A Quick Drama Taster Lesson (Prior to That Dreaded Subject Selection Evening)

Convinced Meme

Each year Drama teachers the world over have to sell their subject to a bunch of kids (often from primary school) either to give them a taste of high school life or to genuinely get them to take their subject in an elective year.

It is an ongoing battle that I don’t think any of us can rest on our laurels about. I would describe it as a fairly big PR exercise that we have to undertake every year, particularly prior to subject selection evening in order to remind people that our subject exists and yep, it’s worthwhile doing it.

I was sharing what I have done a number of times with a colleague of mine today who is doing it for the first time so I thought I’d share it with you too. Maybe it will be a good guide for when you are planning to do your own taster lesson. I’ve also attached this Drama Information for Open Night flyer I have made and photocopied onto A5 sheets to hand out at subject selection evenings, open nights etc. There are also a whole bunch of articles online (like this one), many of which I have shared on the Facebook page that you could also include about why Drama is such an important subject for students to take if there are still people who are not convinced.

I hope this is useful to you.

1. Start in a circle, introduce yourself and what you do as a Drama Teacher. Ensure you’ve chosen a space where you can make noise and not bother other classes. We do ours on the Swimming and Athletics Carnival days so the school is empty.

2. Ask students if anyone has done drama before or seen any drama before. The kids will often list a lot of musicals that they have seen. When prompting them about doing drama I ask them what it involves and try to steer them towards a few key things: focus, facial expressions (they often will use the word “emotions” so I ask them “how do we show this”), body language (they often forget about this one), team work, improvisation. Then I base the activities on these things.

3. We play 21 to work on our focus. They usually don’t even get close to 10 but it’s fun. This game is listed under the Warm Up Games tab on the blog.

4. We play Knots to focus on team work. We also make letters of the alphabet in larger groups (say splitting a group of about 20 in half). This game is also listed under the Warm Up Games tab on the blog.

5. I play Dollars and Cents to get them into smaller groups (why not whack in a bit of numeracy?) after this. Everyone is either a 5 or 10 cent piece and they have to make dollar amounts. For example if I call out “20cents!” 4 five cent pieces need to huddle together to form a group. They then use these groups to complete the next activity which is building inanimate objects with their bodies. I always do the Harbour Bridge because I love it (no other reason). Others I’ve asked them to create include a desktop computer, car, lawn mower.

6. For facial expressions we play Me, You. We start with the face but then of course the kids realise that it comes through in their walk and their voice. I talk about “turning up the volume” so we exaggerate our actions so they are big and silly.

7. Finally, this leads into very basic improvisation with the game “What are you doing?”

8. If there is time I extend on this with lengthier improvs and A LOT of side coaching.

9. I have also done Object Spitfire to a song as a further intro to improvisation. I think I did Uptown Funk last year. It was relevant to the kids so they loved it .

I’ve found that all this gets me through about a 45 minute lesson but after doing it a couple of times round (we have a rotational system so you might see 4-5 groups of 20 in a day) you get quite quick so maybe have a couple of things up your sleeve just in case you have a bit of time left.

Any other ideas that have worked for you? Please share in the comments below. 

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Happy World Theatre Day!

Wherever you are in the world I hope you and your class are celebrating.

Please share your celebrations with us at http://worldtheatreday.info

Our school decided to make a video in response to the question, “What does theatre mean to you?”

This is what our staff and students had to say. We would love for you to take a look.

Enjoy your day.

GUEST POST: The Magic of the Fringe

A view from the fringe is, at times, full of glassed rainbows. These rainbows are our students. If you are in a school where drama is not high on the list of cultural priorities nor pushed to the fore like rugby league, AFL, soccer, swimming or cricket (not saying that we don’t need diversity in a school) – then this little blurb may find you smiling. It may at least make you relate to the sometimes bizarre fight to maintain the status quo of what it means to be artists.

The clock ticks madly in the library. The humidity kicks in as papers are passed around. Another staff meeting, another round of discussions. My mind drifts downwards to the booklet on top of my markbook and I stare at the insanely expensive workshops and “intensive” professional development days that NIDA run. How does a student pay for that? How does a school with no money pay for that? How do I get my drama students interested? Man, this is getting crazy.

