Monthly Archives: September 2014

Building Trust in the Room

I hear from many theatre teachers who do not fundamentally trust their students, and whose students do not trust each other. Teaching drama is a tough job because the rules of a typical classroom often don’t quite fit.  Trust in the theatre classroom cannot be a state without boundaries, but it is entirely fundamental to the process of teaching a good class and allowing students to truly thrive and grow.  No amount of contracts, posted rules, or forced participation through points can create this for you. Restricting your students access to the bathroom, tallying their tardies, and punishing them with the gradebook will not make them trust you, unless you are also creating a curriculum where they don’t want to miss a minute. Fostering an atmosphere of intense competition constructed from unfair comparisons and favoritism will also not help your room. If you’re strict, that’s cool. If you believe you are creating discipline in your students by controlling these little personal behaviors, maybe you are.  But if they don’t feel right, and you can, try making it a bit easier on yourself and on them.  If you are just, they will trust.

Being just is different than than being fair. Being  just means differentiating learning, and juggling multiple interactions with your students.  It means giving students opportunities to monitor their own behavior,  to self soothe, to take care of each other, and to promote from within. It means you don’t allow your room to be taken over or students to be systemically ostracized. It means creating a physically and psychologically safe space, and confronting it when you or students make it unsafe, and restoring it to that place of safety.

You create trust in your room through establishing an atmosphere of trust through the practice of trust exercises,  being trustworthy and expecting trustworthiness in return. Trust exercises are only one part of that.

TRUST EXERCISES

First of all, if you’re playing whole group games with your students, trust is already building, as long as you’re working with them on inclusion and cooperation. If you feel sheepish or uncomfortable about working with your students on the concept of trust, it will shine through. If you don’t trust them to trust each other, well, that’s something to think about.  They’ve seen a lot of Youtube videos where people have fallen down. So start small and build, using the WHOLE GROUP to connect into raising, rather than falling, trust.

I used to give  blindfolds to students and let them lead each other around the campus in pairs.  I used to fill rooms full of obstacles and let them coach each other across. Both of those activities were overly time consuming, sloppy, and there was always some kid who ran into something, and that’s obviously not what we want.

So I suggest the following sequence.

RUN IN

Stand in a circle. Invite students to remain quiet and sense when it’s time to “run in”, towards the center of the circle. Tell them don’t signal, don’t make eye contact, just try to feel when. They will quickly try to go before they feel anything. Pull them back. Tell them to take a deep breath, wait, and….they’ll try it again. Do this a few times. Praise them for going all at the same time.

CROSS THE CIRCLE

Stand in a circle. Students cross the circle one at a time, again without signalling. Just feeling the room.  This does two things. It helps the students pay attention to their own impulse, to the impulse of the group, and it mixes up the group, which breaks up cliques who like to stand next to each other and distract each other.

BLIND CIRCLE

Stand in a circle. You go first. Yes, you. You close your eyes, and say, “Hey, kids, notice that I am crossing the circle, and that my eyes are closed. When I reach the edge of the circle, please reach out and gently redirect me by quickly touching my shoulder.”

You will reach the edge. You will feel a tentative little shove on your shoulder. It will send you walking to the other side, where you will feel it again. Do this a couple more times and then open your eyes and ask who wants to go . Let everyone go who wants to. Do not talk while the student’s eyes are closed and they are being redirected. It feels scary.  Be vigilant about sharp corners or breaks in the circle. Make it clear that we are keeping people safe.

I have never been hurt or humiliated during this exercise, and I’ve done it many times with many groups of students. I have never had a student hurt during it either. If the unthinkable should happen and a kid should shove too hard, which sometimes students do to their friends, meaning to be playful.  stop the exercise, ask the overly zealous shover to step out of the room and settle down, and keep going with at least one more student so that they get that this is important and worthwhile.  If that’s impossible, shelve it and repeat it the next day. Move on to Brags and Accomplishments below.

