Category Archives: Status

Object Permanence: Small Items That Make a Huge Difference in The Drama Classroom

Welcome to a new  school year.  We never know where summer went, but once more into the breach we go.

While you’re doing your back to school shopping to trick out your classroom or mobile room to room cart, may I suggest laying in a stock of some of my favorite tried and true drama teacher essentials. Having these on hand will keep your creative juices flowing and your students on their toes.

  • Golf pencils. Great for when you expect your students to rehearse with a pencil in their hand.  These little workhorses are cheap enough to keep a supply of, small enough to not take up a lot of room, and strangely proportioned enough that your students may actually remember to return them. Supplying your own materials cuts down on boring conversations about students remembering materials, and allows everyone to get to the task at hand.
  • Sharpies and Highlighters. You need the clear “write on anything” power of the sharpie and your students need a few loaner highlighters around so they can count lines and drive their peers mad.
  • Rubber Balls. The kitschier the better. You’d be surprised at how much your students will enjoy tossing around a Frozen or Ant Man ball during warmup. Get at least three, I recommend five. On days when you can’t think of a warmup, nothing says instant fun like dumping a bunch of rubber balls in the center of the circle and letting students toss or gently kick them to each other. The possibilities are endless.
  • Squeaky toys, Koosh balls, Beanbags.  Important for gentle tossing games and much of Spolin’s whole group work.  Great to hand to a squirrelly kid as a fidget in a pinch.
  • Playing Cards. I use these to sort students for quick, random heterogenous grouping, one deck per class. I use them for quick oral quizzes- if four out of five students randomly called upon get the answers right, the whole class avoids a written quiz.  I use them to call on volunteers to get up in front of class, or make a comment on others’ work. I also use them for status exercises and occasionally as props. Teach middle school? Nothing is more of a crowd pleaser than handing out decks and getting students to play “I doubt it” in order to work on their poker faces. “I doubt it” is a game known in adult circles as “BS”, it is easy to teach and a great deal of fun to play.
  • Scarves. Instant props and costume accessories.  Groups of three students can use one to augment Boal’s “Columbian Hypnosis”, where one student moves the scarf and the others mimic the movements with their bodies. Scarves can be used as teacher attention getters while students are doing group work. They can be used as blindfolds for Dog and Bone or Hunter Hunted, and trust walks.
  • Dowels. Available at your local hardware store, these wooden babies are worth stocking up on. They can be used for group movement, used in sets of two to create dance movement before students are comfortable dancing, as swords for armed combat, to build squares on the floor. In a pinch, they are  canes for old characters or soft shoe. Students can work on balancing them on a finger.  Buy the half inch and have them cut to about three feet. Save the one foot pieces for rehearsal daggers and wands.
  • Index cards.  Write scene suggestions on them. Give them to groups to fill out as grade cards when starting a project. Use them to build white models (they are very easy to teach scale with and hold up well on a cardboard stage floor with nothing more than clear tape. Students can put their info on them for auditions.
  • Cups. Not environmental, so you may want to go dollar store permanent here, but the red cups that people give out at barbecues are great props, place holders, and amplify the sound of a cell phone’s speaker when placed inside it.
  • Corks.  A dying breed, but when cut into small discs, wine corks (or the type you can buy clean and unadulterated from a craft store) work wonders as diction exercisers for your mushmouthed students. Small enough to be carried in the pocket, a cork held between the teeth is a long time favorite trick of voice teachers to assist a student in popping those plosives.
  • Blue Painter’s Tape.  Make a grid on the floor. Create seating spots in a room with no furniture.  Put up cast lists, project groups,  poster or fliers. Allow students to create a temporary gallery for their designs. Create independence for your technicians, and save the wall from further paint peels.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions about how to use any of these items. Happy shopping, and have a tremendous beginning to your school year!

 

 

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The Five People You Meet in Cupertino

How can we create opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the production process?

Especially when they’re not quite ready for participation in a mainstage production?

It’s wonderful when students can come to mainstage productions with some understanding of what it’s like to be a part of a production team. It makes the process easier to assimilate to, and more fun. It’s even more wonderful when their minds have been opened to the myriad of other possibilities for people who like creating stories beyond acting.

Most drama students love acting. Most won’t become actors. It’s very important to acknowledge that there is a place for everyone in theatre, and allow students opportunities to take on “roles” that are not only those in the spotlight. It’s equally important to introduce students to the work of hard collaboration, deadlines, and the pressures of production, preferably before they encounter a real audience.

