Friday 7 June 2019

Showtime! Resources for the director/stage manager


It's showtime! Preparing for a school show can be stressful, with so many moving parts and people to coordinate. So, here are some of the useful documents I've collected/created over the past few years teaching drama. If you are a new drama teacher or looking to refine your process, these may come in useful. Click on the title of each document to access a GoogleDrive link.

(Thanks to James Lehmann for many of these. Credit also to Ellie Bryce.)

Cast and Crew Call Sheet

A list of the possible roles and responsibilities for a show, with space to add contact details for quickly reaching people during rehearsals, etc.

Rehearsal Schedule

A quick setup for planning your rehearsal schedule. Quick tip: If you have a large cast, divide your script into parts (4 or 5 for example) to rehearse on different days so not everyone is required all the time. It makes it much easier than managing a large group. 

Scene Map by Character

See who is in which scene at a glance. Useful for the cast to see their trajectory through the piece, and for your Stage Manager to call cast to the stage during rehearsals. 

Properties List

List all the props and their locations, quantities, notes, etc. 

Sound Cues List

Sound cues list, with scene numbers, pages, and cue notes. 

Show Start-Up Procedure

This one would need adapting to your own theatre set-up, but it is a comprehensive look at what needs to happen in the run up to the show. A good starting point to build your own version at least!

Hopefully you find one or two of these useful. If you have other documents in this same vain, I'd love to see them!

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Exploring nonsense stories through Drama: Building the town


This is a follow up to my previous post, where I introduce this unit of work based on imaginative storytelling.

I have now started this scheme with my Grade 2 students and so far we have read the first half of the poem together. We began to discuss the meaning of the new made-up words that we encountered. Some ideas began to take shape in our first session; the Cannerlee could be a statue, or some precious material, or a machine used to produce food; the Lizzerbee an amphibian, or a monster. Soon we'll also have ideas for the Kort, the Fuzznillers and the Snick.

Didn’t you hear about the Lizzerbee?
It came in the morning for the town’s Cannerlee.
Though the town didn’t see, nor hear, nor know,
So the Kort sent a crew to the land capped in snow.

A boat soon was crafted, to sail away,
On a mighty adventure for eleventy days,
With dangers to dodge, Fuzznillers to flee,
But the town truly wished to return the Cannerlee.

The chief of the crew, with her stinging Snick,
Kept it hidden from sight, in a sack close and quick.
The rest they held tightly, their spirits free,
As the ship left the port to a miserly sea.

But before continuing further in the story, I wanted the groups to develop a shared vision of the town and then to begin inhabiting it, role playing out the story as it develops. To facilitate this, I built on my idea of a Magic Imagination Ball (introduced in this post) where each student can pantomime the creation of an object by 'molding' their magic ball, which helps us all to visualize it and position it in our mental map of the town.  

In an earlier session this semester, I handed Magic Imagination Balls to the new students in the groups, then we explored using them through the collective creation of an imaginary garden. Sitting in a circle in the classroom, I asked each student to add one thing to the garden inside our circle. They pantomimed the object, giving it shape, weight, movement and meaning, then showing where it was positioned in space. The objects and animals in each garden varied from cherry trees to skyscrapers, from hamsters sitting on floaties in a pool to velociraptors, from garden sheds to strings of fairy lights. As the picture is built step-by-step, we are able to construct a clear visual image in our heads which we visualize in the classroom. We then went on to write stories, draw pictures and tell tales about the events that may have taken place in this garden.

So when it came to building the town, we already had an idea of how we could do it. After reading through the poem and a short discussion, we divided the class into small groups and each group had a few minutes to discuss what they would add to their part of the town, then practice pantomiming it in the space. Each group then introduced their section and soon we had a town hall mapped over one of the tables, a statue of a previous mayor in a corner, a bakery by the whiteboard, a council fire on the carpet, a museum by the sink, and so on. 

