The Wind in the Willows

©Dora Ficher 2010 “Meetinhouse” Oils and Acrylic 24×36

Last week I had the pleasure of helping out in the production of “The Wind in the Willows” performed by the 6th grade class of Plymouth Meeting Friends School, the school where I taught for many years.


The kids did such a wonderful job! You would not believe that they are only 12 yr. olds. I have known most of these kids since they were only 5 yrs old. It is such a pleasure to watch them now.


Theater production is a totally different art form than the art I do. Even though they are different, they still have many similarities.


The biggest one for me being that the director starts out with a blank canvas and builds up from there up to the finished product which is the performance.


The book, music and lyrics were written by Frumi Cohen, adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s novel “The Wind in the Willows”.


Well, let’s find out.

Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Frumi and student
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010

Today I invited my good friend, the director and playwright Frumi Cohen to tell us how she works with 12 year old students.


And this is what Frumi said about teaching theater to middle schoolers:


“The whole thing is a crazy, sometimes frustrating, process,” Cohen wrote in the summer 2006 edition of “Teaching Theatre Journal,” published by the Educational Theatre Association for a readership of some 5,000 middle and secondary school teachers. “But it’s also very educational, both for me and my students.
“I have learned how to work out the kinks of a scene, fix the ending, shift a character’s importance, strengthen the theme, rewrite lyrics, add songs, and all while I am hopefully giving a class of 12-year-olds (most of whom have never seen a Broadway or even a way-off-Broadway show in their reality TV and Disney-drenched lives) their first amazing experience of putting on a full scale musical.”
Yet, somehow – with all of the false starts, adolescent angst and hair-tearing – the light at the end of the tunnel always shines bright…on something. Maybe not the production of her dreams, but something with personal significance for each participant in what she refers to as “this unique and somewhat strange ritual called theatre.” 

Frumi Cohen’s Mission:


“Kids inspire me and so does musical theater. Using a measure of both, I write musicals that tell stories of unlikely, unsung heroes; a girl who fights her computer from a wheelchair, a boy who creates a green monster that can only sing. I aim to write stories that are honest, fast moving and believable–yet full of magic.  And I don’t write happy endings, just satisfying ones.  I want to see young people and their families as both actors and audience for my work. I want to show them that musical theater is every bit as gripping and in many ways more alive than an action film.” 

Frumi Cohen is a two-time recipient of the Grant Fellowship for Playwriting from The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Lyricist, composer and librettist, Frumi has written and directed over 20 original musicals since 1979, to showcase 6th grade students training in theater arts. Her work has gone on to be published and to place in national playwriting competitions by IUPUI, AATE and others and has been published and produced in New York and in theaters and schools across the country. Her musical A SHOW OF HANDS, enjoyed a three month run off-off Broadway at The Thirteenth Street Repertory Theater.


Thank you Frumi Cohen for being the first artist guest on my blog!


So, going back to how is this related to my art:


Both Frumi and I are creating, We both use our imagination which is something I remember talking about to all the children I have taught in my 30 or so years as an educator: “Use your imagination”


I use a brush and Frumi uses a computer.  We  both work very hard.


Something I learn and see every year is how the  lights work, how Andy Emery, the lighting designer mixes the colors and paints a picture with the lights on stage.


Same thing for the make-up. The children’s faces get transformed and become their characters thanks to Ann Alberts, Jon Elliot and Laurie Harbeson. They are all art forms.


And then the sound, that has been my job for the last few years. Another art form and not easy dealing with the neurotic sound system. Every day is a new experience with this.


So let me tell you how all this impacts my work in the studio. It totally energizes me, it makes me want to go and create new things. You might even see Toad, Mole, Rat & Badger in one of my next paintings.


Or maybe the weasels, yeah.


Following are photographs which I took during the week of rehearsals. Enjoy!

Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010

Set Design by Ann Alberts

Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010

One of my favorite quotes that hangs in the PMFS art room

Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010
Photograph ©Dora Ficher 2010

7 Replies to “The Wind in the Willows”

  1. I like your motto “Use your imagination”… and the pictures say a million words… Nice post!

  2. I love this post!! All of the enthusiasm you feel is infectious in the best possible way…AND…I will be coming back to learn what I can. As you mention theatre is a different, yet in some ways similar, to our way of moving through the world as artists.
    At my apprentice program at the Contemporary Art Center I suddenly, for the first time, have a group of girls who are working on a production, very short and sweet, that they’re calling ‘Rapunzel with a Twist’.

    I love this your share…thank you!!
    .-= iona´s last blog ..Word Play…a second installment to ‘What’s in a Name’ =-.

  3. Dora, I’m very fond of theatre. With kids, the teacher/director makes ALL the difference.

    A few years ago I saw a high school production WITH MANY 9th GRADERS of “Chicago”. It was amazing! The director took seemingly ordinary kids, many shy and awkward, and transformed them into major stage talent. The show was fast-paced, saucy, and exciting in a way I could NOT have imagined.

    I admire your friend Frumi Cohen very much and I enjoyed your blog about her. She is doing a world of good for those kids- good that will last them the rest of their lives.

  4. Thank you for your comments!

    Joyita, that is definitely my motto!

    Iona, I LOVE ‘Rapunzel with a Twist’ especially the “twist” part.
    I do love to be part of this production every year. Frumi is amazing! and it’s so much fun to work with these children whom I have known since they were little peanuts.

    Frumi. Glad you liked the post! I will send you the pictures!

    Lynn, Thank you for your kind comments. If you are ever near Philly at the beginning of May you can see one of Frumi’s productions.

    Hannah, Thank you! It was a long week but lots of fun.

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