SMAC funds Guthrie field experience for TAHS freshmen

Some may already know that in March, two buses containing about 70 freshmen and six adults left the high school parking lot of Tracy Area High School before dawn on a Wednesday to go to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. What most don’t know is how the school was able to make this happen.

It started with writing a grant, and fingers crossed, hoping to get the funding. In the fall of 2018, English teacher Dana Miller met with Principal Kathy Vondracek to discuss he feasibility of such a trip. They hammered out a budget and a plan, allowing Miller to write and submit he grant. A total of $2450 would be needed to fuel buses, hire drivers, pay ticket prices, and feed students, to name a few of the associated costs. The grant was approved and fully funded by the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC), meaning that not one of the students had to pay to attend.

A few students chose not to attend. Why?

It was Shakespeare…and the snow days! How were they ever to understand the play with all the lost preparation time? And, it was Shakespeare. They would have to tough it out.

“The worst thing would be trying to read Shakespeare without ever seeing it performed,” advised Miller. Permission slips went out, the lunchroom staff prepared two meals “to go” for each student, parents and school personnel signed on to chaperone, and on March 13, the freshmen headed for the Guthrie to see an adaptation of As You Like It.

As You Like It is a comedy that Shakespeare wrote about mid-career; it is one of the few plays (of 37 total) that has music in it. This was one of the highlights for the students. The director left all of Shakespeare’s language intact but altered the set and characters to reflect modern pop culture. Students enjoyed the character Touchstone, who provided irony and laughter. Dressed like Woody from Toy Story, “Touchstone cheerfully challenges and mocks most everything, seeing the human existence full of folly and absurdity. “ (Wurtele Thrust Stage/Guthrie) They also expressed high satisfaction with the large wedding extravaganza at the end, filled with music and staged as an elaborate celebration of four relationships that culminated in marriage, even after the succession of errors that should have prevented a happy ending. The “fight” scene was also popular.

It wasn’t just the performance that students were treated to. Upon arrival, the group was whisked into large practice room for a lesson from professional stage combat trainer Aaron Preusse. (www.aaronpreusse.com) The room was filled with scores of learners from schools in and around the Metro, but when asked to step up and help the master demonstrate how to throw a punch and make it look real, TAHS went first!

“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” Cayden Johnson said. After a few test trials, others were asked to join. Matthew Munson was stationed across from a female “sparring” partner from another school. He worried that he might accidentally land the punch, but all turned out well. Ethan Zeug and Maddox Viessman stepped up to give it a try, too, and four out of four TAHS students learned combat fighting without hurting a single soul.

Comments from students afterward were interesting. In preparation for the trip, they had learned about theater etiquette, and no details were spared. Leave your shoes on at all times, be seated when the play begins, no cell phones, no noisy activities, etc.

A few TAHS freshmen were appalled by the behavior of others during the performance. Good for them! There were students (from other schools) with cell phones out, a couple of kids that wouldn’t stop whispering, someone was eating chips, and above all, the adult who wouldn’t stop digging through her bag!

“I bet you everything in there had a crinkly wrapper on it.” Nothing went unnoticed. Further, “the line (for snacks) was so long, they told me to go back to my seat” (because there wouldn’t be time to serve everyone). Student responses will be included in the final report to SMAC, but it probably isn’t necessary to include all of them.

This experience was about more than just a play at the Guthrie.” It was about learning, memories, and growth,” said Miller.

“Without the grant from SMAC, none of this would have been possible.” Take advantage of SMAC’s grants for schools. To learn more about deadlines, types of projects funded and how to apply, go to swmnarts.org/grants/smac-grants-for-schools.

School grants are made possible by the voters of Minnesota thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

— Dana Miller is a English teacher at Tracy Area High School