Author Archives: The Drama Teacher

About The Drama Teacher

I got into it for the money.

You’re an Animal, Larry: The Deer in Headlights Game

I have a pretty reluctant second period class with a few vulnerable students and some who don’t quite click with the whole spontaneity thing that we try to cultivate in theatre. We played the following game yesterday with enormous success.

They were in groups of three, standing in a circle. Extra kids in groups of four works.

I handed out INDEX CARDS with the names of animals on them, having made enough so that each group could choose between two animals. Illusion of choice is key here, because scared teens often behave like toddlers, so just giving them the illusion that they are making a decision can be very effective.

Each group makes a sculpture of their animal with one person in the middle as the face and the other on the sides as ears or legs or whatever. Example is “elephant” where one makes trunk, other two make ears.

Each group then performs their sculpture and teaches it to rest of class. Groups huddle and make  sure they know a few others.

One person goes in center of circle. They can either point to any random group of three and say the name of an animal, in which case the group has 10 counts to form it, or say “Deer in Headlights” in which case all three must stand stock still with their eyes wide open.

If this doesn’t happen fast enough or happens in an unclear manner, the person in the center switches with that person and the game continues.

Fast, friendly, and ridiculous. Every class loved it. Give it a try!





Fun With Playwrights: A Final Project

If you’re like me, it takes a solid month to put the year away and get the next one revved up, during which, obviously, you still want to be teaching a decent class and maintaining the culture you’ve so carefully cultivated throughout the year. Many teachers assign dreaded research and performance projects for just this reason.  They’re great for everyone, because they allow the perfect balance of horizon expansion and procrastination, all of which lead to creative discovery for theatre students. So  feel free to  file this away for the future even if you’re already in the thick of your finals.

Like the way I cook, this project involves some practice, some text, some systemic management, some direct instruction, some small groups, and a lot of creative and responsive improvisation. I call it Fun With Playwrights. Because it can be.

1. Get some scripts that you have lying around that the kids haven’t read yet. Short One Act plays are ideal for beginners, advanced students need to level up and hit your full length collection.

2. If you have a lot of time, which you don’t now, have the students read a few and and summarize or otherwise demonstrate basic competency in their knowledge of them.

Here are some questions I ask of them when I have a lot of time. I put these on a worksheet.



  • The Lottery, Brainerd Duffield (Shirley Jackson)
  • The Dumbwaiter, Harold Pinter
  • Dojoji, Yukio Mishima
  • Novio Boy, Gary Soto
  • The Love Doctor, Moliere
  • The Hitchhiker, Lucille Fletcher
  • The Post Office, Rabindranath Tagore
  • Sorry, Wrong Number, Stephen King
  • Back There, Rod Serling

4. Each group picks a play. You pick groups, or not, depending on what is happening in your class.

5. Have them research the play, create a FUN FACTS SHEET, citing sources.

6. Have them create an IDEA BOARD with images from the Google, in Google slides.  10-20 images. Talk about how designers use these for research and inspiration.

8. Have them choose either a SCENE PERFORMANCE or a DESIGN option.  (you can totally restrict these to either or, but I find for general classes it’s fun for students to delve into interest areas).

Here are my descriptions of those options:


  • Memorize and block a 4 minute cut.
  • Research acting style of scene and solve stage problems.
  • Create sound and lighting and props and costumes for scene.
  • On day of performance, come to class with all props (you create) costumes and a plan for furniture to create scene, prepared to present:
    • An introduction which explains the play, playwright, and historical context using the 10 Fun Facts from your research.
    • A well-rehearsed 4 minute scene which shows off a production quality slice of the particular play you decided on. This is the last drama some of you will do for us, so make it count!


On day of final, present:

  • Your Fun Facts about the playwright
  •  Your Idea Board
  •  Proof of Concept of one of the following areas

COSTUME DESIGN Provide 3 full color sketches for characters from your play, with various genders, ages, ethnicities and body types with accurate proportions, heads, faces, hands and feet. Provide fabric swatches for each sketch indicating what the clothing would look like.LIVE MODEL BONUS: costume a live model and use them in your presentation.Presentation must focus on historical research, character, and aesthetic choices, as well as any mobility issues for actors.

SET DESIGN Provide a full color ¼ inch scale rendering of the proposed set using your school’s theatre as a model. You may use a program like Sketchup or do it by hand. Include both a ground plan and an elevation. OR Provide a 3-D white model of the set to scale. Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research, and functionality of the set.

PROP DESIGN Provide a spreadsheet of all props in the play.Provide 3 full color sketches or 1 accurate prop models of props to be used. (model means you build it)Presentation should focus on historic/aesthetic research, process of prop construction and functionality of props.

SOUND DESIGN. Provide a spreadsheet of sound effects and music cues for a play.Gather and be prepared to play a minimum of 6 sound samples for the play. ONE MUST BE AN ORIGINALLY CREATED SOUND EFFECT OR ORIGINAL COMPOSITION.Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research and feature cues.

PUBLICITY Provide a sample publicity timeline for a production of this play at your school including a strategy for publicity for your community and a social media campaign. Present this.Provide a full color poster (need to use original art for this with) date, time, ticket prices, and necessary information for a production of this play.Make a sample program, button, or shirt to help publicize the show.

LIGHTS Provide a light cue list for the show including light effects, overall lighting, and lights that may need to be practical.Create three sketches of a set showing different lighting effects potentially used in a production ORCreate a white model and photograph the effect of the three effects using gels and flashlights. Present the photos in digital or printed form. Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research and show evidence of sketches or photographs.

9. You’re going to have to manage the heck out of this. For best success therefore:

  • Continue with daily warmups and games
  • Create deadlines
  • Actively showcase ongoing student work (critique idea boards early)
  • Have Reality Check time where students assess what they have accomplished and what needs to happen
  • Teach mini lessons on each design area (now is the time to pull out old show posters, designs, and other stuff that you are in the process of warehousing and have it around for posterity
  • Setup rehearsal schedules with individual groups and check progress frequently
  • Let your particular skills shine. Love sound design? Teach it! Have a friend working in the biz who can guest lecture on a topic? Bring them in.
  • As much as possible allow kids professional time with you in breakout meetings and guided research. Show them examples of the kinds of charts and lists people make, and encourage them to watch excerpts of their shows and research productions. This is a great way to build knowledgable theatre makers. If you have the space, let them get messy building their mockups.

