In 2022, Richfield Middle School hired a full-time theatre program director to create and oversee a school-day theatre program. Eddie Paul specializes in creating and developing theatre education programs and has been doing so in Chicago and the Twin Cities for 20 years.
“My first goal was to create and implement a daytime theatre education program that was equitable, accessible and enjoyable for all of my students,” said Mr. Paul. This year, in the second year of the program, student involvement has gone up significantly, and data shows that students who participate in school-day drama classes feel more confident in themselves and their creative abilities.
Seventh grader Violet said: “My favorite part about theatre is that it’s like a big community of people who will support you and help you. It’s an escape from all your troubles, and the people are amazing. You meet new people and a lot of my really close friends are in theatre; it’s just really fun and makes me feel safe.” Violet is looking forward to taking part in theatre and band next year at RMS and the following year at the RHS.
Mr. Paul also worked to build a creative adult performing arts leadership team for the after-school theatre production program. “Principal Barlow’s mission to build performing arts programming at RMS has been so exciting, and it only made sense to me to utilize all the creative teaching talents in our school,” shared Mr. Paul. Science teacher Liz Zellar is the resident stage manager for all productions. Mr. Paul directs all the shows, Choir teacher Eugene Sandel is the music director for the musicals, Dance/Movement teacher Carrie Smith is the dance choreographer for the musicals, Band teacher Corey Needleman is the production Technical Director, and Karin Paul is RMS’s resident costume designer. “This team is truly amazing and has enhanced our students' theatrical experiences in enormously positive ways,” said Mr. Paul.
Being in choir allows RMS students the opportunity to connect with their friends while learning a lifelong skill. “Choir is a place where we celebrate each other's differences and everyone is welcome to be themselves,” explained choir director Eugene Sandel. “Additionally, choir allows you to be expressive in an entirely unique way and helps you build community and find good people to surround yourself with.”
Middle school choir is different from music in elementary school mainly because students are focusing on a specific type of music making — choral singing. In addition to singing, students write their own songs, have karaoke days, learn various instruments, and invite other teachers to hear them sing.
Sixth grader Anni, who is in the choir as well as the band, says that she loves having the opportunity to learn new songs.
Middle school choir is a great starting place where students can grow their voice, and can lead to bigger music opportunities in the future. For example, last year, two eighth graders were accepted into the Honors Performance Series, and one of them was able to travel to New York City and sing in Carnegie Hall!
“My favorite part about teaching choir is the joy students bring me every day,” said Tr. Eugene. “Because my class is one where we are doing a different type of learning, students bring a different part of themselves to my room. I am constantly laughing at fun and silly things they say, and always reminded of the joy that comes with music.
Joining one of the RMS bands is a great way for students to make friends and learn an important skill they can use for life. In band, students learn to play instruments, make their own music, play together as a group, try out different instruments, and even show off their talents to other teachers. Being in the RMS band is a solid start for students who want to get better at playing music and prepare for the many musical opportunities available at Richfield High School, including jazz band, percussion studio, Spartan band, the Marching Spartans and more.
“My favorite part about band is learning more about music and playing fun songs,” said seventh grader Oliver. “I'm looking forward to jazz band in high school.”
Mr. Corey Needleman enjoys teaching band and sharing music with students in all grades. He is looking forward to an upcoming field trip to the Minnesota Opera with the Intermediate and Advanced Bands, as well as their upcoming performances.
Another arts class available to students at RMS is Dance/Movement. In this class, students are given instruction on dance through a variety of stimuli. Students spend some days watching and analyzing dance, and some days are physically participating in movement. By taking a culturally responsive approach to learning, students can gain understanding of how dance is an integral and essential element of communities and personal, social, or cultural identities. Additionally, dance gives students an opportunity to learn empathy and compassion for others and to gain a broader perspective outside of their own understanding.
“In dance we also challenge learners to use their literacy, math and science skills in a completely different setting than reading a book, counting numbers or doing labs,” explained Dance/Movement teacher Carrie Smith. “Throughout the curriculum, students learn to read, write and describe dance elements (literacy skills), be able to identify shapes, angles and patterns of movement (math) and be able to understand the physicality of movement and the required physics it takes to balance, coordinate and execute technique (science).”
Dance is also a great opportunity for RMS students because it can provide a physical outlet. Dance is a movement course that focuses on individual goals, flexibility and personal expression through movement.
“My favorite part of the class is watching the students collaborate to create their own dances,” said Ms. Smith. Each semester, students are required to complete an in-class performance, showcase a dance piece that they themselves have choreographed and created. “This is my favorite part, because often the task presented is met with resistance and a lot of student doubt. But every time, by the end of the unit, all students are up and performing a dance - a challenge that they thought they would never overcome.”
Another exciting event that will take place this year include a field trip to the Cowles Center for Performing Arts. Here, students will have the opportunity to watch professional dancers and meet professional choreographers, and gain a deeper understanding of how dance is relevant in today’s world.
Drama/Improv Club is an after-school program that meets once a week for 15 sessions during the school year and is coordinated by teachers Eddie Paul and Liz Zellar. Any student can sign up and no experience is necessary. The Drama/Improv Club is a great way for students to try theatre with low pressure and low stakes. Students play theatre learning games, perform improv scenes, and just have fun creating and connecting with each other.
Eighth-grader Eliana is involved in Drama/Improv Club and band at Richfield Middle School. “I like that I can make music and learn new notes,” she said. Because of these experiences, she wants to be part of the stage crew in the theatre program at Richfield High School next year.
Her classmate, Ellery, is also part of the band and the Drama/Improv Club. Ellery said, “My favorite part about drama club is meeting people and improvising.” He is also looking forward to joining the high school theatre and band programs.
“I believe theatre education in general is a crucial necessity to the social-emotional development and needs of our students,” said Mr. Paul. “Theatre, as an art form that teaches its artists how to collaborate, negotiate and empathize with one another. It reinforces and embraces the concept of positive compromise. It helps people feel more confident in expressing themselves.”
Erica Barlow, Principal of Richfield Middle School, is excited to welcome all elementary school students to the upcoming main performances at RMS. "These events are not only a testament to the hard work and dedication of our students,” she said, “but also a window into the diverse opportunities available at Richfield Middle School. We hope our future Spartan families and students will attend and see the vibrant arts and extracurricular programs that await them in middle school."