What Does Your Dream Professional Development Day Look Like?

I’ve got an idea that I’m ruminating on. First, though, I want to here your thoughts. In the side bar is a new poll:

If you were offered free, online, small group professional development, what would you want it to be on?

I would be interested to know your thoughts so please take a few seconds to vote.

I have offered some suggestions in the poll but if you have anything in particular that you really think should be offered as PD please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Sometimes I find the PD that is offered does not really hit the spot. Plus, it’s expensive and administration won’t always let you go. Oh, and you may even have to give up your weekend to do it.

So many of you are very generous in following this blog so I’d really like to know what you need as a teacher and how I can better provide for those needs.

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Thoughts on the New Contemporary Prescriptions

I apologise for my lengthy absence from posting. Term 2 was frantic and frankly, I was exhausted by the end of it. I have had so many posts that I have been meaning to share I just haven’t been able to prioritise the blog as much as I would have liked to.  I’m feeling somewhat rested now and hope that you have also had a good break. I am gently easing myself back into preparations for Term 3.

With that being said, this term I must make my decision in terms of what text I would like to study with my 2015 HSC class. Over the course of the term I have purchased and read each of the new texts in the Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice section as that is the topic I enjoy teaching. I thought I would share my initial impressions on each of the texts with you. I’m intrigued to know what other people’s first impressions are of the texts and what they are thinking of studying. Perhaps you have had similar thoughts or questions about the texts as I have. This is a very free flowing post of all my thoughts. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts below.

Stolen by Jane Harrison

This text remains on the list. Due to my only teaching Yr 12 every second year it doesn’t seem as though it has been on the list all that long but, from memory, I do think it has been there since 2010. It is an indigenous text exploring the issue of the stolen generation in Australia and their forced removal from families during the early part of the 20th Century. There are a lot of themes to explore and the dramatic techniques and conventions used by Harrison make it an interesting play to explore experientially.

There have been rumours that Stolen may be replaced in future with The Secret River adaptation by Andrew Bovell whilst some other teachers would really like to see Brother’s Wreck by Jada Alberts which recently played at Belvoir St, to be the new indigenous text.

This then gets me thinking, do I pick two brand new texts or just the one?

I enjoy teaching Stolen and don’t feel like I’ve quite got the hang of it yet. In saying that, just like I did with Ruby Moon it could be moved into an Indigenous unit in Stage 5 or used as an Elements of Production text in Year 11.

What to do, what to do?

Life Without Me by Daniel Keene

I wrote some notes as I was reading this one…

“Absurdist. Set in a hotel. Suggestion of purgatory, perhaps they’re all dead? They don’t know who they are. They want to go “home.” Motif of suitcases, home, lift going to nowhere. Disjointed communication, cyclical conversations, lots of rhetorical questions. Existentialist. Frustrating in parts. Hotel metaphor for life. Run down etc.”

I love Absurdism so there is something about this play that entices me. That being said, I study Absurdism with Year 11 as part of my Theatrical Traditions unit. Am I still able to do that I wonder? I also wonder, do I really want to study Absurdism twice? As much as I do love it. The advantage would be that the students would have some contextual understanding of Absurdism before leaping into the text which would leave more time to focus on the themes, characters and experiential activities.

The motif of the suitcase and idea of home recurs a lot in this play. As well as the lack of identity. This, to me, draws strong parallels with Stolen which also has a suitcase motif and explores the issues of home and identity (or lack thereof). Thus these two texts could compliment each other nicely…

Teacher’s Notes are available for this play by contacting Melbourne Theatre Company.

Fearless by Mirra Todd

When reading the introduction to Milk Crate Theatre and the process the company used to produce Fearless I was drawn in immediately. I loved that it was exploring homelessness through the stories of real homeless people. Note, the theme of homelessness once again. Both Stolen and Life Without Me explore these ideas also. So this play could compliment either of them in terms of themes. Ah, decisions, decisions…

Stylistically however, this is a play you really need to see to grasp the full effect. It frustrated me to read it and I stopped about three quarters of the way through. That being said, there is so much to play with experientially with this text that if you felt confident enough with it, it could produce some really interesting workshop results.

I noticed that Milk Crate is offering workshops for schools next year to help schools better understand the play. There are very few resources on the Internet that I could find to help with the teaching of this so if you choose to study this play I think this workshop would be a necessary part of any experiential learning.

