Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Class plays

My current school has trimesters, each one twelve weeks long. I've been spending the first six weeks of each trimester on a variety of activities (Sculpture Garden, Building a Sonnet, Status, etc.). Depending on how the classes behaved and responded to the work, I spent the second six weeks of each trimester on public speaking assignments or a class play.

In the first trimester I did Henry V with three of my four classes, and in the second trimester I did Midsummer with only one of my classes. I cut the plays to less than 40 minutes in length, and split up the parts like we did for Julius Caesar. No student had more than 50 lines of text to learn.

The classes that did the plays were kind of lukewarm to the whole experiment. They liked that they weren't stuck with public speaking stuff, but they were never really invested in the play. There was simply too much down time for each student. I could work two or three scenes in a class period, which means I only worked with less than half of the students on any given day. I used feeders to try to get the rest involved, but many are poor readers or ESL and didn't like to feed, so a lot of them sat around every day getting bored.

I'm three weeks into the last trimester, so I need to start figuring out what to do for the last six weeks. I predict that two of my classes will respond well to the short scene work we're doing next week, so those two will do class plays at the end of the year. My question is, how do I get the students to be more invested in the work?

So far this year I haven't started with reading the play as a class or doing a lot of character and plot analysis because I didn't want my Communication Applications class to seem like an English class (no offense to the English teachers, I'm just playing the "this class should be totally different from your other classes" card to encourage students to take more risks). I've been casting the shows and diving right into scene work to keep the kids from being scared of the language, but now I'm questioning that tactic.

I'm also unsure of the splitting of roles. It keeps kids from having roles of wildly different lengths, but I think it makes them stop thinking of their character as THEIR character. If I didn't split the roles, I'd have to choose a play with at least 27 speaking roles, which eliminates most of the comedies. Also, a kid playing the lead would have forty times the lines of Messenger #3, which hardly seems like the right thing to do. On the other hand, my best class currently has a refugee of the theatre department who doesn't like the new theatre teacher, and he could totally tear up a leading role. It's not in his best interest to make him share the role with five other kids, but it's not in the best interest of the rest of the class to have him carry the show while them merely support him.

So what do you think I should do? Split, or not split? Study the play before rehearsing, or no? Should I try Henry V or Midsummer again, or should I try something new, like Macbeth?


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Some kids like small parts. Sometimes having a small part that belongs to you gets you more invested than having a chunk of a part that belongs to five people.

Try creating support groups for large characters. You could still split up the lines, but allow every person who plays one part to get together and talk about who the character is, and how the character progresses throughout the play. Get them on one page, and get them understanding the arc of the character, and they should feel better informed and mroe able to make big decisions about how to play the part.

Another idea, for those kids that don't want to perform, make them leaders of those groups. Assign an Ego, Id and Superego for each character, and those personalities can discuss the character development with the actor.

At 11:56 PM, Blogger chitarita said...

I've been playing a lot more with video technology this year, and it's going very well. Depending on if you have access to a camera (or more than one, if you're lucky), I've found it to be a great way to keep more kids actively involved - those that don't like being "on stage" can be cinematorgrapher, sound, lighting, whatever. Even better, you can do multiple takes, which tends to eliminate some of the first-timer's stage fright.

In one of my classes recently, I had the students add Spanish subtitles - that got a lot of the shy kids and ESL kids very active, particularly since I don't speak Spanish. They had a lot more ownership in the project. That could be interesting for Shakespeare - have them translate it into "modern" English, then into Spanish.

I'm about to try filming "Romeo and Juliet" with my English class. I am fortunate enough to be able to check-out 4-8 cameras on a fairly regular basis, so I'm planning on breaking them up into small groups and having each group produce a section of the play. They'll be cutting the scene to under 5 minutes, directing it, acting it, tech work, everything. Then we'll wrap up the project with a screening.

Don't get me wrong - there's a great deal to be said about live theater. But film can get more students involved in production and can break down some hang-ups.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Emily said...

I have to argue against "translating Shakespeare." He wrote in English. There is no need to translate something the same language. Putting his work in "modern English" just gives people an excuse to be afraid of his language. Ours is not to encourage that fear, it is to dispel it by illustrating the beauty of the words as they were written.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Shakespeare Teacher said...

Why not make some of the medium/small roles into a type of chorus? That way students are speaking together or alternating lines, which may help the shyer kids. I've tried this in my drama class (the nurse turned into three "aunts").

I let the kids decided how they wanted to divide the lines. Some of the lines were spoken together, some separately.

This was especially cool when the nurse discovers Juliet's body, the three of them around the bed was a very interesting visual/aural experience for the audience.


At 7:45 PM, Blogger Holbrook said...

Emily: Do you think support groups should happen before rehearsals and scene work starts, or during?

Amanda: I like your technology ideas, but do the kids that have to learn lines feel it's unfair for other kids to get grades for holding a camera? If it was a theatre class then kids might clamor for bigger parts, but in a speech class no one likes memorizing.

Mel: I liked the chorus stuff for Henry V, but the kids ended up getting lazy and just giving each individual kid a single full line rather than splitting it up in an interesting way. I guess I need to find a new way to teach it.

If the weather's nice tomorrow, then I might take my best class outside for air broadswords. If they like it, then I might push for Macbeth. Otherwise, I might do Midsummer again.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger chitarita said...

I've done film in all of my classes - Into to Drama, Adv. Drama, English, AVID (a study skills class), and assisted with filming in math classes. Kids tend to know what their skill strengths are, and many find new ones - have the group trade off jobs. One group might film another group's performance of the scene, then they swap jobs. That way everyone acts and everyone works behind the scenes.

Emily - I think you misunderstood me. When I said "translate" I meant that literarly - have ESL kids translate the text into their first languages (Spanish, etc). You may have to help them with translations (poetic imagry, like idioms, could be tricky), but how intimate that would make their text interactions!

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Emily said...

I got confused when you said, "translate it into modern English, then into Spanish." I missed the Spanish part.

But that's a topic I debate every once in a while anyway.

Craig, do support groups while you're working scenes with groups. Or have a day of support group work. Ir assign them "think about it" for homework, and spend the first ten minutes of class in groups.


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