Now, as we continue with our story, we have 'real' places to inhabit and role-play in; I can send a group to the town hall to for a meeting; we can have council by the fire while 'eating' bread from the bakery. And as the town has been created collectively, it is also remembered collectively between sessions. I can ask "What's in this corner of the room?" and at least 5 hands will shoot up in the air with answers. 

The next session will be this first chance to role-play. We will start to find roles and responsibilities for everyone in the town, we will discuss and debate and we will soon head out on our adventure. 

Saturday 8 September 2018

Exploring nonsense stories through Drama


A few years ago, I had the pleasure of learning from the impelling Debra Kidd at an ISTA event. During a masterclass, she introduced us to a scheme of work using Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky poem. Through inquiry, dramatic role-playing, storytelling and literary deconstruction, she uses the nonsense words and adventurous story to develop students' investigative skills, language, empathy, creativity, presentation skills, collaboration and more.

I've always wanted to try out this scheme, I just haven't had the perfect opportunity yet. But this year, starting a new program of Expressive Arts in Grade 2, I saw a chance. The Jabberwocky is a wonderfully rich poem, full of juicy, evocative language however, I felt it was perhaps going to be more challenging for this younger group, and for the students for whom English is their second, third, even fourth language.

I searched online for a similar poem, one that was a little lighter on the nonsense words but still had a rich story with some possibilities for conflict, intervention and discussion. Though The Spangled Pandemonium has a mythical beast to investigate, The Owl And The Pussy-Cat has the strange land and the journey, The Walrus And The Carpenter has points of discussion and plenty of nonsense, I came across none with everything I wanted. So, what else to do but have a go at writing one myself...

I give you- Didn't You Hear About The Lizzerbee?

Didn’t you hear about the Lizzerbee?
It came in the morning for the town’s Cannerlee.
Though the town didn’t see, nor hear, nor know,
So the Kort sent a crew to the land capped in snow.

A boat soon was crafted, to sail away,
On a mighty adventure for eleventy days,
With dangers to dodge, Fuzznillers to flee,
But the town truly wished to return the Cannerlee.

The chief of the crew, with her stinging Snick,
Kept it hidden from sight, in a sack close and quick.
The rest they held tightly, their spirits free,
As the ship left the port to a miserly sea.

They came to the shore, the boat they did beach,
Then trudged through the trilling, ‘till a cave they did reach.
A snow bank took clearing, revealing the lair,
And a sign of foreboding, “Lizzerbee- Beware!”

Yet, the cavern lay empty, the beast had gone,
And a trace of the Cannerlee, the crew found none.
Just a message left, encrypted in moen,
“I needed the Cannerlee, to feel less alone.”

Mysterious Dark Music- Youtube

The poem is designed to have two parts, split up and only revealed across at least two sessions. The first part until the ship sails, then the twist of the ending as the second part. There are eight nonsense words to investigate and for the group to develop their own meanings from: Lizzerbee, Cannerlee, Kort, Eleventy, Fuzznillers, Snick, Trilling, Moen. Also, some possibly new vocab to discover and interpret: capped, trudged, miserly, foreboding, encrypted.

What is the Lizzerbee? What does it look/sound/move like? What's a Cannerlee and why does the town want it back, so badly? Is a Kort a group of people, or just one? What are Fuzznillers and why do you need to flee them? What is a Snick used for? What are the material properties of trilling? What is moen and how do you create codes with it?

Part 1

We will use the poem to develop our own mythology of the town and then role-play the events of the story. Did we already know about the Lizzerbee before it came? Had we made preparations, defenses? Why didn't we see, hear, know it at first? We will create personas for everyone within the town, jobs and hierarchies, families and groups. Who should be the Kort? We will make the boat, (perhaps turning the actions of building into dance moves set to a funky beat), form a crew and get ready to leave. Then lastly, at the end of this session or sessions, full of emotion and expectation, we will set sail into the miserly sea.