But if this went well,  move on to:

RAISING TRUST

This exercise is from the teacher’s manual to an old textbook called THEATRE, ART IN ACTION published by Glencoe McGraw Hill. You may be able to get a used copy online by poking around. It contains numerous interesting exercises and projects.  I always start this exercise by bringing up unpleasant Youtube trust fall videos. So that I can assure them that that’s not what we’re going to do.

Go to four circles, or groups of at least ten and not more than twelve. Ask for a volunteer, a young woman if possible, because young women have more trouble with this exercise.  Ask them to lie down on the floor, feet together, arms crossed across their chest.

Station one person at their head, hands underneath it.  Another person goes to their feet, hands pressing down on the tops of their shoes. At least three people go to each side, hands flat under their back, upper and lower legs.

The control of this exercise begins with the person being lifted. They  say “One, Two Three”, and then the group lifts them TO STANDING by holding down their feet and raising them to a vertical position.

In their circles, ask for 2/3 of the group to participate. When they are done, tell them to sit on the floor.

Ask them what it was like if they went, or if they didn’t.

The next day, you can try

RAISING TRUST TOO

Same exact exercise and setup, only this time, after the student is raised to standing, the other students keep their hands where they are and guide the student back down to the floor.

PROBLEMS WITH RAISING TRUST AND HOW TO COMBAT THEM

The person being lifted bend their knees and try to help while coming up, resulting in a botched lift. Monitor and encourage them to take a deep breath and repeat.

Larger students don’t feel they can be easily lifted or experience a botched lift.  in my experience, most students can be lifted if they allow themselves to be. Encourage everyone to pitch in to help. Big kids need body confidence as much as we all do.  Deep breath, repeat.

Female students feel uncomfortable. Address this before you repeat this exercise.  Call it like you see it. Make sure groups are as equal as possible with regards to gender. Ask the students if they want to be in a classroom where half of the people can’t do one of the exercises because of fear. They will say no. Stress to students that even casual comments about someone’s body while they are in a lift can cause the person to feel like they are unsafe.

3 GOALS, 3 BRAGS

If all went well, your students are now sitting in nice little discussion circles. Hand out index cards or half sheets and pencils. Have students write down three things they could brag about and  three goals they have for themselves this year. THEY DO NOT HAVE TO BE RELATED TO SCHOOL.   Let students share something from the card, either a brag or a share, with each other. Float around and don’t really listen too hard.

Drama students need to know they can trust the room, a small group, or another individual with information, emotions, and their working body. These exercises can bring them closer to getting to that place. You can help bring them the rest of the way.

 

 

 

This is Our Masterpiece: On Presenting, Rehearsing, and Responding to Student Performance in Class

Were your students born knowing how to rehearse and give helpful feedback after class performances? Mine sure weren’t. Luckily, it’s a teachable skill.

We tell our students to “rehearse” because we know it’s the key to good classroom presentations and of course to good theatre. But do we break down the process for them into manageable chunks? If our students are not rehearsing independently as well as they should,  are there strategies we can implement to make their time more productive?

THIS IS OUR MASTERPIECE- TEACHING STUDENTS TO SLATE

The first “performance” my students ever give is an extremely brief one. It’s called “This is Our Masterpiece” and I’m pretty sure I made it up.

I stand in front of the class and explain to students how to introduce themselves in a line, starting at stage right (audience left) and proceeding down the line ending at stage left (audience right).If I have TA’s who are more advanced, I let them model this. If my class is tentative but there are students who are beginning to show themselves as potential class leaders, I use them as models.  Then I sit down, I take out my roll sheet, and I call them up in groups of about 5 to try it.

It goes like this. They line up. Then, from their right, and our left, they introduce:

Person 1: Hi, I’m Amy.

Person 2: I’m Juan.

Person 3: I’m CJ.

Person 4: I’m Priya.

Person 5: I’m David. And this is our Masterpiece.

