An Outline for the Production of “Master Harold and the Boys”, a play by Athol Fugard

This is the outline of my plan to introduce the play and stage it with my Grade 9 (year one of IGCSE) students.

  • Introducing the play:
  • Class discussion:
    • Compare and contrast answers to the Play Analysis Guidelines.
    • What is specific – what do we need to know to understand the reality of when/ where the action in the play takes place?
    • What is universal?
    • How do you/ we connect with the action and characters in the play?
  • Relating to action:
    • What in Indian society mirrors the tensions in the play? (Cast System maybe…?)
    • Is this something you believe could happen here? Why or why not?
    • Choose an excerpt of the play and have students adapt to indian reality.
    • Discuss casting: who should play Master Harold? Why? Is race an important factor in casting for this play? Why?
  • Script & Character Analysis:
    • Work with identifying subtext and character motivation.
    • Whole group dramatic reading.
  • Making our own choices:
    • In small groups, work with a clear
    • Design: make clear choices on how to communicate the concept through costumes, props, lights, set & sound.
    • Casting: make a clear choice based and supported by the chosen concept
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Planning a workshop on Creating a Character

For a while now I have been debating with myself how to better address the need of exposing my Drama students to different theatrical techniques, different theories, different methods without making it too “heavy”, or always research-based, or even worse, through constant lectures. Having this is mind, I challenged myself to come up with some practical ideas to incorporate important theatre practitioners and their techniques is a series of workshops I could facilitate and model with my students. This forced me to go back to my books and study many of these techniques again, select what I think would be relevant to my students and combine them with skills I need them to develop. This is a work in progress, but I would like to share here in this blog the plans to some of these workshops- the first one being a Characterization workshop based on Laban.

Workshop on Creating a Character

Essential Questions:

– How can we use movement to create a character?

Lesson Objectives:

– Students will be introduced to Laban techniques

– Students will explore their Kinespheres and 3 qualities of movement

– Students will create a character based on a sequence of movements

Resources:

– handout or ppt on Laban (short bio & specific terminology)

– music

– text (poem/ monologue/ novel/ newspaper article/ …)

Classroom Activities:

Circle: check in, introduce goals for the day

Step 1: Introduction to Rudolf Laban’s work (short bio) and the fundamentals of the technique he’s developed.

Students share with a partner what called their attention about what was shared and then share with the group one thing that surprised/ interested/ intrigued them.

Step 2: Physical warm up sequence: stretch, wake up the body, shake.

Step 3: Gathering focus: walking around the room (balancing the space, not repeating the same path, not walking in circles); one stop at a time/ all stop together – group awareness.

Step 4: Introduce some new terminology:

kinesphere; Students explore their kinesphere;

– 3 levels; Students include the awareness of the 3 levels while exploring their kinesphere;

3 qualities of movement (time/ weight/ flow); Students include the experimentation with the 3 qualities of movement while exploring their kinesphere;

Pathway & trace; Students will “paint” their names in the space using a tiny pencil; a big marker; a large paint roller.

Step 5: Trios improvisation (with music): one in each level at all times

Step 6: Introducing text: (the text here can be a poem, a monologue or a short extract from a novel; it can be a newspaper article or anything that introduces a theme the teacher wants to explore) read the text together & check for comprehension of vocabulary

Students create a pathway responding to the text (in pairs or trios)

Step 7: Students share their pathways and provide feedback to one another (key guiding question: what IN THE MOVEMENT reveals that? What sort of RELATIONSHIP do we see emerge?)

Quick reflection: what did you notice and what did you understand up to this point?

Step 8:Same pairs/ trios: physical dialogue (facing one another, one student makes a movement and freeze; the other will respond with a movement and freeze); some do the exercise as others observe.

Sharing impressions: what did we see?

Step 9: Same pairs/ trios: students choose an extract of the text and create a pathway. The chosen extract of text has to be read/ said out loud during the execution of the pathway (it can be done by a third person)

In upcoming lessons students will start to make clear choices about which parts of their bodies will guide the movement of the character that is emerging, which qualities of movement will apply to the character and students will either work on a pathway to a given piece of text (monologue or poem) or write their own monologue/ poem based on the work done.

The beauty of giving your students entire ownership over the creative process

Currently, both my Grade 8 sections of Drama class are working on an entire class production of a short play, “The Love for Three Oranges“, in an adaptation by Mark Billen. The play is a comedy fantasy, inspired by characters of Commedia dell’ Arte and on Prokofiev’s Opera of the same title.

As I have already shared in this blog before, this group of students has given me a hard time throughout the year with their reluctance in showing interest, commitment or willingness to participate in class activities. So, when I was planning how to approach this “From Page to Stage” Unit with them, the idea of providing them with complete and irrestrict ownership over the process was exciting and terrifying at the same time! My idea was to present them with the challenge of direct, design, build props and act in the production- I would be playing the role of a producer, overseeing their work, but they would be entirely responsible for every single aspect of making the play happen. That approach would also allow me to introduce and discuss the different roles and professions related to theatre production, and give all the students the chance to not only explore and develop their acting skills, but also discover hidden talents and new ways of being creative behind the scenes.