For a long time, my Beginning Drama students did a great project called Soap Operas, passed on to me by my master teacher John Ribovich. You can find that project here if you are interested. This was back in the day, when kids grew up with an awareness of soap operas, passed down to them by family members who loyally watched a particular show over time. Kids who didn’t watch often had relatives who did, so these products were fairly faithful to the genre.

Then came reality TV and a lot more programming in the animated or scifi/fantasy genres, as well as increasing options for entertainment. Fewer students were having common viewing experiences.  I tried for a couple of years to contextualize soap operas in the context of TV history, and tried again to link the project to its popularity in other markets that were relevant to my students- it is still, for instance, an important and popular genre in South America, India, and Korea. But the scripts were no longer really holding together, as the students had not internalized the model, so after a brief flirtation with the idea of doing “Adventure” stories, I decided that there must be an easier way to work on the concepts of stock characters and situations with my students, as well as forcibly immerse them in production in a low-stakes way.  And so this year I experimented with a project called “The Five People You Meet in Cupertino.”  And it worked.

You can do this. But obviously change the name to the name of your school. It makes a great summative assessment. A nice final exam.

SETUP

Lunch-If you’ve already worked with your kids on archetypes via status work, this will be a natural shift. If not, print out a black and white map of your school, like the emergency preparedness one,  and hand a copy to each kid. Ask them to create a visual map of “lunch” depending on where students hang out. You will gain a lot of insight, because you will clearly see the social network of your school, and the territory claimed by each tribe.

You might get responses like this:

  • Popular people hang out at this one table in the cafeteria.
  • Kids who play “insert newest card game” hang out here.
  • All the ELA kids tend to hang out near this bench.
  • Skaters hang out behind the gym.
  • Preps hang out in the library but don’t eat.

So then divide your students into groups of 5 or 6 (I suggest choosing the groups to balance gender, ability, and background). I suggest doing this because they will be together for 2 or maybe 3 school weeks, and group dysfunction will throw off class climate.  Then introduce the activity.

What makes our school unique? Who are the 5 people you meet at our school?  Ask for four, and then ask for a type of adult to make the project interesting.  Aim for a broad enough category that gender is flexible, that ethnicity can be worked into it.

Here are some of the five people(students),  you meet in Cupertino, according to my kids.

  1.  The Overachiever. Does everything, joins everything, has a 6.0 GPA unweighted.
  2. The Slacker. Does nothing, but has a lot of potential.
  3. The Poser. Appears to be or tries to be one way, is actually another.
  4. The Foreigner. New to the community. Trying to learn the rules. Or not.
  5.  The Sidekick. Always hanging out with one of the other characters, mirroring their actions.
  6.  The Gamer/Phone Freak, or Hacker.  Obsessed with the virtual world.
  7. The Helicopter Parent- Constantly embarrassing their kid in front of others with their lack of boundaries and vast array of connections.
  8.  The Superenthusiastic Teacher- Constantly in the face of the students. Their relentless positivity extends beyond the boundaries of failure. Including their own.
  9. The Adolescent-  Adult. Wants to fit in with all the cool kids. Problem is, that ship sailed in 1989.

The idea is, you want five people. They don’t have to be, and shouldn’t, be the five people above.

All groups need to use the same five people.

Then move onto five events. 

Here are some things that always happen in Cupertino, according to my students, at least this year:

  1. Someone breaks their phone or another significant piece of technology.
  2.  An online conversation.
  3. People meet for Boba tea. ( a form of tea with tapioca in it popular with some Asian students),
  4.  There is an event of academic dishonesty.
  5. There is a bromance ( an intense friendship between two guys). 
  6. There is an academic competition.
  7. Something goes wrong on clubs day.

You can allow students to tailor make the situations to your school. The idea is, they should be general enough to be universally applicable. Stay away from things that are tied to race or gender, let the kids figure it out as it applies to your world.

So they now have five people and five situations that they own. They must use all five people and all five situations to write an original script, which will then be performed for the class.  You can also give them standard titles, based on things that are said around your school or current teenspeak. They love them, and they help them frame the story. This year, our plays were called:

  • Actually, Though
  • Lol
  • We Feel Good, Oh We Feel So Good ( a reference to one of our spirit chants)
  • I Literally Can’t Even
  • Quick Question
  • What the…?

TIMELINE

Day 1-2 Groups assign roles, name their characters, and write a summary of a proposed plot.

Day 2-3 Two members of each group pitch the project to the class and to you. This is a tough exercise, and well worth it. You can figure out which groups are gelling, and clarify any issues with story construction before they get out of control.