Neighbourhood Watch by Lally Katz

This play is from the outside most like Ruby Moon. It is set on a typical suburban street, there is that sense of the neighbours not wanting to have much to do with each other yet on the other hand being quite voyeuristic. At the heart though, I think it is about loneliness, connection and this underlying resilience we all have as human beings. It has a rather beautiful, hopeful ending. Perhaps it is because of my connection and love of Ruby Moon, I enjoyed this play the most.

Teacher’s Notes for the Melbourne Theatre Company production are available here.

So, where to from here?

I think all of these plays look at the idea of home in some way but at the heart I think all of them explore loneliness and the many forms it takes. I think throughout the whole process of reading these texts I have come from a place where I want the text I choose to compliment Stolen despite the fact that it may be off the list in a few years time. Really any combination will work because I don’t think they need to thematically link but it is nice to  be able to make those connections when you are studying two texts side by side.

Thoughts?

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HSC Drama – Introducing Verbatim Theatre

This is my second series of posts on HSC Drama. This is the second Studies in Drama and Theatre topic I have taught my students. I have also taught Approaches to Acting. You can find some of the things I’ve written about that unit here and here.

Now, as we are all aware the Course Prescriptions have changed for 2015-2017 and Verbatim Theatre is now Verbatim Theatre in Australia. This means that the text choices are slightly different.

When teaching Verbatim Theatre initially, we all had to look at The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theatre Project. Now this text has been moved into the new topic of Significant Plays of the 20th Century.

I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of teaching this text yet so I am going to choose this topic for 2015. Which other text I will do I don’t know yet.

Whether you choose to teach The Laramie Project from Significant Plays of the 20th Century or you decide to go with Verbatim Theatre in Australia, this post should be helpful in getting you to introduce this topic to your students.

I start with two simple introductory experiential activities to get students thinking about the following focus areas that are necessary when creating Verbatim Theatre:

  • The Observation of People
  • Storytelling of Events/Authenticity vs Authority.

Activity 1 – Observing Others

Guide your students through the following:

1. Begin by walking around in the performance space.

2. As you walk, observe your fellow classmates. Focus on their physical appearance, movement and use of voice.

3. Write down your observations in your logbook. What physical and vocal qualities did you observe?

4. Discuss the following question as a class: What are the most difficult human behaviours to recreate as a performer do you think? Why?

Activity 2 – Storytelling of Events/Authenticity vs Authority

Guide your students through the following:

1. In your logbook, draw an image that represents your childhood. Lay these out around the classroom for others to see.

2. Ask the students to look at the other images drawn by their classmates and stand behind the one they most connect with.

3. Pair up with the person whose image you are standing behind. If there are several people try to match up several pairs or form a group of three. Person A tells a story about a moment in their childhood. It could be the one from the image or something different. Person B listens observing what is being said, how it is being conveyed and what the essence or emotion of the piece is.

4. Person B performs the story to the class.The focus is on trying to make the performance as similar to that of the initial storytelling.

5. In their logbook, ask students to reflect on observations made as to the accuracy of the retelling by answering the following questions:

1. How did it feel to watch your story being told by your partner? Did it feel respectful? Why/why not?
2. Did you recognize any of your classmates in the stories that were told?
3. Did it feel like the story “belonged” to the teller even though they were imitating another person?
4. What changed about the story in the re-telling? What is lost and what is gained in the actor’s interpretation?
5. What new understanding do you have about people in the class?
6. What makes it feel safe to do this activity? What makes it feel unsafe?
7. Whose stories get told? Whose stories are hidden?
8. What are the implications in telling someone else’s story when they are a different gender, race or ethnicity from you, the performer?
9. What is your responsibility when telling someone else’s story?
10. How can truths be manipulated to create theatricality?
11. What events are suitable topics?

Activity 3 – Bringing It Together

Now I would provide the students with some factual information about what Verbatim Theatre is. There is also this great little clip by The National Theatre that introduces Verbatim Theatre in a succinct way. Have the students answer some simple comprehension questions about what they’ve read or seen.

 

Finally, to prepare students to write their essay I get them to write a short paragraph as a workshop reflection in their logbook in response to the following question:

From its origins and development, what is the purpose or intention of Verbatim Theatre in the 21st Century?

