Earth Day with Newtown Friends School
It’s just another day at Pennswood Village when a nationally recognized playwright, librettist, screenwriter and stage director writes and directs a play for local schoolchildren. First, she wants to bring awareness to the serious issue of climate change and second, she wants to foster the love of theater in students.
Pennswood Village resident Joan Vail Thorne continues to write professionally for the theater, but she recently wrote and directed “Listen to the World,” an Earth Day skit for Newtown Friends School’s second graders. The show debuted on May 7th to an audience of Pennswood Village residents and parents of the performing students.
A shared love of the earth
For five years, Joan has written Earth Day scripts for all grade levels at Newtown Friends School. As a volunteer, she also works with students on the meaning and delivery of the lines of the sketch. And because of the shared Quaker values of stewardship and community, the annual Earth Day skit bonds Pennswood Village and the school together.
“It’s so important for us to think about how we’re treating the earth,” said Pam Reifsneider, teacher with Newtown Friends School. “We’re fortunate to have Joan write and direct the skit. She brings so much energy and creativity and she’s great with kids of all ages.”
Joan’s concern about climate change runs deep. She’s on the Pennswood Village’s environmental committee, and her son is an environmental lawyer. “The best time to talk about climate change is when people are young,” Joan said. “If we don’t have an earth, you can forget about all of the other causes out there.”
The skit’s message
During eight impactful minutes, the second-grade actors spoke of the earth’s beauty and how the world is crying out for help. At the skit’s conclusion, the actors asked the audience if they’re listening. “I use theater to make a small contribution to the climate change movement,” Joan said. “And it’s so powerful when kids address an adult audience.”
Because of its brief length, the students performed the skit twice in a row to increase its impact and give the actors another opportunity to enhance their theatrical skills. Joan hopes the audience took something away from the play—like a change they can make to save energy or reduce waste.
A lasting relationship
Pennswood Village maintains an intergenerational relationship with neighboring schools. The partnership between Pennswood and Newtown Friends School helps to reinforce a sense of shared learning and enlightenment. During classroom presentations or hands-on learning, residents share their love of art, travel or career experiences. Additionally, several residents volunteer as aids in the pre-K and kindergarten classrooms. Equally important, older students visit Pennswood Village to provide technical support for electronic devices or participate in water volleyball or mini golf.
For Joan, who splits her time between Pennswood and New York City, her commitment to the school’s drama program is long lasting. “I’ve always worked with young people and I would like to continue to do so,” Joan said. “They make the world go around.”
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