ESOL theater class visits Wolf Trap Foundation


Jacob Todd

The ESOL theater students take photos on the stage where legends performed.

Watkins Mill’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Theater program toured the Wolf Trap Foundation on April 24, 2023, to learn about the workings of a real-life performance venue.

When the students first arrived, they were directed by Annie Mancuso, who served as their acting guide. The first stop was the picnic area, where students proceed to have lunch.  Afterward, they began the tour of the grounds, starting with the Filene Center.

“Most of our students have aspirations of theater and performance but I believe standing on the stage, sitting in the makeup rooms, and also attending professional workshops helped make those dreams feel more attainable,” English Language Development teacher Giselle Amezquita said. 

The Filene Center is where all the big shows take place. It consists of many things: an amphitheater, a rehearsal hall, a reception room, dressing rooms, and more. The new guide, Jacob Todd, and the interpreter, Norman Calhuon, gave a tour of the building backstage in the rehearsal hall to the students.  Here, students learned the history of the building and how the National Park and Wolf Trap work together to maintain the venues and grounds.

Then, students toured the amphitheater and learned how behind the scenes worked, seeing a live fly system spanning 150 feet into the air. The students even walked onto the stage where famous people like John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lady Gaga have performed. Students learned that the amphitheater can also hold up to 7,028 people, while the front portion of the stage can lower 30 feet underground.

Following this, Todd led students into the basement of the Center. The basement was divided into multiple sections, the first section being the reception room commonly used for meet and greets or just hanging out. After students were shown the dressing rooms which come in two different sizes: principal and ensemble. Principal rooms can hold one to two people while ensemble rooms can hold ten to fifteen people. These rooms include bathrooms, kitchens, mirrors, couches, resting areas, and whatever a group may need to get prepared. 

Leaving the dressing rooms behind, students visited the game room where performers can come to bide their time. The room comes equipped with a ping pong table, pool table, Xbox, Nintendo, and even a Wolf Trap customized Pac-Man machine. The final stop in the basement was the main suite where the headliner can relax until it is time for them to perform. With that, students finished their tour of the Filene Center.

Students were then introduced to Anna Tripp and Juliana Yerovi who became the acting guides, students also met Will Rifenbark, a park ranger. They then began their hike around the grounds. On this hike, students learned that the name Wolf Trap came from a creek on the grounds where a man would trap wolves. Also while hiking they saw the outside theater that seats 700 people and some of the wildlife like turtles and a snake. 

Once the hike concluded students were given a snack break. It was during this break that Melissa McDaniel appeared; she would then become the acting guide for the rest of the day. McDaniel proceeded to lead students to an outside station where they participated in a djembe drum circle taught by a man named Koffi. This took the form of a call and response, Koffi would play a rhythm and students would follow. As the rhythms became more complex the students chained them together to create music. 

The drum circle ended with students dancing to the rhythms they created. The next stop was the Center for Education. There the students were given an opportunity to talk with different heads at Wolf Trap and learn about their jobs and some of the events that take place at the venues. 

After the panel, the students ended their day with performances from all the schools in attendance which were:

  • Annandale High School: who performed in an orchestra.
  • Tuscarora High School: who reenacted the myth of Persephone.
  • Cardozo Education Campus: who sang “We’re All In This Together” from High School Musical.
  • Mount Vernon High School: who gave a speech tributing their orchestra and music composition to a student that passed away.
  • Watkins Mill High School: who showed a video about the struggles of immigrant students coming to America.
  • Gwynn Park High School: who performed a dance highlighting their hard work in choreography.  Showing the struggle with mental illness and substance abuse.
  • H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program: who gave a speech about their student’s experiences creating their very own play.
  • Charles H. Flowers High School: who put on a showcase showing that students with disabilities can be judged off of their skills and not their disabilities. After an outstanding round of applause Awards were handed out to each school. 

“I felt very proud of myself and all my classmates because even though we don’t know how to speak English well, we gave it our all [during our performance],” freshman Kathy Aguirre Menendez said. “Being here in the United States is not as easy as everyone thinks because we are not here because we want to, but because it is the best for our future.”

With this, the students ended their night with a cocktail dinner, loaded onto the buses, and made their way home. Overall, it was a great day for all schools in attendance. They were all able to show their gratitude to Wolf Trap for the grant they provided and the opportunity to showcase their skills. Only seven schools were able to qualify for the grant after a rigorous selection process. It was through this grant, that the ESOL theater class were able to go on the trip. The grant also helped hire a professional director along with more staff to help with their showcase.

“We couldn’t have done any of this without Carol Cadby, our amazing bilingual artist-in-residence and director,” ESOL theater teacher Sharon Asro Faber said. “[Cadby] helped students who have no theater experience create a beautiful script, give meaning to their voices, and choreograph their movements on stage.”

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