Westminster’s outstanding Drama Program has been developed over many years and has grown to be a vibrant and unique aspect of the Westminster program. In addition to providing an annual season of lively entertainments which draw the school community together in very positive ways, its notable effect on the students themselves has become an impressive validation of the program. All students are required to be in their class play each year, where they carry significant responsibilities for acting, singing and choreography, and assisting on stage crew. Performing in multiple plays through the years, even the most reserved children gain poise, confidence, and courage to share their talents. These gains transfer to countless subsequent endeavors, performance-related or not, and go a long way toward ensuring that our graduates have the courage to follow their dreams.
All children in grades K–5 perform in a play under the direction of their homeroom teachers. Parents are asked to help provide costumes and often contribute to set design and realization. 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 cordially invited. The 6th-grade play serves as a bridge to the upper-school drama program. The 6th graders come under the direction of the Upper-School Drama / Dance Program Director and the Music Program Director, and traditionally perform a junior musical. They are grouped into two casts to give the students a greater array of opportunities, with two performances scheduled on the big day.
In 1981, Westminster School entered a Shakespeare competition. 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. As they are studying the Renaissance in history class, reading late Medieval and Renaissance literature in English class, and enjoying an extra enrichment class on the life and work of Shakespeare, the 7th graders learn to appreciate Shakespeare’s genius and achievements. In putting on a Shakespeare play (in the original language but shortened to approximately ¾ the length of the play), students discover 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 experience the joy and expanded sense of possibility that comes from achieving more than they knew themselves capable of.
In 8th grade, the drama students reunite for “the final polishing” as they undertake a Broadway musical. The following quote is taken from a letter sent 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 only to produce a first-rate theatrical
entertainment. 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 rehearsal is not simply learning what to do on stage. It is a multi-
tiered lesson in the importance of a good attitude, respecting one’s director and
teammates, making an extraordinary effort, overcoming shyness, striving for
excellence, and giving the best of oneself. 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
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.