I think by now we’ve all read through a blue sky exhibition post, and this time I’m here to talk about the 2018 winter exhibition. However, this time around it was different. Instead of creating a project, having the steps behind it, and we each set up a station and talk about what we did to complete it, it was an experience. Our whole class was tasked to create one final product together, and it would be called, “The Carousel of Communism”.
Each year we do two of these exhibitions, each one encapsulating our previous unit or answering an inquiry question that we wanted to solve. As of now we’ve done seven of these presentations including this one, and they drastically change each time.
This year’s was so out of the ordinary it was honestly extremely hard to comprehend right off the bat. We had started the year by continuing along our history timeline and entering the 1950’s.
This style of project was attempt number two at the kind of exhibit that Ms Willemse and Mr Hughes wanted us to show. Last year’s graduating PLP class had done this same
style of immersive experience only with a different topic, World War One. Our class was pitched the idea of creating a walk through experience in which guests would be
transported back in time to the 1950’s. We were tasked with having to create underlying themes and connections, one to Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, stay on theme of the 50’s, and create a connection to our modern society today
Written in the 50’s, Arthur Miller’s play was centred around the Salem witch trials of 1962, and was a supposed to be a direct reflection on his modern day at the time.
Drawing research from the witch trials that he had conducted as an undergraduate, Miller composed The Crucible in the early 1950s. Miller wrote the play during the brief run of power by Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose anti-Communism actions and catastrophic attitude was the spark that propelled the United States into a dramatic anti-Communist fervour during these first tense years of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Led by McCarthy, special congressional committees conducted highly controversial investigations intended to root out Communist sympathizers in the United States. As with the alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communists were encouraged to confess and to identify other Red sympathizers as means of escaping punishment. The policy resulted in a whirlwind of accusations. As people began to realize that they might be condemned as Communists regardless of their innocence, many “cooperated,” attempting to save themselves through false confessions, creating the image that the United States was overrun with Communists and perpetuating the hysteria.
The liberal entertainment industry, in which Miller worked, was one of the chief targets of these “witch hunts,” as their opponents termed them. Some cooperated; others, like Miller, refused to give in to questioning. Those who were revealed, falsely or legitimately, as Communists, and those who refused to incriminate their friends, saw their careers suffer, as they were blacklisted from potential jobs for many years afterward. At the time of its first performance, in January of 1953, critics and cast alike perceived The Crucible as a direct attack on McCarthyism (the policy of sniffing out Communists). Its comparatively short run, compared with those of Miller’s other works, was blamed on anti-Communist fervour. When Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of spying for the Soviets and executed, the cast and audience of Miller’s play observed a moment of silence. Still, there are difficulties with interpreting The Crucible as a strict connection to the1950s and McCarthyism. For one thing, there was no solid proof that witches or devil-worshipers existed in Salem. However, there were certainly Communists in 1950s America, and many of those who were lionized as victims of McCarthyism at the time, such as the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss (a former State Department official), were later found to have been in the pay of the Soviet Union. Miller’s Communist associates were often proved much more guilty than the victims of the Salem witch trials in the play, such as Rebecca Nurse and John Proctor.
The next part we had to focus on was a deep dive into the 1950’s, and not just through a comparison lense. Our class started fairly easily, and what some outsiders to the program might consider “not real school”, but that’s what we’re all about here in PLP, finding unorthodox and out of the ordinary ways to demonstrate and interpret learning. So naturally we kicked things off with an episode of the sitcom, Leave It To Beaver.
This tv series defines the “golly gee” and seemingly wholesomeness of the 1950s and `60s , where dad Ward Cleaver always gets home in time for dinner, mom June cleans the house wearing a dress and pearls, and kids Wally and Theodore (Beaver) always learn a valuable life lesson by the end of the episode. However, you can’t foget about Wally’s friend, Eddie Haskell, who can always be counted on to cause trouble while kissing up to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver.
Following this, we truly began to dive into the realm of the 50’s, the end and beginning of yet another war, the invasion of communists, and a filtering in of new presidents. Only when we had a full and complete understanding of all this knowledge is when we could finally start the final product/experience. Oh, and I should mention that throughout this entire planning and creative process, our teacher’s were away with another PLP class and left their full faith in us to stay on task… risky move.
The first step was to separate all of this information we had gathered and put them into categories. Not going to lie this is probably what took the most amount of time, and we ended up with seven, each one would be a “room” you’d walk through and be part of a scene that would take place.
The next things we did were happening at the same time and we had to divide up the class to make it happen. Group one was handling roles, who would play what character, who would write what script, who was capable of helping with set design, props to bring in, costume design, whatever we needed, we had to do it ourselves. The second bunch of teacherless lead kids (aka. My group) was working on not only the full story outline, but an individual plot diagram for each room scene.
When the teachers arrived back to school, they were thoroughly impressed and surprised, which we were kind of offended by but whatever… we still did a killer job. The only feedback we received was to combine scenes one and two, and to move the Eisenhower speech to start of the experience in order to introduce the feelings and what was happening at the start of the decade.
After that brief check-in, it was time to get started on materials. We needed TONS of stuff in order to bring this spectacle to life and it took multiple classes to finalize a list on the board. And these were just the ones we needed to bring in, we hadn’t even gotten to the point of construction yet, or costumes for that matter. So all of this needed to come in within one week or it wouldn’t be what we had imagined in our heads, it took a lot of effort and a lot of panicking to pull that one off.
In the end I can confidently say this is mine, as well as my classmates’ most proud work we’ve ever produced. Not only were we pushed outside of our comfort zone as actors (you bet I played Eisenhower and had to write that whole speech myself), designers, artists, and leaders, but we executed it well and in a very timely manner. As a group of 18 people, 16 and 17 years of age, producing what you saw in the walk through as well as many other things that went on behind the scenes beforehand and on the night of, I think simply shows the capabilities of my PLP cohort.