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Teaching from the Stage

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Students Receive Life Lessons through Performance

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Lincoln Park Middle School students perform in The Fool of the World and His Flying Ship.

Making music, singing, and dancing are what the Voyageurs are all about. The Voyageurs are vocal and instrumental music graduate students from the University of Minnesota Duluth. They started off performing in elementary schools, but this is their second year working with middle school student performers. The Voyageurs are giving energetic youth the creative outlet they need. Going into classrooms at Lincoln Park Middle School and talking about their program encouraged 50 students to put on the show The Fool of the World and His Flying Ship for their friends, family, and community.

This group, composed of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, spent time after school three days a week starting in October. During rehearsals, students spent time working on the show, music, or constructing props and sets. Out of the 50 students involved with the show, 10 students were a part of the backstage crew working on sets, props, lighting, and sound. Sixth grader Kaleb Robison worked with a lighting director and did sounds for the shows. “I learned a lot,” he said, “I worked with a soundboard.” Robison was in charge of the zany sounds, for instance the cricket chirping, the rooster crowing, and sneezing.

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Kia Kanewa, Carina Ellis, Kaleb Robison, Cal Metts, and Alexis Johnson.

Of the three performances given by the students, two of them were dress rehearsals performed for classmates, and the last show was a public performance. Sixth graders Kia (Makialani) Kanewa and Alexis Johnson were actors. “Before the first show, I was really nervous. I don’t really sing in front of people,” said Johnson. Johnson’s character was a Strudel Roller singer, and Kanewa’s character was called Tokoyo – a fisher looking for her father.

The Voyageurs reached their goal by putting on successful shows and giving these students a chance to discover what musical theater had to offer them. Carina Ellis, managing director for the Voyageurs, talked about a rewarding moment for her. “Right before the final community performance everyone had a chance to encourage each other and say nice things," she said. "One girl, who is normally very quiet and reserved, said that being involved in our program had given her confidence, not just in her acting and singing abilities but in other facets of life. Oftentimes, we think solely about putting on a stellar show, but this is what it is really about. Giving students a chance to find their special thing or to help them find their own worth. At this age, there is so much insecurity… to hear those words from that student validated this entire program."

Cal (Calland) Metts, the Voyageur’s artistic director, empowers UMD’s graduate students to work with these kids. “It has been valuable to be more hands-off with this production. I was so impressed with how Voyageurs graduate students took charge and worked so well along side the middle school students. Using their varied teaching skills to bring such a successful show to the stage was a meaningful experience for the Lincoln Park students,” he said. Ultimately, the Voyageurs want to create a bridge between UMD and Duluth.

Several students said they wish their time with the Voyageurs wasn’t over. “I got to work with my friends, and I made friends. I’m going to miss backstage with everybody,” said Kanewa. The Voyageurs received a lot of positive feedback from students, parents, and staff at the Lincoln Park Middle School. “I think we left a lasting impression,” said Ellis.

The Voyageurs provide outreach education on important matters for children and youth. They combine musical performance with current issues such as healthy living and intelligent, safe health choices. The 2012 project was supported by Essentia Health, General Mills, the Lahti Family Foundation, and UMD.

The script for the show The Fool of the World and His Flying Ship was written 10 years ago by Margi Preus and Jean Sramek. The story educates about acceptance and embracing differences. Last year, a former UMD music grad, Patrick Colvin, added the score for 12 songs. He and Sramek wrote the lyrics. 

Last year, the play was performed by students in the Woodland Middle School as part of a residency program. This year, it was performed in the Lincoln Park Middle School auditorium and was the first theatrical performance in the new Duluth public school. Industrial technology and music staff at the Lincoln Park Middle School lent their rooms for use during the residency.

Since 2008, the UMD Voyageurs have performed for over 15,000 Elementary School children throughout Duluth, the Twin Cities, and Northeast Minnesota. Their first production, Pirates of the Carrot Bean, taught students about healthy eating. Little Bigfoot and the Bullies, the troupe's second musical production, deals with messages and advice for bullying situations. The creation of a third show is currently under way.

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A Lincoln Park Middle School student works on the set.   Students (above and below) perform in The Fool of the World and His Flying Ship.
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Jessica Noor, February 2013

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