What introductory activities do you do when introducing Verbatim Theatre? I love trying new ideas. Share your thoughts below.

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HSC Group Performance: The Process

I know for many of you, you are well under way facilitating the creation of your student’s HSC Group Performance projects.

I have come to enjoy this part of the course with its unexpected twists, turns and issues.

I always have found devising exciting because you just don’t know where the piece is going to go.

When you find that idea that clicks within the group and the improvisation happens it is an exciting moment.

Also, I always tell my students to embrace the fact that sometimes, the piece may be going nowhere and that you are indeed stuck. I enjoy trying to help the students find solutions to their problems.

Of course, it is a time pressured scenario with the Individual Projects being in their final stages and revision and practice of theory and essay writing an essential skill to keep the students practicing. Not to mention Term 2 always seems to be far too short.

I think it’s also important to remember that the process for each group will be different. They will all be at different points at different times so it is important to be flexible and have plenty of strategies up your sleeve to help with this when the time comes.

So I thought as a way of helping you through this process, over the next couple of weeks I would just provide some checklists that you yourself can use or you could give to your students to help ensure that everyone is on the right track and hopefully there is very little to no, unnecessary (note the word “unnecessary”) stress.

The Playbuilding Process

I break the process up into seven stages:

1. Research and Investigation

2. Finding the Spine

3. Working on Scenes

4. Putting It Together

5. Rehearsing

6. Performance

7. Evaluation

I will base my checklist on each one of these headings.

Today’s post will begin with Research and Investigation and Finding the Spine.

Before Starting Research

To me, these first two stages, Research and Investigation and Finding the Spine are the two most important aspects of the devising process. Time should be taken here to allow the students to settle into their groups, adequately complete research and use that research to come up with a vision for their piece. Being able to articulate their dramatic line, intention or spine in a succinct, clear manner will help them further on down the track if they get stuck.

At this stage groups should be formed. How you choose to do that is up to you and your students. I have always let my students work it out for themselves. From my experience I have always had small cohorts and they naturally have gravitated and worked out who would be a best fit for them. This, of course, does not work well for every school and every teacher.

Despite my choice to have students form groups this way, it is still an awkward conversation for them to have (and you as the teacher to witness and provide damage control if necessary) but one that is needed so as to avoid any problems further down the track. I feel it demonstrates from the outset that they have control and responsibility for their project. Saying this to the students helps make the decision making process a little easier for them. Honesty and openness in communication from everyone from the outset is key. I do give my preferred suggestions, at least for group size and I may speak to students individually in the lead up to the big day to “plant seeds” as to who it may be advantageous for them to work with but in the end it becomes the students decision. After all, it is their project as much as it feels like yours.

To solidify the commitment of the group I always get them to write and sign their own group contract and stick it in the front of their logbook. This is a great tool with which to help you as the teacher make communication with home when any student in the group is not pulling their weight. This can be used before any N-Award warnings go home.

Ensure the students write a logbook entry about the group formation process.

The Brainstorming Process

I get each group to brainstorm all of the words that are provided in the HSC Drama Prescriptions document.

From there I get them to focus on the two or three words that they were able to get the most ideas from.

I then start to direct group discussion around what theme or idea is coming through most strongly, any particular settings or perspectives that this theme or idea could be set in, storyline/plot ideas or any type of roles/characters that may be able to be adopted.

By the end of the lesson students should have 1-3 themes/ideas that they want to explore further.

I make sure that they write a logbook entry in response to the following: ” In your own words, explain the process you used to decide what key word/s you will be researching and investigating in the next step of the process. Why did your group decide on that word/s?”

Research and Investigation

The amount and type of research done depends on the story itself and the knowledge and experience of the group. Research needs to be done early in the process so that it can be included in the group’s playbuilding. It helps create scene ideas.

I book the library for a couple of lessons and use the discussion and feedback from the initial brainstorming sessions to help inform the librarian as to what books the groups might need to help them easily get more information about their ideas.

A range of research material is a good idea. So I tell each group to allocate each group member to look for information on their idea/s from one of the following mediums:

  • Internet
  • Books (Fiction & Non-Fiction)
  • Newspapers
  • Images (Artworks, Photographs)
  • Poems/Songs/Music
  • Jokes, Inspirational Sayings, Conversations, Interviews, Phonecalls

Encourage them to look for things at home in their own collections and from relatives and friends.