So, I decided to pursue that plan and take the risk of failing, as I strongly believed the possible learning outcomes were worth it. My idea was to introduce the assignment, already presenting the date for their final performance to a live audience, given them the sense of responsibility towards an audience, our community, therefore adding to the assignment a greater responsibility- and that was the scarier part of it: failing publicly in from of all Middle School students in case they didn’t commit to it; or having to cancel the performance in the last minute and admitting the failure to the administration- administrators I don’t entirely believe would be supportive of my approach…! So, this is where I’ve “cheated“. After deciding to move forward with the original plan, I introduced the project to my students, who were mostly shocked with the responsibility and authorship I was presenting them with (they are clearly not used to such a thing!). I did present them with the date and audience of their final performance: May 29th, during a Middle School Assembly. What I haven’t done at that moment was actually booking the Auditorium and discussed with the Deputy Head of Secondary about using our last Assembly’s time for the student performance. I wanted to see how students would commit to the task first, and try my best to avoid- or at least minimize- the chances of public failure (failing in my class, in front of my students, is completely fine by me, and, specially this year, with grade 8, has happened more than ever! Nevertheless, I was still struggling with the idea of the public failure in this particular school environment, where competition, certificates, awards and accomplishments are highly praised!).

So now, on with the process! After reading the play, in small groups, students casted themselves and their classmates, and shared their reasons behind their choices with the entire group. It was interesting to see how some students were cast as the same character by multiple groups! Students then elected a “casting committee”, prepared and conducted auditions until a final decision on the cast was made.

The next step was for me to introduce the different technical/ design roles they could choose from regarding the other aspects of the production. We discussed what is the role of a director, the importance of the stage managers, the impact of the decisions made by costume designers and, according to their interests and skills, students divided themselves into design teams and teach crews.

I then created and shared with them a document where the Requirements & Responsibilities for each team was clearly detailed. After that, rehearsals started!

Since beginning of rehearsals I’ve been positively surprised by the student’s involvement and responsibility towards the project. If you walk into my class, you may find it chaotic, loud, disorganised. But what I see are multiple teams designing, going after materials they need, problem solving how to build three gigantic oranges, discussing directorial concepts, listening to music they’ve never heard of before, discovering apps on their iPads where they can take pictures of one another and create makeup styles, sharing google calendars where deadlines are being established, projecting lists of props and costumes, sharing responsibilities etc. And it’s beautiful! It’s inspiring! And it proves that what students need to sparkle their interest and commitment towards learning is clear guidelines, a real audience, an assignment that truly matters, and ownership over the process.

As of right now, the date for the final performance has been booked and communicated to the school community. My trust in their work, as well as the acceptance that whatever is it they manage to accomplish by May 29th needs to be shared with our community, were the driving forces that made me overcome my silly, selfish fear of public failure.

I look forward to keep on being amazed by their talents and ideas, and to share that with our Middle School at the end of this school year!

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Update (April 30th, 2015)

Woke up this morning to find this email from the students who is directing her class production:

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So, I guess this is going just fine!!!

Approaching “The Memorandum”, an absurdist play by Václav Havel

This is the first year I am teaching a Grade 9 IGCSE Drama class. In october, 2014 I did an online intensive course on the IGCSE Drama Syllabus and requirements, and I have been trying my best to prepare my 24 students to their exam while getting myself familiarised with the requirements and assessment criteria used by IGCSE.

One of the components of IGCSE Written Examination is based on a pre-released “extended extract from a play (or an abridged version of an entire play) taken from repertoire from a variety of genres, countries and periods. Candidates should study the extract to enable them to understand both the text and the practical aspects of production. It is recommended that they perform it, at least informally. Candidates will not be assessed on their performance of the play.”  (from the 2016 IGCSE Drama Syllabus).

Two years ago, the play selected by IGCSE was “The Memorandum”, by Václav Havel. This is the play I’ve chosen to study with my Grade 9 students as a practice before their official examination next year. On their Written Exam, and on the mock exam I’m planning on giving my students this year, students will be required to answer 6–8 short-answer questions on the extract from the play (20 marks), and to answer one longer-answer question from a choice of three on the extract from the play.

Below, I am sharing an outline of how I am planning on approaching the work with “The Memorandum” with my class!

* as I have not had the chance of trying this with my class, please consider this a reflection on a plan, where I try to anticipate what issues I might face along the way.

Presenting the play:

To introduce the work we are about to start, investigating the play “The Memorandum”, I decided to use a different approach. Being Brazilian and having Portuguese as a first language I will produce a “memorandum” written in Portuguese and, as students walk into the class, using some Process Drama techniques (teacher-in-role), I will welcome them to the lesson greeting them in Portuguese. The classroom will be settled as to invite them to sit in groups of five (chairs are pre-arranged, forming four circles in different corners of the classroom). Using only Portuguese (and lots of gestures as well!) I will ask students to sit in the chairs and present each group with a copy of a heavy “memorandum”. In the first page, they will be able to read, in bold large letters, the word “MEMORANDUM”, however, as soon as they turn the page, everything will be written in Portuguese.

At that point, I will turn on the classroom projector, and on the screen they will see projected a web address to which I will point, indicating I want them to open their computers and visit that specific page. The web address will direct students to a new classroom blog (which later will be introduced as the class Process Online Journal), where they can read (in English) some instructions. There it will be said that the school has made the decision that each teacher should use only their mother tongue to provide instruction to the class. The Board has decided that exposing students to multiple languages will only benefit them and that full immersion is the best approach to this shift, meaning no translation will be allowed in classrooms. Exceptions can be made under specific circumstances but special requirements need to be followed. By then, I expect students to be firing up different question, which I will ignore, pretending not to understand. The post on the blog will ask students to go though the “memorandum” they were given and, by the end of the lesson, as a group, share with the class if they are either pro or against it. Students will also be told that the memorandum provides the setting of new rules, expectations, class syllabus and assessment criteria, so they must be very careful with making a decision. At that point, a timer (20 min.) will be set on the screen, and each group should start discussing their own methods for approaching the task.

