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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

 

 

 

 

605 lights

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.

WHAT TO DO TO MAKE IT EVENTUALLY POSSIBLE

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.

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.

Takeaway: SAFE, FOCUSED KIDS WHO ARE IN THE MOMENT WITH EACH OTHER CAN TAKE  GREATER ACADEMIC RISKS. Think about it.

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.

METHOD TO THE MADNESS

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 http://education.ucdavis.edu/shakespeare-works-when-shakespeare-plays.

 

 

 

 

The Kids are Alright: How SNL Missed the Mark

We interrupt our gentle exploration of drama class pedagogy for something completely different.

Perhaps you saw this today?

https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/high-school-theater-show-074944587.html

It’s  Saturday Night Live’s  sketch entitled “High School Theatre Show” .  Knowing what I do, friends were joyously sharing it on my Facebook wall. They expected me to be amused. Sorry, but I’m not. And I’m not sorry.

It’s a sketch  that satirizes high school students doing an experimental theatre collage regarding social issues. It involves moving black boxes around. Too much. That’s the joke. The other jokes are about how the “parents hate to think the kids think they’re teaching them”, and how the kids are unprofessional, and have seven intermissions, and think it’s powerful to walk around in character during them, and how doing expressionistic theatre about social issues is pathetically laughable.

And it’s lame. It’s lamer than any high school play I’ve ever seen, or any high school theatre festival offering I’ve ever seen, because of this reason.  It’s lame because it’s mean spirited, and aggressively, well, a tool of the oppressor.  It’s lame because it sends the message that theatre at its most accessible, youth theatre,  has nothing to teach us.

It involves parents depicted as well-heeled adults, who don’t remember what it’s like to be kids, looking back awkwardly at students’ attempts to be creative, to engage with the world, to say something. It involves an audience of such adults,  who are too jaded to care if their kids are trying to say something. And it mocks the roots of where most of these adults actually come from. We’re supposed to watch it, and laugh at these other adults, playing teenagers  trying to say something, and having that rejected by the people who are supposed to love and support them.

And that, well, that’s a problem. You want an authentic experience, full of struggle and dedication and the desperate attempt at connection to a higher plane of human communion? Go see a high school play. The experience is vastly, tediously underrated by entertainment, by academia, and by society at large. It’s where it all begins, and attention should be paid.

Elliot Eisner said that the arts symbolize to kids what adults think are important. And when we gleefully,  (yeah, I went there) and at a high level, mock the arts and their place in education from our snarky, high finance chairs, we aren’t using our powers for good.  And in an increasing culture of the corporatization of, well, everything, public education included, and a general climate of complete misinformation when it comes to the value of the arts, I find this particular offering from SNL unnecessary.

You probably think I’m taking myself too seriously as a teacher, or overvaluing what my kids can do, that I’m blinded by love. Maybe. But it’s this love that gets kids through high school, that gives them a chance at determining their own paths, that allows them to find their unique potential in the world. This love opens doors. This love changes lives. This love, and the love of the arts that it fosters and engenders,  puts more and more  self-aware, creative, alive people into our society.

So point your snark elsewhere, Saturday Night Live. At the world’s real hypocrites. Not those who will eventually shape its creative destiny.

The kids are alright.  Leave them alone.  And clap once in awhile.

Status Update: Masters and Servants 2

The Master/Servant Scene is a scene designed to allow students to improvise within a form that requires them to play status. By presenting a simple scene within the form, students strengthen their skills in devised theatre as well as timing, character development, sharing the stage picture, and saying yes. Here’s more work.

WARMUPS

SAY HELLO- Mill and seethe. Tell them to greet each other like their parents, like their teachers, like kindergarteners, like senior citizens, like insert your high school stereotype here. Mean girls, gangsters, gamers, people who are at the wrong party.

BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN- From Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s teacher training. Walk and monologue for one minute about the benefits of being in charge. Lay down on the floor and list the benefits of being a servant. Scoot up and get a partner.

