The play within a play is a dramatic device most commonly known from “Hamlet.” While this year’s sixth grade class at Thurston Middle School (TMS) isn’t tackling Shakespeare, their upcoming performance of “Myths at the Edge of the World” by Matt Webster will deliver four plays within one.
The production is an extracurricular activity, but it connects to the sixth-graders’ mythology units in both drama and history class. That interdisciplinary learning is being reinforced through an altogether different experience of the material. In other words, to quote Hamlet, “The play’s the thing.”
“In our Greek theater unit, we studied the functions of mythology – that myths teach life lessons, are rooted in tradition and entertainment, and survive to this day because they are enjoyable,” said Jennifer Walsh, drama teacher at TMS and director of the play. “The students taking part are getting to experience the functions of mythology on a whole new level.”
Olivia Li, who plays Vicky, said, “Myths teach us very important lessons that we should use in our everyday lives to help us with our decisions and problems.”
“I really like that even though they are ancient myths, they are still relevant today,” said Sofia Vitali, who performs two roles – Oak Tree and Rich and Beautiful One. “The myths teach that every part of the world has a place and a reason for being there. That’s why we need to keep the Earth as it is, and not pollute it.”
In the play, four hikers are lost in the woods. As they try to find their way back to their campsite, the wind reveals its stories. Each of the four myths relates a nature creation story from a different culture – Chinese, West African, Native American, and Aztec.
“Even though the stories are from specific cultures, we are telling them in our own way. We’re not trying to imitate how the cultures of origin would produce them,” Walsh said. “We’ve also incorporated music and movement, enriching the experience for the performers and the audience.”“I think Ms. Walsh is a great director,” said Adrian Wong, who plays Blue Dragon. “She isn’t insanely strict or mean, but she isn’t ‘do whatever you want’ either. She helps us perfect our parts in a nice and productive way.”
The production is a true collaboration that creates a special sense of belonging. There are 38 cast members and 15 crew from TMS grade six, three eighth-grade stage managers, and seven high school crew members, plus support from Walsh’s fellow drama teacher, Gina Cosimini, who also directs the spring musical. Costuming comes courtesy of eighth grade ELA teacher Kathy Whelan.
“Years after productions, our students talk about the relationships they built and the community they created,” Cosimini said. “Last year, we interviewed some of the high school students for a promotional video. Over and over, they said, ‘I have a family at school because of the sixth grade play.’”
It seems that will be no different for this year’s participants.
“The thing I enjoy the most about being in this production is working with others,” said Li. “I met so many new people because of the play, and they are all super talented and have great personalities. It’s so fun working with them!”
Performances at the Westwood High School Auditorium take place Friday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 17 at 2:00 p.m. The production is child-friendly. Tickets are available at myths.brownpapertickets.com and at the door.