4th graders at Dr. Williams Elementary School in Urbana visited the Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois to learn about careers in the world of theater. The experience was so impactful that teacher Lane Cannon-Gjerde is doing it again with this year’s 4th grade students.

For Ms. Lane Cannon-Gjerde’s 88 fourth graders, the classroom extends far beyond the colorful walls of her drama classroom. Last November, Ms. Cannon-Gjerde took the fourth graders from Dr. William Preston elementary school to The Little Theater in Sullivan, Illinois. This field trip was made possible by the funds from the Champaign Urbana Grant Foundation. On this trip, students continued their studies of theater jobs that they began in 3rd grade. Divided by class, they rotated through the set design studio, the costume department, dance studio, and the sound production studio. After seeing the various jobs, they enjoyed a performance of the play Madagascar.

This trip made a lasting impact on the students. Almost a year later, the students described the field trip, filled with excitement. Zamaria remembered colors and outfits in the costume department, another student, Tyreon, describing how it felt to walk on the stage of the theatre. The lights were on and the sets constructed, allowing students to experience what it feels like to be on a stage during a play. The students also met with the set designer and saw how the sets are designed and created. But maybe the most impactful memory was when one student said her favorite part was seeing an actress that looked like her during the play. Specifically, this actress was a young, African American female, and was one of the first African American actresses the student had seen in person.

These experiences are exactly why Ms. Cannon-Gjerde believed it was important to show students a real-life theatre. During third grade, the Drama curriculum includes various different jobs within the world of theatre. They watch videos of plays and read about the different jobs, but even then many students still refer to plays as movies, because that is all they are exposed to outside of class. When the students see these jobs in real life, at a professional theatre, it cements that differences between the two arts. It also shows students that these are actual careers that they can pursue. To build upon the experiences from the theatre, the students write and perform a scene during class.

Ms. Cannon-Gjerde and her students are profoundly grateful for the funds that made this experience possible. The next class of fourth graders is excited for their own turn to see a play this April.