10. HAVE FUN!  See the growth in the students you have worked with all year. The lovely thing about this product is how much small group and one on one time it allows you with some of your students. If you’ve lit some creativity aflame throughout the course of the year, you’ll really see it take off with this kind of project.




Look Around: Mindful Moments in the Drama Classroom

A few years ago, my theatre teaching practice was transformed by a conscious decision to begin class in a circle every day.

It’s not a perfect ritual, but it’s comfortable, a good way to get a headcount and a pulsecheck on the room, and it mostly builds energy for the students. It is easy to see the difference on days when we have to move class to a different location such as to the theatre for a presentation, how the students handle their confusion and bristle a bit before settling into their typical class personas, closed, individual, side to side. Shadows of the students I see in circle, bolder, able to grab a room, able to make a false step and bounce back in front of an audience of their peers.

Beginning every class with a grand opening has its disadvantages, mostly in the guise of teacher stress. On a human day, an off day, if you start class with a projection on the board or handing something out, you can hide behind those activities a little bit. If you’re working sick or tired or angry in a circle, there is no mercy. You gotta fake it so you can make it, so about a year ago, I started meditating in the mornings to see if I could fake it better, bringing myself into better regulation and form to deal with the 30 plus needy and disregulated young geniuses around me every hour.

It really worked. I still got cranky and frustrated at times with innattentive or disruptive kids, but I had way more energy and stamina overall, and simply enjoyed being with them more. When life got very strange and sad at the end of last semester with the impending loss of our classroom, I was able to mostly just be there for how sad it was, which helped my students step up and be there too. Looking back on this, I credit my practice with helping me make it through.

Last year, I dabbled a bit in doing some mindfulness work with students, mostly at the advanced level. This year I decided to formally bring the work into my curriculum,  in a way that would be appropriate for them and hopefully serve as an extra tool in their self- discovery toolkits.  I took an online course over the summer, Mindfulness for Educators, and started incorporating lessons into my classroom practice every week.

If you haven’t heard of mindfulness, it’s just, well, the practice of being for a moment.

Google defines mindfulness as the following: ” 1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something, or 2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” It describes it as a “therapeutic technique”, but that’s not really the focus I try to bring across in my classroom.

Basically, we sit down, get comfortable, talk about what is essentially the practice of “noting” or identifying thoughts without judging them in various capacities (good/bad, past/present, etc) and then focus on watching our breath for a minute to two, depending on the class. Nobody has to participate, as long as they don’t disturb others, and the discussion surrounding it is extremely clinical and non-sectarian. My students are invited to be curious about their minds, and ok with their feelings, for a minute or two at a time.  If there is an implicit goal being expressed about the work, it is for us to know ourselves better so that we can have an easier time going about the business of the day.

The concept of “noticing” is a big one in my classes, as it invites students to respond to the work of others and their own work with honest reflection, an eye towards detail, and a way to discuss aesthetics of performance without labeling positive or negative. Some things we do in performance are effective, others are not. It takes the evaluation process away from personality and that silly word ‘talent” and moves it into achievable outcomes such as enough rehearsal and maintaining effective working relationships while practicing skills.

This language is very important to my highly analytical, sometimes socially cautious crowd, and when we “note” our feelings and reactions in mindful practice, it reinforces the idea that creativity and community are also practices which can be developed.

In order to maintain a very secular approach to the work, I use a Vibra-Tone, rather than a singing bowl. This is an instrument available on amazon or through music shops, which allows you to create a beautiful tone when you strike it with a mallet. It’s not a necessity, but it’s cool, and it helps students build on a foundation for settling down for an inclusive class ritual.

So what have I “noticed” while implementing mindfulness in my class?

  • It’s easier to bring my class to focus at other times. Since we’re all calmer, I don’t have to escalate, vocally or emotionally,  to get them back to attention paying mode from, say, simultaneous group work.
  • Students appreciate the break. It goes without saying that our students are stressed by factors beyond their control, socioeconomic, societal, parental, media generated, personal, you name it. Most of my students actively look forward to a few moments away from these pressures, and the chance to be in their own moment.
  • Students have better vocabulary to describe what they’re hearing, seeing and feeling. Because the discussion of feelings, of noticing is normal in my room, this extends to their feedback for each other’s work and reflection on their own.
  • Students are incrementally able to focus a bit longer on rehearsing, relating, and watching. It’s a subtle shift, but one which is noticeable. We recently had one of the most delightful and distractible weeks at our school, Homecoming Week, where there’s a huge class rally every day with dances and  a skit, and we still practiced. We had a room full of silent students with their eyes closed mere moments after a high energy rally, while the school was still exploding with excitement outdoors. It didn’t take away from students’ enjoyment of their week, but it gave them a moment to really notice how it was affecting them.

I hope as always you found some ideas here that could be helpful in your rooms. Happy Fall Shows to you!

Tired of the Old Song And Dance Routine? Surviving Yet Another Ensemble Casting

Dear Drama Student:

There are a few things you need to know about your most recent audition, and frankly, all auditions.

Yes, auditions are grueling. No, there’s really no other way to cast shows.

I met with you today, on the Monday after the cast list went up Friday. I saw the tears, the frustration, even the anger, and I saw you search for encouragement and some sort of guarantee of future success in our conversation, that if you took the feedback I gave you, it would somehow magically make the next time easier.  I know too that because you’re a teenager, this doesn’t just feel disappointing, it feels unfair.

Because you were cast in the ensemble again when you “should” have gotten a lead. 

First of all, what you need to know is that everyone behind that table has been where you are. Every member of the artistic staff has auditioned for shows and not even gotten cast, not gotten a callback. We’ve been cut off less than a minute into our monologues, we’ve been sent home early from dance calls. We get it. You don’t believe that, but we do.