That’s it. It’s a very short performance, we clap loudly, then move onto the next group. I tell my students that this is called a slate, which is what it’s called when students introduce themselves in a competition or an audition. I tell them to do this before every class performance, that they can use “Masterpiece” as default titles for scenes that don’t have titles.  This helps with our class culture and procedure in several ways:

  • In the beginning of the year, it helps you learn names and identify cliques so that you can decide whether to let students choose their own groups for projects. I advocate for a mixed approach. They choose their groups for some projects, I choose for others. Letting students repeatedly choose their partners results in an unfocused class where rivalries and power struggles outstrip the work of the ensemble.  Just because it’s drama class doesn’t mean it has to be anarchy.
  • It gives students practice in introducing themselves, which means that over time, they stop fidgeting, mumbling, and shuffling their feet, as well as looking less awkward and ironic, which translates into better work.
  • When students reach more advanced levels of theatre and start competing, as my Advanced Honors students do, and auditioning in other places,  as my preprofessional students begin to do, introductions are second nature. “Masterpiece” becomes “A Selection from Death of a Salesman, where I will be playing Biff”, or whatever.
  • It teaches students about “the first 15 seconds” onstage. A lackluster introduction generally breeds a low-energy performance. Introducing means they need to learn to fake it till they make it, which is valuable.

REHEARSAL PROCEDURES

Now that they know how to present a performance, it’s time to get down to the details of how to rehearse. You probably love theatre and love to rehearse, and so when you get a new script or devised assignment, you work on it with your group members until it’s good or good enough.

Why don’t our students do the same thing?  Because they don’t know how.

I start out by telling my students that they need to get it fixed in their head that any scene for class that does not include text needs to be run three times on its feet. On its feet means up and running, not “sitting around and talking about what they’re going to do while sneaking  glances at their phones.”

To enforce this, I break the rehearsal process up for them by acting as an activity leader for it. I assign the task, explain it, provide a model if appropriate or feasible, and then give them 5-10 minutes to talk about it. This talk should include the who what where when why of the scene and then of course difficulties (big moments such as violence, affection, or emotion) as well as the stage pictures the audience will see.

I then call “On Your Feet”, which means get up, find furniture/props, and start running it.

ON YOUR FEET

  • Identify and REHEARSE difficult moments. (violence, affection, emotional outpourings)
  • Up on your feet. Get furniture you need. Create the space- entrances and exits.
  • Walk it through, identifying stage pictures.
  • Run it with a rough idea of who’s going where.
  • Run it again.
  • Run it again until you can do the entire thing with no script or if there is no script, no stops.  Run it and have someone watch.*
  • Run it until it’s ready or you run out of time, whichever comes first. And then every time you’re going to perform it, run it again.

If grading a project takes longer than one day ( four groups perform one day, but you don’t get to everyone) give 5 minutes for a quick run the next day.

*For a longer project, they then should get some other students to Watch It before it performs for the class.

WATCH IT

Although basically unnecessary for a short scene,  a “Watch It” period can provide structure and enhance rehearsal of a longer project. Have students pair up with another group, run their piece,  and give feedback (positive and improvement).  If you’d like students to be accountable for this piece or want to practice Aesthetic Valuing skills, you can have students record their progress on a half sheet or in a journal.

THE MEMORIZATION TEST

Memorization, crucial to the actor who performs in a mainstage show, is often extremely difficult for beginning performers and often stands in their way of effective scenework of pieces that involve text.  If your students are having trouble with memorization, try the simple “first 10 lines”  memorization test.  Have students get in their groups and work rapidly to try to memorize the “first 10 lines” of their scenes.  Give them no more than 10 minutes. Then give them a 1/4 sheet and have them “test” each other on lines. A perfect score would be no line calls, a B would be one to two line calls, a C would be two or more, under that redo.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE

If you allow your students to be critical of each other’s work, it will inhibit everyone’s natural creativity and create a caste system in your class. If you never allow them to respond to each other’s work, it will create a disingenuous, unchallenging environment where you have far too much power.  You’re between a rock and a hard place. Therefore, I advocate for the following strategies to build a healthy, curious, inquiry based environment.

