By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Students taking classes in the Dassel-Cokato English department have a fun new class they can pick from to fulfill a fine arts elective introduction to theater.
The class has been in the works for several years by teachers in the English department, namely Susan Marco, who was instrumental in getting the class started, said English teacher Becky Hoogenakker (Theilson).
Hoogenakker teaches intro to theatre, which was offered for the first time last spring. In 2004 and 2005, she directed the fall musicals “Cinderella” and “Oklahoma” and one act.
She also directed “An Evening of Culture: Faith County II” in 2004 to allow DC seniors an opportunity to act on the new stage.
“It’s really fun,” said senior Grant Bakeberg, who is a student in the class. “The teacher is really intelligent and has a lot of experience with the subject.”
Due to Marco’s years of involvement with DC’s speech program, she has many connections to other theatre teachers throughout Minnesota.
Networking with them assisted teachers at DC in formulating the curriculum and finding the textbooks to be used.
The class has been offered again this fall in hopes that the students can help with the upcoming fall musical, Hoogenakker noted.
“I’m really excited I get to teach the class,” Hoogenakker said. She noted the class is a fun class, and kids seem to want to be there, unlike the required English class she teaches.
In the last few years, students have been working more in the performing arts center with the technical aspects of theatre, and this class is a good way to get more students involved, she noted.
Not only are students learning about acting, but also about directing, producing, and working the technical side of theatre.
Each unit of the textbook has a separate chapter on acting, writing and producing, and technical theatre, which helps the students learn how all those aspects tie together to create a good production.
It is hoped that students will be able to help with set-building, publicity, make-up, lighting, and sound for the fall musical, Hoogenakker noted.
“Hopefully, students will be able to get what they want out of it to some degree because we are touching on all bases,” Hoogenakker said.
All ninth through 12th grade students are eligible to take the class, which fulfills one of the two fine art credits students are required to take before graduation.
Last spring, 23 students took the class. This fall, there are 24 students in the class.
“The class is far less instructional (than most classes), and a lot more interactive,” Hoogenakker said.
For instance, the class did not even get into the textbooks until the second week of class, instead doing a number of ice-breaker activities to help the students get to know each other better.
“It’s really different than most classes, and I really enjoy coming to it,” said senior Christina Babb, who is a student in the class. “It’s a nice change compared to my other classes.”
Due to the nature of the class, Hoogenakker noted the importance of the students knowing their classmates’ first names to build a team feeling and a sense of rapport.
Each student needs to feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the other students in the class.
Not only is the age range of the class diverse, but the experience of the students is also diverse.
Some students have acted in or helped with the set-building and technical sides of community theatre or the fall musical productions, while others do not have any experience at all, Hoogenakker said.
Having such a range of ability makes teaching the class more of a challenge, she added.
She wants to make sure the kids with more experience are not bored, and those with less experience are learning what they need to be successful, she said.
The class is formulated for the students, and what the students are interested in learning, she added.
Near the beginning of the trimester, students take a survey so Hoogenakker can learn more about what they know, and what they are interested in learning about theatre.
“I stepped down from directing to pursue a master’s degree, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to do this,” Hoogenakker said. “It’s something fun and different not just your typical English class.”