PROSPERO AND ARIEL- From OSF and Globe Education. Yes, you can just throw Beginning students a Shakespeare scene, as long as it’s short. No, you don’t have to teach them about Shakespeare’s life, summarize the plot, or have them build a scale model of the Globe. They can just read an awesome master/servant scene in English.

So cut 2:1 from THE TEMPEST to this (courtesy of Globe Education), and hand it out to the partners.

ARIEL All hail, great master! grave sir, hail!

PROSPERO Hast thou, spirit, perform’d to point the tempest that I bade thee?

ARIEL To every article.

PROSPERO My brave spirit! Ariel, thy charge  exactly is perform’d: but there’s more work.

ARIEL Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promised, which is not yet perform’d me.

PROSPERO How now? moody? What is’t thou canst demand?

ARIEL My liberty.

PROSPERO Before the time be out? no more!

ARIEL I prithee, remember I have done thee worthy service;

PROSPERO Dost thou forget from what a torment I did free thee?

ARIEL No.

PROSPERO Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot?

ARIEL No, sir.

  • Have the students sit back to back and read it once. Ask:
  • Who are these people? Who’s Prospero? Who’s Ariel? What does Prospero want? What does Ariel want?
  • Have them turn around and face each other, and read it again, this time with a poke or a pat. Each line, they either poke or pat the other performer.  Ask: Who pokes more? Who pats more?
  • Have them get on their feet. Prospero should walk away from Ariel on each line, each time, turning when Ariel says something. Reverse it. Now Ariel has the power.
  • Tell them all to sit back down. Last people down perform their scene. They can poke, they can pat, they can walk away, but they have to make choices. Applaud wildly. Tell them to pick two more volunteers. Repeat one more time. Ask.

You’ll get responses like this:

  • “Sometimes the servant has more power than the master.”
  • “All three scenes were very different.”

Responses you may not get, but will be received at least partially:

  • “Shakespeare is English. If I can read English, I can perform Shakespeare.”
  • “Gestures arise out of what is being said.”

1,2,3,4- From ComedySportz. Put a 1, a 2, a 3 and a 4 onstage.  One chair. Tell 1 they are in charge, they make all decisions, they have to come up with everything that happens in the scene. Tell 2 they work for 1 and want 3 to do all their work. Tell 3 they work for 2 and want 4 to do all their work. Tell 4 they work for 2, and can either try to do everything they tell them, or try to do nothing.

Now tell them all that they work at McDonald’s, or what works a lot better where I work, that they have 10 minutes to plan and execute a high pressure project for their rocket science class.

Watch the scene.

Afterwards, ask them all how they felt. Ask the audience what they saw.

Pleasing the Ruler- 3 students on stage, one chair. One student is the ruler, leader, master, the other two work for him or her. Game is simple. Master issues orders. Servants follow. Master can “fire” one servant the first time he or she is displeased. This leaves the winner as the new master. Watch the dynamics in this ongoing scene, because you want to look for patterns.

Types of masters and servants will appear. These are some I have noticed in my classes over time, and I usually hand my students a chart to look at. My students are very mathy, so it helps to literally break character work down to pieces like a commedia actor would. A great into into discussing archetypes.