The second thing it might be important for you to realize is that we worked for those auditions too, the ones we got cut from. We worked on our monologue or song, we took the dance classes, we lost the weight, learned the skill, we shmoozed with the directors, and sometimes that didn’t work. Sometimes somebody’s friend got the part, sometimes we had the same hair color as the lead, sometimes somebody had heard something about us, sometimes we just weren’t what they were looking for.

Sometimes we didn’t get cast at all. 

But that was different. Those were community or professional auditions. The people who didn’t cast us had no obligation to us. We, your teachers, do, you think. We have an obligation to see you, to see how hard you’re working, to give you opportunities.

That is totally true, kids.

But we have another obligation, and that is to help you create your best work and grow as a performer, while honoring the mandate of theatre, that we must serve the story. We are not doing you a favor by casting you in a role you cannot sing. We are not doing you a favor by casting you in a part we can’t believe you in. We are not doing you a favor by setting you up to be mediocre or overwhelmed.

And you made a good point.  We don’t always know your potential. We don’t always know what you could do if we just gave you a shot. But we do. It’s called the audition.

Kids, most of you don’t get what you want out of auditions for a few of the same reasons.

You don’t do your research and you don’t prepare. You have the opportunity to research the show, find an appropriate song or pick the character you might get and really go for it. Do those things. Get comfortable with the script if you can get it. Impress us with your readiness.

You’re in your own way.  It has taken me a long time to realize that 80 percent of high school auditioners are unbelievably nervous, and the callback process exacerbates this. You can’t get away from the callback process, so you gotta learn to game it, kids. You need to know what you want going in and give it your best shot.  And you gotta keep a clear head. I don’t want to go all Abby Lee Miller on you, but those tears may need to be saved for the pillow.

You throw auditions for small or “unglamorous” roles you don’t want.  I have never seen this happen anywhere except high school, where the entire subtext of someone’s audition is “how dare you call me back for this role that I didn’t want?’ I have seen it done deliberately,  I have seen it done subconsciously.  It is incredibly frustrating to witness, it doesn’t work in the real world, and it makes it difficult to have empathy with you and want to cast you when we have the opportunity. You aren’t fooling us.

You don’t size up the competition and make different choices. Callbacks are conveniently held in groups so directors can see combinations. This is also a convenient time to watch your competition and do something else, or steal what they are doing and do it bigger.

You reject gifts. Left out of a callback for a role and get called in at the last minute? Asked to read with another actor?  Do it up. We’re not playing headgames, we’re trying to give you another shot. Take advantage of it.

So what if you do everything right and you still don’t get what you want?  You’re back in ensemble.

Well, you have options.

You can choose to not do the show. This is a dumb move if you are in this for the long haul, because you’re depriving yourself of a free opportunity to build skills and be in community, which is supposedly why you are doing this. If you’re a senior, you’re still depriving yourself of a fun thing, and you’ll probably look back and be annoyed with yourself, unless you realize this is not what you want, which is perfectly ok too.

You can choose to step into a different path. Tired of the old song and dance routine? Try crew, design, publicity, stage management. These are where the jobs are anyway.

You can choose to take what you got and slay it. I can’t count the number of high school shows I’ve directed where I needed an ensemble member moment and that incredibly reliable, unresentful chorus member stepped up and did an amazing job, which led to great things down the road. It happens constantly.

Whatever you choose to do, know this. No director worthy of your respect is in this to mess with you. We are here and you are there because we want it that way and we believe in your contribution to the story we are telling.  If you want to work with us, we want to make you part of the best experience we can. If what you care about is playing a lead, though, you may want to think about why you’re doing this in the first place.

To sum it up, there are a lot of factors that don’t seem important to getting a lead but are actually incredibly important. Are you reliable? Are you an independent learner? Were you undeniably the most capable performer in the callback? Can you handle the vocal demands? Have you demonstrated that you can handle the pressure of a role? Does your physicality match the other performers?

Ask yourself these questions and see where they take you. You may be surprised at what you discover, which may prove very useful in your next audition.

As Ever,

Your Drama Teacher






“I’m past patiently waitin’.I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow.” -“My Shot”, HAMILTON

“In my heart there was a kind of fighting/that would not let me sleep.”-HAMLET, Act 5 Scene 2

Summer’s almost over, and with many of us entering production mode as school starts, here is a list of at least 36 things  YOU need to do before you first show opens.

