The School Matinee Series: Helping Chicago Teachers Introduce Students to the Power of Theater

For the past 31 years, the Goodman’s School Matinee Series (SMS) has worked with hundreds of teachers from high schools across Chicago, bringing students each year to see Goodman productions—including Blind Date—free of charge. Throughout the school year, Goodman Education staff work with teachers to integrate play content and the arts into specific curricula across all subject areas, creating a series that not only gives students a rich theater-going experience, but also aids in the development of critical thinking skills and sparks curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. Drama and Theory of Knowledge teachers Renae Stone and Annette Olszewski are part of the four-teacher team (including Joseph Irizarry, the mathematics department chair, and Julia Berger, the special education chair) from John F. Kennedy High School in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood. Both professional actors and teachers, Stone and Olszewski reflect upon the past three years Kennedy High School has participated in the School Matinee Series.

Elizabeth Rice: What do you love about John F. Kennedy High School?

Renae Stone: We love our students most of all. They are curious, motivated, charismatic, intelligent and open to new experiences. We watch our students grow, gain confidence, trust themselves, take risks and ultimately find success. As life-long learners, we love that teaching allows and demands us to continue to learn and explore with our students.

Annette Olszewski: Our administration team has helped us create classrooms of exploration, creativity and learning. Their constant support of us as educators and of theater allowed us to build a successful drama club, a flourishing theater department and use theater to teach other classes. We are thankful that we have a school environment where we are trusted to expose students to new things and challenge them in ways they hadn’t been before.

ER: How has the School Matinee Series impacted your school?

RS: We joined SMS to give students the opportunity to see fantastic theater that reflects humanity. We wanted them to be engaged in difficult and thoughtful topics and themes in a way that is truly alive.

AO: We build the SMS into the theater arts curriculum and use it to introduce our students to concepts and questions that they will engage in during their two-year Theory of Knowledge class. We tie theater into our conversations about knowledge and knowing. Theater creates a connection between the actors and audiences that allows for an experience that engages the mind and emotion. We want our students to have authentic conversations that build on the experience of being in the theater and give them new ways to express themselves.

ER: What has been your favorite experience at the Goodman?

RS: Last season’s production of Uncle Vanya. We were a bit nervous our kids would not engage in the way they did with A Christmas Carol. The students were absolutely floored by the performance. They still quote the play. They learned that an older work, written in a place where they are not from, can still be accessible and reflect their own experience.

For more information on SMS, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/SchoolMatineeSeries.