Day 3-4. Introduce standard professional playwriting format. One way to make this easier for students is to use a program like Celtx, which students can access through a free trial in order to help them format their script. It’s never too early to introduce this skill and it makes it easier for students who go on to really want to write to submit their work to professional contests and the like. Plus, because the groups are fairly large the students can teach each other.

Day 4-5-6 Students create a draft of their script and conduct a readthrough of their first scene in front of the class.  This allows you to quickly assess whether groups are on track.

Day 6-7-8 Students work with the script they have created (check for multiple copies and support this as necessary) to block their play.

Day 7-8 Students should have a production meeting where they cover where they are in the memorization process, who is bringing/making props and costumes and what furniture they will need to use from the class stock if you have that. and lights and sound if you want them to do that, as simple as flipping the lights on and off, or playing sound effects on the class sound system or speakers off their phones.  If you want a form for this, I just made one. Email me and I’ll send it to you.

Day 9-10. Final touchups on the projects, students rehearsing in their groups. Maybe an opportunity for two groups to watch each other and give feedback, something I call a watch it.

Now you are ready for performances.

If you have steered the boat correctly, there will be a great deal of excitement on performance day as students rush around.

I assess these (and I’ll send you the rubric if you want it) on preparation, script quality, characterization, voice, blocking, and pace, which includes smoothness of set changes.  I want a well-rehearsed, well-executed play which shows that actors worked together and understand basic principles of characterization, staging, and performance skills.

Try this out and let me know how you like it the next time you find yourself with a vast expanse of untrammelled time between projects. I’d love to know how it works in other places.

Status Update: Masters and Servants 3

23 carlstrass

Masters and Servants is ultimately an exercise in typecasting. The word has a negative connotation for many drama students, and  some instructors. But typecasting works to tell a story,  and may help students to learn how to create a character through making choices.

This will describe the summative evaluation for this work, the Master/Servant scene, adapted from the works of Keith Johnstone for work in your classroom. For Parts 1 and 2 of this work, look back. Otherwise read on.

Masters and Servants are the building blocks of archetypes.  At one end of the spectrum, excuse the genderism,  is the King, the Sovereign,  and at the other end? The Fool. The only person who can tell the King the truth.

If you don’t think these images resonate with students, you’re not paying attention. Their lives are about status, who has it, who doesn’t, how to get it. In their peer groups, in their classrooms, at home. Letting them play with this in your classroom is very important. Because the drama classroom is a safe and sacred space to tell the truth. 

WARMUP

Sovereign, Warrior, Carer, Fool. From Philip Cumbus’s workshop through  Globe Education at the Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays Conference ( I’m telling you, you gotta go!)

Sovereign- You can come at this out of a circle, or out of a mill and seethe.  Students raise their hands and put a “crown” on their head. Feeling the weight of the crown, they walk around the room being the King or Queen. You can put music on with this, I use “Hail to the Chief.”  When you notice raised chins, slow steps, great posture, and level eyecontact, praise that. They’re doing  “The Sovereign. ”

Warrior- Move one hand to the heart and the other to the side and up like they’re holding a sword. Tell them to cut a path through the air, without touching each other. Put on something suitably fighty, like the theme song to the Pirates of the Caribbean. The movie. Not the ride.

Fool-  Flex the feet. Bend the knees. Saunter up to other people, and when you meet them, spin around and snap at them while smiling.  This will cause much merriment. Put on “Be a Clown”.  Played by a Wurlitzer.

Carer- Hard for some. Put hands at heart. Walk slowly up to your classmates and open your hands in a gesture of opening your heart to the others. Use something sweet and cosmic. I like Lisa Gerrard’s “Now We are Free” from Gladiator, mostly because it makes kids suddenly go “Oh, this is from Gladiator!” while they are awkwardly connecting to each other.

Stop.  Send the students to four corners of the room according to the following direction:

Go where you felt the most comfortable. Sovereigns. over here by the stereo. Warriors, there by my desk. Fools, by the window. Carers, by the door.

Now tell the groups to work together for one minute to create a sculpture of the best things about being each archetype. Assign a group to go first, have everyone else just sit in their places in the quadrant, this works best without moving into proscenium mode.

You’ll see:

  • A Sovereign generously giving to his or her people while they look up to him or her with loyalty.
  • Warriors protecting the weak and fragile.
  • Fools entertaining and unifying a crowd.
  • Carers supporting the downtrodden.

If this is not what you see, or something like it, ask them what they were going for.  This exercise is a “powers for good” exercise, a sun side and shadow side exercise, and we’re about to get to the shadow.  We can’t display the shadow in an unsafe environment.

