Mike Wiley is a story teller, and he had a thrilling and important one for the kids at Chatham Grove and JS Waters. It was the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who shipped himself to freedom in a wooden crate. Mike’s one-man play, One Noble Journey, was a smashing success with students on the first day of a three-day Artists-in-Schools residency connecting to social studies and language arts curricula.
Students were captivated by the daring tale that had it all–comedy, drama, and action. Mike’s portrayal of the plantation owner brought howls of laughter. Kids gasped as they learned of the sad demise of Henry’s family. But the best part: they got to become part of the storytelling. Audience participation is a key factor in Mike’s AIS performances, and the students all want in on the action.
But the students weren’t the only ones tapped for audience participation. Kids went wild when Mike brought up some of their favorite teachers to participate in the performance.
At the end of every performance, Mike always gives the kids the chance to ask questions. And they had a bunch!
Was Henry ever recaptured? Did he find his family? What happened to them? How long was he in the crate? It was clear that not only had students enjoyed the performance, they cared deeply about Henry and his fate.
The performance of One Noble Journey completed day one of Mike’s residency. For days two and three, Mike was joined by creative partner, poet, and playwright Howard Craft for some classroom writing exercises.
The first writing exercise Mike and Howard gave the students was to pretend they were a turkey right before Thanksgiving. From the turkey’s perspective, students had to write a convincing argument as to why they shouldn’t be eaten.
The turkey writing was a warm-up before Howard’s writing prompts engaged kids more deeply with parts of speech, with metaphor, with similie. With randomly assigned nouns paired with randomly assigned adjectives, students found a safe way to express emotion through writing, a fun path into the valuable skill of communicating with the written word. Each story began, “Before I was a fifth grader, I was . . . sad hot chocolate, a lazy potato, an angry avocado,” and the sharing was hilarious and moving in equal turns.
Many children were excited to read their work in front of the class. Other kids needed a little more encouragement, but once they were reading, you could see smiles spread across their faces.
This season, for the first time, JS Waters seventh-graders participated in the residency, as well as the fifth-graders. While these middle schoolers needed more convincing, many came around to read their stories with smiles on their faces.
After all the performing and writing and sharing was done, a teacher from JS Waters reflected on the kids’ time with Mike: “Writing is usually a very difficult area to teach and have students feel confident to share their individual pieces. Mr. Wiley made all of the students feel comfortable and trusting when sharing their work.” We sure do love this partnership with our teachers, our artists, and our kids.
The Chatham Grove residency was powered by Dr. David G. Nichols and Mayme Boyd. The residency at JS Waters was powered by PRESERVE the Arts.
Arts for Resilient Kids programming is made possible by partnerships with Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, the North Carolina Arts Council, and many individual, foundation, business donors.
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