Cape Elizabeth High School class learns the biology of art

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Students witnessed the life cycle of a frog in a whole new way Tuesday, courtesy of a Cape Elizabeth High School art class.

Art students performed the biological process using oversized puppets in two performances Oct. 30.

The first show was held outdoors for Pond Cove Elementary School students and the second was for fellow high school students in the CEHS gymnasium.

Art teacher Janna DeWan said she was inspired to stage the performance after seeing a show by Bread & Puppet Theater of Vermont. 

“I’m always looking for opportunities to bring artists in, or (to put) the students’ work out into the world,” she said. “Not just being in the classroom, (but) having some real-world application of art.”

Over the course of a month, DeWan’s students built puppets, created banners and learned lines for the show with the help of Freeport artist Ian Bannon, who works for Figures of Speech Theatre.

The class comprises a mix of freshmen through seniors and has about 35 students.

DeWan said some of the elementary schoolers who saw the performance are learning about life cycles, which is how she chose the play’s subject matter. 

She said bringing Bannon in was possible through a grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.

John Holdridge, volunteer and extending learning opportunities coordinator for CEHS, co-wrote the grant application with DeWan. Holdridge said he has known Bannon for over a decade and always wanted him to come work with students.

“I’ve been wanting to find a way to bring Ian in – almost every year we’ve had a conversation,” he said. “The last time we talked I said, we’re not going to talk again until it’s really gonna happen, and so this was the opportunity for it all to happen.”

DeWan said Bannon helped her students write the 10-minute performance, and also brought in Figures of Speech Theatre artistic director John Farrell to help. Bannon began working with the class Oct. 1. 

During a rehearsal Oct. 29, Bannon directed students on how to perform with their oversized homemade props, including a large cardboard magnifying glass.

“Ian taught us about the whole process of, how do you go from nothing to performing something in a month,” DeWan said.

Bannon also brought in musician David Noyes, known for his work with the Portland rock band Rustic Overtones, to assist. Noyes worked with a group of three seniors to write and perform original music for the show.

Included among the puppets students made was a cardboard frog with a 4-foot- long head and an 8-foot-long body. 

The class also made what DeWan called a “huge” frog’s egg out of a 4-foot-tall weather balloon swathed in plastic wrap. During the show, a student playing a tadpole stood inside the creation.

“He’s going to punch his way out,” DeWan said. 

Students also built a puppet of a fly, which, DeWan said, they mimicked the frog eating by covering a student’s hand in a long red glove meant to be the frog’s tongue. At one point in the show, the gloved hand emerges from the frog’s mouth and snatches the insect.

Other props included balloons to represent smaller tadpole eggs and pieces on the set that resembled fake grass.

DeWan said she has never created a performance for her art class before, but during her time as a student at Yarmouth High School she dabbled in puppetry as a member of the school’s theater group.

Later, she also took two puppetry classes as an undergraduate at Syracuse University.

She said it has been gratifying to see the students working together on the play.

For senior Anna Stevens and junior Allie Lynch, working on the show was a new experience.

“I’ve always been involved in theater and stuff; I’ve never done anything like this for a class, but I think it’s really interesting to work with new people like Ian on this,” Stevens said.

Lynch echoed that sentiment, and also spoke to the challenge of creating the show’s props.

“It was sort of the idea that you’re making stuff out of recyclable materials that don’t cost that much, so I think creativity really played a role,” she said. “I don’t think any art class has really done something like this before.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 780-9123 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Cape Elizabeth High School art students Sal Deschino, left, and Allie Lynch perform a play about a frog’s life cycle with homemade puppets Oct. 30. Their class worked on the show for a month with the help of Freeport artist Ian Bannon. 

Cape Elizabeth High School Art Teacher Janna DeWan shows off a fly puppet made by her students for a performance Oct. 30. The class worked with Freeport arist Ian Bannon for a month to create the show.

Freeport artist Ian Bannon works with Cape Elizabeth High School senior Anna Stevens, left, and another student during a rehearsal for their puppet show Oct. 29.  Bannon helped the class create the show over the course of a month. 

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