HSC Drama: Writing a Workshop Reflection

I mentioned yesterday that I would post the scaffold I use to get students writing after an experiential workshop.

I learnt this structure from @loucopoulos at his professional learning day on writing the essay for the HSC Drama exam so I take absolutely no credit for this. I’ve been trying it out this year with my seniors and it seems to be working. It’s a simple enough structure that is getting the kids writing about what they have done experientially in class and is connecting it with the themes and issues in a much more effective way.

Start by giving your students a question to respond to. For example, I mentioned in my post yesterday about activities you could use to introduce Ruby Moon. These are specifically getting the students to look at the themes and issues in the play of Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. Your question could be something like:

What are your initial impressions of Ruby Moon and how do these contribute to your understanding of the issues and concerns in the play?

1. Answer the question in a sentence or two.

2. Elaborate on that answer by explaining it.

3. Use a workshop example in a quick recount.

4. What insights does that example provide?

To reiterate, the idea behind the structure is to help students better incorporate their experiential learning and make better connections to the issues and themes as well as the elements of drama.

This is how I would respond to the question using the scaffold, indicating in brackets at the end of the sentence when I have addressed each part of the scaffold (remembering also that you can say “I”):

The initial impression I get of Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is one of darkness and mystery (1).

This is because the plot mirrors the familiar fairytale/fable of Little Red Riding Hood and looks at the consequences of a missing child on a couple as well as their neighbourhood. This fairytale, both traditionally and over time has been manipulated and at the core contains a dark, moral message. The idea of a missing child creates a feeling of unease and when delving further into the make-up of a neighbourhood it becomes clear that many people do not really know their neighbours (2).

In a series of activities as part of a class workshop, my class looked at two different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the aspects that had been “fractured” or manipulated in each version and what impression was left for the audience of the characters, story and moral message. We discussed how this links in to the themes and issues in the play that we had read about: Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. We researched a number of different missing Australian children and discussed the circumstances behind their disappearance focusing in particular on the parent’s role and who the abductors usually were. Finally, this lead to a discussion about our own neighbourhoods, what they look like, sound like and feel like (3).

Through these exercises I was able to get a better sense of the issues and concerns that we had read about in preparation for reading the play Ruby Moon. That there is more to Australia than simply white, sandy beaches and at the core of many Australian neighbourhoods and families there is a sense of unease and mystery about our neighbours because of incidences like missing children. That families become “fractured” because of it. That we cannot fully trust people because we don’t really know who they are or what they are thinking and this is a common feeling amongst much of Australian society (4).

I hope my paragraph above makes sense. It’s hard to critique your own writing because I mainly find my faults rather than looking for what I’ve done right. As many of our students do also I’m sure. Feedback is always welcome so please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you get an opportunity, I would highly recommend attending Costa’s course. I found it really helpful. You can find more information about the HSC Essays and Dramatic Practice course here.

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More Theatre of the Absurd Teaching Ideas

One of the posts that seems to get a lot of views here on the blog is the one on suggestions for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. I taught it again this year and I made a few alterations to my program and tried a few new things. You might like to use these in your class.

1. Focus on Being a Director

I’ve posted previously about how I spent several lessons scaffolding how to write a Director’s Concept. I wanted the students focus to look at the play as directors rather than as students.  I spent a lot more time than I have in the past building a strong understanding of the concepts behind the Theatre of the Absurd in order to more effectively work through into the practical aspects.

2. Workshops that Provoke Insight

I went on some PD last year that suggested a pedagogy of teaching that involved a different structure  to drama lessons so as to ensure experiential learning could be more easily transferred to the written essay. It suggested this idea of workshops that centered around key questions that required the students to have insights based on their practical experience as well as an ability to reflect on these. I structured mine over four lessons and found that they worked really well in being able to better convey these concepts to students. Here is a link to a PDF version of what I gave my students in a booklet: Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd I also gave the students a Workshop Reflection Template to fill in on each of the workshops. The one in the link above is for Workshop 1. I would use the same template for the other three but replace the question as per the Workshop Series worksheet.

3. Devising an Original Absurdist Piece

I revised the assessment task and had the students form pairs. They had two tasks. The first was to write a Director’s Concept for their original Absurdist piece, which was the second part. The piece was to be created using dialogue from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. It could be used in any order and from any section as long as the sentences were as per the scripted play. The piece also had to demonstrate an understanding of the aspects looked at in the workshops. Some of the pieces that the students came up with were highly engaging.

I’m really pleased with how I taught this unit and think I really delved into the students higher order thinking and insight. I really enjoyed teaching it.

What strategies do you use with your class to teach The Theatre of the Absurd?

Running a Workshop in Drama

I was asked recently if I could write a post about conducting workshops in Drama. This is a common assessment task given to students in either the HSC or IB because it allows the student to demonstrate their understanding of a concept in a practical sense. It also provides them with experiential learning examples for their essays which must include some examples of classroom experience. I have used workshops as an assessment in my Approaches to Acting unit which I have posted about previously.