MASTERS

  • The Dictator. Voice may vary. May be rapid and incomprehensible or loud and overly pretentious. Grandiose, ridiculous, unnattractive, flamboyant. Seeks power, flattery and mastery over situations. Never gets any of it.  Will send a servant down to the quarter store to purchase uranium, likes uniforms, uses malapropisms. High energy, verbally dominant. Capitan esque, A bit Dottore with occasional touches of Pantalone.
  • The Evil Genius. Creepy, nerdy, petulant, scientifically or computer oriented. Has a complicated lab that he or she can’t explain. More Pantalone. Feels skinny or pasty. Voice in the nose, hands creeping out of elbows, posture.
  • The Diva. Easily accessible to today’s youth. Very hip-hop or Hollywood, glitz and bling and the cult of personality. Surrounded by expensive things that he or she does not use. Emotionally fragile, sensitive to cracks about his or her appearance, sentimental, throws tantrums.
  • The Pushover. Elderly and myopic, or granolaesque and clueless. Think that substitute teacher who doesn’t make you do work but regales you about her trip to Greece in 1962. Easy to pacify, but obsessed with certain details or criteria. If you meet these, you can get away with murder. May insist on manners, nutrition, or a quiet environment. Often kills with kindness. Usually female.
  • The Nice Guy. A middle manager, passive aggressive. His way or the very nice highway. Uses words like “team”, “Pal”, and “What I’m gonna want you to do is”. Tasks assigned are impossibly bureaucratic. Not very creative, a rule follower, expects the servants to be as well.
  • The Fusser. Straight lines, perfect pillows, fears of food-borne illness.  Orthorexic. Exact numbers, perfect crafts. An artist. May melt into diva or dictator if crossed.

SERVANTS

  • The Yes Man. Does everything told efficiently and amazingly. Lays complements down in order to get ahead. Thrives on being perfect. When alone, is actually evil, mocking, or slavishly devoted to the master to the point where if fault is found or employment is terminated actual insanity may take hold. Watch out.
  • The Smiler. Stands around like a mannequin on display. Uses attractiveness to distract the master. Not incredibly bright, but really good at surviving.
  • The Slacker. Did not hear you the first time you called. Is late. Expends the least amount of energy possible. Possesses a negative attitude. Sometimes even hostile. May possess more than one phone. They’re doing you a favor by working for you, and they’re not doing much.
  • The Fool. Often doesn’t speak or speaks in grammelot. Everything is a great adventure. You won’t get what you want, but you may get a wonderful surprise you didn’t want. Off balance.
  • The Nervous Wreck. Incapable, incompetent, clumsy, drops things, cannot understand simple directions, loses everything, creates chaos. Fire them and they will cry loudly until you rehire them.

Encourage your students when you see one of these. Give them the tips and tricks to strengthen the characters.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR GOOD CLASS CULTURE

  • We NEVER want to actually feel sorry for a servant. Encourage masters towards the hyperbolic, not the sadomasochistic or  revolting. Certainly stop anything racial or stereotypical not created by a performer themselves in its tracks. Talk about it. Let people be heard. This is what drama class is for.
  • NEVER let  a kid start a scene by calling their servant by the servant’s real name. We can’t play if we feel it’s “us.” Have a list of accessible names at your fingertips, throw the kids onstage and say “Your name is the Heatmeiser and your servant’s name is Pancake. Go.”
  • ALWAYS applaud a big performance, a clever task, a wonderful retort from a servant.
  • STOP every few scenes during “Pleasing the Ruler” and analyze what people are creating.

Next week, the big summative assessment, plus a couple more exercises to make it work.

 

 

Location Location Location: Warmups for Working with Where

How do we know where we are? Students will respond with many answers to this question. “We can see the walls.” “The people around us.” “Google maps?”It’s the opener to a discussion of where.  Viola Spolin’s “Creating a Where” and the call for a “location” in the beginning of any improvisation have in common the mandate that good scene work take an empty space and transform it.

As an isolated skill,  weighting “where” is  extremely valuable to practice, and it is one that embeds itself deeply not just in improvisational scene work, but in the work of the actor, in script analysis and in set design.

