Smile Politely

James and the Giant Peach will offer entertainment and education

Per an Urbana School District press release:

There’s no doubt that theatre is meant to entertain, but Urbana School District 116 teachers say educational opportunities also abound, whether you’re putting together the show, sitting in the audience, or attending a Saturday morning “Character Carnival.”

In the case of Urbana High School’s winter theatre production, James and the Giant Peach, teachers from Urbana’s elementary schools all the way up to the high school are excited about the show’s learning opportunities. For the elementary children, the play brings to life one of the district’s third-grade reading curriculum requirements, the beloved novel James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. And the high school students working to produce the show are faced by challenging problems to solve at every turn—problems that require immense creativity, collaboration, and even math, according to UHS geometry teacher Breanna Morton.

“There are so many special effects and magical things that have to happen on stage with this show,” says Morton, the theatre program’s Technical Director, who works with UHS English teacher and Director of Theatre Tim Broeker.

For instance, Morton says, her crew uses special effects to create an octopus that wrestles underwater with the centipede character. Another big challenge was creating the giant peach stage set.

“We had to create one giant set piece that’s anchored to the stage floor but can spin, so you can see the outside of the peach from one side and the inside from the other,” says Morton, who says she presents the problem to the students, but it’s up to them to solve it. “I’ve been excited to see how much geometry the kids have done in the process, to create a rectangular base that spins in a circle, and understanding how that relates to the radius of the peach.”

About forty high school students are on Morton’s crews for James and the Giant Peach, a show so dependent on special effects that Morton created a new crew solely for that purpose.

And the Urbana elementary teachers who are taking their classes to see the school day performances at the High School are pretty excited for their students to see a book they love come to life on stage. Larissa Medenis, a third grade teacher at Thomas Paine Elementary School, says the story provides plenty of teaching material.

James and the Giant Peach is packed with rich vocabulary, which allows students to learn new words and synonyms for other words that get overused in their writing and literature. It uses a lot of ‘spicy words’ as I like to call them,” Medenis said. “The book also allows the students to dive into a deeper understanding of the main character, James. An area we look at in 3rd grade is character traits, and how a character’s actions, motivations, and words help contribute to the events in the story.”

In addition to school-day shows being offered to Urbana elementary school classes, there will be five performances of James and the Giant Peach for the general public: February 18-21 at 7:00pm and February 22 at 2:30pm, all in the UHS Cobb Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for children and students and $10 for adults, and are available at the box office, which opens 30 minutes prior to each performance.

A “Character Carnival” is also being held on Saturday, February 21, from 10:00–11:30 am in the Urbana High School Commons (enter through the Iowa Street doors). The Carnival will feature the high school student actors in full costume for children to meet and take photos with, as well as storytelling, activities, peachy treats and refreshments, prizes, and balloons. Admission to the Carnival is $3 for kids ages five and under, and $5 for people six and up.

For more information or to schedule interviews, contact Tim Broeker:, 217.722.0690; or Breanna Morton,,  815-370-3254.

Related Articles