Paula Morell and I will facilitate an autobiographical writing and performance workshop for FREE! Hope you can make it!
A Safe Way for Writers to Perform
During the final week of Pulaski Technical College's Teen College, I co-taught with Paula Morrell of Tales From the South. I taught My Story (an autobiographical performance class), and Paula taught Journey Into Writing (a creative writing course). Most of our students consider themselves writers more than they consider themselves performers. Knowing we would be expected to present something for parents and invited guests at the sharing Friday morning, we devised an extremely safe way for our writers to perform.
The acting class decided to perform a mini-revue of *Wicked* songs, so Paula had the foresight to give her writing students a complementary prompt during the Teen College's first week. She asked students to write a prequel short story for one of the other characters in *The Wizard of Oz*--much like Jonathan Maguire did with the Wicked Witch of the West in *Wicked*. Two students co-wrote the story of the Scarecrow, and we staged it during the second week.
Given my knowledge of our students' comfort levels, I wanted to provide them with a way they could feel both safe and successful in staging the work. In devising with my AGS students this summer, I challenged them to consider alternative light sources, and two groups took accepted that challenge by using silhouette incredibly effectively. I thought silhouette would provide a comfortable way for our students to perform their work. They would be behind a sheet, after all. So we recorded students reading the story. Then two students (Scarecrow and Witch) volunteered to perform the tableaux which provided the visuals for the story. The students not involved in making tableaux on stage created live sound effects. Finally, we assigned another student to lower a green gel over the light for the Witch's entrance. It was a very cool, very comfortable performance for our writers!
Last week I taught Improv Insanity at Pulaski Technical College's Arkansas Teen College--a two week enrichment program for 6th-12th graders. Between large group warm-ups and large group rehearsals for a few songs from *Wicked,* I taught five students. We learned the basic rules of improv such as being spontaneous, accepting offers, and assuming our partner's brilliance through improv games and scenarios. Improv has technique just like acting, and improv technique can be particularly difficult for middle school age students in particular. One of the cardinal rules of improv is never to say no in a scene. If your partner says you're riding a horse, you don't say: "This is not a horse. This is an elephant." You must accept whatever your partner sets forth. Middle school students often operate in the negative with each other in everyday life--self-deprecating jokes, "harmless" put-downs, etc. Most of my students were middle school students, so we worked A LOT on the never say no rule. By the end of the week, I felt all students had improved...even if improvement meant simply speaking in front of others. I am constantly reminded how good theatre is for kids' self-confidence. Teaching Improv Insanity reinforced that belief.
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.