WARMUPS FOR “WHERE”

  • WELCOME TO FRANCE- Perhaps you’ve done the exercise with students where you’ve had them mill around shaking hands, and then have given them characters to change into while shaking hands. Try using music to further strengthen this. In an exercise introduced to me by Kevin Coleman at a Shakespeare Plays workshop, we were walking about when he suddenly said, “And welcome to France” and put on French cafe music, which changed our walking into promenading down the avenue, until we realized we were late, then lost, then, no, the clock was wrong and we had plenty of time, but wait, we were still lost, oh no, we knew where we were…
  • SHIP AHOY- From Talia Pura’s excellent book STAGES: CREATIVE IDEAS FOR TEACHING DRAMA,  I like to play music from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN with this one. High energy game that has students:
    • “hit the deck” (lie down on the ground)
    • “man overboard” (one stands up and grabs a prone partner’s leg like a wheelbarrow)
    • “officer aboard” (everyone stands and salutes)
    • “helicopter” (partners grasp hands and spin)
    • “dive bomber” (everyone simulates airplanes)
    • “Captain’s daughter” (one person takes a knee, the other sits on their lap)
  • DIRECTIONS TO MY HOUSE- This is for pairs. Each partner explains to the other how to get to his or her house from school.
  • MY ROOM- Class sits in a circle. One person goes into the circle and literally “walks” us through their room, then  goes back to the circle, sits down, and sends other students into their “room” to work with imaginary stuff. “Grab my book from the shelf and put it on my desk. ” “Turn on my computer”.  And so on. Do this with a few volunteers.
  • HEY BUDDY-From the Red Ladder Theatre Company. Useful to help students create details of a where through action.  Students in lines of maybe five. Student at the head of line A mimes a simple object.  Student in line B tries to guess what it is by saying “Hey Buddy, get away from my toothbrush, my hairdryer,my blender…” whatever it is. When person B guesses it, they high-five person A and go to the end of the A line, and person A goes to the end of the B line. Continue as necessary, and to intensify, narrow what can be mimed. “Anything from a kindergarten classroom.” “Something you only find in a gym.”
  • OBJECT SWAP- Start this in a circle.  Work with air like clay, then pull an object out of the air. Let students work on this simultaneously. When you are all holding your mimed objects, turn to one student and say, “Do you want this thing I have?” Then describe the thing, but don’t tell them what the thing is. Say you have made a jar with a butterfly in it.  Tell them it’s fragile, it has something alive in it, you can see the thing, the thing has wings, and the thing is colorful and there are lots of varieties of it. When they figure it out, have them describe what they have to you, and give them your jar and take their hamster or whatever. Let everyone go around and trade objects for awhile.  Then ask, who got something beautiful, dangerous, expensive, unusual, scary, and listen to their answers.
  • BOOKSHELF- In partners, students can build a bookshelf. This works great right after object swap. Have them build their imaginary bookshelf out of any material they want, then with their partner put three things on it. Something rare, a piece of technology, something alive. Have them step back and admire it. Then, and they love this, have them start an argument with each other about the bookshelf. Let the argument lead to a “breakup, ” where they must divide the objects and go in search of a new partner with whom to rebuild. Have them build a new bookshelf with their new partner, then ask them what was on their first bookshelf, why they broke up with their first partner, and what was better about the new one. The answers you will get are incredible.
  • FIVE IN, FIVE OUT.  Students can retire to the audience. Ask for a volunteer and give them a location (convenience stores seem to work really well).  Have this volunteer go onstage and interact with one mimed thing in the 7-11 and then leave.  Then send the next one in. They have to interact with the first thing and then create their own. The next person must interact with the first two things, then create another, and so on, up to five. Then start a new scene.

These exercises will go a long way towards preparing students to work with floorplans, which I’ll describe in the next installment. Stay tuned.

Getting the Picture- Boal, Spolin, and Tableaus

Viola Spolin uses the term “sharing the stage picture” as a way to begin to teach young performers to break out of their awkwardness onstage and learn to use interesting stage movement in performance. Her suggestion to the teacher is to “sidecoach” while students are engaged in whole group play to increase students’ awareness of others onstage.

I find the best way to begin this discussion is through the use of sculptures and tableaus. I began using tableaus as my into to being onstage a few years ago, when I noticed that students weren’t telling stories onstage in ways that translated theatrically.I do these exercises very early in the year, but you can incorporate them at any point necessary. These can take up to a week of class time.