ASK THE ACTORS

It’s done all the time in college classes and on Reality TV competitions. Do it gently. You teach high school.  Let’s say that Daniel and Kadisha have just performed a duo scene. Ask them to stay up there. They are now experiencing  self evaluation.

Ask Daniel to say what he liked about the scene.

Ask Kadisha to add what she felt they may have improved upon.

ASK THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY NOTICED

Ask the audience what, as the great teacher Kevin Costa says, they noticed.
Ask two members, one of whom is raising his or her hand, one of whom is not. Keeps them on their toes. If you don’t get an answer from somebody, come back to them next time. Keep track. Make them participate.

CREATE THE RUBRIC AS YOU GO

You probably write a lot of the same comments on rubrics, and you probably find that they don’t contain the scope of what’s happening in a performance. Here are comments I write constantly in Beginning and Advanced Theatre Classes.

Energy in Intro. Set Stage before Slate. Share the Stage Picture. Share Your Voice. Find Truth in Dialogue. Cheat Out. Don’t let Set Upstage You. Make Gestures Specific. Use the Space to Tell the Story.

I learned the following technique from the English Department at my school, who created targeted feedback responses for students aimed at helping them understand how to improve on essays, and modified it for Drama class. I was already giving notes to the casts of mainstage shows, and I am noticing that this is an excellent way to begin training for students to learn to pay attention to notes.

I suggest doing an ungraded “free trial” of this technique before you start using in in assessment, but after trying it you may become a believer.

1.Set up the points for a particular assignment.  (10, 5, 6, whatever you do).  Let me model this for a 5 point assignment.

2. When the first group performs, they are group 1. Make sure you have their names on an index card (they can just fill these out and give them to you) or a little grade sheet, or whatever. It’s important for students to remember what group number they are because they will be looking at the feedback and identifying the feedback as a group.

3. Watch group 1’s performance and write down the comments in the areas where they seem to fit.

  • Positive comments are in the 5 zone. Great Characters. Creative Intro. Nice Energy. Good Use of Stage Picture.
  • Maintenance/what if comments are in the 4 zone. Share your voice. Cheat Out.Share the Stage Picture. Raise the Stakes.
  • Improvement comments are perhaps in the 3 zone. Raise energy on intro. Find Focus. Use Space to Tell the Story. Keep Hair Out of Face.
  • Redo/Not Yet- Is the scene incomprehensible? Poorly planned? Stop ‘em. Send ‘em out to rehearse for five more minutes.

4. When group 2 goes, add to the comments, and so on, until all the groups have performed. You now have a custom sheet of notes for your group, and they see both their positive and improvement areas. Pop it up on the projector or print out six  or however many copies and have the groups look at it.

5. Go around the room. Have each group share out. Have them summarize in one sentence,  what they learned, what they need to work on. Total assessment. Nice wrap-up. The focus is on the ethic of improvement.  And they know they need each other to make them all better.

Because this is their masterpiece. And yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link

WHOLE GROUP MOVEMENT AND THE WORK

We hear a great deal about “class participation” when we are teachers. We encourage it, we grade students for it, we expect that a student who is fully engaged will be a go-getter. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so as teachers, we enjoy our interactions with our outgoing students, and dread our interactions with the distracted class clowns who seem to be out to get us.

And then there are the rest of the students, those who give us nothing. And we’re not quite sure what we’ve done wrong, or how to make it work for them.

One starting point is to take the pressure off the individual through whole group involvement.

Last week we left off with a Viola Spolin classic game, Dog and Bone, which allows the entire group to participate by allowing the students to switch between what Augusto Boal called “a spect-actor” (Boal, Legislative Theatre 67)  and the audience. The game depends on volunteers switching roles to quickly make something happen, and then regaining their position in the circle. The game does not require that all students “participate”, in fact it values the spectator/audience member for both their spectatorship and their reflection  of the process.

