Drama Dragon’s classroom visits an emotional experience
Elementary school students get support for having feelings.
A classroom of small child re n hugs a t e a l d r a go n whose horns reach almost to the ceiling.
The children express dual emotions — they’re happy that Drama Dragon visited with its book about emotions, but they’re sad that the fanged creature is leaving.
Whether happy, sad or angry, Drama Dragon aims to light a fire of knowledge in children by illustrating emotions are valid and worth working through.
“In theater classes, we talk about emotions all the time, and when children are given the opportunity to discuss them, it makes dealing with them easier and more manageable,” said Julie Rowe, director of education at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. “Having a mascot and book that helps us put words to our feelings helps us all have objective dialogue about feelings and what to do with them.”
Dr a ma Dr a go n i s b e s t suited for students in kindergarten through second grade, but the scaly serpent doesn’t just visit elementary schools. The Maltz theater project also visits preschools, libraries and community events in Palm Beach and Martin counties.
When Drama Dragon visits, it’s accompanied by a teaching artist called Dragon Fly. Drama Dragon and Dragon Fly visit a class, talk about who the costumed creature is, then Dragon Fly reads the dragon’s book aloud to the children.
After hearing the book, the children are led through dis- Drama Dragon visits with students at Jupiter Elementary School this past fall. More than 1,750 people have been introduced to Drama Dragon in schools, libraries and community events since the book and mascot launched in late October. cussion points on the book’s message about expressing emotions. At the end of the classroom visit, each child receives a copy of the book to take home and share with family and friends. Drama Dragon and Dragon Fly have gone into bilingual classrooms and conducted the activity in English and Spanish.
“It’s also very moving to see and hear children have a positive, objective dialogue about processing emotions, both good and bad,” Rowe said. “This opportunity to self-reflect in a positive setting is healthy for everyone.”
Funded by the Maltz Jupiter Theatre endowment created by Milton and Tamar Maltz, Drama Dragon is a longstanding dream of the theater’s producing artistic director and chief executive, Andrew Kato.
The mascot is the creation of a dynamic team of South Florida artists who collaborated to make Kato’s vision a reality. Renowned author and illustrator Janeen Mason, of the national award-winn i n g Oc e a n C o mmoti o n series, spent months sketching out Drama Dragon’s likeness, followed by a 32-page, full-color storybook. Using a mixed-media technique, Mason, of Stuart, used acrylic gouache and colored pencils to achieve Drama Dragon’s perfect “look.”
Kato and Mason enlisted writer and performer Riley Roam (co-owner of the children’s theater company, Page Turner Adventures, and Storyology Studios) to write the accompanying story about Drama Dragon’s quandaries. The result was a colorful children’s book distributed free to local schools, with future plans for some touring minimusicals and sequels to the book.
“There are many exciting possibilities for Drama Dragon in the future,” Kato said.
A mascot company in Canada spent last summer building a costumed character to match Mason’s illustrations. A script of movements was prepared for Drama Dragon by Rowe, and the program launched last fall.
Roam’s writing flew off the pages.
“I used fun, juicy words like ‘yikes’, ‘eek,’ ‘wowee’ and ‘gasp,’” said Roam, of Lake Worth. “I also tried to use evocative language to describe Drama Dragon’s e moti o ns . Fo r exa mple, sometimes, those feelings are fizzy and scrumptious. Sometimes they’re tingly and surprising. And sometimes they’re sticky and heavy.”
Roam realized from the p ro j e c t ’s i n c e p t i o n h ow important Drama Dragon’s message would be to young children.
“I was thrilled to bring my perspective to the project,” Roam said. “Even though the character is called Drama Dragon, we don’t actually see him performing onstage. The entire world is its stage. Drama Dragon is a very dramatic character who experiences big emotions that can sometimes be overwhelming. We wanted all kids to be able to relate to Drama Dragon and understand that big feelings are OK.”
The production team made sure kids could connect to the gentle scaly monster.
“Sometimes Drama Dragon will wear a tuxedo; other times a swimsuit or a dress,” Rowe said. “The goal is to provide a fun-loving role model that everyone can identify with. We all have feelings, and it’s OK to express our emotions. It’s what we do with them that counts.”
For more information, call 561-743-6124 or visit jupitertheatre.org/community-outreach.
Drama Dragon gives a big hug to students from Jupiter Elementary School.
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s director of education Julie Rowe (from left), illustrator Janeen Mason and author Riley Roam review proofs of the book at the Lighthouse ArtCenter Gallery & School of Art prior to sending it to print in September.