WARMUP POSSIBILITIES

  • Fruit Basket.  From the good folks at Young Actors Theatre Camp. Tell students to get a partner and become an apple. Then have them find another partner and become a pear with that new person. Now go to a new partner. Become a banana. A new partner. Become an orange. Your fifth and final partner. Become a strawberry. Now find your apple. Your orange. Your banana. Your apple. Your orange. Your strawberry. Your pear. Your apple. Your pear.  Now they are laughing.
  • Make Something….Groups of 4-6. Quickly. Make something round, make something sharp, make something beautiful.  Go around, ask What did you make, what did you make, what did you make, good job. Do it again. Make something edible, make something important, make something ridiculous.
  • Sneaky Statues. They loved it in elementary school, they love it now. Everyone freezes. One student is the “guard” who has to walk around and catch people moving. When he or she does, they have to become the person who was moving. You can do variations by giving them exhibit titles. “Trouble at the Old Mill”, “Selfie”, whatever.
  • James Bailey’s excellent “Artist, Model, Clay” from Teaching Improvisation: A Practical Guide for Classroom Educators, Bedlam Press, played in groups of 3. One person faces the other two, who stand one behind the other. He or she is the artist, the middle is the clay, and the person in the back is the model. The model strikes a pose, and the artist tries to sculpt the air around the person who is “clay” to get them into the position. The groups can then switch and switch again until everyone has done all three roles.

Before I start any onstage work with students, I do an exercise from Augusto Boal.  I don’t know where I got this, whether from one of Boal’s texts or a workshop I took with USC professor Brent Blair at the Camp Bravo Teacher’s Weekend,  which you totally need to do sometime if you’re a Drama teacher near California.  I just call it “Chairs.”

CHAIRS

Put 4 chairs, identical if possible, and a table in your “stage” area. Have the students sit in the audience.

Tell the students a little bit about the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal, if you think they will dig that.  I like to tell them some basic facts, that he was a theatre practitioner in Brazil who was educated in the United States, that he went back to Brazil and tried to remake classical theatrical texts to educate people about oppressive structures in the society, but that approach didn’t reach the people he wanted, so he developed Legislative Theatre.

To the students, Boal is interesting because he was making theatre with real people for a purpose, he was standing up for his beliefs, and he was addressing injustice and hypocrisy. Teenagers are very concerned with injustice and hypocrisy, and they should be. I tell them a story that Brent Blair told in a workshop I took with him at Camp Bravo about art projects Boal did like giving cameras to people living in the slums of Rio and having them take pictures of what the word “Home” meant. One boy brought back a picture of a nail on a wall. Boal asked him what the nail meant. The boy told Boal he was a shoeshine boy in a big hotel. To keep his kit safe, the hotel required that he rent a nail on their wall, eating up most of his profits from his work.

This resonates with the students. So now I tell them, we’re going to look at power, because that’s what Boal was looking at all the time, and it’s a major issue in theatre.

So then I ask them, if there’s a person in each of these four chairs, who has the power? And they give me various answers, the chair at the head of the table, all of them because they’re grouped around the table, excetera.

Then I ask for a volunteer to get up and “change the picture”- give the “power” to a new “person”. Someone gets up and they move the chairs, very simple. And I ask, who has the power now. And I get new answers. And I ask for a new volunteer.

The students can easily work on this for 20 minutes. I’ve had it go half an hour. I do it until there are no more volunteers.

What is this doing for students?

  • It’s getting them onstage, without “acting,” where they are creating a spectacle or having an effect, which is what you want them to do when they do act.
  • It’s providing an outlet for students who are unsure about the class or what they’re doing there to participate nonverbally.
  • It’s showing you your directors, your leaders, and your rebels. You need these kids in your corner.
  • It’s demonstrating that students have creative freedom and agency in your room.

You will see stuff on the stage. You will see Mean Girls, the Principal’s Office, the Family Dining Table, The Classroom.  You will see war, and you will see death. You will see what the kids see and what they want to see,  because they will show it to you.  Stay cool.

