Celebrating our differences with Getting To Know You

Inspired by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, the Fox Cities P.A.C. recently worked with together 25 English language learning (ELL) students and 25 theater students from Appleton North High School to embrace their unique cultures and identities and find friendship through a new program called “Getting To Know You.” Over a three month period, students enjoyed a live theater experience with The King and I and participated in arts integration based learning experiences. Together they celebrated, recognized and shared their cultures of origin with each other as they explored the power the arts have to unite us all.

The program started with the students being paired together as they studied The King and I, including activities such as watching the classic movie, talking about theater principles and doing preliminary activities including games to learn more about themselves and other members of the class.

Together, the group visited the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a tour, learning about the history of building, what it takes to bring in a Broadway production and about some of the performances that have taken place here, returning to their classroom and working in teams to recall what they had learned.

The cornerstone of the project was seeing The King and I come to life on stage. Prior to the performance, three cast members, two of whom were ELL students themselves growing up, sat down with the students to talk about how they got to where they are today and what it was like having the arts as a forum to connect with other students from different backgrounds.

The group emphasized the importance of finding something you are passionate about and putting in the hard work to pursue that passion. Each of the cast members also spoke fondly about finding and surrounding yourself with people who accept you, support you and encourage you to do great things.

After the cast Q&A, the students had dinner together before enjoying the live Lincoln Center Theater Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I at the Fox Cities P.A.C. Students marveled at the talent of performers, the beauty of live art happening in front of them and of course, enjoyed hearing “Getting to Know You,” a song the group had become familiar with.

Shortly after attending the show in January, students came together once again with Kennedy Center Teaching Artist Kim McCormack, who led the group through a 3D Shadow Box workshop. Each theater student was paired with an ELL student and together they discussed their similarities and differences, ultimately creating a box that represented them as individuals and as a team.

For example, Aleksandra and Eduardo were a student team who worked together, creating a beautiful shadow box and an artist statement that in part read:

“…We learned that our cultures are in some ways very different, but also sometimes the same. Learning each other’s cultures is very interesting and we liked doing this shadow box together.”

Appleton North High School will continue the work started in “Getting to Know You” when acting students interview ELL students and create monologues based on their experiences, performing them for the school and public this spring.
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