Games like Dog and Bone are vital to play at the beginning of work with students. They are also extremely vital to practice throughout the year because they get the group together, keep the group together, and create opportunities for individuals to grow in a safe space. They do this by allowing students  to observe themselves and others to create awareness without self-consciousness, create without the burden of talent, and perform without acting.

SELF OBSERVATION

Acting teachers and actors alike will tell you that self-observation is key to beginning to create a character, as well as surviving in rehearsal, onstage, and as part of any creative project.

Teenagers  are both intensely self-conscious and narcissistic, and the times we are living in make them ever more so as often every element of their lives, triumphant and awkward, is systematically documented on film and subsequently broadcast to the world by themselves, their parents, and even the educational system in the service of school activities, teaching and learning.  Therefore, asking them to observe themselves or others becomes an exercise in discomfort, often yielding superficial results as they strive to be unoffensive, or unpleasant results as they attempt to deflect the spectacle off themselves. Whole group games eliminate both these extremes and allow them, if they wish, to experience without reporting.

THE WORK

Excited audience members often come up to me at the stage door after shows at Cupertino Actors Theatre and tell me my students are “talented.” These people are supportive, well-meaning and love the students in this community. But this is not a word I use with my students if I can avoid it. The word is overused, and unhelpful when teaching young artists, and it reduces the complex experience of creativity to its dog and pony show result. The best explanation of what folks eventually recognize as talent is that it is an impulse in a young artist that becomes a practice, which becomes an obsession, which reveals itself as what I was raised to call “the divine madness” of being able to produce a performance that captivates. Madness, of course, puts people off, so I use another term from my parents.

The Work.

When you are working with beginning students, they don’t need to worry about talent. Experiment. Let them become concerned with it later. In the beginning, get them instead to do the work. To engage, focus, participate and create.

THE MYTH OF “ACTING”

If watching ourselves and others is difficult, being in the spotlight, even figuratively,  can be excruciating. A lot of  beginning drama students share the same fear. They don’t want to “get up on stage and act”.  And since we, as drama teachers, don’t share this fear, it can be perplexing. So we sometimes tend to gravitate gratefully to the students who are bold, who are funny, who volunteer, and who are not afraid.  We want to make things happen, so we allow these students to perform, and others to “watch”, or we create early, complicated, mandatory performances to encourage them to “get their feet wet”, rather than growing the desire to “dive in” more slowly and organically. Then we wonder why some kids “never want to participate”, or “ruin it for everyone else with their attitude.” It’s the same reason we don’t want to participate in stuff that makes us uncomfortable. It is fear, and it is overcome by the positive peer pressure of simultaneous performance.

GAMES FOR THE GROUP

There are several excellent resources for finding simultaneous whole group games for your students to play.  As I previously mentioned, the work of Augusto Boal, which is rooted in doing theatre with people for people, is an excellent resource for games you can adapt for use with your students. His book, Games for Actors and Non Actors,  is particularly accessible.  Another excellent resource is Viola Spolin’s Theatre Games for The Classroom. A third, more recent and not widely available book is ComedySportz LA’s James Bailey’s great improvisation manual for the classroom, which can be procured through emailing the folks at ComedySportz LA.

These games require the ability to work in a large, open space. If you don’t have a large, open space, consider doing one of the following:

1.Reorganize your desks or tables to create a playing space in the middle of your room.

2.Teach students a system to stack the desks in your classroom and put them back quickly. They enjoy activities like this more than you might imagine.

3. In nice weather, take them outside to the field, a quad or a hallway.

4. In inclement weather, try to use a gym, cafeteria, multipurpose room or other open space. If you get pushback from the powers that be, INVITE THEM TO YOUR CLASS. Not to watch. To play.

CAMERA ABOVE

From Spolin. This is a nice game to start with in the first few weeks because it involves the entire group. Tell them to imagine that there is a “camera above” them, and ask them to form various things, the letter A for example, the number 23, symbols such as the @ sign. Count to 10 on the first one and then give them less and less time to work together to form the thing with each subsequent challenge. If they’re really off, give them a short grace period to “fix it” or “make it extreme.” End each shape with whole group applause.  This game can be used again, and the possibilities are endless. Use it to introduce concepts. Have two large groups race to form the shape. Introduce twists…a busy B, a crazy 8.