Part 2

Expectations and assumptions established, we will arrive at the land capped in snow. Is this the first time someone has been here? Does anyone else inhabit this place? We will abandon the boat and head off to find the lair of the Lizzerbee. Using physical actions, sounds, perhaps some maps or created sets we will explore this new land. What challenges, obstacles, wildlife and peoples will we discover along the way? Finally, we will have reached the cave, only to discover that the beast is not there! How does the crew react to this? Only on closer inspection is a message discovered, in the moen (heather?), which after decryption (a chance to sidestep into some codebreaking/numeracy) reveals that the Lizzerbee took the Cannerlee to alleviate its own loneliness. How do we feel now? Should we continue our search for the Lizzerbee or let it be? Who needs the Cannerlee more?

For now, this scheme is just a plan, though soon to be initiated. I'll update and extend as and when. My thanks to Debra for the invaluable lessons learned from her and please check out her blog for more great ideas.

Monday 16 October 2017

No Is Not Enough: Activism in the drama classroom


On my journey to school recently I've added some audiobooks to my playlists, in addition to the various podcasts I am already subscribed to (Radiolab, The Drama Teacher Podcast, Flash Forward, Under The Skin, to suggest a few). It's a great way to digest some content while otherwise doing basically nothing and I've been able to encounter some great new ideas this way.

The best thing I've listened to recently is an audiobook version of Naomi Klein's No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning The World We Need. In the book, Klein outlines some of the key factors that created social and political systems which Trump (and other global leaders) has been able to exploit while at the same time undermine so thoroughly. She then goes on to urge everyone who is currently fighting independently for any particular group's rights, or our planet's protection, to unite with a shared and common purpose.

“The crucial lesson of Brexit and of Trump’s victory, is that leaders who are seen as representing the failed neoliberal status quo are no match for the demagogues and neo-fascists. Only a bold and genuinely redistributive progressive agenda can offer real answers to inequality and the crises in democracy, while directing popular rage where it belongs: at those who have benefited so extravagantly from the auctioning off of public wealth; the polluting of land, air, and water; and the deregulation of the financial sphere.” 
 Naomi KleinNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

This book, which ties into many of the same messages in the podcasts I have been listening to since Trump's election and Brexit, has given me much food for thought and I've been reflecting on what I can start doing in my classroom and, not forgetting, personal life.

It is imperative that our students understand the need for a "genuinely redistributive progressive agenda" and as privileged, well-educated, young citizens of the world they have the responsibility and opportunity to offer positive alternatives to the current systems of power and wealth. As a drama teacher, I have always believed in collaborative methods of making work, but now even more I think we need to move further away from hierarchical, top-down methods of creating art. Traditional author > director > actor > crew hierarchies can be problematic; we need to use more egalitarian collaborative strategies as models and testing grounds for how our students can practise embodying these ideas once they become young professionals, policy makers, leaders and visionaries in the future.

What are some of the ways this can look in practice? Directive-Response-Response, is a method of making art collectively, which provides an alternative to director-lead work. I believe it is also important to offer alternatives to the unidimensional narratives of most popular culture towards complex, multilayered, even potentially contradictory or confusing representations of real life. The most popular products of the West End, Broadway, Hollywood and television, though often compelling stories, many of which even with positive, progressive messages, do very little to incite real change in the world. Developing 'moment work' as Tectonic Theatre Project has been doing for many years, is a great way to build multi-layered work, which can encapsulate a much broader range of views and ideas.

"[...] Any opposition that is serious about taking on Trump, or other far-right forces like him around the world, must embrace the task of telling a new history of how we ended up here, in this perilous moment . A history that compellingly shows the role played by the politics of division and separation. Racial divisions. Class divisions. Gender divisions. Citizenship divisions. And a false division between humans and the natural world. Only then will it become possible to truly come together to win the world we need."
 Naomi KleinNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

We should also think beyond the constraints of just making performance work though. I have been reflecting on the way students reflect and give feedback to each other during the creative process.
Liz Lerman's Critical Response Format is a detailed and structured way for artists to receive feedback, which I've used previously with success, but even something as simple as employing Think-Pair-Share in my classroom has increased overall collaboration and engagement.