Everything they collect I tell them to stick into their logbook and annotate. Annotate, meaning, write a comment on the document telling me why this could be useful for the group performance or why it may not be useful for the group performance. Remember, the stuff that doesn’t work or isn’t right should also be included in the logbook. It is your document of process so those kind of detours or wrong turns need to be documented.

Finally, at the end of the research lessons I get the students to write another logbook entry in response to the following: “In your own words, what information did you find and how do you think it could be included in your performance? Visually, how could it be presented on stage?”

This logbook entry in particular gets them to start focusing on applying their research to a theatrical vision.

Finding the Spine

The spine (throughline or focus) refers to the “dramatic meaning” or message from which everything else in the performance radiates. All of the dramatic elements that the group choose to use: scenes, dialogue, staging, costuming, sound, lighting, characters and roles must help in communicating the spine to the audience.

Once we are back in the classroom and their research is compiled, the groups have some more discussion. This time focusing on putting their research into a theatrical journey with characters, perspectives and setting. They may even begin to think about performance style.

In helping them to solidify their spine and to help prepare them to articulate it clearly and concisely I ask them:

“What do you want your audience to think, feel, do before, during and after your piece?”

I think it’s important to note here, that this spine is by no means set in stone and that it is important to regularly check back to see whether or not the performance is answering the dramatic intention or if perhaps it needs to be thought through again. I think it’s also important to assure the students that it is OK to have to rethink their dramatic question. In saying that, if they spend time during this phase of the process making it really concrete it will help them further down the track when it is time to knuckle down with improvising and rehearsing.

To conclude this phase of the process I get the students to write their first draft of their 300 word rationale explaining their intention for their performance and which ideas they are going to explore in improvisation first off.

What strategies do you use when playbuilding with Year 12? I love to hear new ideas. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Teaching – Sailing & Navigating Through Change

This year I began teaching at a new school. I have just finished my first term. This is the first time in my career as a teacher that I have moved on from a school. I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to reflect on this “transition” as I have called it.

Preparing to Set Sail

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I feel I have been living this transition for some months now. It was late last year that I had to make the decision to accept an offer of moving to a new school.

I was ready to move on. In terms of the goals I had set for myself, of which most were Drama orientated, I felt I had achieved all that I could. I’d started a Drama Club, put on several Drama productions, produced the first musical at the school in many years, entered the kids into Drama festivals, competitions, sent them off to camps and auditions and just generally improved the profile of Drama within the school to something that now resembled respect. There was a solid foundation that someone new could come in and do something with.

Admittedly I was also a little burnt out and really wanted to focus on my classroom practice. Yes, I had survived the tumultuous first three years of being a new teacher but so much of those first few years had seen me focus on things outside the classroom that I felt as though the quality of my teaching had suffered at times.

My school was an absolute culture shock with its challenging students and constant loneliness due to my being the only Drama teacher in the school. I chose to swim rather than sink however, searching for every possible positive opportunity I could. I joined committees, became the Peer Mediation Co-ordinator and Year Adviser which, aside from every Drama thing I have achieved, is probably my biggest achievement and the most rewarding thing I have done as a teacher to date. I learnt about PLN’s and the power of Twitter and blogging and from there my teaching world opened and it was time to look for a new experience. I wasn’t an island any more. I had built a small raft and I wanted to try it out.

I had grown personally as well, outgrowing some things and growing into others. I became much more confident and comfortable in myself and who I was, no longer anxious, stressed and flighty.

Life however, takes you on its own path. Most things are beyond your control so I wasn’t sure when or what my next opportunity was going to be. I put a tentative plan into place and was happily working towards that. Of course, that is when life throws you its curve balls and forces you to make difficult decisions.

It was the most difficult decision I had had to make in some time due to, what seemed at the time, as really crummy timing.

To a degree there is still a part of me that feels enormous guilt at leaving some of my students behind, particularly my year group. I’m an emotional person. I became incredibly attached to them. Honestly, I felt somewhat mother-like and I had never experienced such appreciation from people whom I had shown genuine care for who weren’t my family or friends. It was overwhelming. My final term was bittersweet and very emotional for everyone, staff and students. Some of my most treasured memories that I will hold dear will certainly be from that time. I went from hating this school to struggling to leave. I never would have expected that in a million years when I started.