At this point, this group is used to the teacher using Process Drama techniques, so the suspension of disbelief should not be an issue. If the group is not familiar with it, the teacher might face more resistance, students not willing to embark in the process drama, however that is not the case with this group.

By the end of the time given for groups to work, I will ask (always using Portuguese!) each group to present their vote. I anticipate some groups will use Google Translator (some of them might immediately know the language in use is Portuguese, for others it can take longer to guess), some groups might have fun trying to pronounce the words and trying to find the ones that are similar to English, some groups may decide to just go with “no” since they might assume that they don’t need to really understand what is written, it is probably supporting this “change”, so they will be against it!

At this moment I will break the teacher-in-role and ask the class (this time in English) what did they think of the activity, how did they feel not understanding what was being said and being asked to make decisions without truly knowing the content of the material provided to them. Following the class discussion, I will ask them to go to our new class blog and share their thoughts as a blog post.

When students walk in to the following lesson, they will see in the projector the text on Appendix 1*. After everyone has walked in to class, I will ask for one of the students to read the text out loud. Students will be invited into a class discussion about the connections they could see between this plot and what have happened in our previous lesson. They will also be encouraged to share their first impressions on the topic outlined (interesting, weird, unusual, fun, boring…). I will tell the class we are about to start investigating a play called “Memorandum”, written by a man named Václav Havel. I will inform the class they are going to be divided into three groups, and I will tell them their groups (7 or 8 students in each group). Each student will get a copy of the play’s Act One and they will be sent to do a dramatic group reading of it.

Working with the play:

The following lessons are to be divided as follows (depending on the activity it might take several lessons to accomplish it):

  • Introduction to Theatre of the Absurd:historical context, main play writers and other relevant tittles
    1. I provided a list of sources and each group was responsible for researching and presenting one of the topics
  • Understanding the play’s context: Communism in Czechoslovakia
    1. In their groups, students will be asked to watch a video using videonot.es (which allows them to simultaneously take notes)
    2. Students have to write their impressions as a blog entry
  • Second dramatic reading: how does our approach to the text change after gathering historical and aesthetical background?
    1. Students are to share their thoughts on the question, after the second reading, in our Process Online Journal blog.
  • Preparing the text for performance:
    1. As a group, choose a clear CONCEPT;
    2. Decide roles (5 actors – they will also have to decide who will play each character, 1 director, 1 or 2 designers);
    3. Present requirements: perform Act One; produce a Costume Portfolio for each Character; produce a Set Design proposal using Google Sketchup; keep record of the concept decided by the group (a one page paper outlining the concept and supporting the choice), rehearsal’s log and production notes in the Director’s Journal; regular reflective entries on the Process Online Journal blog.
  • Process workshops: the idea of the workshops is to help students explore different possibilities, stretching their repertoire of possible ways of approaching character creation, the use of the space, subtext, relationships, character motivation, the impact of costumes/ sets/ soundtrack/ lights/ props.
    1. Creating a Character: all participate, directors and designers included
    2. Using the Space: all participate; however directors will step out to observe and take notes after the first half of the workshop.
    3. Using Google Sketchup: all learn how to use the software
    4. Watching and critiquing a performance: watch a video of a performance of the play and write a critique, identifying the concept, analysing acting choices (characterisation), set, costumes etc.
  • Rehearsals, Building Portfolios & Director’s Journal
  • First performance & first presentation of Portfolios for peer feedback
  • Additional workshops
  • Final performances & Portfolios/ Director’s Journal presentations

A Reflection on the process:

The sequence suggested above aims at guiding students through a creative process where they are motivated to explore and experiment while being provided with sufficient opportunities to develop and master skills while reflecting on their creative process. Students should feel empowered to make artistic decisions but, at the same time, understand the need of aligning their choices to a clear concept to be communicated to an audience. In order to come up with a clear, interesting concept that can sustain the group’s vision, students must have a in depth comprehension of both the historical period in which the play was written, as well as of the theatrical tradition it is part of.

I can anticipate students struggling with understanding the specificities of Theater of the Absurd, and I believe that being presented with other examples of the tradition and discussing the possible reactions they might have to an absurdist play might help set the ground for allowing students to connect to it. When I decided to start off the work with the play by placing students in a similar situation as the one suggested by Havel, it was motivated the conscious choice of providing them with the opportunity of experiencing what the characters in the play do, experiencing how “absurd” the situation was and how did they feel.

Some students might also find it hard to come up with a clear concept to guide their approach to the play. I believe that brainstorming possibilities, and watching videos of different performances of the play can help them expand the realm of possibilities, stretching their creativity to approaching the task.

Physicalizing the characters is always a challenge to my students, so that’s why it is my hope that the “Creating a Character” workshop based on Laban’s techniques will help them look at these characters from a different perspective. The same goes for the workshop on “Using the Space” based on Viewpoints, presenting the students with a new vocabulary and a new perspective of placing actors, set pieces, defining pathways and body positions on stage.

Finally, the decision of including both the Set Design and the Costume Portfolios as part of their task comes from the desire of assuring that my students develop a holistic approach to the creative process, understanding how everything is interrelated, connected; how the process of “making meaning” is based on the interdependence of all the audience can perceive – consciously and subconsciously.

The expectation that every student will be an active participant of the Process Online Journal, blogging about their creative process, about their learning process, is a tentative of establishing a channel of communication that lives beyond the walls of the classroom, beyond the few minutes each class lasts. By registering their thoughts, students allow me to follow their creative journey, identifying moments when I will need to interfere, recapitulate, slow down, review or deepen up my instruction.