I had a young man put a chair behind another and another chair in front and tell me that what he had created was an “inappropriate” (the word my students use when they don’t want to say pornographic) film shoot. I didn’t send him out of class. I simply asked him who had the power. He said the person in back. Again, I didn’t freak out. I suggested to him that perhaps it was the person with the camera. He got it. So did the rest of the class.

Boal 1, “Inappropriate Film Shoot” 0.

THE STAGE PICTURE- LEVELS, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SHAPES

From Jeff Kramer at Comedy Sportz San Jose. Send up one student to do a pose. Send up another to connect to them somehow. And again, and again, and again, until you have 5-10 people up there. Point out the places where people chose to go in at a different level than the others. You might see relationship at this point. Look at places in the statue where people seem to know each other. Complement them if they didn’t stand in a line, if they used interesting shapes like triangles I usually tell my students that lines are generally good onstage if you are doing A CHORUS LINE or something military, but otherwise aim for more complex shapes.

Now repeat the exercise, but this time give them a title. Either you pick the title or solicit one from the audience. Notice how the picture is probably more interesting now that there’s a title.

You can also repeat it without a title and have the audience start titling them, which they enjoy.  But regardless, the last time you do it, pick a title, because it will help you with this next thing.

Pick a title like “Boredom” and tell them to do a “Boredom” sculpture. Complement them on their levels, relationships, and the shape the picture makes.

EMOTION SCULPTURES, CONCEPT OR ABSTRACT NOUN SCULPTURES

  • Divide them quickly into groups of 5-6. I like to use playing cards for this, with a student’s name written on the inside of each card, it makes it easy to randomly group them.
  • Hand out index cards that have emotional states like FEAR, ANGER, JOY, SUSPICION, GRIEF, LOVE written on them. I like to give groups a choice between two, like you give toddlers the choice of the red or blue cup. It gives them a feeling of confidence and leads to less “blaming the topic” in the critique.
  • Give them around 10 minutes to come up with a sculpture which embodies one of these emotions.
  • Watch them.  Talk about them. For how, see the post in Class Culture: This is Our Masterpiece: On Presenting, Rehearsing and Responding to Student Performance in Class.
  • You can repeat this again tomorrow with Abstract Nouns. They can be germaine to other things you want to teach during the year, to a particular play perhaps, or to universal human themes. Comedy, Friendship, War, Justice, Revenge, Celebration. It’s good to do two days of it, with different groups.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

You can do this as a larger, graded assignment. Have ready quotes or statements (a great into for teaching a play as well) such as

  • Blood is Thicker Than Water
  • It Takes A Village To Raise A Child
  • You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Drink

And so forth. Feel free to customize these however you like, but they should be universalish, and capable of being “the moral of a story.” Make sure students understand their proverbs or quotes before you let them make a scene about them.

Have the students (groups of 4-6)  create 3 pictures to illustrate a story which ends with this statement as its moral, linked together by narration from either an outside narrator or characters in the story. Plan for maybe 20 minutes of rehearsal to make a thorough job of it, and a quick 5-10 minute check in the next day if the project runs over.

Example:

As my Grandma Grace used to say, “You Show Me Your Friends, I’ll Show You Who You Are.”

Picture One: A student, Jack, sits chastened with a teacher frozen over him in a “yelling at him” position.

Teacher: Jack was always in trouble.

Picture Two:  Three other actors surround “Jack” and act like “bad kids”

One of Them: That was because Jack had dangerous friends.

Picture Three: The three actors change to “good kids.”

Another of Them: So Jack got new friends who liked doing nice things. And he never got in trouble again.

All of Them: The moral of the story is, “You show me your friends, I’ll show you who you are.”

Comment on dynamic pictures that look like they’re moving, on the use of levels, shapes, and distinct characters. Ask, what did you notice?

The picture might be a little clearer now.