Then have them go to the area where they were the least comfortable. Watch where kids go and store that data for later. It’s pretty revealing of your class culture. A lot of warriors and fools? That’s a different class than one with a lot of sovereigns and carers. We think we know what we want them to be, don’t we?

Repeat the exercise.

You’ll see:

  • A Sovereign raised up on the backs of people while their people starve and are silenced.
  • A Warrior alone among a field of dead bodies. Or no one left.
  • Fools excluding and mocking one person so that they are completely emotionally ruined.
  • Carers smothering or tearing apart those they care for.

Ask them what they noticed.  The idea here is that people “get” certain types of things about certain characters, and can create aspects of character that are universally recognizable. Then put everybody into proscenium and move onto:

MASTERS AND SERVANT EXAMPLE SCENES

From Johnstone.

HAVE A SEAT-  Put a chair onstage. Ask for a Master volunteer and a Servant. Send the Servant to the periphery (just offstage, but better, onstage and visible) The private, or public conversation you have with the Master is as follows:

Invite your servant in. Tell them it’s ok to sit in your chair, offer them a snack, and at some point, let them know they’ve crossed the line. Try to make this moment spectacular.

Tell the Servant: You’re not comfortable accepting favors from the Master, but eventually give in, even though you know it probably won’t end well.

Purpose: Get Masters comfortable with throwing tantrums. Get Servants comfortable with pushing limits.

Repeat this with a couple of volunteers.

IT WAS YOUR IDEA:  A Servant-driven scene.  Servant’s goal? To use every challenge as an excuse to glorify or assuage the Master. Master simply needs to keep picking.  Send a Servant to the periphery. Give the Master the first line:

Master:  Servant! Why are you wearing that ridiculous uniform?

Servant: It’s Your birthday, Sir. (or Ma’am).

Alternately: “Servant! Why doesn’t this coffee have sugar in it?” “It’s already in there, Sir. ”

APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION: Another Servant-driven scene. Servant makes it worse and worse and the master buys it.

Master: Servant! Why are you wearing that ridiculous uniform?

Servant: I burned the other one.

After a few rounds of these, they are perhaps ready to put together the scenario, available on my TPT site along with some of these exercises and a rubric you can customize.

THE SCENARIO

1. The Servant helps the Master get ready for an important event.

2. The Master is called away ( a meeting, a phone call, a costume fitting). He or she leaves the servant with specific instructions. Pick all the lentils out of the fire. Don’t sit in my chair. Put Ms. Edwina back in the bowl. Whatever.

3.  The Servant, left alone,  disobeys, fails to accomplish, or sabotages the Master’s direct orders.

4. The Master returns and punishes or fires the Servant.

That’s it. Request that this is what happens in the scenes. If you have a group of three, have the Master fire a servant in the first scene, bring on the second, have that servant disobey, and then be fired and the first one rehired. Simple.

Give them most of a class period to put these together. If performances run over, give five minutes at the beginning of the next class to reconnect.  Encourage whimsy, loudness, and absurdity. Discourage perversion, cruelty, and equality. Push them out of their comfort zones by encouraging them to laugh wierdly, have complete meltdowns, and be arrogant, lazy, and codependent.

If a scene is boring or cruel, stop it and make them redo it. If there are a couple of students who totally get this, and there always are, or if you have TA’s, have them mentor the students.

Ask them what they noticed.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Status Update: Masters and Servants 1

You know how sometimes it’s hard for drama students to figure out what to do with themselves onstage? How they fidget, or pace, or mumble, or  have no idea how to engage their face, causing the general world to dismiss “the high school play” as a cute rite of passage that creates an intolerable audience experience and isn’t really worth attending unless you know a kid?

It doesn’t have to be that way.  A huge part of creating a mesmerizing work with adolescent actors is teaching them about a simple defining principle of theatre. Status.  Drama is at its core about the exchange of power. Not only are people not created equal onstage, they frequently spend entire plays locked in these unequal paradigms, much to the satisfaction of the audience. This miraculous concept can provide a map for blocking, for character analysis, and for the deep pursuit of the actor’s objective.

If you want to read a lot about this, read a book called Impro by the founder of TheatreSports, Keith Johnstone. It’s a bit pricy for a paperback, and it is worth every penny and you will keep it forever. It describes the philosophy behind the Masters and Servants, the project I’m going to explain as it plays out in improvisational scenarios.  This week will cover how to introduce the topic.

If you are uncomfortable with the monikers “Master” and “Servant”, “Boss” and “Employee” work just as well.  The main thing is to teach the concept of status.

