Teaching Students About Westside Story
Teaching students about “West Side Story” opens up an exciting world of dance, music, drama, and social issues. This timeless musical provides invaluable lessons about love, prejudice, and cultural diversity that continue to be relevant in the current times.
To understand “West Side Story,” it’s critical to discuss its historical and cultural context. It was first premiered in 1957 – a period fraught with racial tensions in America. Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” it tells the tale of a forbidden love between Tony from the Jets (a White gang) and Maria from the Sharks (a Puerto Rican gang) set against the backdrop of New York’s neighborhood rivalry.
The Musical Elements:
The music in “West Side Story” is a masterful fusion of classical, jazz, and Latin influences. The powerful compositions by Leonard Bernstein along with Stephen Sondheim’s poignant lyrics drive the narrative forward and reflect the character’s emotions. Particularly impactful are the duets such as “Tonight” and ensemble pieces like “America” that can serve as excellent teaching material for musical arrangement and harmony.
The Dance and Drama:
The choreography by Jerome Robbins plays an equally pivotal role in this musical. The acrobatic leaps, sharply synchronized movements, and dramatic expressions are not just entertainment but also storytelling tools which give insight into each character’s motivations, personalities, and their socio-cultural backgrounds.
“West Side Story” delves deep into themes such as racial discrimination, violence, immigration, and star-crossed love – topics relevant even today. Discussions about these themes can prompt critical thinking about societal issues among students.
Activities for Exploration:
1. Scene Analysis: Break down key scenes such as the rumble or Tony & Maria’s first meeting to help students understand how drama, dance, music converge to propound the story.
2. Character study: Students can analyze different characters’ motivations, challenges; this undertaking teaches them empathy towards diverse cultures/people.
3. Discussions/Debates: Encourage open discussions or organize debates on themes presented in ‘West Side Story.’
4. Creative Writing or Performance: Students could write their own scenes based on characters/themes from ‘West Side Story’ or enact popular scenes.
Bringing “West Side Story” into your classroom is an enriching journey that adds layers to learning through its social commentary wrapped in an appealing package of music and drama. It allows students not just to appreciate the enthusiasm that theatre brings but also to consider significant societal issues through a fresh lens.