On Wednesday, I facilitated a professional development workshop at Dawson Educational Coop in Arkadelphia sponsored by the Department of Arkansas Heritage in collaboration with the Arkansas Arts Council. In the one hour workshop, I facilitated teachers in using theatre games and the drama-based instructional strategy of teacher-in-role to teach students about the three main Indian tribes of Arkansas. In the beginning of the lesson, teachers gathered pictures of Arkansas landmarks with Native American ties from around the room. Then I used slides from a great PowerPoint lecture created by the Dept. of AR Heritage to explore the three main tribes of Arkansas--the Caddo, the Osage, and the Quapaw. Taking on the role of "Hannah the Historian," I asked the teachers to help me develop an exhibit for the Historic Arkansas Museum. Finally, we used the theatre game "Donkey," to review characteristics specific to each tribe. Since this was such a short workshop, it ended right as I felt like the teachers were starting to get a feel for "drama-based instructional strategies." However, they seemed engaged even in spite of our limited space in a tech lab.
We started with The Tempest and ended with The Tempest....only different. The AGS 2012 drama final performance was (dis)spelling the tempest: a subversive mashup. For two days, I gave the students all kinds of random writing prompts: write as a character, write about one of the themes using water imagery, write a poem, etc. I then took their writing and spliced it with The Tempest to make a new play, hence the "mashup" subtitle. One week later, we performed for a warm and receptive AGS student body.
In our version, the story is similar to the original until Miranda and Ferdinand meet. Ferdinand and Miranda do still swear their love for each other, but Sycorax returns and casts a (dis)spell to reveal Ferdinand’s true feelings to Miranda. Enraged by Sycorax’s (dis)spell, Prospero takes revenge on Sycorax’s son, Caliban, through Stephano and Trinculo’s bullying. Sycorax frees Ariel from Prospero and then uses Ariel to free Caliban through a dream. Prospero feels unsatisfied in his quest for revenge, so Caliban offers wisdom that prompts Prospero to receive a ritualistic cleansing from Sycorax. Sycorax then reveals the heartbroken Miranda, whom Prospero comforts. Sycorax and Prospero forgive each other, and all is well.
Pedagogically, this process didn't allow the students as much ownership over the direction of the final work as in previous years. In the past, I've always divided students into groups in which they devised ten minute plays on various topics. Although some groups were very successful with this format, others were not. This year's mode guaranteed a greater feeling of success across the board even though I exerted more creative control. In terms of acting, I really enjoyed watching students who had played a scene one way during our processional, play the same scene in a completely different context this time. For instance, when we performed The Tempest processional, we played the Stephano/Caliban/Trinculo scene for comedy as it was originally written. In our version, we were able to bring out the postcolonial undercurrents by playing the same scene as a moment of cruel bullying instigated by Prospero.
I must say I was very pleased with this project. I simply can't do work like this in any other setting. These students are special, and I am blessed (and I am not one to throw that word around) to have had the opportunity to work with them.
The shipwreck victims in the middle of Prospero's storm.
The very talented Emily Freeman wrote and played "Bound" beneath Prospero's explanation to Miranda of how they arrived on the island.
Prospero steals Ariel.
Prospero kills Sycorax.
Antonio comes ever so close to killing King Alonso.
Love at first sight for Miranda and Ferdinand...only in this version Sycorax casts a (dis)spell to reveal Ferdinand's true motives to Mirand
Stephano and Trinculo force Caliban to drink. In the original, this scene is comedic. In our "subversive mashup," we played this as a bullying scene.
We see Sycorax give birth to Caliban inside Caliban's dream--through which dream she later saves him.
The AGS Happening is an annual event during which all the AGS arts areas collaborate. Given that this is an election year and, as such, will be the first time for many AGS students to vote, we explored the election as our theme. My plan was to have some students read their own reflections on voting for the first time and have other students read excerpts from famous historical speeches. When I pitched the idea to the students, several students who won't vote this year wanted to write from their perspectives as well. For the historical speeches, I choose Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman," MLK's "I Have a Dream," Cesar Chavez's California Commonwealth Club speech, and pieces of the Declaration of Independence. In their writings, students discussed their frustration with waiting another four years before being able to vote for a president, being forced to hope others will "stand" for them, the need to unite, the responsibilities that go along with the right to vote, and the plight of those who are "invisible to the system" among us. Once the students finished, I realized their writings conversed very nicely with the speeches. I then directed students to weave their writings with the speeches to play up the interesting ways they spoke to each other. We then created frozen images (pictured below) to add a visual element to our performance. What actually made our performance, however, was the choir's underscoring of "Jacob's Ladder." Their singing added poignancy to the important words the students were saying. Another happening happened and students got to witness how exciting collaboration across the arts can be!
About the Author: April Gentry-Sutterfield is a director, deviser, educator, and mom who uses theatre as a tool for social justice, education, and community engagement.