As drama teachers we struggle. Why so, you ask. Well, we are fringe dwellers aren’t we? We exist as odd entities at our school because we deal with “dramatic kids”. Every school, public and private have their colourful characters roaming the halls and challenging authority. We, however, as the flag waving, passionate, creative artists, deal with a different colour – expression.

As some of us may have experienced being the only drama teacher in our school, the fringe is cold and isolating at times – wherefore does one share information? With the music teacher running madly around with his or her iPad fighting garage band and the connection to the interactive whiteboard that never seems to work? The art teacher marking 400 hundred African masks and preparing for her sister’s wedding in two weeks? The maths teacher across the hall yelling at Year 8 – again? The ladies in the canteen? No. The opportunity passes by like skittish kittens living under D Block. So we smile and move on. The minor miracles that do occur in our drama spaces are the most, wonderful, special, enlightening and, what I call, sparks in the dark. Even, I dare say, absolutely moving and cathartic.

I call all my drama students “actors”, for want of a better phrase – that is what they are – good, bad or indifferent – they are all trying desperately to push away the peer pressure barriers, the Facebook ridicule, the vehement texts to get up in front of an audience and confidently perform. The boy/girl ratio is always in favour of the girls – and I try so desperately to give the boys the best opportunities possible to believe in drama, to embrace drama and to see it as “awesome” not “it sucks” or “it’s gay”.

So, fellow teachers, it is now time for me to pick a play for Term 2 next year. Convincing the powers that be that it will cause less disruption than last year or the year before, that “no students will be taken out of class!” (of course they won’t), hold auditions (most likely ten times as the daily notices will not be read out) and annoy the PE staff because the MPC will be booked for all of three days just so that maybe, just maybe I might find that spark in the dark.

Until next time – Adieu.

JF Cameron, Drama Teacher.

Have you had some “sparks in the dark”? Share your special miracles in the comments below.

 

Those Magic Changes – Grease 2012: A Retrospective

Something magical happened. Magical because it was beyond anything I had ever anticipated. Magical because it was/is something that, to me, is truly indescribable as I have never experienced anything like it before in my teaching career. I still cannot fathom the enormity of the response to what I and a large team of teachers created. I still cannot fathom what I saw unfold before my eyes in the weeks leading up it. Thus a long time between posts. I needed this time to digest, to reflect and to formulate those reflections into words. To make sense of the risks taken and the lessons learned.

The Musical Beast

This creation somewhat consumed my life. Thus why my blogging of the last few months has been so scarce. Thus why my house resembles a teenager’s bedroom floor (what floor?)

This creation is the beast we drama folk call: the school musical.

Earlier in the year I posted about how one of my goals for this year was to put on a musical at my school. I was at a point where in order to get my class numbers up I was going to have to go out on a limb and really put my subject out there. Up until this point my little drama production and taster lessons weren’t exactly drawing in the crowds so I felt the best way to improve this was by putting on a musical.

I’ve always wanted to put one on. I love them. They’re colourful, catchy and they leave you feeling good. Some true thespians, mock the genre that is musical theatre but I applaud it. If it’s good it rakes in the audiences and anyone who sees live theatre always remembers it because it is something truly unique. It beats your $11 Cheap Tuesday blockbuster anyday.

On a professional level I felt I had reached a level of confidence in my ability not only as a teacher but as a leader. Much of my TPL last year, particularly the Team Leadership Program I was involved in, helped with this. I knew I would need help. I was now finally prepared to ask for it. To delegate and share my vision with others to let them help me create it. I hadn’t done so before now, not because of ego but because of fear. The fear of failure, or humiliation and embarrassment.

Important Choices

The music teachers and I danced between Grease and Footloose at the end of 2011 and made the decision at the beginning of the year to go with Grease. Having not produced a musical before we wanted to choose relatively simple music for the kids to sing and play and something well known for the actors to model their scene work and characters on.

We continued to do the tango with the company who was to give us the rights. Performance rights are expensive and we had little money so we had to cut our run down from three nights to two. This consumed much of Term 1 which left me clamouring in the Easter Holidays to put together a rehearsal schedule and get us started at the beginning of Term 2.

Now just to put this in perspective: most schools would probably take two terms to produce a musical. We did it in 11 weeks.

