TES Fourth Grade Treated by the Tewksbury Education Foundation to a Special Performance and Residency by Respected Thespians

         The McCarter Theatre of Princeton returned to Tewksbury Schools on Tuesday, March 13 for an interactive and in-the-round performance of the classic West African saga “The Epic of Sunjata.”  The performance, which was funded by the Tewksbury Education Foundation (TEF) and took place in Tewksbury Elementary School’s (TES) Cafetorium, kicked off a three day Cultural Arts in-classroom  residency for the schools four fourth grade classes.

“The Epic of Sunjata” told the classic West African tale of a boy who is prophesied to be the greatest king of his people, and his loving mother, who must help him overcome adversity and the dangers of sorcery and antagonism.”

“The message is certainly a good one,” said TES principal James Miller.  “It goes along with our character education program about being caring and respectful of others.  There is a line that really says a great deal. ‘It’s not how tall you stand; it’s how you stand tall.’”

“The Epic of Sunjata” transported Tewksbury’s fourth grade hundreds of years back in time to West Africa through the use of extensive sets featuring life-sized huts and numerous rustic platforms, a wide variety of props including spears and an actual three-wheeled bicycle, traditional costumes including dramatic masks, and authentic West African music played live on drums and a ballaphone.

The McCarter company utilized all aspects of audio visual performing arts in the production including drama, music, dance and chant, and all were encouraged to participate.  Students and even teachers and visiting parents sang, danced, clapped, chanted, and acted throughout the performance.  Popular TES art teacher Janet Wadler embraced the role of Sunjata’s mother to the delight of students and faculty alike.

“It was amazing,” said TEF Director and Cultural Arts Committee member Jackie Pankuck.  “The kids were so into it and so excited.”

McCarter Theatre’s performance and residency addressed core curriculum standards as specified by the New Jersey Department of Education and the Tewksbury Schools District in the areas of visual and performing arts, language arts literacy and social studies.

“You never know, but this type of program can really inspire a child to think about the arts,” said Miller.  “Not only is there this wonderful assembly/performance, but as McCarter comes into their classrooms this week, some children are going to discover strengths, gifts that they have, interests they have, and that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have programs like this.  It really opens doors and nurtures creativity.”

Additional information on the McCarter Theatre program, the TEF and other TEF programs can be found at www.tewksburytef.org or on FACEBOOK.

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