Sailing the High Seas

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I was familiar with my new school, having gotten to know some of the staff from the faculty through TeachMeet’s. One is now a very dear friend. Having a person to support me through this time made it a lot easier but also I was just much more confident in general because I now had experience under my belt. I knew what questions to ask, I knew that it would take time to get settled so I was patient with myself. Starting at the beginning of the year was also a massive plus! It’s amazing how much more structured school orientation programs for new staff have become.

I was most nervous about my senior classes. Having been in the school system a long time, they knew how to push buttons and also to let you know, very honestly I might add, as to what they expected from you. They wouldn’t let up until they thought I had earnt it either!

It was difficult not to make comparisons early on, something I was very conscious of, and still am because I didn’t want it to seem that my previous school was any better or worse than where I was now.

Treading Water

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I still feel as though I am settling. The transition is ongoing and will be for a while yet. I am in a bit of a lull on my raft. It doesn’t quite know which direction to go in because the wind hasn’t picked up yet. This does frustrate me because I am quite “gung-ho” when it comes to my work. I like to get in there and get my teeth stuck into things. I’d say my job forms a significant part of my identity and that without it I am lost.

In saying that too though, it has been good to reflect and to take time to think about where I want to go with things in terms of my teaching.

To be honest, I really don’t know. To a degree I don’t miss all the extra responsibilities and absolutely love being able to focus solely on my classroom practice. In the same breath, I do get bored easily.  It also seems, although most teachers won’t say it openly, it is expected that you take on something additional to that of your classroom responsibilities which I don’t mind doing, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already done because I’ve done it. If you catch my drift.

The vastness of the ocean in front of me with no markers, no islands in sight, makes me uneasy. What do I look out for? Or do I just wait for the wind to carry me where ever? Part of the latter intrigues me but my controlling nature makes me want to have a larger degree of influence on my raft’s direction.

Yet, that’s life isn’t it? I don’t know where I am going with this whole teaching thing but I’m on my way to a new island and the unknown adventure is a little exciting but mostly completely nerve-racking. Everyone wants a little certainty right? At this stage I feel certain of nothing but I’m learning to sit quietly on my raft with that uncertainty by my side, getting better acquainted and trying to navigate this vast ocean together.

Photo Credit: Fiji 2014 by karlao

Monologue Must Share: Calvin Candie, Django Unchained

I’ve got the 52 Plays in 52 Weeks Challenge but I’ve also had a little challenge going for a long while now that I haven’t talked about.

I’ve made myself a long list of films to get through in search of good monologues that students could adapt and perform for their Individual Performance in the HSC.

This one, that I just had to share, is from the film Django Unchained. Now it is rated MA15+. It is violent. There is bad language. This YouTube clip is in serious breach of copyright.

In saying that however, I just had to share this moment from the film. How Leonardo Dicaprio has not won an Oscar I still do not understand.

I was completely glued to him during this scene. I can’t really describe it. You just have to watch it. Whilst watching it however,  I did wonder, could it be performed on stage? I don’t see why it couldn’t. With a few little tweaks (namely the knife cutting the skull as blades are not permitted in performances) it could be a really good piece for a strong male actor and I always seem to find it hard to find good male pieces. Or maybe I’m just completely mental for thinking this could work as a piece of performance.

What do you think?

You can find other monologue suggestions at the top of the page under the Suggestions for Monologues section.

HSC Drama: Contemporary Australian Theatre Resource List

I’d like to credit the following resources for helping me put together my lesson sequence for Ruby Moon and Stolen that I have shared with you over the last couple of weeks.

I have also included the assessment task, work booklet and program that I have created for this unit.

Ruby Moon

Stolen

Video Clips

This is my Year 12 Drama playlist that I keep adding to as I find things. A couple of clips I have found useful when teaching Stolen include:

  • Rabbit Proof Fence Removal of Children Scene
  • Black Deaths in Custody 20 Years On. This is good if you’d like to extend looking at the repercussions of the Stolen Generation on Indigenous people in the present day.
  • Sorry, Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation