WARRENSBURG - With wide eyes and excited voices, about 14 Warrensburg Elementary students gathered around desks in a classroom, and talked about possible themes, plots, props, and characters for short dramas they were planning to write.
The group has been meeting several times per week this winter for an elective after-school drama program under the direction of Adirondack Theatre Festival teaching artist Lisa Janssen of Diamond Point.
Fifth graders Danielle Baker, Kelly Angell and Kathryn McEnaney talked about how their play would depict several young girls stranded alone together in a dark shopping mall hours after it closed down.
Stuck on writing dialogue for the drama, Janssen leaned over the group.
"Put yourself in the characters' positions - what would you fear most, what would you be feeling if you were locked in a mall - what could be the worst thing to happen in every little detail?" Janssen asked, challenging the girls to draft the specifics of their proposed play.
"I think I'd be too freaked out to call my parents," one of the girls answered.
"Remember, your cell phone is dead," Kelly chimed in. "My character thinks she's gonna die," Danielle added.
Since January, the students met twice a week with Janssen, developing their plays, and bringing them to life, step by step, in working groups of two or three.
Anna Sorensen, Hannah West and Mariana Callahan, all nine years old, concocted a drama about three girls hiking into a campsite beside a remote lake, then dealing with their fears of ghosts and being isolated in the dark.
Alyssa Birkholz and Jennie Zwart dreamed up a character Issabelle who suddenly adopted a totally new appearance and personality, which caused rifts with her friends. That story morphed into a story of a sleepover.
Another group, including Addison Smith, 10, and Mattie Castro, 9, crafted a story about a girl who worked as a cashier at Aeropostale, and was dealing with an ethical crisis after her friend stole money from their employer.
Alex Werner, Aiden Moulton, and Tommy Birkholz brewed up a story about a scientist and a journalist traveling to an island to uncover treasure before a pirate finds it. The journalist seeking to be first in reporting the discovery.
"We've got a few words down now past 'Once Upon a Time," explained Alex with a smirk. A returning member of the drama club, she was trying to pare down the plot, when the two boys in the group wanted to add a time machine and several scorpions.
Thursday Feb. 17, the students presented their mini-productions to their parents, acting out the parts they wrote
In this drama program, Janssen coached them to free-associate plus rely on their own personal experience to develop the stories, characters and dialogue. Janssen and other ATF actors and instructors have also been working with students at Glens Falls Middle School, a program in which professional actors bring the students' scripts to life.
The various exercises Janssen used in the Warrensburg program, including pantomime, collaborative talk and movement, were utilized to boost the students' expressive tendencies while giving them confidence and ability to work as a team, Janssen said.
After the recent performances, Kelly Angell said she enjoyed the experience as she learned play-writing and acting techniques.
"It was cool," she said. "We really had fun."