Animal Farm: Power Dynamics at Play

As a follow up to the Form 2 summer reading for their history class, Classic Repertory Company (CRC), the New Rep’s educational outreach program, performed a 75-minute adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the classic novel about the evils of totalitarianism, for the entire Middle School.

Prior to the performance, the troupe workshopped with an Upper Prep drama class. To release tension, the students performed some warm-up exercises for the body and brain. One activity involved the students walking through the dance studio. When the call was to walk, the group would stop; when the call was to go; the group stopped; when the call was to jump; they would crouch. A member of the CRC explained the process of creating their Animal Farm performance over a one-month period. “You throw things up. You see what works. If it doesn’t, it doesn't. Mistakes are part of the process.”

With the permission to make mistakes in the class, the students were willing participants and risk-takers in creating tableaus from a passage in the novel where the two pigs, Snowball and Napolean, debate over the construction of a windmill on the farm. Working with members of the troupe in small groups,  the students evoked the mood and setting and the relationship between the characters without the use of words or voices. Based on that initial point, the group learned to build a sequence of tableaus to create a full narrative and build the story in pictures.

The afternoon performance was inventive and spare; sound effects were employed with bongos, drums and cowbells.  Dressed in black tops and bottoms, the actors took on the multiple roles of the animals on the Manor Farm. One actor explained that the troupe added the role of the storyteller in the performance to aid in the progression of the story. The actors asked the students to pay attention to the power dynamics at play and to consider who has the power and who is attempting to take control.

Animal Farm has a timeless resonance where power, politics, and propaganda converge. All the animals rebel to free themselves of the yoke of the humans and claim themselves as equals through the tenets of “animalism”: no animal can live in a house, no animal has tyranny over another animal, two-legged creatures are the enemy. But, they soon learn that some animals are more equal than others as the pigs gain control of Animal Farm.

Animal Farm was presented through the Goodman Banks Series. Students experience the creative process firsthand as they work with visual and performing artists from around the world. Through performances and master classes, artists share their techniques, processes, and creations with Middle and Upper School students who come to know life through the eyes of working artists.
 
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