The game reinforces cooperation, owning an idea, and improvisation. It does not require students to form levels or relationships, which is why it’s a great opening game for the awkward. They just have to agree to stand somewhere, next to someone else, in a shape they decided on. Progress.

PEOPLE, CABIN, STORM

From Boal. Initial groups of 3, two standing and facing each other, one sitting between them. One person, maybe you, left out. The two who are facing each other raise their hands and press them against each other to form a triangular shelter over the sitting one. They are the cabin. The person below them is the person. If the person left out calls “people”, all the sitting students must switch places. If the person calls “cabin”, all the cabins must disassemble and find someone new with whom to make a cabin. If the person calls storm, EVERYONE must reconfigure. Only one person is left out at a time, because when they call people, cabin or storm, they switch into the game, leaving someone out.

The game is great because it invites the 30 second leader. This person controls the room for a short moment, must make a decision, share their voice, and stick by the decision. The others must creatively make quick choices and stick with them for the duration. Acting.

ATTACKER/DEFENDER

I was introduced to this game at a workshop at Southern Oregon University  during a class hosted by their summer theatre MA program for drama teachers.  It was, I believe, called something like “cure and disease.” The visionary improvisation teacher James Bailey calls it Attacker/Defender. If one of these names bothers you, feel free to make up your own name.

Students walk randomly, a basic tenet of whole group work also known as “milling and seething”, a termed coined by Kevin Coleman of Shakespeare and Company.  He used it during his excellent workshop at the Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays Conference hosted by UC Davis, a conference I thoroughly recommend for anyone interested in play-based instruction for Drama and English classes.   “Milling and Seething”  means they walk without touching each other, without talking to each other, and of course at first without making eye contact inasmuch as they need to to avoid slamming into each other. Tell them to keep walking until you ask them to stop, that you will give further guidance while they are walking.

You’ll find that at first students do one of two things. They all try to go through the middle of the room, creating a logjam, or they all walk in a circle, like a school of fish. Try encouraging them to “fill the space”, that tends to break it up a bit.

Then encourage them to silently identify another performer who he or she is trying to get away from. His or her “attacker” or “disease.” Have them, keeping that person in their periphery, try to walk so they are far away from that person.

Next, have them identify their “defender” or “cure.” Have them keep walking, trying to keep that person in between them and the other person.

They may go nuts with this at first. Running, screaming, whatever. Stop and ask them why. Ask them to try it again, as Bailey says without panicking. It will usually  go more smoothly the second time.

What are students doing in this game? They’re learning to walk around by themselves in the space in order to tell themselves a story, a very important actor skill. They’re creating imaginary relationships, and letting them play out in a physical arena, without violating the personal space or boundaries of others. They’re experiencing adversity and adjusting themselves in order to cope. They are playing, and becoming an ensemble, while beginning to learn to share the stage picture.

Play on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Few Days

 

So you’re teaching Drama.

How do you start the year? Where do you want them to go first?

I start the year by building community through play.  It is my intense focus. I want students to begin to observe, trust, communicate, create before they work with text or do any “acting.” If this feels unacademic to you, have the students keep a daily journal where they respond to what they have learned in these games addressing whatever standards or vocabulary you wish. You will find gold. I do a lot of that through discussion.

The first day of school is the most boring, where I do the green sheet or course description. I have not yet found a way around that, because I don’t handle paper every day with the students, so I prefer to get it out of the way all at once. To soften the boringness, I hand out letters from former drama students to the new students, written at the end of the year. They say things like “this class is fun, just go with it and you won’t have a problem” and “you will learn a lot in here, just don’t make her mad. She may seem crazy, but her heart is in the right place.” I consider these honest observations from teenagers, who have trouble distinguishing between passion and “a bad mood” as my friend Lou who teaches music at the college level recently pointed out, to be complementary, and I feel like they help set an environment for honesty and openness.

