We've started rehearsing for year three of *Choosing Sides* at Horace Mann Middle School. *Choosing Sides* is a three-day interactive play that explores bullying with middle school students. I developed *Choosing Sides* in collaboration with Pulaski Technical College, SafePlaces, and Horace Mann Middle School. I am excited about this year because I have revised the script and facilitations, and I'm ready to try out the revisions. Last year was very effective but I played it safe. I relied heavily on our *Choosing Sides* booklets for facilitations. These were booklets with specially designed written activities that inspired additional discussion. The teacher and students really loved the booklets. They all felt the booklets provided an emotionally safe way to engage with this difficult topic. This year we're doing a lot more on-your-feet activities. Hopefully, we can keep it emotionally safe but also get into some more meaningful conversations. Above you see my actors, Stephanie Ong and Chris Straw rehearsing. I will write more in the coming weeks!
Day 3 proved to be very fruitful. We intentionally decreased the number of scenes and increased audience participation each day. That meant Day 3 consisted primarily of audience participation. Stephanie and Ebon performed one scene, facilitated, continued scene, and the rest of class was supposed to be forum theatre, and a talk by Angela from Safe Places. Our forum theatre didn't work. There are three reasons: 1) the scene itself wasn't very forum-able, and 2) the middle school students had a hard time not giggling which meant the scene lost its power, and 3) Our actors weren't experienced enough with forum. After struggling through forum for two periods, we relied on discussion for the remainder.
It was great having Angela from Safe Places there to talk to students. She was able to engage the students with a level of seriousness about bullying that I don't know we were. She also gave them her card in case they or their friends needed to talk about bullying, dating, or domestic violence.
At the end of the day, Angela, Stephanie, Ebon, Holly (the teacher), and I sat down to reflect on what worked and what didn't. It was a very useful conversation to me. We decided that the storyline was strong although it needed some tweaking to be more age appropriate. We want to flesh out the male character a little more as the play focuses a lot on the female character right now. We want to play him up as a strong, confident alternative to our male antagonist. I want to rework some of the facilitations. The students' individual packets were liked by all.
I feel very proud of our work, and, hopefully, we can continue to make it better.
Day Two started off rough. First period has lots of interruptions with announcements and DEAR time, so that factors in. However, I think the main problem was the our facilitations were misplaced. We had not scaffolded them well. We reworked that for the 2nd class, and things went much smoother. In fact, the classes that were a little less interested yesterday seemed more interested today. Off tomorrow, and then we go again on Thursday!
Choosing Sides: Day One went surprisingly well. I've been in love with theatre-in-education since I took the T.i.E. course at UT with Lynn Hoare. Seeing how a play could create a space for open dialogue about challenging issues was really eye-opening for me as a grad student. T.i.E. plays are so tricky to create, though. It is so easy to get preachy and trite and just plain boring. I was so thrilled to see that Day One went so well. Of course, there are things we will revise. I'm a little nervous about days 2 and 3 because some students have already guessed what's going to happen. I've also realized we need to hear more from Chris, our male character. We really get to know Ashley in the first day. The second day should be about getting to know Chris. After our rehearsal for Day Two today, however, I realized we need more scenes that focus on Chris' side of this story. Excited and anxious about Day Two!
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.