MAKE THEATRE - Spotlight on Schools
Mercy High School, San Francisco
Mercy High School, an all-girls college preparatory high school in San Francisco, participated in the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project in the fall of 2010. Mercy’s production of Dead Man Walking was unique: the performance, directed by long time drama director, Liz McAninch, featured female actors in the major roles for the first time in an adaptation done by McAninch. Mercy is also the home of the new Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project office. We are happy to put the Spotlight on Mercy, and to share their creative approach to create discourse at the school.
For the past 10 years, Mercy has conducted a school-wide reading project for all students, faculty and staff. In addition to reading the text, Mercy creates interdisciplinary activities around the themes of the book to support learning experiences across the curriculum. In the academic year 2010-2011, Mercy selected “Dead Man Walking” as the school-wide book, and Sr. Helen visited the campus and spoke to the school community. Faculty and staff worked diligently as part of a curriculum committee to create significant learning experiences regarding the book and play for the students. All aspects of the death penalty were exposed in every subject area throughout the school, and a new interdisciplinary curriculum was born!
Below are highlights of the curriculum. For a copy of the full Mercy High School’s interdisciplinary curriculum, please contact us/click here. If you would like to see your school featured in “Spotlight on Schools,” please email Greg Callaghan.
While reading King Lear, students compared and contrasted the cultures of pre-Christian Britain with modern America, focusing on types of government and criminal justice systems. This was leading up to the final act in King Lear when both Lear and Cordelia are unjustly sentenced to death and Cordelia is hanged.
Students looked at the soundtrack to the movie, analyzed the lyrics as poetry, and related the songs to the book. Students were assigned a specific song and instructed them to explore the lyrics for significant images (both figurative and literal), details, and diction. They were then grouped together by song where each group designed a presentation for the whole class. After each presentation, the class listened to the song and discussed the lyrics and music.
Students discussed standard concepts including deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation and correlated it with Dead Man Walking. Students focused on Sr. Helen’s interactions with the parents of the victims, and watched the movie The Empty Chair, directed by Lofaro and Teich. This prompted much discussion and a variety of interpretations, and it gave pro-death penalty students a chance to talk. The course finished with a speaker from Santa Clara University’s Innocence Project.
This project consisted of gathering and presenting data about the topics of poverty, prison systems and the death penalty in and out of the US. Students worked in groups of four or five in gathering their data and presenting them using diagrams, systematic lists and matrices problem-solving strategies they had learned in this class on posters with accompanying written explanations.
Beginning Art B
The whole class discussed the premise of the book “Dead Man Walking” and was asked to visualize how they might convey their thoughts and opinions using the medium of scratchboard. They were given three options: to illustrate a scene from the book, create a political cartoon, or come up with a phrase or symbol they could use as a sign at a protest (for or against) capital punishment.
Students read and discussed an article about the chemicals used in lethal injection. Students also researched alternative chemicals for sodium thiopental, the barbiturate used to put the prisoner to sleep before two other drugs are administered to finish killing him. Students researched the history of lethal injection in California and the rest of the United States.
AP US History
Discussions of the death penalty and the book/play were brought up “organically” in class with contextual frameworks as: discussion of the Bill of Rights, notably the Eighth Amendment, but also the concept of the Bill of Rights as protection of the People from the power of the State; the prison reforms of the Progressive Movement in which students discuss the mutability of laws, policies, and practices as well as how the ideas of just a few dedicated people can be transmitted throughout a society; the role of state judicial systems and the federal courts (particularly the Warren and Burger courts) in the in abolishment/retention/reinstatement of the death penalty. Students were encouraged to research the history of the death penalty in California for their term papers.
French and Spanish: Levels I and II
Each student was assigned a target language country. The student researched the country's position on the death penalty. She then created a square showing the flag of the country and either "Oui/Sí" or "Non/No" depending on the language. Students then placed the squares on a colored background depending upon whether the country did or did not have the death penalty. These squares then created a giant quilt, which was also a quick visual of the death penalty around the world. French students reread Chapter 1 of Dead Man Walking in English and discussed and researched further all references to French-speaking culture (New Orleans, Cajuns, Camus, etc.).