WARMUP

The A’s and the B’s- Tas Emiabata from Globe Education gave me this one at the Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays Conference, which is a truly amazing conference for English and Theatre teachers, annual, and worth attending if you can get there.

Students walk randomly, neutrally. Tell them that they are A’s, they own everything in the space, that they are surrounded by people who also own everything, and that they should greet everyone they see with a nice bright high five. Now they should vocalize, cheering when they greet the other people. Let this grow to a great celebration.

Stop them. Tell them that they don’t own as much, that they still should walk around and greet each other, but this time, they should acknowledge each other in a more mellow way, by doing a low five. Oh, and they should keep one hand over their heart, so they only have one hand to use.

Stop them. Walk into the group and split it down the middle. Tell one half of the group that they are A’s, and the other that they are B’s. Tell each side to mingle, but only acknowledge other people from their group. Let them do that for a few minutes.

Ask them what they noticed. They might say:

  • I felt like I was better than the B’s.
  • I felt like I didn’t want to go near the A’s
  • I felt embarrassed to be an A.
  • I felt sorry for the B’s.
  • I felt depressed to be a B.

Have them sit down.  Time to talk about status.

TEACHERS

Keith Johnstone begins his discussion of status with a discussion of teachers, and it’s a great place to start. So, ask them:

How do teachers keep their status? What do you notice about their behavior?

They might say

  • The teacher gives grades
  • The teacher gives directions
  • The teacher tells us what to do.
  • The teacher can eat and use her phone and we can’t.
  • The teacher is the authority on the subject matter

Ask for specific things teachers do. You might get:

  • They stand up and walk around.
  • They have a loud voice.
  • They make eye contact.

If you can handle it, sit down on the floor. With them. Ask them what has changed.

They might say: You’re just like us now. Ask how you’re keeping your status if you’re on the floor with them. They might say more things about voice, or eye contact.

or try: Lowering your head and inserting some ums and uhs into talking. Ask them what has changed. They just might tell you that you’ve lowered your status.

Ask them about low status things teachers do. For your information, here they are.

  • Try to be friends with the kids
  • Get emotional and talk too much about their personal life ( the same critique is not offered for getting emotional out of say, pride at student’s accomplishments)
  • Sit behind their desk and don’t move
  • Leave the classroom
  • Refuse to admit we don’t know the answer when we clearly don’t.
  • Overuse our yelling voice.
  • Favor or target students
  • Tolerate misbehavior

Ask them how students raise their status in such a classroom.  You may get:

  • make an alliance against the teacher
  • make jokes
  • take the fall for others
  • get the teacher off topic
  • go limp and refuse to do the work

Tell them to hold these thoughts. Move on to an exercise.

PLAYING CARD PARTY

You’ll need between 6-10 playing cards, both high and low, depending on how many students you want to put onstage at once. Call up your volunteers.

Hand each one a playing card, face out so the student can’t see it, and have each student hold it to his or her forehead with one finger.

Tell the students to pretend they’re at a party, and treat the other performers like their card says to, gaining information about who they are based on how people treat them. Point out that someone might ask a lower status person to get them something, while they might complement a higher status person in order to get close to them.  Let them run with this.

Ask them then to line up according to where they think they are in the pecking order.

Ask them who they think they are and why, and have them look at their cards.

High status people (Kings, Queens, Aces, Jacks, ) will say things like:

  • People were bowing to me.
  • People wanted to be friends with me.
  • People kept saying nice things to me.

Low Status people (3’s, 4’s and 2’s)  will say things like:

  • People wouldn’t talk to me.
  • They wanted me to get me stuff.
  • They laughed at me.

Sometimes, people in the middle will have these revelations:

  • People basically treated me totally normally.
  • Half the people ignored me, half the people wanted to hang out with me.

A MODIFICATION FOR ADVANCED CLASSES OR EXTREMELY COMPETENT BEGINNERS

For fun, redo the exercise one more time, and this time add a Joker. Take note of where the Joker ends up. Some classes place him high, some low, some right in the middle.  In a more advanced class, this can be a great way to talk about:

  • the power of laughter
  • archetypical tricksters such as Coyote, Anansi, or Ganesh
  • the fool’s position as the only one who can talk to the King
  • Medieval Theatre Guilds positioning “the devil” as a comic character
  • Dark Knight Returns, Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and the actor’s obligation to create  boundaries with certain roles

Any and all of these exercises and discussions will help students get ready for The Master/Servant Scene, or if that’s a tad too Depeche Mode, the Boss/Employee Scene. In the next installment, I’ll present more into games and discuss different types of masters and servants. Until then, consider updating your status based on what you now know.