A large group of students stand together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Why I’ve Brought My Students to Ford’s Matinees for 10 Years

3 min read

Each year, we welcome more than 1,000 D.C.-area students to our student matinee performances. LaMar Bagley, Ed.D., Director of Student Life for The SEED School of Washington, D.C., has brought his classes for 10 years. LaMar says the experience teaches his students critical thinking and allows them to draw correlations between the history told on stage and their own lives.

What is it about Ford’s programming that inspires you to bring your students back so often?

The Ford’s Theatre season annually showcases quality productions of the American experience; an experience that my students can relate to or draw correlation to their own lives. As an arts educator and arts advocate, I firmly believe that in order to cultivate the theatergoers of tomorrow, it has to start today! Ongoing exposure to the arts, in particular the great productions at Ford’s Theatre, not only serves as an extension of the student learning experience but also as an opportunity to grow as an arts  appreciator.

Nickolas Vaughan as George and Alyssa Gagarin in the Ford’s Theatre production of Our Town, directed by Stephen Rayne. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

What are some of the most valuable things your students learn by attending performances at Ford’s?

Regardless of the production, their time at Ford’s spark interesting dialogue about the content of the production, the theatrical elements and components, and their emotional experience, too. My students have learned how to look inward and reflect on what they see on stage. They critically consider how it impacted them and then draw correlations to the world around them.  They’ve learned how to engage in post-show discussions by listening, sharing their own feedback and asking thought-provoking questions.
And, they’ve learned audience etiquette. Those skills transfer to a variety of settings.

Which show was most compelling for your students, and why?

Ragtime (spring 2017) was the most compelling for my students to date. This production spoke to them on a variety of levels—through the spectacle of lights, set, costumes; through the amazing vocals; through knowing several of the cast members and the choreographer; through emotional connections they made to the characters; and the understanding of the human experience.

Cast of the musical Ragtime at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Many of our students that attended this production are also a part of the school theatre program. To see artists of color on stage inspired them and their conversation on the way back to the school. Several young men, who are not a part of the theatre program and saw the production, informed me that they want to audition for the next musical at the school.

Describe an experience bringing students to Ford’s that changed a mind – yours or the students’.

During the production of The Laramie Project (in fall 2013), our juniors and seniors spent several months studying the subject, the script, the film, the topics surrounding the production. This study was a part of their character education and social skills development curriculum. Seeing the production at Ford’s became the culminating activity.

Cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of The Laramie Project, directed by Matthew Gardiner. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

During our class sessions there were debates and discussions about hate crimes, sexuality and more from various perspectives. It was not until they saw the production and were able to connect with the characters/actors on a different level that the conversation shifted to a greater understanding of why the story was important to tell and relevant to them, regardless of sexual orientation.

Learn more about Ford’s student matinees online here.

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