Four-year program brings drama to Arthur Elementary
Students in the Philadelphia School District probably could use less drama in their lives — unless they are enrolled at Chester A. Arthur Elementary.
The school, located at 20th and Catherine streets in South Philadelphia, has been selected by the historic Walnut Street Theatre for its esteemed “Adopt-A-School” program, and the fruits of their labor will reverberate well beyond a pair of performances — one on Monday and the other, “Aladdin,” on May 18.
“Typically, we go into a school for three years, but we extended it to four years because of the overwhelming response,” said Walnut Street Theatre Director of Educational Programming Tom Quinn. “We provide professional development and show the teachers how to use drama in the classroom to support the regular curriculum, enhancing literacy, math and science with various theater techniques.”
Quinn said a professional dramatist conducts two 45-minute sessions at Arthur, during which time she will reach and tutor the entire student body, which currently stands at 190 students.
“I also send other artists to help … we also have a musical director, choreographer and other support staff that are there,” Quinn said. “We have 50 students directly involved in the after-school drama program.”
Now in its 13th year, the Adopt-A-School program has been a resounding success, Quinn said. And the Walnut Street Theatre doesn’t just abandon the school after the three-year term; according to Quinn, the theatre stays on in a consulting role.
“We make sure when [the direct programming ends] that the schools — Arthur in this case — will have a sustainable way to continue,” Quinn said. “We have several partners that help us maintain an active presence” in the schools.
No two partners have proven more valuable than the school district itself and the grassroots “Friends of Chester A. Arthur.”
“The school district has had its share of challenges, but it has been a great partner, helping us reach more than 110,000 students last year,” Quinn said, suggesting that the theater could potentially reach 120,000 students this year. “Our goal is to reach every student in the district, and the Philadelphia School District has been very helpful with that.”
The Friends of Chester A. Arthur is the group primarily responsible for Monday’s showcase, and although this wasn’t on the original slate of shows, Quinn couldn’t help but green-light the event.
“It’s not an official Walnut Street Theatre production, but I’ve been so impressed by that group,” Quinn said. “They offered to host the event, so I contacted some people I know do the main stage at Walnut, and they decided to come out.
“And for the final act, the kids who will perform in ‘Aladdin’ will come out and perform the opening scene of that, sort of like a preview for the audience.”
“A Whole New World at Chester A. Arthur: A Benefit for the Friends of Chester A. Arthur” will begin at 7 p.m. at the school; tickets are $8, but Quinn said it’s more or less a free-will donation set-up, as the most important thing is to activate the community and get it to support the school and drama club even more.
And if any money is to be made, all the better, Quinn said.
“Whatever dollars we can raise, the Friends will put aside to fund drama programs going forward,” Quinn said. “The biggest thing is we are really proud that Chester A. Arthur gets this unique opportunity. No other school will have the comprehensive drama tutelage that they have received over the past three years.”