  1. Look at your projected casting pool. There is once again no Hamlet, but  lot of girls who could play Hamlet. Keep in back pocket.
  2.  Google HAMLET. Click on HAMILTON instead.
  3. Look at your projected casting pool. Realize you’re not doing HAMLET or HAMILTON. Google “plays with a strong female ensemble that are not HAMLET or HAMILTON. Be surprisingly uninspired by results.
  4. Pick a show, any show.
  5. Get the rights.
  6. Pay for the rights.
  7. Make sure the rights get paid for.
  8. Announce the show.  Curtail the fantasy casting that invariably arises among students by announcing your projected cast and telling other students not to bother auditioning.
  9. Get tech and design students to read it and create preliminary designs.  Curtail the fantasy designing that invariably arises by designing everything yourself.
  10. Mention the show to non-theatre colleagues, who’ve never heard of it. They’ll  nod and smile politely.  Rap something from HAMILTON to make them feel better.  Leave the xerox room with stack of facilities request forms as applause wanes.
  11.  Fill out facilities request forms to use theatre, dressing rooms, storage facilities, parking lot, keys, gradebook, mailbox, staff bathroom,  and school.  Get the dates wrong.
  12. Decide that the show you chose is boring.  Create an original, socially progressive Beckett tribute/Happy Days mashup, working title, VLADIMIR LOVES ESTRAGON in 6 hours while attending a mandatory staff meeting. Tell colleagues it’s an action adventure piece with a Garry Marshall tribute. The 50’s are hot. Email Lin Manuel Miranda’s people to request permission  to add a rap from HAMILTON.
  13. When the students seem dubious about the new show, explain once again why we can’t do HAMILTON, WICKED, OR THE LION KING. Check your inbox to see if LMM’s people got back to you.
  14. Meet with all tech/production students.  Make wild design plans that include a ramp and a balloon drop near the garbage cans, hill of dirt, and diner interior.  Assign jobs to anyone who shows up for the pizza.
  15. Have an audition workshop at lunch hour during a day you have no preps while speed eating string cheese.  Explain everything that goes into a good audition.
  16. Hold auditions.  Notice that nobody followed directions about everything that goes into a good audition.  Call them back anyway, because you know they can do it.
  17. Post a cast list. Pretend to stay offline all weekend so students can grieve.  Watch hilarious Youtube bootlegs of HAMILTON, WICKED, and THE LION KING.
  18. Answer emails from two confused cast members at brunch who didn’t realize they were auditIoning for a show that rehearses after school,  console three weeping cast members at lunch via Twitter, and  hand out popsicles to the rest of the cast and say ” You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. “
  19. Have your first conversation about how the actors are disrespecting tech. Have your first conversation about how tech is disrespecting actors. Prepare additional teambuilding. because the half-hour we spent tossing a beachball around and sculpting our names in the air apparently wasn’t enough.
  20. Block the show. Try to run what you blocked. Notice that everyone forgot it all, including you. Hope that a stage manager wrote down the blocking, because you were filling out a facilities request form to use your own classroom. Discover that someone wrote down the blocking, but he quit because he forgot he was on the water polo team. Hunt him down and accidentally convince him that water polo is not a good way to spend his time. Receive unexpected email from water polo coach’s people.
  21. Try to run the show with everyone there on the day they are called despite medical appointments, past life readings, study groups, and Pokemon Go meetups. Consider making the theatre a gym, adding a lure,  and changing the name of the department to “Pokemon Go” to drum up more business. Consider changing the name of the show to HAMILTON: A 50’S RETROSPECTIVE.  Consider writing a scene where Vladimir and Estragon wait for Pokemon to show up, but he never does.  Make that the second act.
  22. Watch a Youtube interview with Lin Manuel Miranda where he tells you how to live. Agree. Ask yourself why you can’t just do HAMILTON, but not tell anyone or pay for it.
  23. Give students a deadline for memorizing lines. One kid has everyone’s lines memorized, which is great when you can’t find both stage managers because they’re busy putting heavy loud wheels on a couch, making a paper mache ray gun, and creating what can only be described as “tree art”, none of which are on the build list for this show or any show in the future.
  24.  Have four heart to heart conversations with your leads about humility, watch endless devised scenes in Beginning Drama that feature a reference to either Pokemon Go or Donald Trump and  have twelve conversations with your colleagues about HAMILTON.
  25. Remind kids to make posters.
  26. Be reminded by that one parent to sell tickets, make posters, make programs, and publicize the show even though nobody’s ever heard of it.  Ask them to volunteer. They will tell you they are too busy.  Answer several emails a day from parents who want ticket information, or think they already bought tickets and want to exchange them. Explain that tickets haven’t gone on sale yet.
  27.  Momentarily worry when three cast members ask when the show is again. Secretly hope they quit the show. Check dates to remind self when show is. Secretly fantasize about quitting the show.
  28. Get observed. Be sure to write your learning objectives on the board.
  29. Check costumes. Make a mental note to request that everyone buys dress shoes next year. And an entire white outfit. And entire black outfit. Contemplate changing the next show to CHESS. Realize nobody’s heard of it.
  30. Prepare for inevitable superplague by distributing hand sanitizer, kleenex, bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and facilities request forms.
  31. Build a set. Don’t expect it to look like the ones in the pictures.
  32. Have a prolonged conversation with that one parent about a) their student’s desire to make it on Broadway b) their student’s inability to do any non-theater related homework and c) the inadequacies of your promotion and ticket selling system at 9 pm on a Tuesday night after rehearsal in the parking lot.
  33. Print a lot of expensive posters featuring Vladimir and Estragon searching for Pokemon under a tree.  Hand them out to students for distribution.   Never see them again.
  34.  Go get coffee two feet from school. Notice that your expensive poster isn’t there, but the one from ABC high school 5 miles away who appears to have gotten the rights to HAMILTON  is.
  35. Create lesson plans for tech week  for the students in your actual classes that do not require learning objectives. Be sure to write the learning objectives on the board.
  36. Open the show, to rave reviews. Forget what just happened and get excited about your Spring Show:  Hamlet-ton: A Rap Journey Through Danish History.


“You said you have a dream…That dream…Make it come true! Make your wonderful dream a reality, and it will become your truth! If anyone can, it’s you!” – N, POKEMON

ESTRAGON:Well, shall we go? VLADIMIR:Yeslet’s goThey do not move. -WAITING FOR GODOT


Requiem For A Dream: The End of Room 605

I lost my classroom a couple of weeks ago.

I didn’t lose it because my program’s needs were misunderstood, or because my program is being cut. I didn’t lose it to make room for a new sports program, the way it would have happened on television.  I am supported to the extent possible where I work. The powers that be were very sorry to break the news to me.

I lost it because the building it is in is scheduled for demolition in September in order to build a larger one with more classrooms.  I wasn’t alone in the loss. About 13 teachers at my school had the same thing happen to them, many of them dealing with teaching situations and populations equally as challenging as that of a drama department’s rehearsal space and storage for costumes and props. Robotics. Modern language. Special Education. Only some of these programs will be returning to the new building.

The new classroom is close to the theatre, which I can’t teach in or really leave shows in progress in due to various factors irrelevant to this post.  And it’s not a theatre classroom. It’s not big enough to do everything the other room did.  And that scares me. I know there are supposedly rapidly developing plans to make us a better space. And yet.

I built so much in room 605.

