San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Readers’ Theater: A Fun and Educational Outlet

FOR hams who don’t want to commit to memorizinga part or attending rehearsals, or are too nervous to appearon stage, readers’ theater is a great outlet.The format is used by theater groups to try out newplays or little-produced works in a stripped-down form –no sets, costumes, makeup, props or memorization.Additionally, readers’-theater performing troupes rehearseand present their work to audiences.Christine Johnson has been a member of the Readers’Theater Group, a program of the Mark Twain Library atthe Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center in BarrioDent, east of San José, since just after its inception inNovember 2003.“I was an immediate addict,” Johnson laughed. “Ihave always loved to read, and readers’ theater makes literaturecome alive.”According to the group’s director, Betty Nichol, readers’theater has its origins in Greek theater and, in moderntimes, in radio drama. It depends on the audience’s imaginationto fill in the blanks and can be very interpersonaland interactive – great fun for both the actors and theaudience. The material read can be anything fromShakespeare to Broadway plays, and from poetry tocomic books.ONE of the most important uses of this form of theateris to stimulate children’s interest in reading and literature.A reading activity that encourages creativity andexperimentation, readers’ theater can magically transforma classroom into a stage, helps develop organizationalskills, and capitalizes on most youngsters’ love of fantasyand acting out.A number of educational studies and doctoral dissertationshave been done on the benefits of using readers’ theaterin the classroom. Used widely in the United Statesand Canada from primary grades through college, itimproves reading fluency, sight-word vocabulary andcomprehension. After only brief exposure to readers’ theater,many students are motivated to read more in order tofind other stories to adapt. Scripting and writing their ownplays follows naturally.Although its natural home is in reading or literatureclasses, readers’ theater can be incorporated by imaginativeteachers into science or social studies as well.Numerous free scripts and other resources are availableon the Internet, at sites such as Sancho, a graduate of the cultural center’sEnglish as a Second Language (ESL) program, is aReaders’ Theater regular.“I love it,” he said. “The opportunity to interact withnative speakers has helped my English so much.”Both Nichol and Andrea Blanco, director of the MarkTwain Library, are enthusiastic about seeing readers’ theaterpicked up by the center’s English teachers.“Readers’ theater is a universal tool for ESL and fordeveloping interest in reading. This is one of the mostimportant things that can happen in any developing country,”Blanco said.NICHOL brings her background as a universityvice-president for fundraising and development and lifelongtheater buff to the program. In the early 1990s, shewent to Hollywood, where she made several musicvideos and played some bit parts. Nichol said she oncespent two whole hours in an elevator with DustinHoffman while they did 75 takes of the celebrated actorwalking out of the elevator. She also co-founded a communitytheater group in Crestone, Colorado.Nichol is working closely with Blanco to make theReaders’ Theater program more international, andexpand it to include groups for people of different levelsof fluency.Speaking of some of her former ESL-student participants,Nichol said, “Seeing their quantum leaps was veryexciting. We want to continue being inclusive.”Marketing and publicity efforts are under way to letmore people, especially teachers, know about this excellentteaching tool. Future plans may include a performingtroupe, which will give performances and participate inworkshops for teachers and the general public, both at thecenter and around the country.Readers’ Theater is free to members of the MarkTwain Library and currently meets in the library onthe second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, from6:30-8:30 p.m., and at Nichol’s home on the first andthird Sunday of each month, at 2 p.m. Additional meetingtimes are possible. For more information, call207-7475.

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