I have this class, this very interesting class comprised of the nicest students but…shy…they are very shy. All year long, they have struggled, painfully, to work together, they are so shy, girl not mixing with the boys, boys not mixing with the girls. But over time, they started to overcome this with the help of scene prompts that put them in situations where they had to play, essentially, ‘house’…or family, as it were. Families on road trips.
At the start of the year, what could take another class two or three periods to create a comic scene took this group three times longer, and this was with teaching input. But oddly, given an audience the group eventually managed to cobble together a family scene, which turned into the most successful story presented at the autumn collective creation on People – People Who Need People. How would this group do after that?
Back to square one, but not quite. They were still struggling, and come the spring fairy production of children’s theatre, they did well – finally. Before an audience. And then? They fell back again!!! Reverted back to what I would call a shy/lazy behaviour. What was this about? All things considered, they had learned how to manage themselves onstage, they had learned how to compose scenes, block themselves effectively, express characters using movement and stage business. I decided to really push them forward after some attempts at scriptwork which they didn’t overly enjoy.
I assigned them a ‘major’ piece of theatre using prompts that I thought highly interesting, myself…create a technical theatre piece using the idea of a nightmare OR find a tabloid news article and dramatize the story. First one group was going to do a nightmare sequence. The other chose to do a story set in a psychiatric institution. Apparently, a nurse hid in a closet when the power went out and the doors of the patients’ rooms opened up. She feared for her life. BEAUTIFUL PROMPT AND CONTEXT. HIGHLY DRAMATIC STORYLINE.
It was too compelling. The nightmare sequence group begged to join the other group, and suddenly they were back to an ensemble of nine students. This was the unbelievable outcome.
My only input was to help the students build a back story to their characters, through hotseating each actor…and to have them identify animals they would be like, to physicalize those characters. The outcome was a marvellous 16-min piece of Devised Theatre with playwriting, tech and directing as the focus.
Their reward? Improvisation for the rest of the year, focusing on acting skills. Strange directions this class has gone in, but they have learned much. Sometimes the route of a drama class is a circuitous one. The beauty of the teaching of drama is that this is a course where students necessarily have input. I love that.