“Would you be a leader for one of the groups during the drama festival?”
It seemed like an innocuous request. After checking my class and curriculum schedules, I agreed. Before I knew it, I was carried away in a 3-day adventure of guiding students through the artistic process of modifying a fairy tale into their own creation of a playlet.
There we sat on Day 1 with the fairy tale in hand, reading through the story my group had selected. In observing this little assembly of 6-8th graders struggle to just read and comprehend the 2-page fairy tale, it was unclear to me how they would eventually generate an original script of their own. However, trusting the guidelines of our amazing drama teacher, I embarked on the coaching process of encouraging the students to brainstorm about themes, characters, plot, and setting. Ere long they were engaged and their story began to unfold! What a thrill to take a step back and let them share ideas and create.
At one point students were given the task to take what they had and just start acting it out. They stood there looking at me like, “Seriously? What are we supposed to say?” However, shortly their improvisation skills took hold and slowly a script began to emerge!
Indeed the classic story of Rumplestiltskin was evolving into a modern tale of an evil mother, a cash-generating printer, a daughter, homeless children, and a new Rumplestilitskin.
Throughout Day 2 the students continued to develop characters and refine their script. It was amazing to see how far they’d come since 8:30 the morning before! Then they began to think about props and staging. One of them had a great idea for making a jail. To work we went and it turned out perfectly!
One boy requested more lines. As we were developing his character I made a suggestion for him to insert a line about an idea the students were throwing around. He responded, “Why me?” and I reminded, “You asked for more lines.” “Oh yeah,” he replied. The students practiced their play and coached and encouraged each other throughout the process. For me the biggest challenge was to make them to SPEAK OUT!
On Day 3 we faced the tech rehearsal. Two of the students in the group were assigned to the tech role in which they downloaded and assembled sound effects for the play. So, the rest of the group had come up with ideas for the tech boys and we arrived at our rehearsal prepared to try it all out. However, the tech teacher approached me with the question, “What lighting cues do you have?” This is when the realization hits me that I am totally out of my element. “Well, what are my options?” After he responds, I attempt to give him some perspective by saying, “This is like me asking you to fill in the blank. Van der Waals, Schroedinger, or Sertoli. You choose. Pick one.” He laughed out loud but still couldn’t fully grasp that I remained clueless.
In any case, we survived the tech rehearsal and the students walked away slightly more confident having tried everything out on the stage. After a few minor adjustments and last minute preparations, they were ready to perform!
Along with four other groups who had undergone the same transformation over the 3-day period of the drama festival, my students performed their piece late in the afternoon to our parent and student community. All five performances were entertaining and unique! It was a huge success and each group came off the stage flushed with excitement.
It’s true, the students missed three days of classes but they gained much from the experience including, but not limited to: empowerment from the creative process, benefits of collaboration, joy in helping each other out, satisfaction of accomplishment, challenge in putting together a story, skill of scripting, and the thrill of performing. Yes, as a science teacher I once again advocate for the arts. Students need these adventures as much as they need lessons of math and science.
After their performance, as our group was waiting for the others to finish, one student (who just a week ago claimed he was too nervous to act) said to me, “You know what the best part about this was? Well, all three days and then the moment just before the curtain went up for us to perform" Doesn’t that say it all? Support the arts!