It  had been, for a long time, the journalism room on campus. It had once held the  huge tables students did to do layout before computers made that obsolete. It was large, had two entrances, and the school helped us paint it black, hang curtains, put up track lighting. The room could go mostly dark and create a little womblike space for students to perform in. The lights could dim, and students could practice very basic tech theatre by working cues. It was very, very wonderful.  An ideal space for novice students to grow in safety, and for more expert students to hone their craft.

It was surrounded by trees and benches and open spaces where students could run projects outside the room, then gather to perform. There were no desks, so 40 students could make a circle. It was big enough that we could keep things we had racked for current shows behind the curtains if we had to, because we have no secure tech area.  There is no safe place to leave a show in progress, and that’s a thing you don’t truly get unless you teach drama.

This room held a keyboard. It was big enough to hold rehearsals for mainstage shows in, just. It made the difficult logistics of running a huge theatre department in a school where the theatre does not belong to the theatre department bearable.

The room was big enough to hold  two couches for students that needed to sleep, or just be by themselves for a moment, or do homework. This was a godsend during long tech weeks when students are struggling with the demands of being performers and technicians at a school that still expects academic business as usual.

It was old and the wiring was old and a squirrel lived in the roof sometimes. The AC would die when it was hot and the heat sometimes would go out in the winter. It was dusty and sometimes we found cockroaches or spiders.  I loved it anyway.The new, temporary space is ok. I don’t hate it. I don’t know if it will work. Not knowing if it will work is really scary.

I miss my old room.  And I’m going to miss it more in August.

I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t have an opinion about their classroom.  You get a bunch of teachers stuck on campus, building programs they’re proud of and living in these spaces, and place becomes currency. Teaching is personal and classrooms are personal spaces.  Space envy is real and it is huge. Like the moment when a person in business gets that “corner office”, the achievement of premium classroom space is a thing in teaching. Light, storage, proximity to the bathroom or the parking lot. Teachers have opinions about every single one of these issues. A good classroom can make a good year. Loss of space feels like loss of prestige and power, the same way it does in the business world.

Drama teachers are in a unique bind with regards to this, because as I’ve said before, our job is fundamentally impossible. Either we own the theatre space or we don’t, and each of these scenarios comes with its blessing or curse. Some of us are great at tech and thankfully have scene shops, others are acting teachers and thankfully don’t. Most of us are hybrids. Some of us enjoy expert status on campus, others must fight tooth and nail for every event, every piece of equipment, every uninterrupted rehearsal. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

It’s hard not to become attached to what we have- this is human nature.  But If I’ve learned anything during the experience of losing my space, and bear in mind that this is a fresh wound- I have learned a few things.

Home for our students has to be where we are, wherever that is. I told my kids I was sad. I acknowledged that they were sad too. I welcomed them to come back after school got out to help move. Some did. It was as good as it could have been.

We have to plan for, accept, and build impermanence into our programs, because immobility and inflexibility are killers, as is complacency. Expect sunshine, but carry an umbrella. It may feel like your space, but it’s not, ultimately. You work at a school. Stay mobile.

There is no amount of advocacy, hard-headedness, or entitlement that will make facilities that are inadequate somehow adequate. The walls won’t change. We have to find space in our teaching practice to do that, even if that means kicking and screaming as professionally as we can.  Or throwing things out. Things you thought everybody needed.  Or throwing yourself out.  As professionally as you can.

If you’re reading this, and things are amazing at your school site, be grateful. And be ready. I lost my classroom in the space of two weeks. If you’re hoping for something different or better to come along, I’m right there with you.

I still hold the keys to the theatre. There’s just a new key there now. Shiny, to a room I don’t yet understand.



Tech, Please: Creating a Thriving Technical Theatre Community At Your School

A few days ago, my ASM (assistant stage manager) started posting rehearsal reports to the department’s tech group on social media. Rehearsal reports. Like the kind you see in a real theatre.  I am thrilled beyond measure. I had vaguely asked for this for years, and it is awesome, because it means that we are all on the same page.  It made me realize how far tech has come at my school. It then occured to me that at Monday’s first listenthrough of our Spring Musical, my stage managers, rather than I, had opened the meeting and run it.

I don’t teach in my performance space. Like many theatre teachers, I work out of a classroom, and load shows in and out between two weeks and four days before something goes up. This means that my technicians could be at a severe disadvantage when learning and having the time to practice the necessary skills of tech theatre. However, I am blessed with a huge and active tech theatre community, who run everything for the department, from auditions to strike.  Sometimes they begin as technicians as a pathway to performance, other times they leave the stage to become technicians.  I credit department practices evolved through trial and error, rather than circumstances, for this happiest of situations.

Things my student technicians do:

  • Create an entire rehearsal schedule from scratch
  • Worry about student rehearsal conflicts (I am informed of absences by stage managers when class begins)
  • Design the set
  • Singlehandedly pull and coordinate costumes for an entire ensemble
  • Hire someone to make posters or a program
  • Count and track rented scripts for musicals
  • Run sound for rehearsal
  • Schedule  auditions
  • Recruit technicians
  • Hand build props
  • Design makeup
  • Manage ticket sales
  • Maintain all backstage discipline
  • Maintain call times, time rehearsals or breaks
  • Run fight calls or dance calls
  • Handle interpersonal disputes between crew members
  • Run strike
  • Organize the official cast party
  • Maintain a cleaning and racking schedule for the costume and prop shop

Not having to do these things leaves me a bit freer to do what directors are supposed to do, create and maintain the artistic vision of a show.


1. Teach the value of technical theatre.  Reflect on anything that’s glorifying “Broadway” and “Hollywood” and sending the message to students that if they’re not onstage, they are less-than, and maybe stop doing that. Teach the principles of design in your intro classes.  You can build white models with index cards and tape, you can create costume design projects for any play you want to teach, you can teach students to create a poster by showing them pictures of professional posters, you can build puppets from newspaper and paper bags. Google now has a set design program. Allow students in classes to direct or design as part of a project, and give them credit. Insisting that everyone act in everything all the time is not a realistic mirror of the business you are trying to teach. 

