October 24, 2011

Students Connect with CANDIDE

Contributed by Harry Hobbs, Professional Education Intern

It's been about a month since I've begun my journey as a Professional Education Intern here at the Huntington and one of the most pleasurable parts of my work is to visit schools and prep students who come see our shows as part of our Student Matinee program.

Student Matinees give middle and high school students across the greater Boston area a chance to see live theatre, if not for the first time. For almost every play in our season we have a 10AM matinee performance for student's and their teachers to attend. We reach a wide range of schools to invite to our Student Matinees, and so far I've spoken to classrooms that vary significantly in age, background and exposure to theater; but they all seemed to connect with the themes of Candide, the play they saw Thursday, October 10th, which was sold out. Among the schools I visited were Swampscott High, Snowden International School, LARE Training Center, and North Quincy High.

For those of you who don't know, Candide is a musical whose protagonist by the same name is exiled from his kingdom in Germany and travels the world, experiencing adventure after adventure. He's mistreated, swindled, witnesses murder, injustice and glaring inequality everywhere he goes, yet his attitude toward all this remains one of optimism, "Everything is for the best!"

So I began my discussion by asking the students what they think is optimistic and pessimistic in their lives - getting up early, prejudice, video games - the answers vary. Then I asked them if they considered themselves to be "half-glass full" or "half-glass empty" types of people, "Do you view life with an overall positive attitude or a negative one?"

Usually half the class subscribed to one view or the other while the rest abstained for whatever reason. But it always got interesting when I asked them, "Why? Why do you view life that way?" And without realizing it, they began to question the ideas challenged in Candide before they had set foot in the theatre.

I usually heard responses like, "Why would you want to live your life angry and upset all the time?" Or,

"But if I go through life thinking everything is positive, my life would feel unbalanced ... you've got to take everything into consideration."

Every time we arrived at this point in the discussion I was always surprised by how openly and candidly they responded to their views on life. The students immediately connected to what optimism and pessimism meant for them and how it informed the way they engaged with the world.

And as an educator, it is deeply satisfying to be reminded that this connection to how we live our lives is flourishing in young people and that the ability to question it and expand on its meaning doesn't even come from a textbook - it comes from the students themselves.

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