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Showcasing Joe Robinson and "Theater Productions"

The Da Vinci Academy at Newport Harbor High School is a science- and math-based integrated program, in which about a hundred students in each grade take several classes together, including science, math, history, and English. Da Vinci focuses on academics. Students work hard, participate in more projects than most other students, and are very successful. So why are the Newport Beach, California, students acting, singing, and dancing?

An anxious audience awaits the premier of Da Vinci Academy's latest theatrical production.

In March of the 1995-96 school year, the academy's first year of operation, history teacher Joe Robinson proposed to students that they put on a play. He had written a few scripts when his own kids were younger and saw it as the perfect break from all of the "left-brain stuff" students were encountering in their rigorous coursework. The activity was voluntary, and practices were in the evenings, but the kids liked the idea.

"We built a stage in the inner quad area of the school, made sets, rented costumes, found a musician to come up with tunes for my words, practiced evenings, and produced an open-air play on a weekend in May," Robinson recalled. "We probably had two hundred people at each performance."

The idea caught on, and Robinson and his crew put on another show the following year. By then, the program was tradition, and there was no stopping it -- even though it meant tons of extra, unpaid work for the history teacher.

Joe Robinson and his wife pose in front of the Lido Theater.

"I'm not complaining," Robinson said. "I love doing this! In eight years, working with Kevin Weed, who composed the music and played for our live performances, I wrote five full-length musicals."

The process was simple. In February, Robinson asked how many students were interested in participating in the play. He counted hands and wrote that many parts into his script. The show usually was performed in May, with parents helping with sets, costumes, videotaping, refreshments, and so on. Last year, however, the program ran into a snag. The building that housed the inner quad was condemned and closed because it wasn't earthquake proof. The group suddenly had no stage.

"I had been fooling around with video for years, so I proposed doing a movie instead," Robinson explained. "Perhaps because of tradition, there was some resistance, but we went ahead and, by and large I think folks were pretty happy."

Moviegoers line up to see Robinson's students on the "big screen."

A parent made contact with the Lido Theater in Newport, which permitted the group to use the facility for the premier of "Bonnie's Cappuccino and Low-Fat Yogurt Bar." Robinson says that seeing his students on the "big screen" was very special. A comment made by one student was telling. He said that it was fun being able to watch himself perform, something not possible in a play.

"So, now we have a new tradition," Robinson noted, adding, "Yes, we will do another film this year. It's called 'The Butler Did It...Or Did He?' -- a combination murder mystery/haunted house theme. Now that I've incorporated teaching video editing into my history class, maybe this year I'll get some technical help from the kids!"

Photos courtesy of Joe Robinson.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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