2. If you see something, say something.  Your leaders in Beginning Drama are often your future leaders for mainstage shows. Allow them to know they’re doing good work. Observe and tease out the guardians, too, the students who are constantly searching for order or asking how they can help. Giving these students tools to be effective, and not taking them for granted early on, is key to building your group.  If someone shows promise in design or organization, TELL THEM. Invite them to observe after school rehearsals. High school theatre is an interesting beast. Many students think they’re interested in it, but lose that interest when they see the reality. Open your doors, allow visitors and tourists, and you will often find that you will turn around to see that you have an entire crew in place, composed of those who stayed.

3.  Maintain hierarchy, with you at the top of the Great Chain of Being.  Explicitly show the hierarchy of the production process to your beginning classes and  cast and crew using a flow chart.  For every project, put a team of stage managers in place and teach them how to score a script, write down blocking, make prop lists, create costume and shift plots, draft rehearsal reports, and run auditions. You can practice these skills by doing a festival of one acts, rehearsed in class. There are always one or two students in every class who live for this. Give them credit for it, and allow them to do it in lieu of performing, and most importantly, empower them.  Empower them to ask for order, empower them to correct misbehavior, empower them to strive for excellence, and most importantly, TO TEACH NEW PEOPLE WHAT THEY HAVE LEARNED.  Then get mostly out of the way.

3. Insist on regular meetings.  My group meets once a week at lunch, whether there’s anything impending or not. Because I’m there, it’s a great time to be able to give students information and dispel any myths that may be building about how something is going to look or go.  But because I don’t run it, it makes my job easier. Stage managers run the meetings, listen to every department, and give me my two cents.

4. Pay them.  Credits? Activity Points? Thespian points? Pizza and t-shirts? Do not EVER, EVER take these kids for granted.  It took me years to get this, and every show I had to learn it on suffered. They need recognition. Some teachers have a tech curtain call.  I think that’s weird, but do what you have to do to make them understand how valuable they are.

5. Focus on the future.  My students created and maintain an online SOP (Standard Operating Procedures Manual) to describe and document best tech practices in the department and help new hires learn to do their work.  Having students document and set the standards for what they do in writing is a powerful tool. While we’re on the subject, students need to know that there is a huge industry for this thing called technical theatre, and that it can lead to bigger and better things. As often as possible, Call in those favors, your former students who are working in the industry, your friends and colleagues from the theatre world who are managers and designers. Have them come talk to students, and accord them the same flair and excitement you do when you bring back that one kid who’s an actor now.

It will take time, but paying attention to your technicians early and often will yield powerful results beyond your wildest expectations.

Family Dinners: Reflecting Home

I’ve written before about the power of vacation stories, about the value of taking some time on the back end of vacation to process the experience of being away from class. A great type of vacation scene to use this time of year in some classes is the family dinner.

You can set this up by talking about the pros and cons of eating with your family, of having everyone together. Even brainstorm things that typically happen.


You know your students. If you live in a situation where there is a great deal of food instability and family discord, maybe best to modify this. Let students do frozen tableaus of family dinners as they are, and then have people step in to create them as they should be. Bring some social justice to the table.


You need index cards, each with a family type written on it,  and some students.  Groups of 4 to 6 work best.

Give groups a choice of two cards, ideally. As with small children, students having the choice of two options allows them to “own” the scene a lot more.

Some possible family types:

  • The Overachievers
  • The Athletes
  • The Social Media Enthusiasts
  • The Hippies
  • The Introverts
  • The Artists
  • The Perfectionists
  • The Competitors
  • The Health Nuts
  • The Carnivores
  • The Rich Wierdos
  • The Penny Pinchers
  • The Ungrateful

You know your community, so add to this list or subtract to it. What you want to avoid is anything which places a family particularly within a culture ( to avoid students doing bizarre stereotype homages) or begs politics, which end up showing up anyway.

Then tell them one thing. 4 minutes or less, any combination of family members, the family has to eat something during the scene.

Advanced Modification: Give the family a secret.

Give them about 10 or 15 minutes to work on these scenes, set up a table, and let them roll.


Praise specific character choices, attempts at relationship based plot or conflict, good food miming. Ask them what they noticed.

These scenes tend to set off a great deal of laughter, a lot of camaraderie, and are just in general a great affirmation of the theatre family in your classroom.  Enjoy.


Shaping Space: Lessons from Presenting at CETA Conference 2015

We know, as performing arts teachers, that space matters. Space wars and space envy are real things on campus.  We’ve all been to each other’s classrooms or schools and silently, internally shaken our heads with envy or empathy about what another colleague gets to work with. You’re doing a play in the cafeteria with the ripped curtains where you have to rehearse around the show choir and your dear friend down the road gets the multimillion dollar “performing arts facility” with the flyspace and the inflexible theatre manager. Everybody’s situation is different and rarely ideal. Some of us have to share space and resources to the point of chaos, some of us are geographically isolated or scattered all over campus, and we all know there is never enough time with students or without, a kind of space itself.

I’ve been thinking about space a lot recently. This past Saturday, I presented some of my work on Rasaboxes, a space based practice,  at the California Educational Theatre Association Conference , a  great organization for theatre educators,  at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, which is a beautiful space to work in.

When I present or teach adults or adolescents, I try to get there early enough to customize the space.  All of the fears inherent in teaching, that we will be unable to run our rooms, or discovered as a fraud, are wrapped up for me in preparing the room ahead of time. At the beginning of a school year, I often dance in my empty classroom before the first bell rings, a way of calling it all in. Teaching adults is tremendously satisfying and more nerve wracking, so I am careful to make very conscious choices about where and how I want people to be.

When you present work at a conference, all of the mechanisms of teaching out of a designated space, your classroom, must be replicated in a strange and neutral location. This is what often bewildered me about my college and graduate school classes, where my professors seemed to be able to teach wonderful things in strangely shaped, poorly lit rooms, without even the benefit of a personal item or desk drawer for backup.  I learned from watching them that if they didn’t like the way a room was laid out, they took a few moments to unapologetically adjust it- the seating, the windows, the temperature.

