The central character in “Matilda the Musical” (and in the Roald Dahl novel on which the Tony-winning show is based) is pretty bright for a 5-year-old. Super bright. She has talent in math, reading and moving stuff with her mind, which makes cleaning her room much easier. When the pint-size Einstein goes to school, she meets two very different educators: terrifying headmistress Miss Trunchbull and kindly teacher Miss Honey. We talked to Bryce Ryness and Jennifer Blood, the actors who play the teachers in the show’s touring company (at the Kennedy Center for a holiday-season run), and to Dr. Marie Sheckels, professor of education at the University of Mary Washington, about the characters’ educational strategies.
How does your character manage classroom behavior?
Ryness (Trunchbull): Lots of shouting and belittling. It’s also a lot of physical activity to get them so tired there’s no extra energy left over to get into trouble.
Blood (Honey): I think she has a very calming presence, just very warm. She gives them respect.
Dr. Sheckels’ take: Kids do need to get out and run around; that’s why recess is so important. A lot of good teachers will have the kids get up and do exercises, but it’s in a very fun way and it’s to help the children rather than to discipline them.
What’s your character’s reaction when faced with a student like Matilda?
Ryness: She views her with suspicion. Anyone who’s that bright or gifted is clearly up to no good.
Blood: She’s never faced something like this before, and Matilda really lights a fire in her to go above and beyond to get this kid some special help.
Dr. Sheckels’ take: Trunchbull might be threatened a little because she doesn’t quite know how to deal with [Matilda]. Sometimes if you have a child that is a little different, you may not know exactly what to do, but if you work with that child you can understand how best to help them. Miss Honey took the lead from the child, rather than feeling threatened or insecure about what to do.
Overall, what is your character’s basic educational philosophy?
Ryness: Tyranny. The true way to educate a child is disciplining them.
Blood: She really doesn’t talk down to them; she really tries to give them the space to come up with things. She treats them like people and individuals.
Dr. Sheckels’ take: Miss Honey has created a student-centered classroom. She’s teaching each individual child, trying to meet all their needs, and provide a safe and nurturing environment where they can grow and blossom. Miss Trunchbull is really in it for the power for herself and not really for the children. You wonder why she’s in education to begin with.
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; Tue. through Jan. 10, $30-$204.
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