Westminster’s outstanding Drama Program has been developed over many years under the guidance of Mr. Glover, the Headmaster. What began as a way for him to be directly involved with the students soon grew to be a vibrant and unique aspect of the Westminster program. In addition to providing an annual season of lively entertainments which drew the school community together in very positive ways, its notable effect on the students themselves soon became an impressive validation of the program. As all students are required to be in their class play each year, even the shiest children gain poise, confidence, and courage to share their talents. Over the years, Mr. Glover has directed more than 75 student productions. Since becoming Headmaster, he has limited his play direction to the upper school, but he continues to closely oversee the Drama Program in the lower grades.
All children in grades K–6 perform in a play under the direction of their homeroom teachers. Much care is taken to ensure that each student has a speaking part and is guided to develop public speaking and acting skills, expressivity, and an understanding of ensemble work. Extensive use of costumes, props, and stage sets encourage the development of imagination, ingenuity, and responsibility. Often, the plays include singing and dancing or other choreographed movement. Each play is presented at an all-school assembly, to which parents and guests are most cordially invited.
An opportunity to enter a Folger Shakespeare Theater competition in 1981 spurred Mr. Glover to prepare a 30-minute version of Julius Caesar in one week’s time. The only middle school to compete against a roster of high school entrants, Westminster won three out of the four prizes offered that year. In the following years, Westminster School brought home the winning trophy each time it competed. Thus began the tradition of the annual 7th grade production of a Shakespeare play.
The 7th grade play is a rite of passage at Westminster School. The students come under the direct influence and expectations of the Headmaster, whose love of Shakespeare and talent for directing are legendary. Under his tutelage, the students learn to appreciate Shakespeare’s genius and to embrace the level of commitment and effort it takes to achieve something of true excellence. They bond with their classmates in new ways as they begin to value one another’s strengths and celebrate their breakthroughs in this demanding common endeavor, which also includes important back-stage responsibilities. Finally, they discover the joy and expanded sense of possibility that comes from achieving more than they knew themselves capable of.
In 8th grade, the students return to Mr. Glover for “the final polishing.” The following quote is taken from a letter from Mr. Glover to a recent group of 8th grade parents, explaining that the play is not an “extra” but is at the core of the Westminster experience:
If the 8th grade year is the crown of a Westminster education, the play is the crown jewel. The real goal of the play is not to produce a first-rate theatrical entertainment, although I believe we achieve that. Rather, it is to bring out in each individual student the best that he or she has to offer, the shining essence that has been urged and trained and nurtured and demanded by nine years of Westminster’s rich provisions and high expectations. Much of what goes on in the seclusion of the rehearsal hall is not simply my telling them what to do on stage. It is directing them in right thinking, respectful conduct, extraordinary effort, excellence of presentation, and generosity of spirit. It is the final bonding experience with their friends and fellow-Griffins. And it will transform them, turning their awkwardness to grace, their shyness to confidence, and their reluctance to risk themselves to courageous self-expression.
First-time attendees at an upper-school Westminster play are routinely astonished at the level of achievement and sophistication exhibited by 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds. It is not an accident, nor is it a lucky grouping of “gifted” students. Rather, it is the visible manifestation of all that they have gained from their Westminster education and their experience in the Drama Program.