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A Medley of Video Clips
In my 48 year practice as a teaching artist directing performances and leading workshops in schools, at conferences, and in theatres across the country, there were very few times when the work I was doing was video-taped. I am including some of the older footage because it illustrates important skills that can be better understood by viewing a teaching artist at work. Hopefully, the clips contain information that will be helpful.
Group Pictures: A Warm-up for Dramatizing Poetry and Stories
In this footage from Stonybrook University taped in 1988, I worked with students in the upper elementary grades. Here, actors were asked to get into small groups and to become certain words or phrases. This exercise is a great way to demonstrate that an actor can become anything in a poem. Becoming a UFO or a sailboat in a storm will help students to be comfortable with connecting physically with those in the group, and it prepares them to think more creatively about how to act out the poems they will soon be dramatizing.
Leading Students in Writing and Dramatizing their Own Poetry
Next in this medley of clips are several segments that show a group of 4th-6th graders writing their own poetry to my prompts and then acting out two poems. If you are looking for ways to lead students grades 2 and up into writing their own poems and to move them away from thinking that poetry has to rhyme, please view three prompts I used in this workshop.
The Imagination Box
In the next segment, I am demonstrating a simple exercise in which I gather students in a circle and then put down an imaginary box. This “Imagination Box” is filled with whatever we take out of it. Sometimes children will think of their own item to take out of a box. Once something is demonstrated, they will often take out the same item someone else did. If I find a child wants to engage, but cannot think of his own item to take out, I will whisper an idea into his ear and ask the group to hum while I do that. Depending on the age and on the group, students will come up with their own ideas. I even have children stand in a circle, reach into the box in the middle of the circle, and then take out bigger items like a motorcycle. In that way, they can ride around the room, or climb on top of a horse and cantor around the circle. This is, of course, a good exercise for developing the imagination in young children.
A Closer Look at Narrating Poetry
This video clip of Ogden Nash’s Adventures of Isabelle is taken from our original show On the Wings of Time which was toured throughout the San Diego Schools. We never knew who we would receive when a group selected by teachers came to us in the early morning, eager to perform. As you can see from the video clips on this website, the creative spirit of some children come forth immediately, while other students take more time to relax and show their creativity. Regardless of this reality, it is important to let them know with your words or your positive energy that you believe in their ability to create, and that you believe in each student. Children pick this up non-verbally. Teenagers pick this up non-verbally. There is an unspoken dialogue between facilitator and learner that says, “You can do this. I believe in you.” Again, the children you see here acting out an excerpt from Nash’s poem were greeted that morning by two enthusiastic teaching artists who went through the show, poem by poem, in one hour and then performed with the young actors in the next hour. When there is confidence on the part of narrator/director and a high expectation that students will succeed, I believe this brings out the best in students. Watch in this piece the way the narrator pauses to let the actors respond to each passage verbally and non-verbally. You will find that there is a dance between the narrator and the actors, whether dramatizing a scene from history, a poem, or a story. You may decide to choose a student to be the narrator. When doing so, remember to help your narrator to watch the action of the actors moving and responding to the phrases and to give them time so that the actors do not feel rushed in responding to the poem or to the story.
The Energy Game
In this video clip, educators of the deaf and hard of hearing in the San Diego Schools were involved in a professional development workshop with me. Here they are learning a simple exercise, like the Imagination Box game, that will help develop the imagination of their students. Notice the role of music in supporting the teachers while they create.
Dramatizing a Story
While living in California, I did a lot of work with the deaf and hard of hearing population and was asked if I would lead deaf students together with hearing students who had severe language orders. In five afternoons, we created an original story called Bread and Confidence. The project took place at San Diego State University and the interview was led by Darlene Davies, a speech pathologist at the university. Hopefully, the video clip will give you some ideas when dramatizing a story with your students.
A Few Lovely Moments Captured
So often we see performances at elementary schools and even on television and in films where the children are cute, and yet the performances are not authentic. By that I mean that we see the actor at work, rather than being moved by the characters and the poem or the plot unfolding. I never want student actors “to act” because this is what keeps authentic performances from happening onstage.
And I say to them, “Don’t act, but rather act 'as if' you are the character. What does this character want in this scene? What keeps him from getting what he wants?” Of course, these kinds of words are shared as the students are old enough to understand. The younger ones will become their character naturally. And so out of this old but helpful medley of clips, I share some moments of authentic performances. The first is from a production of The Wind in the Willows in Brattleboro, VT, where we meet an exuberant Toad. The second lovely moment is an excerpt from the film Poems of Wonder and Magic. It won several awards and aired on KPBS television in San Diego, and I was honered to direct the children in reading and dramatizing poetry from the early 1900’s. Here are two of the actors in “The Child Next Door.”