. Truthfully, I’m not much of a language arts teacher but hey, I needed a job. Not surprisingly I’m a much better writer now because I taught the basics of writing to students all those many years ago.
Teaching Theatre in Middle School
In 1995 I was hired to teach a pre-elective drama class in a brand new middle school. Again, there were even fewer resources to teach the class–such as teaching units, games, play anthologies, posters or textbooks.
As a member of various theater teacher and director Facebook groups, I read posts nearly everyday of teachers needed everything from lessons to ways to decorate their room. Here is one easy way to decorate your room with little work. If you’d like to read another post about decorating your classroom, check out: My Theatre Vocabulary List for the Classroom
Uses in the Classroom
There are many ways to uses these historical dates in your teaching. With each date, I’ve included suggestions to give you an idea about how to utilize them. The first way you could use a historical date is to merely post it on the bulletin board or display on your whiteboard. Discuss the historical moment and leave it at that.
Another choice is to teach a quick lesson using the topic of the historical date.
Here are a few notable events from theater history which took place in October:
- October 1, 1935 : Birthday of Broadway leading lady Julie Andrews, who stars in The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Victor/Victoria—but never wins a Tony Award (she famously renounces her nomination for Victor/Victoria when the rest of the cast was “egregiously overlooked”). She wins an Oscar for playing the title role in the Disney movie musical Mary Poppins. (Teach with this lesson: Julie Andrew Biography)
- October 2, 2003: Hunter Foster and Kerry Butler star in a Broadway production of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman‘s musical Little Shop of Horrors, which ran for several years Off-Broadway in the 1980s, but only now makes its Broadway debut. The production runs 10 months at the Virginia Theatre. (show a video clip from the production–Feed Me Seymour (Note: Bad language at 3:44)
- October 6, 2003: The musical Wicked, based on the novel by Gregory Maguire and featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre. It quickly became a commercial and critical success. (Teach the lesson and Create costume designs for Wicked.)
- October 9, 1968 Dude, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot’s musical follow-up to megahit Hair, opens on Broadway—and falls flat on its face, getting roasted by critics and running just 16 performances. (It might be fun to talk about some Broadway shows which were flops.)
- October 11, 1987: The musical Les Misérables made its Broadway debut at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. It would go on to become one of the longest-running and most beloved musicals in theater history. (Here’s a unit concerning Les Mis Broadway Musical Guide)
Be Clever and Unique
I’m all about being innovative. Using these historical dates are a perfect break in the learning from everything else a teacher’s been teaching. It would be very easy to lengthen the information I’ve provided here and use it for a whole class period.
- October 16, 1950: Arthur Miller’s iconic play Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre. The play would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and become a classic of American theater. (monologue from Death of a Salesman (3:33 mins.)
- October 17, 1935: The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was established in the United States as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. This program aimed to provide employment for theater professionals and produced a wide range of theatrical productions across the country. Briefly discuss the Federal Theatre Project.
- October 30, 1975: The cult classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show premiered in theaters. While not initially successful, it became a midnight movie phenomenon with audience participation and interactive screenings, leading to a unique and enduring theatrical experience. ( Start class with dance warm up of Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
- October 30, 2019: The musical adaptation of the movie Beetlejuice opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre. While it gained a dedicated fanbase, it closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Study the musical through this three day unit, Beetlejuice the Broadway Musical.)
If you’d like to do the same thing for another month such as November go to: Theatre History in November
The Importance of Studying Theatre History
You may think it is not beneficial to study any dates from history focused on theatre history. I’d have to argue with you about that opinion. Learning about the history of theatre, even if it’s just the birthdate of a iconic actor, is interesting if not vitally important. I found this quote in https://www.mooc.org, an online education website, “When we study history, we learn how we got where we are, and why we live the way we do. It’s the study of us—of humans and our place in an ever changing world. Without it, we wouldn’t understand all of our triumphs and failures, and we would continually repeat patterns without building forward to something better.”
These are just a few examples of significant events in theater history that occurred in the month of October. Theater continues to evolve and thrive, with new productions and milestones happening all the time.
If I were you, I’d create signs which name could be posted on the whiteboard. I’d make a copy of my free template! Since it’s editable, you can use it many times.
Have you used “Today in theater history…” lessons before? I’d love to hear about them. Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com