Theater and Science Classes Join Forces

What’s the point of building a fog machine if you’re not going to use it for anything? That’s the question that drove Middle School Science Teacher Ty Scaletta to think about how his students could collaborate with Upper School technical theater students to put their engineering projects to work.
The end result was a Halloween house, open to Lower School students on October
29, and then reimagined into a scarier haunted house for older students on
October 31. Technical Theater Director Austin Gruber and his students built the
maze, painted and decorated the structure, and staffed it on both days, while Middle
School science students built and ran fog machines that were placed throughout.

“It’s a genuine engineering problem,” Ty explained. “One that comes with a set
of real criteria—like it needs to be small, portable and can’t run off electricity. And
there’s also a time constraint. It forces them to actually use some of the design
thinking they developed in Lower School science classes along with the principles
they’ve learned in the past eight weeks of Middle School science to create something
that Austin and his Upper School class can actually use.”

The project also provided a different kind of experience for the 15 Upper School
students enrolled in Austin’s technical theater class.

“They were using traditional scenic building techniques to create something different that’s seasonal and is going to engage the students in a different way,” he explained. “When I told them that we were going to build a haunted house this year, they lit up like the Fourth of July. They’re excited when they work on shows, but giving them another opportunity where they are not only building but also going to be involved has allowed them to engage so much more fully in the process.”

In addition to building the structure, which utilized leftover set pieces from past theater productions, as well as scraps of wood and other materials, the students had to think about designing the lighting and sound, as well as incorporating other atmospherics like fog. Upper School students in Austin’s Advanced Open Studio class and Middle School technical theater
students also pitched in with painting and other last-minute tasks.

The senior kindergartners were the first to go through the maze on Monday. Austin and Ty met with Early Childhood Director and Junior Kindergarten Teacher Kathy Irvin for advice on how to make the Halloween house appropriate for the littlest Raiders. So for the first version, all lights were up and the focus was on being silly and goofy, rather than scary.

The students embarked on a scavenger hunt of sorts where they were tasked with finding hidden broom sticks. Along the way they encountered a dancing scarecrow, a silly science witch demonstrating dry ice bubbles and the Great Pumpkin, who led them in a pumpkin rolling game.

Austin and the theater students spent Tuesday transforming the space into a bona fide haunted house for the older students, complete with strobe lights and actors hiding in the shadows, ready to pop out and scare passers-by.

On Halloween, students lined up during their free periods, and those who dared went through
four at a time. Austin and Ty said they hope they can build on this project in years to come, and
they’d like to involve even more people in the future.

“There’s not a lot of cross-departmental work like this,” Ty explained. “There haven’t been a lot of opportunities for performing arts and science to cut across and do something together, so that’s a nice interaction there, too.”
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North Shore Country Day School is a junior kindergarten through 12th grade, college-preparatory school founded in Winnetka, Illinois in 1919.  With rigorous academic pursuit as the cornerstone, North Shore provides many opportunities for all students to excel – in the classroom and the laboratory, on the stage and the playing field, in their communities and beyond.