When preparing a workshop I advise my students to structure it as follows:

Length: 15-20minutes

Group Members: 3-4

1. Outline the Purpose

Introduce yourselves and tell your participants what you will be looking at in your workshop and why. For example, if presenting a workshop on Meyerhold you may choose to only focus on Biomechanics in your workshop. I also suggest allocating one group member for each section of the workshop. That is, one member does the introduction, one or two members conduct the facilitation of the workshop and the final member conducts the wrap-up/reflection section. This is also a good way to spread out the workload and make group members responsible for their work.

2. What Will The Workshop Involve?

I suggest breaking the workshop into several parts. You could try the following combinations:

  • Introductory Discussion/Brainstorm, Warm-Up, Core Activity, Reflection/Observation Discussion/Written Task
  • Warm-Up, Core Activity, Reflection/Observation Discussion
  • Introductory Presentation by Participants, Warm-Up, Core Activity, Reflection/Discussion

Be clear how many parts there will be and what they will be expected to do. If you have any particular rules or guidelines you need your participants to follow mention these up front.

3. Warm-Up or Have a Pre-Workshop Discussion

Depending on who your participants are you may need to gain an understanding of how much your participants know so it would be best to devise two to three questions that links into your workshop’s purpose. If the group already has some understanding of the concepts involved you can ask further questions to promote discussion or perhaps just a basic discussion to get the group focused on your chosen topic.

When warming up, link it to a skill that the participants are going to need to use in the core activity. For example, Statues when presenting a Biomechanics workshop.

4. Have One Group/Whole Class Task

This is your key activity that links to the issue or concept that you workshop has been designed to explore. Break it down into clear instructions so that your participants understand exactly what they need to do. You yourself will need to be clear about what the end product needs to be in order for this to work effectively. That is why clarifying your purpose is so important.

5. Post Workshop Reflection or Discussion

This section is probably the most important because it lets you know whether or not you have been successful in achieving your purpose. Ask participants what they have learned, what they observed from others, how they felt etc. You could ask them to write their responses down on a worksheet with pre prepared questions so that they can use it in their essays. A good way to do this is to pose a question, for example, “How does the Theatre of the Absurd explore the human condition?” Students should try to structure their answer in the following way:

  • Answer the question in a sentence or two;
  • Elaborate on that answer by explaining it;
  • Use a workshop example in a quick recount (HINT: This is the workshop you’ve just given);
  • What insights does that example provide (about the style, time period, society etc)?

Follow these steps and I think you will have a fairly well structured, smooth running workshop.

Photo Credit: chuckp via Compfight cc

8 New Improvisation Games You Need to Try

I had the pleasure of meeting @ivanwschew at an Improv Night a little while ago now. It was being hosted by some friends of a friend who have taken advantage of a council grant and created a puppetry workshop (amongst other things) in an old shop.

I hadn’t been along to see any adult improvisation for a long time so it was refreshing to see some energetic, quick thinking actors on stage. Several of the games they played I hadn’t heard of before.

I had the opportunity to speak with Ivan at the end of the evening and I asked him if it would be OK to share these games. Ivan’s life was changed by improv and drama. His story is a fascinating, uplifting one of someone unlocking something that was hidden inside themselves by taking a chance with drama and improv. Now he’s not looking back.

The thing I loved about the whole night was seeing people who are passionate about their craft sharing it with others. I felt very inspired and uplifted by it. Below are the eight games I learnt from Ivan and his team of improvisers. You could use them in an improvisation unit or perhaps as a way of developing character or storyline in a unit of work.

Ivan hosts workshops for those new to Improv. You can find out more at his website.

Also, be sure to listen in to his radio show on Tuesdays 3-5pm, Community Radio 2RDJ.

1. Accent Rollercoaster – Audience members provide suggestions (“ask for’s”) for accents and a location. Actors are given a situation and throughout the scene the host will call out the accent that they need to use and they must accept and progress the action.

2. Spoon River – Two actors are on stage. Both are dead. They must recount how they came to die. A country/location, an unusual food dish, catastrophic event and dark descriptive words must be used and these are suggested by the audience.

3. Marshmallow Mania – Actors are given a situation. Each time an actor says something funny and the audience laughs they are given a marshmallow that they have to put in their mouth, not eat and continue the scene. Please be aware this may cause choking. The game has been banned in some circles so practice with care.

4. Character Swap – A location and situation is given. When called, the actors need to switch characters and continue the scene.

5. Lining the Bucket – A series of one liners are written out and placed in a bucket. Actors pick a line from the bucket before they enter the space. As they enter they must say the line. They can also pick out lines during the scene. This game is great for less experienced improvisers.

6. Playbook – Situation is given. One of the actors is restricted to the lines of dialogue from a script.

7. Pop Culture – Situation is given. Actors play the scene but they can only use lines from pop culture such as songs and movies etc.

8. Crime Endowments – Audience suggest a crime, location and famous actor. The actor being interrogated is in another room at this time. They enter the space and are questioned by another player. Audience react as the actor gets closer to guessing the crime, location and actor. There is also the variation “Teenage Endowments” (see comments below).