Challenging the Fear

Initially we struggled to get male cast to fill the roles. Getting up and performing in front of an audience is such an uncool thing at my school. It doesn’t give you street cred. It gives you a verbal bashing. These entrenched values and fears are incredibly hard to break and so it took a lot of convincing to get many of the kids to give the show a go. Most of them didn’t believe the show would be very successful but for some reason they stuck around. Also, the kids I thought I had convinced  to audition didn’t and it broke my heart even more than anything.

Finding The Light From Within

This was my lowest point. I felt completely deflated with no sense of purpose. With the difficulty of filling roles plus the many other hats I was wearing as part of the production as well as my normal classroom duties, I felt completely taken for granted, tired and run down. I wanted to run away I pushed on however, believing I wouldn’t ever put a musical on again. Somehow though I seemed to pull out this perseverence, this light or energy (or perhaps it’s stubborness) when things were getting tough. It is a habit of mine.

Something In the Air

Magically though, things fell into place. We could easily source a car, another school had costumes we could borrow (thanks @MsConstrue1), another group had some set pieces we could use, oh, and YouTube is mighty useful also. The dancers were rehearsing, scenes were coming together but we were all relying on the holidays to pull it all together.

All the while though, there was this feeling around the school. The air had changed. There was a buzz. We were talking the show up. We truly believed in it. We believed it was going to be awesome and people hopped on board. People bought tickets though I dared not look at how many seats we’d sold.

Those Magic Changes

Then the holidays arrived. When I think back on it now much of it is a blur. The cast came in during the first week and their energy had changed. They were excited. Painting the car, feeding them breakfast. Pulling together costumes, organising stage crew, running the show from beginning to end. Watching them find their feet, work together, support each other. A teaching team that brought in new ideas. Kids that came in and were willing to help. Community support. Family support. It just seemed to get bigger and bigger without us realising. By Day 1 of this Term we were ready to show the community what we had created.

Giving Gifts

On the first day back before our evening performance we performed for the primary schools. For many of them, this was their very first experience of live theatre. They didn’t know to clap after each song (even though I’d told them to) and hearing their gasps of excitement as Grease Lightning rolled on stage was exhilirating! It was important to me to let the cast and crew know what an enormouse gift they had given someone today without their even having realised it. This sharing of the Arts with our community it so important to me and the fact that the kids were now passing this on was so moving.

Family Circle

Tuesday evening was the biggest Drama event I’d ever put on in my life. A bigger audience than I’d ever had at anything. It was exciting and it went off with a smash! Family, friends, colleagues and yes, TeachMeeters (@wanstad73, @clarindabrown, @whartonag, @PollyDunning) were all on hand to offer their support. Before the show that night the cast created a “Family Circle” around the Director’s. Each student spoke their thanks to us for being given the opportunity to perform in the musical. How it had deeply affected their lives. I felt so lucky. It was one of those teaching moments. All a teacher could ask for really.

The Power of Facebook

Oh, what a single status can do. If you weren’t part of the conversation the next day you had missed out on something big. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I didn’t hear a bad word. “The best thing the school has ever done,” said one teacher. There was a rush on tickets. Some people came back for seconds and brought more people. Families who’s kids had seen the matinee performance wanted to see it again. We had to put out more seats. I was terrified. There was expectation now. What if we didn’t live up to it? Witnessing a line of audience snake around the building and out onto the footpath was truly a sight to behold. 400 people. What a phenomenon for our school.

The Aftermath

In the days after the final show there was an even bigger response. Emails poured in. Everyone wanted to know what was next. Could they be involved next year? The kids were on an absolute high. Their confidence a real sight to behold.

For me this experience has been a lesson in self-belief not just for me but for my students. It has been about unlocking potential and perseverence. Perseverance in team work, building confidence, vocal skills, community spirit, valuing the arts, providing opportunities for the Arts in Western Sydney. It has been a lesson in taking risks. Of not being afraid, following what you believe in and working hard to make it happen.

I now feel a sense of enormouse responsibility and pressure. To make the next show as good if not better as this year. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s what I do with this now that is important. We don’t get cocky or egotistical. We become humbled and realise that we have an even greater responsibility in our school, in all schools, to provide even more meaningful experiences for children in the Arts.

