There is nothing a classroom full of students loves more than a field trip, and the Kimmel Cultural Campus is the perfect place for a day out full of learning and new experiences. Join New Jersey teacher Kimberly Dickstein Hughes and the students of her Greek Drama class at Haddonfield Memorial High School as they discover the world surrounding the hit Broadway musical, Hadestown, through specialized in-school curriculum culminating in a trip to see the show at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Academy of Music.
One of the greatest rewards of teaching comes from the lessons you never intended to learn. Let me explain.
I am a very tired teacher among many enduring the pandemic response. We’ve been living in hard times, and everything has felt out of tune since the world shut down and reopened. Enter a musical called Hadestown as a deus ex machina to resolve my malaise. Hadestown had given me renewed hope. It made me feel alive again. Theater breathes life into that shared human experience. There’s something deeply intimate about a cathartic moment that connects you with countless others. I think that’s what the stage does best. And that’s why I knew I had to take my students way down to Hadestown.
I first saw the Hadestown tour at the Kennedy Center in October 2021 as part of a Google For Education experience while attending an education policy conference. What was to be a fun night out during an intensive professional learning week inspired an idea for my Greek Drama class. I came home the following Monday and shared with my students the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and how moved I was by this myth turned musical. If you want to learn more about Hadestown, you must read the Kimmel’s blog post by Morgan Horell entitled, “Why You Should See Hadestown.” After reading Morgan’s love letter, you will come to appreciate our efforts. We looked up the tour schedule and learned that Hadestown would be at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in February, but we would be switching gears to our Shakespeare semester by then…but we had to find a way to make it happen.
The obligatory Playbill photo before all Broadway shows
The first obstacle was logistics. We had to consider not only the cost but also COVID-19 protocols. Tickets seemed expensive for an entire class. Taking students on a field trip and navigating constantly changing rules and regulations felt daunting. Doubt came in. It had been two years full of disappointment and unknowns, but I also felt deeply in my core that I had to show them it was possible. I have successfully designed my Shakespeare curriculum around what’s on stage in the Philadelphia region for nine years. This experience would be my first attempt at bringing students to the Kimmel Cultural Campus, but hopefully not my last.
I can still hear the Fates singing “Who are you to lead them?” antagonizing me as I encouraged my students to write a grant to a local organization called the Haddonfield Educational Trust. We divided portions of the grant proposal and conducted outreach. We brainstormed ideas on how to make this request applicable to a teacher innovation grant. We contacted the incredible Kimmel Group Sales team who put together a reasonable group rate for my students. We contacted a local bookstore for a class set of Hadestown texts at a discounted cost.
The Hadestown script, as well as book and lyric writer Anais Mitchell’s book Working on A Song, that became part of my students’ curriculum
The grant-writing process built community around this learning opportunity and engaged every member of the class. Students drafted everything from the educational goals to project implementation and timeline. I’ll never forget the spontaneous applause after we submitted the final draft knowing that I couldn’t make any promises. No matter what, we weren't looking back.
The second obstacle was the curriculum. Teaching Hadestown wasn’t in my plan for the year, but maybe the Fates would be with us. I thought about how the myth served as a source text for Anais Mitchell’s writing and how that work mirrors much of Shakespeare’s process in using source material for his plays.
What if we approached the study of Hadestown as a mentor text to our study of Shakespeare? What if we used Shakespeare’s works as source material for our own stories? What if we found a playwright to mentor our journey from Hadestown to Haddonfield and back again? If I’ve lost you at this point, what I am trying to say is that just simply thinking about teaching something new, something epic like Hadestown, led me to dream. And that’s why I teach. In these spaces, classrooms and theaters alike, we dream.
