For our Creative Arts Playgroup, we read *Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock* again. Given our greater familiarity with the text, we acted parts out this week. We also created an Anansi watercolor/crayon resist/handprint. I got this idea from Art. Paper. Scissors. Glue! (http://art-paper-scissors.blogspot.com/2011/10/hand-print-spider-prints.html). We had a small but fun group. Below are the prints. I loved reading the book a second time, and
I started a Creative Arts Playgroup for Clem and other home-schooled kindergarteners. For our first meeting together, we read Kimmel's *Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock.* In the book, Anansi, the African trickster, tricks all the animals into saying the words "What a strange moss-covered rock!" over a magic rock. The animals immediately pass out after saying the magic words, and Anansi steals food from them. The Little Bush Deer watches Anansi's trickery and decides to give him a dose of his own medicine. We used collage and an overlay to create our own Little Bush Deers. Below you see some examples of our labor. Our first playgroup was so much fun. We look forward to getting to know each other better and creating more art together!
At Arkansas Governor's School this summer, my teacher partner, Christina Riggins, and I challenged ourselves and our students. We began by exploring acting technique through Sanford Meisner's teachings--something neither of us had thoroughly engaged before. The students really connected with Meisner's emphasis in "doing" and the present moment. As we turned our attention to devising, we researched several physical theatre companies and performances. The Off-Balance Theatre Company's production of Robin Hood particularly intrigued us. The entire story is performed by six actors on a small, rectangular piece of plywood. They use creative stage pictures and vocals to create all the settings. It is one of the most interesting pieces of theatre I've seen. We decided to incorporate their limitations into our devised piece. We limited our playing space for most of the performance to a small circle on the Hendrix stage. All twenty-six actors had to be on stage the entire time creating stage pictures and vocals. We explored classical myths. As with last year's work at AGS, I pieced together the script from student writings. One of the additions that increased the production value of this piece was that the AGS choir provided live choral music for three critical moments. Their contributions were beautiful and added so much to our work. This was one of the hardest and most rewarding theatre experiences I've had, and this group of students was one of the easiest, most open, engaging group of students I've had. What a privilege it is to teach drama at Arkansas Governor's School.
We used the Pandora myth as our frame. Above we see Pandora about to open the box.
Once the box is opened, a snake of destruction is released and Zeus revels in Pandora's weakness.
Here Prometheus looks on the plight of humanity with pity.
In the midst of destruction, Eurydice and Orpheus fall in love.
Prometheus begs Zeus for fire on behalf of the people.
Hera encases Echo in stone.
Eurydice is bitten by a snake and taken to the Underworld on her wedding day, and Orpheus begs Hades to let him bring her back.
Prometheus gets fire for the people. Behind him, you get a good idea of the style of our piece as the other students morphed from the trees, water, and stone Prometheus struggles through.
In our version, Medusa throws herself on Perseus' knife.
In our version, Epinetheus rats Prometheus out to Zeus. Here, Epinetheus begs forgiveness from Prometheus bound to the rocks.
Hope is the last thing that leaves Pandora's box. In the end of our piece, we see that hope in the form of butterflies dropped from the ceiling and these words from Pandora:
I saw no reason to stay ignorant
Zeus gave the box to me. I decided
I am the mistress of its destiny.
So I opened it.
But after the horrors were unleashed into the world,
Something unexpected happened.
What Zeus forgot is that when encaged by darkness,
Humans will seek the light.
Sometimes we discover it.
Sometimes we reveal it.
Sometimes we steal it.
And sometimes we create it.
But we always know there is light.
Let there be light.
Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, I visited Arkansas High School in Texarkana, Arkansas. The Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council (TRACH) hired me to provide one-on-one professional development to the drama teacher there. My charge was to lead her through the devising process with her students. Devising and physical theatre techniques were very new for the students, but they stretched themselves and created a performance to tour to middle schools by the end of the year. I absolutely loved working with TRACH and the drama teacher with who I was paired. TRACH truly embraces best practices!
In the spring of last year, I conducted a series of workshops exploring seasons with the P4 classes at Rockefeller Early Childhood Center. This was my foray into one of the latest crazes in children's theatre--"baby" theatre. The culmination of the workshops was a performance created through the students' input. I used shadow puppetry to tell the story of Baby Bird as he experienced the seasons for the first time in his nest. Much kudos goes to Heather Gifford whose acting and technical help was invaluable to me!
Last November, I had the pleasure to speak at the Arkansas Community Theatre Association's conference. I presented a talk on how they might meaningfully engage their communities in a theatre production through strategic partnerships and interactive workshops. This opportunity was especially meaningful to me because the event took place in my home town community theatre--the Morrilton Rialto.
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!
Last week, the 2012 AGS drama students had their first performance. My teaching partner, Christina Riggins, and I wanted our students to focus on basic acting techniques such as goal, obstacle, tactics, beats, characterization, vocal energy and intention, and physicality. We also wanted students to dig their heels into a text. In this case, we chose Shakespeare's *The Tempest.* Shakespeare is challenging; however, AGS students are truly gifted, and they demonstrated that giftedness in how quickly they understood the text and gained command of the language. We gave them the added challenge of performing at an outdoor site of their choice on Hendrix's beautiful campus. They had to not only use the site as a backdrop but consider how the architecture could contribute to their blocking choices. On the evening of the performance, Christina and I led the audience from site to site, making our way through chronological scenes from the play, each performed by a different group, and unified through common costuming colors and pieces as well as physical and vocal choices for common characters. In the end, this turned out to be a very useful exercise for our students, and I loved the malleable nature of the text. It lent itself to gender-blind casting so well. This project is a keeper!
Above Prospero explains to Miranda why he conjured the tempest.
The victims of the tempest discuss their dire straits.
Ferdinand and Miranda swear their love for one another.
Caliban tastes liquor for the first time and declares Stephano, the provider of said liquor, his god.
Prospero finally approves Miranda and Ferdinand's relationship.
Prospero makes amends with everyone, including the audience, in the end.
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.