I am extremely excited about putting all this into practice, and I look forward to the messy creative journey we are about to start!

*Appendix 1

Josef Gross is the Managing Director of a large bureaucratic organization. At the start of the play, he finds among his mail a memorandum that he cannot understand. It turns out to be written in a new language called Ptydepe (pronounced tie – depp – ay) and its usage has been authorized across the organization by Gross’s deputy, Jan Ballas, without the knowledge of his boss. The new language is so complicated that no one can read it and the attempts to try to understand it create much of the humour of the play. A classroom run by Mark Lear has been introduced for employees to learn the new language. For those who cannot understand it, permission has to be granted by Otto Stroll’s Translation Unit before any translations can be made.

Gross goes to the translation unit to ask Otto Stroll to have his memorandum translated. Despite being the Managing Director, Gross has no authorization and the request is turned down until approved by the Ptydepist, Alex Savant, an unpleasant man who is the world expert on Ptydepe. But Gross has first to present identification papers and these have to be granted by Helena, who mysteriously describes herself as the Chairman and can only grant identification papers to those who have not already received a memo in Ptydepe! Ballas uses the control of Ptydepe as a means of manoeuvring Gross’s ultimate sacking from the organization at the end of Act One by blackmailing him and threatening to reveal a very minor offence. During all this, the office staff appears obsessed with getting whatever food is available and the constant references to it reflect the shortages experienced in Czechoslovakia at the time Havel wrote the play.

Exploring philosophical themes in Drama – Plato & The Myth of the Cave

THE TEXT

The Myth of the Cave

by Plato

SOCRATES: And now, let me give a parable to show how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine human beings living in an underground cave with an opening upward towards the light, which filters into the depths of the cave. Theses human beings have been here since birth, and their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move. They can only see what is directly in front of them, since they are prevented by the chains from turning their heads to either side. At a distance above and behind them is a raised path. And if you look closely, you will see a low wall built along the path, like the screen used by marionette players to conceal themselves from the audience while they show their puppets.

GLAUCON: I see.

SOCRATES: And do you see men passing behind the wall carrying all sorts of objects, such as figures of animals and humans made of wood, stone, and various materials, which they are holding above the wall? Some of the men carrying these objects are talking, while others are silent.

GLAUCON: You have shown me a strange image, and these are strange prisoners.

SOCRATES: They are similar to us. For, initially, how could they see anything but their own shadows, or the shadows of each other, which the fire projects on the wall of the cave in front of them?

GLAUCON: That is true. How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to turn their heads?

SOCRATES: And wouldn’t they see only the shadows of the objects that are being carried by the men?

GLAUCON: Obviously.

SOCRATES: And if these prisoners were able to talk to each other, would they not suppose that the words they used referred only to the shadows that they saw on the wall in front of them?

GLAUCON: Of course.

SOCRATES: And if one of these prisoners was able at last to free himself, and explore to the upper world, would he understand what he saw?

GLAUCON: Not immediately.

SOCRATES: He would have to grow accustomed to the sights of the upper world. First he would be able to see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other things in the water, and then the things themselves. Afterwards he would be able to gaze upon the light of the moon, the stars, and the spangled heaven. Would it not be easier at first for him to look upon the sky and the stars by night than upon the sun or the light of the sun by day?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Last of all he would be able to see the sun, not merely as it is reflected in the water, but in its true nature and in its own proper place.

GLAUCON: Absolutely.

SOCRATES: He will then begin to conclude that it is the sun which causes the seasons and the years, which is the guardian of everything in the visible world, and which, in a certain way, is the cause of all the things that he and his fellows have formerly seen.

GLAUCON: It is evident that he would first see the sun and them reason about it.

SOCRATES: And when he remembered his old habituation, and the wisdom of the cave and of his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would be happy about his change and pity those who were still prisoners?

GLAUCON: Certainly he would.

SOCRATES: And if they were in the habit of honoring those who could most quickly observe the passing shadows and decide which of them went before others, which came after, which occurred simultaneously–being therefore best able to draw conclusions about the future–do you think that he would care for such honors or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,” and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

GLAUCON: Yes, I think that he would rather suffer anything than accept these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

SOCRATES: Indeed, imagine what it would be like for him to come suddenly out of the sun and to return to his old place in the cave. Would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

GLAUCON: Most assuredly.

SOCRATES: And while his eyes were filled with darkness and his sight still weak (and the time needed to become re-accustomed to the cave might be very considerable), if there were a contest in which he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never been out of the cave, would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that his ascent and descent had destroyed his eyesight, and thus that it was better not even to think of ascending. And if they caught anyone trying to free another and lead him up to the light, they would put the offender to death.

GLAUCON: Without question.

SOCRATES: You may append this entire allegory, dear Glaucon, to what I have said before. The prisonhouse or cave is the world of sight; the light of the fire within the cave is the sun. And you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intelligible world, which, at your request, I have described. Only God knows whether or not my description is accurate. But whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the Form of the Good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort. When seen, however, it can only lead us to the conclusion that it is the universal author of all things beautiful and right, that it is the origin of the source of light in the visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intelligible world. Without having seen the Form of Good and having fixed his eye upon it, one will not be able to act wisely either in public affairs or in private life.

GLAUCON: I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.

You can check an animated version of the myth in this video:

Flipping the Drama Classroom – A New Approach to Introducing Commedia dell’Arte

Commedia dell’Arte is one of my favorite units to explore with students. I love the masks, the characters, the exaggerated movements and the possible parallels to our contemporary society. Commedia presents an exaggerated mirror of our society, and I find it fascinating to witness young performers engage in and discover the world of Commedia.