A short segment from our grant: “This semester-long pilot program would begin with analyzing the process of how the Greek tragedians and William Shakespeare used source texts (myths, Biblical influences, historical texts, literary sources, etc.) through a contemporary study of the musical, Hadestown..that retells the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The current Broadway national tour will be in Philadelphia throughout February and viewing the tour would be an immersive and enriching experience for the students that relates directly to the curriculum while exploring a facet of the arts community in Philadelphia. The lessons from Hadestown would serve as a model for a completely new approach to studying the classics in which the students will write a retelling of a Shakespeare play and its source text to help address contemporary concerns. The students will enhance their creative writing skills (which are rarely prioritized in standard English classes) and produce something truly unique by taking a Shakespeare play and making it not only their own but also for their community.”
My class and a representative from the Haddonfield Educational Trust as we received our official grant check.
We ordered the texts from Inkwood Books and started the first day of our Shakespeare semester talking about source material. We read the original myth and discussed the process of adaptation. We mapped the musical on our classroom wall and analyzed the core questions of the text. From tableaux activities and listening parties to flooding our Twitter and Instagram feeds, these songbirds would now see their work come to fruition.
A quick selfie before the show!
The contagious enthusiasm was palpable. They were dressed to impress and ready to go! We took our PATCO platform selfie and boarded the train to Philadelphia. Only a few had seen a professional production before, but Hadestown would be the first musical experience for many of my students.
I will never forget watching them look around the Academy of Music in awe — necks craned from their seats to the ceiling and back to the stage, eyes darting between the program and the set design. Then, with an “alright,” it started, and we fell in love with Orpheus and Eurydice all over again.
Group photo in the lobby after the show
“I am so grateful this was able to happen. Being able to see this production with our whole class was a unique experience. Coming from different backgrounds of musicals and plays there are performers in our class along with people whose first musical was Hadestown. I think seeing this musical really helped bring the work we do in class to life. It brings an understanding to how older texts can continue to be learned from. I am very glad everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.” - Briana
“10/10. I feel like during any normal year doing something like this would've been incredible, but the fact that we made it happen this year with Covid was even better. On top of that the musical was phenomenal so overall the experience was perfect.” - Owen
“I thought the musical and experience were incredibly impactful. It brought our class closer together and gave us very compelling material to learn about. The Greek myth is very applicable to today, as shown by the musical, which made the experience even more powerful.” - Jack
“At first I didn't know how beneficial Hadestown would be to our class but after viewing it, I realized how many lessons shown in the play can be applied to real life. For example labeling each other, trust, healthy relationships, feelings of loneliness, and so much more. It actually benefited more than our class. Overall it was a super cool experience.” - Zion
“My experience of Hadestown was phenomenal, I was blown away”. - Finn
And a special thank you to our class mascot, Puppet Shakespeare, who made the journey with us!
And then to top it all off, my class was able to have a Zoom call with actor Nicholas Barasch, who played the lead role of Orpheus in the national tour. The students were able to ask him questions about his performing career and the show. Speaking with someone directly involved with the show day-in and day-out just further deepened their appreciation for Hadestown, providing them a truly personal connection. Thank you, Nicholas!
My class with Nick!
I would encourage any educator reading this blog to prioritize experiences beyond your school building for your students. Now is the time. A trip to the Kimmel is within your reach. Experience is the greatest teacher and can revitalize your curriculum. Student engagement and investment grows exponentially when they get to see what they’ve studied come alive. Theater does just that and more.
Art can truly bring the world back into tune. Studying Anais Mitchell’s text and seeing it brought to life at the Kimmel Cultural Campus has reminded me why we teach and how studying the classics like Shakespeare and Greek Drama are relevant to today. My students have shown me the way the world could be, and I raise my cup to them for helping me see.
And we raise our cups to all the teachers giving students their 110% in every learning opportunity they can despite all the obstacles that arise. Want to bring your class or learning group to the Kimmel? Learn more about our Group Sales options here, and check out our upcoming events.
Kimberly Dickstein Hughes teaches English Language Arts at Haddonfield Memorial High School and was named the 2020 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. Her efforts to take students beyond the book and make content relevant and accessible have been nationally recognized. She continues to explore how students can partner with local organizations working toward the same goals and create meaningful content together.