Something magical happened. True magic. It was a gift to witness it. Take risks. Be bold. Follow what you believe and you and your students will receive a magnificent gift.

Image Credits:

free texture . lubs / f∞lish kamina / CC BY-NC 2.0

“If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you’ve made me smile, the entire evening sky would be in the palm of my hand.” / Jerrycharlotte / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Faster faster / *Nom & Malc / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Grease 2012, Fernando Moreno

Fantastic Find: Great Links to Help You Find the Perfect School Play

I’m currently in the process of deciding what school play to do with my Drama Club students this year.

In previous years I’ve used Term 4 (when it’s a little quieter at school because Year 10 and Year 12 have left) or school holidays to read and prepare a play for the students to perform the following year.

Over the years however I’ve become more and more reluctant to do that because I tend to find the number of students involved in Drama Club fluctuates dramatically from year to year as well as within the school year.

Drama is not overly popular at my school and I’m still working at making it so, however aside from my core group of “dramatists” the “fringe” numbers can really make a difference between a large cast play or a small.

A number of times I was finding myself incredibly stressed at either having a play that didn’t have enough parts or had too many. I played the ruthless director well, cutting scenes drastically and adding in characters where necessary. I tended to find I was cutting more than keeping and I didn’t like it. I always like to stay as true to the playwright’s story as possible so I felt like what I was doing was sacrilege.

In the end, all the productions have worked out nicely but I have to admit the uncertainty of not knowing your cast numbers can make it difficult to prepare and I hate being disorganised. You can’t be disorganised with these type of things. Drama productions are too huge and too time consuming to waste time dealing with unnecessary edits that could have been avoided if you’d planned adequately enough beforehand.

In aid of my stress levels, this year I have also decided to hand a lot more control over to the student group in terms of the running of the Club. I’ve created some committee “roles and responsibilities” and am getting the kids to allocate themselves, one or two members, to a role. It gives them a sense of ownership and they can make the club how they choose.

The enthusiasm has been fabulous and there’s a very excited feel to the group. I feel like there is so much possibility with what I can do with the kids this year because they’re so keen and willing. They’ve also really taken to the Edmodo group I set up and are excitedly chatting about all the upcoming projects we have planned.

After initial expressions of interest from the kids as to who wanted to perform and who didn’t, the students voted this week for which play they would like to do this year. The choices were:

  • The Secret Garden, adapted from the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett;
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, adapted from the novel by Roald Dahl;
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (this one was suggested by one of the students);
  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson;
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, adapted from the novel by Anne Frank.

It all came down to how I sold it too the kids. I felt like I was delivering a movie pitch to executives or something.

I was keen on The Secret Garden just in terms of  cast numbers and the ages of the students. However the students liked the idea of the “romantic comedy”, “comedy of errors” type scenario of Earnest and voted for that. I’m apprehensive about it but think it could be fun.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at with the production process but I also thought I’d share with you a couple of websites that have a great database of plays available for school groups to perform.

As much as I love musicals, I try to steer away from them because the rights can become incredibly expensive. These sites are great because they are mainly play based.

  • Plays for Performance – part of the Creative Drama and Resource Site, Theatre Education, it has an excellent at a glance table of titles, suitable performance age, number of male and female parts, indication of setting and a brief synopsis.
  • Dollee.com – very extensive database of titles. You can search either via playwright’s name, play title, characters and other specific headings. I’d recommend a search function on the site rather than having to go through various pages until you get to the play or playwright you’re after but the selection is still very good.
  • Dramatic Publishing – has a great section on preparing to put on a drama production.
  • Teacher’s Directory of Playscripts for Secondary Drama – An official resource from the Department of Education and Training NSW, it has a great list of plays with a brief synopsis of each as well as details on male and female parts and setting.
  • Stageplays.com – A really good youth theatre section with a lot of sub categories depending on your needs. This website also has an online store. You can choose to purchase either in $US or £UK.
  • Dramatists Play Service Inc. – A small list of children’s plays and musicals with an interesting “new acquisitions” page. It also has an online store to purchase manuscripts ($US).

What’s your experience been like preparing for a school production? Got any plays you just have to recommend? Share below in our comments.

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Image Credits:

“Dishelved”, by Kevin Grocki, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)