The National Theatre (UK) has a fantastic archive of resources for teachers, including a great selection of videos on different theatrical styles, interviews and behind the scenes shots of their own productions. Amongst these videos, they have a series of short videos on Commedia, and this semester I decided to try and introduce the unit using a flipped classroom approach, trying to make students interested and engaged on the topic prior to lecturing them about its historical background and its main characters in class.

Using EDpuzzle and a video from The National Theatre, I created a lesson I can assign my students prior to introducing Commedia in class. My idea is to expose them to the topic, have them thinking about it, have them bring their own questions, doubts, understandings of it for us to then start a conversation. I want to make them curious and willing to know more about it, and it is my hope that this flipped lesson may help me achieve this purpose.

I haven’t shared the lesson with my students as we’re yet to start this unit. I’ll come back and share the results of this experience with you all. In the meantime, any thoughts or feedback on the lesson will be very appreciated!

Multiple Intelligences and the Drama Classroom

To teach Drama is a passion, I absolutely love what I do and I believe in it – I see the value and the importance of it. Now, the constant need to advocate not only for Drama, but for Arts Education in general, is a very frustrating task. The more I read about 21st Century Skills, the importance of Creativity and Innovation, Project Based Learning and any other of the new, contemporary educational approaches, it makes me question why is it so hard for administrators, educational policy & decision makers to identify how crucial is it to include Arts in the curriculum. It’s tiring, frustrating and a poor use of my time to keep on looking for arguments to prove a point newest researches easily support – but that are still being ignored when the number and value of Art classes are being defined by schools.

In my previous school we used to be two Drama teachers. When I informed the administration I was leaving, they informed me they were actually cutting one of the positions for the upcoming school year anyways. I left, and now there’s only one Drama teacher for both Middle and High School classrooms.

In the school where I am currently teaching, we were recently informed that they are discontinuing the offer of IB DP Theatre Arts starting next school year. Not that we don’t have enough students interested in the subject, but school’s administration sees more value in other subject areas.

I am not a radical, nor refuse to listen to other perspectives and arguments when it comes to people discouraging Arts Education. I do question my beliefs and doubt the conviction I carry of its importance, however nothing nor no one has presented strong arguments to make me change my mind.

The book I am currently reading and highly recommend, “Drama and Education: Performance Methodologies for Teaching and Learning” by Manon van de Water, Mary McAvoy, Kristin Hun presents many researches and valuable information on the power of Drama Education. In there I found two tables relating a list of the Multiple Intelligences we should aim at developing in our students, and Drama Activities that stimulate each one of them. It seemed to be didactic enough, clear enough to convey the specificities of Drama as a subject and it’s value in the curriculum.

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When planning the Drama Units, the sequence of skills and on constantly trying to build a strong Drama program, this seems to be a very useful tool. And, more than that, as there is still a clear need to advocate for the Arts, this seems to be a great tool to use when sharing the planning, making it clear how it aligns with many of the fundamental skills all human beings should be fostering!

Exploring Controversial Topics in the Drama Classroom

Since the beginning of this academic year I’ve been struggling with finding ways to engage my Grade 8 students during my Drama classes. I teach two different sessions of Grade 8, each with 22 students in it. And, apparently, their previous experiences in Drama had been exclusively around theater games and “fun” activities, and the fact that I was asking them to write reflective entries on a blog, challenging their thinking and adding a more “serious” approach to Drama was not a very popular approach!

I tried different ways to connect with them, to give them voice and choices about what we would explore in class, however, their main complaint was against being “forced to think” while all they wanted was to have fun. But the “thinking component” of my lessons was not up for negotiation. My challenge became making thinking fun, and insert ongoing reflection as a practice without shining too much light on it – reflection had to be a natural part of what we do, and not an obligation, not something apart.

Now, six months later, I can say I am proudly seeing some results and that now I have  a group of students that is engaged, interested and focus (for the most of it) during class. For the past couple weeks we’ve been discussing what’s the purpose of Theatre, and exploring Controversial Topics and how we can use the theatrical conventions to discuss them and express our own views/ opinions.

We started off by discussing why people make plays. My purpose was to challenge them to expand their view that plays are merely to entertain, and after taking a look at some examples, they quickly identified other reasons: to express an idea, to challenge the status quo, to challenge common sense, to explore a feeling, to share a story.

Then we moved to our second focus of this Unit: what are Controversial Topics, what makes them controversial and different examples of what they could be/ look like.They brought up many examples, and we would do a quick poll among ourselves to identify if that particular topic was indeed controversial in our context. Many were, some were not.

After a very interesting and lively discussion, where all of them wanted to share their ideas and were ready to start debating others to defend their points of view, I quickly interrupted the discussion and presented them with their task: to, in groups, choose a controversial topic they felt strongly about and create a skit where their point of view on the topic would be made explicit and also present the audience with food for thought (meaning: if someone sitting in the audience has a different opinion on that matter, they would have to, at least, reconsider their perspective based on what they saw).

From legalization of prostitution and gay marriage, to the right for privacy and nuclear weaponization it’s been a beautiful journey to watch these young people passionately engage on making theatre and on debating and shaping their beliefs. Groups have been sharing their work and have been presented with challenging feedback from the audience: to do more research, to include stronger arguments, to make their skits about a cause and not an individual case. They are building strong scenes and everyday I witness them questioning their own pre conceptions, changing their minds and coming back to their original views multiple times.

Their next challenge will be to present the same skit they will have polished, but from a different perspective: if pro gay marriage, now how would that same skit look like from the lenses of anti gay marriage arguments? What changes, and why?

With this Unit I feel I could successfully embed the reflective component of drama, merging it with the fun they get from the authorship of artistically shaping and expressing their views and beliefs. The level of engagement and participation I longed for is finally present, and, as the reflection, the process of making their learning visible comes as a natural part of the process, they are finally experiencing how thinking about your praxis enhances your awareness and puts you in charge of your learning (and creative!) process.

Using videos (and different related apps) in the Drama Classroom

Besides blogging, my favorite way of integrating technology in my drama classes is by using videos. The potential of videos for communicating new information, for increasing student awareness on their own performances, for fostering reflection and promoting deeper conversations in class truly interests me. For that reason, I’ve been playing with different apps and platforms to explore how to best  integrate videos in my class to serve different purposes: to promote inquiry, to guide self & peer assessment or to introduce new concepts.

Here are some of the (free!) tools I’ve been playing with and fels are worth exploring:

Popcorn Maker: created by Mozilla this is becoming my favorite video editor. It allows you to perform a search for media from their own website – and it simultaneously looks for media in YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Internet Archive. You can also insert your own videos. To create your video, you simply drag clips or any other media to your timeline, and from there you can crop it, shorten it, select portions of the media to keep/ discard, all very easily. Now, the coolest feature of Popcorn Maker is that you can also insert what they call Events – and that can be text, a popup, a Google Maps link, an image, a wikipedia page or a 3D model. This is a fantastic and easy way to integrate different media, to make your videos more interactive, and to ask students a question, or assign them a task while watching a specific video. I’m only starting playing with it, but it’s certainly worth checking it out! This is great for introducing a new concept and give them contextual information – while introducing Commedia dell’ Arte, I may use some of the National Theatre fabulous videos on the topic, include a Google Map link with a Street View of where in Italy did all start, include some images of the most popular Masks and leave them with the task of choosing their favorite one and bringing some quick facts about it to our next class! What about it?

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 3.24.40 pm    Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 3.24.20 pm

VideoNot.es: I’ve briefly talked about video notes in a previous post, but I really, really like their interface. And, as it connects with your Google Drive, it makes it very easy and simple to assign clips and videos for students to watch. Video Notes is particularly powerful when you want students to take notes on specific moments of the video and to be able to track back to it – may it be a new concept you are introducing, or a performance piece you want them to review. The video plays in a window in the left, and the notepad is in the right. As soon as the student starts typing something, it automatically saves the time in the video that note refers to. Students can easily pause the video to take notes, and resume from where they stopped without having to change from a window to another. And later on, if they need to review that material for an essay, for an oral presentation, a reflection or a test, they can easily track back exactly the information they need, without having to watch the entire clip again. I really like using this for peer-assessment of monologues (their feedback becomes specific, attached to a moment of the performance the actor can refer to, watch again and read the comment).

Screencast-o-matic: this platform allows you to record what’s on your screen, from your webcam, or both simultaneously! Their free version gives you a 15 minute max. recording time – more than enough for most of the videos you’d like your students to watch! It’s interface is very simple and clean – it provides you with a transparent window for you to frame what exactly should be recorded from your screen. Than, you just press the big rec button, and go! You can even set a maximum time for recording – that way, if you want your video to be no longer than 3 minutes, you can set that as your limit and, if approaching it and not yet done, start over and record it again! You can add a voice over, and once done, you can publish it directly to YouTube! I find it pretty useful when giving instructions to students about an assignment (specially if I am going to be absent and I don’t want to spend hours typing a lesson plan!), but also to provide examples of feedback on their recorded performances – I can screencast their videos, pause, comment on a specific aspect, lay it again, bring their attention to one specific aspect of it, and ask them to do the same for someone else’s performance (or eventually their own).

MoveNote: is a great tool for making presentation more interactive. It works really well when your original material is not a video- but slides with images or text on it. You can insert your slides and record a presentation from them. After inserting the images or text, all you have to do is press record, and you will see your own image being recorded straight from your webcam on the upper right corner. You can then use their tools to highlight text, to point out what you are referring to, and to switch from one slide to the other. Once you’re done recording, you can watch and edit your presentation.  Their coolest new release is the integration of MoveNote directly with Gmail – this way, once you press Compose, it gives you the ability to record your presentation right from your Gmail account, and once done with it, send it immediately to the addresses in your mailing list! A great new add on that I’m about to ty – and a great way to have students preparing presentations to the class! They have an interesting MoveNote for education blog that’s worth checking as well.

EDpuzzle: this is a great place for you to flip your classroom! Edpuzzle allows you to create Classrooms, invite students to it, and prepare video lessons – it also allows you to assign projects for students to do in their platform: so your students may be the ones creating content, a really cool way of shifting the traditional “prepare a presentation about this or that topic” or any other research assignment! You – and students – can crop videos (that you can insert from Youtube, Khan Academy, LearnZillion, Crash Course, etc.), insert audio notes or record over a video with your voice, embed quizzes (adding questions along the video to give your students immediate feedback and track their understanding). The best thing about this is that you can have videos organised by different classes, and my favorite is the ability of having students create projects! I am about to try it with my students, but their next research project will be delivered as a lesson they will create using Edpuzzle. I will make sure I share the results – and their impressions in the process – with you!

Edpuzzle

Punchdrunk Enrichment – an incredible Artistic Residency Experience

Between January 12th – Jan.17th, I had the pleasure of joining in Ashford, Kent (UK) 11 other artists from around the globe in a one in a lifetime experience provided by a partnership between Rose Bruford College and Punchdrunk. Since then, I’ve been struggling with finding the time to process, organise and share this experience. Ow that I have this blog started and moving on, I know the time to digest this experience is coming, but while it doesn’t, I’d like to share with you a post written by another artist that participated in this process as well – after all, I doubt I will be able to express myself as beautifully as Nicky did in her post! Enjoy!

The Joy of Creating, a guest post by the amazing Nicky Bellenger*

It’s taken me over a week but I’ve finally got round to writing about my inspirational week with Punchdrunk Enrichment in Hamstreet Primary Academy. If you’re interested then settle down, grab a cuppa, maybe a biscuit or two; it’s likely this will be a very long one…

On the week of 12th January I joined 11 other artists from the UK, America, Canada, Mumbai, Singapore and Norway to take part in Rose Bruford College’s project DREAM: the Joy of Creating. With support from Artswork’s Partnership Investment Programme, Rose Bruford have teamed up with Ashford Borough Council, Kent County Council and internationally renowned theatre companies Oily Cart and Punchdrunk to bring together theatre practitioners who create work with/for children and young people.

More info on the DREAM project here, should you wish to know more:https://www.bruford.ac.uk/news-events/news/dream-partnership-announced-for-rose-bruford-college/

My home for the week was in a beautiful (if challenging for the lengthier of us humans) cottage in Tenterden, with 3 other participants. Cottage life was bliss, I soon got the hang of how not to bash my head on every door frame, and my temporary cottage mates were a delight; good start!

The whole week was spent in Hamstreet Primary Academy; a really welcoming village school in Kent with around 300 children aged 4-11. We were given an attic room above some of the reception classes which became our base for the week, and spent Monday morning getting to know a bit about each other’s work, as well as starting to learn about Punchdrunk Enrichment’s approach to creating projects in schools. A whole school assembly was thrown to allow us all to say a quick hello to the children, who were unsurprisingly intrigued by the presence of 15 or so new adults in their school (many of which had to get on a plane to be there), and the all-important question of “are you sleeping in our school?” was soon answered. We were given permission to eat school dinners with the children in the school hall each day, and after spending the morning in our attic room we were excited to start talking to the pupils on Monday lunch time.

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The children had been informed that we were there to create a performance for them to enjoy on Friday, but little other information was given. Equally, Punchdrunk chose not to reveal anything specific to the 12 of us for the first two days, so when the children continued to ask for more details we were unable to say anything other than “we don’t know what we’re creating either yet, but we’re just as excited as you!”.

It’s not often I get to spend time in a school without being the one who is leading workshops or in charge of a project so I took great pleasure in sitting alongside the children and engaging in genuine conversations, happily sharing their curiosity of where the week was heading. Lunch time conversations were a mixture of favourite subjects, most exciting things to ever happen in school, playground politics and birthday party planning…

The Punchdrunk team, led by Pete, very generously gifted us the first two days as time for exploring, learning, and finding our feet in the school. We spent time in the hall with Katie (performer), and Livi (designer) exploring methods of making a successful Punchdrunk Enrichment show. We generated ideas that we knew we wouldn’t be using in the school, but there was a real value in these two days of absorbing & dreaming.

By Wednesday the excitement of creating something for the children starting shifting into a real joy of learning and discovering alongside the children. We all came with expectations and assumptions of what would be in store for the week, but the events that began to unfold as the week progressed were as surprising to us as visiting artists as they were to the children!

Here’s what happened mid-week…

The Punchdrunk team had been attending staff meetings, interviewing the children and generally working hard behind the scenes at the beginning of the week. On Wednesday they announced to the group that the school wanted us to create something about maths.

MATHS?!

12 artists and an internationally renowned theatre company do not make for good mathematicians. Punchdrunk usually get asked to create projects in schools that support creative writing or English; they’d never been asked to create a project that helps the children with their maths and so this was fairly new territory for them as well. We discussed our own experiences with the subject, both in school and in our everyday lives. There was an air of fear amongst the group! I did a drama degree, my brother did a maths degree, and therefore I have never seen myself as being ‘good’ at maths: that was my brother’s thing, not mine.

But by the end of Wednesday the challenge was embraced, as we realised it was our job to make maths enjoyable, to help embed an understanding of the importance of the subject outside of school, and to encourage an enthusiasm for the subject, and this was an exciting challenge to take on. We played around with some of the maths exercises from the curriculum (which we struggled with!) and discussed how to make maths creative. We watched interviews that Pete & Livi had conducted with the children, and were given a year group each to observe in order to gain an understanding of things that each age group finds challenging, easy, enjoyable etc. I messaged my brother Weds evening in excitement, knowing he would find it amusing that I was part of a project that would help children engage more positively with maths, and I suddenly felt determined to find a love for the subject along with the children.