The last two times I have presented, my rooms have been long, empty, bowling alley like affairs that I must somehow curtail for an unknown group of participants a half hour before in order to create the space I like to work in. This, of course is the exact opposite situation from what a mired classroom teacher with a set number of students faces. We’re usually trying to make more space, and at a conference, I often find I am trying to make less.

What I did before and during my presentation to shape the room got me thinking about the importance of designating space for our work. Here are a few takeaways from what worked for me and what I need to work on.

1. Enclose and define your space to create emotional and physical safety.  This particular room was set up for a lot of open play space, because active, ensemble work is what drama teachers love the best about conferences. New games and warmup are what we live for, because they engage, exhaust, and focus our students. I love those workshops, but I needed a tighter space because I was teaching a multi day process that involved working on a taped floor grid. I still wanted a circle though, so I moved chairs in.  I wanted the focus on the grid, on the lesson. I wanted people about one step away from the grid, so that anyone could enter it.  And I wanted them close to each other.  Every class has its own story. The safer the space, the more possibilities for students to participate in telling that story.  The shorter the distance to “onstage”, the more likely it will be that students will travel that distance.

2. Create open space within your classroom practice.  Allow students to “act” without consequence by creating space for emotional risk and decision making.  I asked my colleagues to place the butcher paper with the different emotions of the rasas on the floor  in one of eight squares, avoiding the middle, as they came into the room, thus utilizing those first often awkward few minutes to our advantage.  This meant that eight individual “students” had already gone into the boxes on a neutral errand before we started working with it, owning the choices they’d made. There were 23 students in the workshop, so that created a curiosity and openness right off, a kind of moving anticipatory set.  Later, I set five  students up for one of the activities, which was simply to read a letter and move to a box showing how the letter made them feel, while other students were finishing up with the activity I’ll describe next, graffiti.

3. Allow and require students to own the space. Having laid down the rasas in a way that was particular to this exact group,  the architecture of the session was laid out by the students themselves, part of the story. Next, students to go around and “graffiti”  the various emotions- I like to use crayons, inspired by the work of Comedy Sportz LA’s  James Bailey, who was actually in the session! This action gets students collaborating, taking turns, engaged in self-expression, and supporting each other in creative action, all before they’ve made any theatre together.  This is vital, particularly as a way to cultivate the community and emotional honesty that theatre demands.  Activities like this are great icebreakers when the group doesn’t know each other, but are particularly important to continue to revive as the group knows each other more, because it keeps the space democratic, rather than full of territoriality.

4. Music equalizes, neutralizes and energizes the space. I thought ahead and brought my laptop to play music, as I usually do before class. I play music, my music and theirs, with teenagers because music is their language.  I feel all groups respond well to it. When CETA luminary Amanda Swann introduced me, the music wonderfully and randomly switched to a circus calliope verson of “Be A Clown”, which made everyone laugh as I rushed over to switch it off. For some reason, this made me feel better, because this inadvertent toppling of my status allowed me to feel, well, less burdened by the need to “teach” and more in the space I wanted my participants to be in, that “sharing”  space which is necessary for the emotional connection that I find happens with Rasaboxes.

5. Time is space.  As we shape space in our classrooms, it’s also important to manage time.  As usual, I overplanned activities for this workshop, which could have gone far more deeply into text. I did, however, make the necessary space for discussion of each exercise I presented, which is what I noticed my colleagues needing, as I was giving them a lot to process.  I underplanned materials (ran out of handouts, left key contact info off my worksheet) as well. I laughed that off, but in general, we all know that overplanning trumps underplanning. One of the advantages we have as mostly solo practitioners, except for when dealing with productions, is that it’s ok for units to run over, to spill out into the next day.  That frustrates those of us who like a calendar and have a set agenda of skills we’re trying to get through, but it shouldn’t. Running a good room means that the needs that the people in it are met. Consider that you, as the teacher, can shape your 55 to 80 minute block in any way that you wish, but that the constraints of time are a powerful teaching tool.

I had a great time presenting at CETA and enjoyed learning from my colleagues as I hope they did from me.  Our spaces matter, and as performing arts teachers, we have the power to define them in the way that works best for ourselves and our students. With some planning, experimentation and reflection, we can improve our own relationships to space, allowing our students to experience our curriculum more deeply.






Bard To Go: Takeaways from Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays 2015

I just got back from a great conference.  The best part was that I had a bunch of English teachers with me who are now excited about using theatre strategies to deepen their students understanding of literature, particularly scary, tough classical literature. I’m so lucky to get to work across the curriculum with these terrific colleagues, and so excited for what the future holds for our shared students!

The Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays conference has been hosted by the University of California at Davis’s School of Education at the gorgeous Mondavi Center annually for the past five years. It’s a brilliant conference that brings practitioners from the Shakespeare theatre community who have adapted their educational outreach strategies to help classroom teachers teach Shakespeare the way that we think Shakespeare would have wanted himself taught, on our feet, through play.

I am a conference fangirl. I have been to every single one in Davis, I think, and now that they’re trying to hold it next July at the Globe I’m scheming to find a way to get there, despite limited resources to do so. The powerful work they do at this conference seeks to undo our deepest fears about teaching Shakespeare  to our students what Ralph Alan Cohen calls:

Shakesfear. That he’s boring, that the language is old, that it is therefore too difficult, and thus why even try teaching it in today’s soundbyte world?

Mostly tailored to English teachers who must combat the biggest hurdles in this regard, as many of them are directed to teach entire Shakespeare plays, the conference gets its participants up on our feet, moving and speaking Shakespeare’s language in ways that allow students of all ages to access the text, plot, and characters. But it has a lot to remind drama teachers about as well.

Here are some takeaways from the excellent teaching at the conference. In the coming weeks, I will attempt to synthesize and scaffold some of the games and activities as I move forward with new ideas for the drama classroom, but I want t to revisit some pedagogical truths at work in this approach, particularly as I hear from new teacher after new teacher concerned about discipline and accountability in the classroom. Rules. Our own accountability.  Students being focused. Following the rules. Not disrupting.

The act of teaching is disruptive. The most powerful things any of us ever learned in life were disruptive to us. Teaching Shakespeare and other texts on our feet is extraordinarily disruptive, and I would argue, necessary.

Here are three key takeaways that I saw emphasized across the conference, practices which can assist you in the eventual transformation of your classroom into a heaven for the adolescent scholar/practitioner.

1. WARM UP. Every single one of these great Shakespeare teachers started with a warmup. To paraphrase the wonderful Kevin Costa, the Education Director of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company who is also a full time classroom teacher, student need time in between classes to transition and refocus.

“If you don’t give it to them,” he says with a smile, they will take it.” 

Kevin keeps three beanbags in his pocket. He is known to start class by gently tossing the beanbags around the room in a circle, urging students to slow down and synchronize their throwing with their breath, then adding our names, so we gently lob the beanbag across the circle in a smooth and beautiful underhanded motion. Eye Contact-Breathe-Swoop-Arcadia. 

The best part of Kevin’s signature warmup is his evident joy in presenting it. He is relaxed, gentle, and delighted by the efforts of his students to move this object through space. It’s his warmup. It makes the class  and the space his, while bringing each student into their own body and into the present moment. It’s ritual, which our students thrive on, and if practiced regularly, with tolerance in the beginning for our students who seem hellbent on target practice, I can see it being a transformative classroom practice.

In order to do Kevin’s warmup, you need to not have students sitting in desks in rows. If you teach English, or  teach other classes that are row bound, one idea would be to teach students to quickly alter the space as part of the warmup. Pretty much any classroom that is configured in rows can also be configured in an O or a U without much trouble.  If you already have open space, you are ready to go.

If you need to keep students in their seats, consider playing music, batting around a balloon,  call and response, rhythm, or snapping warmups. The don’t have to be long.  But the long term power of allowing for transition, focusing students on themselves, and connecting them to the community has major effects outside of simply a nicer working environment.


2. WHOLE GROUP WORK. Another takeaway from the conference. We are concerned about students “performing.” We want them to present and to perform, and we’re disappointed, secretly or overtly, by their awkwardness and reluctance to do so. The teachers at the Shakespeare Works Conference were masterful at providing opportunities for whole group work. Kirsten Giroux and Joan Langley of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had us turn outward and step forward and back in order to make vowel sounds and attach them to subtext, such as “You see a yucky thing on the floor” or “You’re trying to get a friend’s attention.” By the end of this brief activity, they had effectively tricked us into a vocal warmup of vowel sounds, and gotten us to explore the sounds, without being concerned about looking stupid.  

Beru Tessema of Globe Education had us work simultaneously on the same scene from Othello, switching partners and using new focuses, in order to teach the methodology of exploring a scene, by repeating key words of each other’s dialogue, hitting the paper to emphasize certain words, moving towards and away from our partners, and choosing when to use eye contact. These are techniques one could use prior to assigning individual scenes to groups, or they  could be used  to work students simultaneously   on different scenes.  This family of strategies effectively tricks the students into a bout of close reading, requiring them to have read the scene out loud on its feet multiple times before settling down to think about “staging the scene.”

Takeaway: STUDENTS WILL SHUT THEMSELVES DOWN IN ORDER TO AVOID LOOKING STUPID. Free them, at first, from the spotlight, and they will gladly take it later.

3. SCAFFOLD DIFFICULT TEXTS. No teacher at the Shakespeare Works conference began anything by handing us a scene and telling us to go rehearse it for the rest of class, something I  have been guilty of and see over and over among my wonderful and well meaning colleagues who then wonder why they get a limp and unconnected product. Perhaps one percent of any given group of students are natural wordsmiths, bookworms who love reading long and complicated things out loud just for fun. Perhaps one percent are natural actors, who enjoy and instantly empathize with the character’s struggle, and want to find ways to portray it instantly. The rest of our students are people who have a typical relationship with the written word. People who didn’t grow up reading iambic pentameter, who did not grow up speaking English, who read at a slower pace, who have trouble comprehending what they read, who have been bred by the Internet.

You can start out with ONE WORD AT A TIME or work on A LINE as a group. Mary Hartman from Bard on the Beach handed out disambiguated Shakespeare lines and had us rearrange them while trying to keep the meaning.  Michael Bahr from Utah Shakespeare Festival had us turn a line from Macbeth, “O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife” (3:2) into a moving picture.  I just Googled the line to check it and the first two entries are from No Fear Shakespeare, and the next six are from students posting on platforms like eNotes and Yahoo answers attempting to figure out what the line means. Now multiply that, and you’ve got a student’s desperate reading strategy for the scenes you are assigning.

I point this out because  the internet is where your students go when you hand them large chunks of “boring” text that they don’t understand and abandon them to wander in the wilds interpreting it. Start with a word, move to a line, move to half a page of text. Be as explicit as you can in class and insist on whole group think as an imperfect practice to decode text.  Particularly with a tough work, like a Shakespeare play, figure out ahead of time what in a text needs to be dealt with explicitly, physicalized,  or played with and presented, and what can be summarized, read aloud in groups, or shown during movie day.

Takeaway: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TEACH EVERY WORD OF THE TEXT in order for your students to experience, understand, and write about Shakespeare.  You will again reap the rewards, and so will your students.


Many teachers are concerned about “personal accountability” among students when rearranging the teaching of the texts to incorporate so much ungraded group work. I respectfully submit that  this approach involves a shift in thinking as well as a shift in practice.

I recently pointed out on social media to a newer teacher who was concerned about discipline that  having a billion specific rules with consequences to follow in a classroom causes students to tally your infractions the way you’re tallying theirs.Similarly,  grading everything leads students to value the grade over the process, whereas multiple whole group strategies used to teach something will yield better individual comprehension on quizzes and papers by sheer value of repetition.

The educational world is currently exploding with wonderful techniques and strategies to facilitate close reading through active learning. I hope you can find something that works for you and your students. Honor your own ideas, play around and let yourself and your students have some fun.

For more information about Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays, visit