CALLING THE GROUP- THE EMMALINDA

If we have time on the first day, I teach the students the Emmalinda, a clapping sequence designed to assemble the group, which they will use pretty much every day for the rest of their careers with me. It is named after the extraordinary student who brought it into the department (I think she learned it in her summer theatre class), a gifted actress and designer who also went on to become a teacher.  It  indicates to the students that it’s time to get in a circle and get ready for class.  All classes, with the exception of a few, begin with this circle, because I have found for the previous six years that the more group games and routines I include in my practice, the  better the kids are when they leave. By better, I mean they are more focused, more open, more confident, more skilled, more dedicated, more compassionate, and more resourceful.

It  goes like this. Two fast claps, then another clap. And when the students hear it, they do it all together as they form a circle. It continues until the last student has made it into the circle. All, as they like to say on my campus, means all.

To stop clapping, I gradually slow it down, or the students gradually speed it up until it evolves into applause. Or I clap a pattern and they return it, which they love. We are now ready to work.

 THE BALL

Invariably, I work next with games that involve a ball, a large, rubber ball which you can get at the drugstore in the seasonal section. I always have between 3 and 8 of these in my classroom, and as students destroy them, I accumulate more. I have a colleague, Kevin, who teaches on the East Coast who likes to use bean bags. I have used those as well.

Before you start with a ball, acknowledge that you need to be easy with it. You’re inside, and this is not dodgeball. Enforce if you need to.  Also point out that we tend to look at dropped balls as opportunities to laugh at people, and that’s not incredibly helpful.

Here are some things you can do with a ball, or several. You could do a few one day, or one a day for a few weeks, or one occasionally.

1. Have the students pass it around the circle, saying their name. Have them then find out the name of the person next to them and pass it to that person saying the other person’s name. Then two doors down on one side, then on the other. Focus on moving the object and not worrying too much when someone drops the ball, because they will.

2. Have them toss (a beanbag works better for this) the ball while saying their name, connecting their name to the breath in one motion.  Thanks to my colleague Kevin for that one.

3. Have them go into the center of the circle and learn three names, then toss the ball around saying names.  It’s easier to work with people if you feel like they know your name.

4. In the beginning of class, before the clapping, or even during announcements if that happens, have the students silently toss the ball to each other or push it with their feet in a seated circle.

5. Deposit several balls in the circle and allow students to toss them lightly around.

6. Number the students off. Then have the entire circle switch places. Tell them to find the person before and after their number. These are their two partners. Starting with the ball at number one, have them toss the ball in a pattern. Have them do the pattern backwards. Have them close their eyes. Tell them to open them only long enough to receive and send the ball to the next person. Catching a ball only seconds after your eyes have opened is a really interesting experience. Waiting in the dark to hear your name and number brings up some stuff. Ask students what they notice.

DOG AND BONE

This is a Viola Spolin classic, and it works with students of all ages. Have them stay in the circle. One student (you’ll always have that volunteer) goes in the center to be the “dog.” He or she sits crisscross applesauce, and you place a soft object (a tug of war, a koosh ball, a beanbag) in front of him or her just out of reach. This is his or her “bone”. Another student will silently try to steal the bone from the “sleeping dog’ by creeping up on him/her. Unless he or she gets tagged. If the student gets away successfully, they will become the new dog. And repeat.

I let as many students try this as want to and as time permits. I stop periodically and point out the reactions of the audience to particularly skilled ‘dogs’ or “thieves.” I ask them why they want to watch certain people. I ask them what people do to get the bone. This opens a discussion of the hero/protagonist. The villain/antagonist. The prize to be won, goal, or obstacle. The interesting thing about theatre is that many times, the roles are reversed. A great dog on a winning streak will eventually wear out the audience, and they’ll want him to lose to a disadvantaged thief who’s waiting patiently. Students invariably try to use their shoe as a distraction. This is a prop. The audience starts to participate. The game is a great vehicle to begin to discuss performance.

More games later.