Thursday morning, back in our attic room, Punchdrunk announced that they had discovered a famous mathematician called John Wallis, who was born in Ashford in 1616 and therefore a local lad. We immediately began researching. John Wallis was a lover of maths, opera, astrology, music, inventor of the infinity symbol, chief cryptographer for parliament and a member of the Invisible College. He was our man: the inspiration for our ‘performance’. And so Thursday was full of researching, planning and piecing ideas together. Until something pretty exciting stopped us in our tracks Thursday evening…

We were working late in the school, trying desperately to get something ready for the children on Friday. We’d become absorbed in our research, secretly locking ourselves in 3 of the school’s less used spaces, turning them into our laboratories of curiosities and our centres for mathematical study. We had become so distracted with the research that we had run out of time to rehearse our play for the whole school the next day. Some of the company decided it was best to sleep over in the school that night, to try and get something ready. 3 of us agreed to go and get some supplies, but as we approached my car we saw something odd in the school car park:

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A puzzle box. We believed it had been on the school site for quite some time. Was it left here by John Wallis or the Invisible College? There were chains, a padlock and numbers all around the edge. We stayed in the school all night trying to figure out how to get into it and why it was here. This of course meant that we hadn’t made or rehearsed our performance for the children…

Friday morning an emergency assembly was called, during which we all stood in front of the whole school and announced that we didn’t have a show for them. The head teacher was not impressed at all, and the children were of course disappointed. We felt incredibly bad, so Punchdrunk decided to reveal what we had found in the school car park the evening before. As Liam and Richard carried the heavy puzzle box into the hall, the children were immediately curious. Pete and Katie explained how we found it, and a buzz began to build. A secret puzzle box? Found here in their school? Possibly left by a famous mathematician? Jeremy from Rose Bruford was on the phone to the British Museum, and of course the local authorities had been informed. The box was big news and much to our delight the children seemed as excited as us.

An envelope was attached to the box, which was opened in front of the children, revealing a map of stars from the Horologium constellation. We knew John Wallis was into astrology but this didn’t make sense to us. We returned to our secret study rooms to continue trying to figure out how to get into the box.

At lunchtime we only spent 20mins of the hour break with the children, as we needed to continue working on getting the box opened and were obviously very tired from our school sleepover the night before. As we walked across the playground we were mobbed by children of all ages who had spent time in their classrooms researching John Wallis and the Invisible College to try to figure out the 3 digit code to open the padlock. Children had numbers written on their hands, theories were scribbled onto paper and thrust into our hands and the reception children wanted us to try some of their plastic keys! In the hall, more rumours and theories were flying around the tables. Someone’s mum heard an alarm the night before, a boy had discovered he was related to John Wallis and one of the older girls had cracked the code and needed to find us. We were stunned at the voluntary effort of all of the children.

After lunch the adventure really began. In our 3 secret studies we had discovered that by laying the map of the stars over a map of the Kent downs the stars lined up perfectly with place names that also happened to be the names of their classrooms. Well waddya know?! We were thrilled to discover that the puzzle box wasn’t for us to open, but it must be for the children from those classrooms.

WE NEEDED THE CHILDREN’S HELP.

So we split into 3 groups. My team had been working in the music room, and we decided to recruit years 3 & 4 to help us. Each group needed to find one number to input into the padlock. We decided to take the children out of their classrooms in groups of 10 at a time, and sneak them into one of our secret spaces to share our discoveries so far. “Sorry to disturb you sir but can I borrow 10 of your children to help me ‘carry some stuff’?” Another small lie to a teacher. Sorry Hamstreet!

As one of my groups of 10 entered the space, which was now far from the familiar surroundings of their music room, a boy exclaimed “this is the best day of my life!” – and I couldn’t have agreed with him more. All of the walls were covered in brown paper, pictures and maths sums, weird instruments had appeared as part of our research, windows had been blacked out and magical sources of light glowed around the space. We quickly shut the door & I showed them our discovery that we made with the map of the stars, explaining we couldn’t continue trying to figure out the numbers for the padlock without them. “This puzzle box is for you”; they were delighted to help.

After using a code to transform the numbers around the edge of the box into a riddle, the children very quickly determined that we needed to go and look in a specific place in the playground. And so I followed their lead over the next 15mins, figuring out the riddle to reveal a series of maths puzzles in locations around their school. The whole school was suddenly animated, with children rushing around with numbers and clues. My groups ended in a secret location in the school hall where they had to place a zero in front of a mirror that had been delivered by the Invisible College to reveal the number 8.

“Take that number back to your class. I’ll go and report back to the others and will let you know what happens.”

After every child had gone on their journey around the school with one of the artists, cracking codes and answering maths puzzles with excitement, impressive intelligence & team work, we were ready to call another emergency assembly.

It was there, at the end of the school day, that we stood with the 3 numbers retrieved by the children. The atmosphere was electric as Katie and Livi nervously put the numbers into the padlock, followed by an uproar as the lock opened and they began removing the chains. They did it. The children of Hamstreet Primary Academy had successfully figured out how to open one of the Invisible College’s puzzle boxes.

And inside the box? A monster? A million pounds? Treasure?

No, something much more special than we’d all imagined. A letter from the Invisible College. As Katie read it out loud it became clear that the children had done something quite extraordinary; only people with extraordinary minds would be able to get into that box. Therefore every child had earned their place as an official member of the Invisible College, and will each receive a membership card from the Invisible College in the post.

And there was another envelope.

A certificate congratulating the school and announcing that a star in the Horologium Constellation had officially been named ‘Hamstreet Primary Academy’, in recognition of the children’s achievements in mathematics.

Children high fived each other, teachers exchanged proud smiles, and I heard a child from one of the reception classes tell her friend that this must mean that they are famous.

And the 12 artists, many of which arrived by aeroplane, who had come to make a play for the school with Punchdrunk were leaving with something much more magical than they could have imagined…

…the joy of creating, the joy of learning & discovering, the joy of spending a week in Hamstreet Primary Academy.

“This was the best week of my life.”

There are some images from the week on the school’s website:
http://www.ham-street.org.uk/newsflash-hamstreet-joins-the-invisible-college/

Many thanks to the Punchdrunk Enrichment team, all staff & children at Hamstreet Primary Academy and to Jeremy from Rose Bruford College who was the perfect host for the week.

*this post was originally published in Jan. 27th, 2015 in Nicky’s blog