Beyond this, I think the single biggest thing we can do in our classrooms is encourage students to use their imaginations. To imagine new worlds, new possibilities; ones vastly different from what currently exists.

"With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it's clear that we need to draw a line in the sand and say "no more." Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along (aka the world that gave us Trump). It has to be somewhere we've never been before."
 Naomi KleinNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need 

Or as Douglas Adams wrote, "Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

The reimagining of classics with minor updates, the regurgitating of the same canon of playtexts, the 'tried and true' formulas of making theatre, these are no longer enough if we want to fix the most pressing problems of our world. What we need is something else, something new, a format beyond what is currently offered in the mainstream cinemas and theatres of the world. And who better to build this kind of theatre but our young people, still able to imagine and play, who's future is still very much ahead of them.

Friday 13 October 2017

Accelerating up to the IB: London TAPS with ISTA


This past weekend, IB Theatre students from ISB took part in the Theatre Arts Programme Symposium (or TAPS for short) in central London, to help accelerate their learning and prepare them for the IB. A weekend more packed than the stalls at The National Theatre, the organisers of the event once again provided our students with an unforgettable experience.

We began our trip on Sunday by watching two shows which we hoped would energise the students and ignite their creative drives for the upcoming event. Starting out with Cirque Eloize's Saloon was exactly what we needed. Gun-slingin' acrobatics, hilariously silly sketches and imaginative technical elements for an hour and half, and things certainly kicked off for us.

Then we headed over to the Arts Theatre, curious to find out if The Toxic Avenger would be any good. A rock-opera based on a notoriously dodgy 1984 film of the same name, we really hoped it wouldn't be a (toxic) waste of time.

Lucky for all, it was a huge success. We laughed so hard, sang along to the songs and reveled in the fun that the indie playhouse had put together. To top it all off, while getting ready to leave, we were surprised by an opportunity to meet the actors as they came outside. They signed shirts, answered questions and made the whole evening even better.

So day one had been amazing and now everyone was super psyched as the festival started in earnest. TAPS is essential to the success of our IB Theatre programme at ISB. It offers students an immersive event, acting as a fantastic resource for further explorations of the course back in school. Engaging each and every participant with the philosophy of the programme, its core components and the required assessment tasks, students mix with other schools and work alongside professional artists and directors on creative tasks and exercises. It provides our students with the tools and strategies required for managing their own learning in theatre, stuff they use throughout the rest of the course.
On top of all of that, ISTA handpicks two of the best shows London is presenting, providing us with a chance to see work collectively and then reflect on it critically. This year we saw two quite different, but definitely thought-provoking pieces in the form of Simon Stephens version of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, and Jane Eyre at The National Theatre.

The Seagull was a challenging three hours for our students overall, as the doomed characters painfully destroyed each others lives, but the piece offered us an abundance of ways to critically engage with it; from the actors' sometimes strange delivery, to questions about the directors intention, to the striking visuals of the set and staging.

Jane Eyre meanwhile was a bang-up-to-date portrayal of another timeless classic. "A picture of exultant feminism", the piece enthralled us all with gorgeous, unexpected visuals, modern music provided by cool, live band, and a powerful delivery from the ten deviser-performers. 

Thus, in the evenings we sat back and opened our minds to some wonderful theatre, and in the day the students made it...

Our ISB students were divided up into mixed groups with students from fifteen other international schools from around the world, and each ensemble worked alongside an artist leader who guided them through the creative tasks. They made comedy inspired by Commedia dell'arte, site-specific immersive theatre, devised and directed, reflected and reviewed. On top of all of this they were incredibly fortunate to have two masterclasses, one with Will Kerley on the art of directing; and one delivered by Made Pujawati on the Balinese artform of Kecak theatre

It's difficult to sum up all of the learning that takes place at an event like this. As well as the myriad of skills that students develop which relate to their course in the IB, there are huge leaps of personal development too; as the students take risks, explore new ideas, travel away from home, bond with strangers. The events that ISTA organise (both for our HS and MS students) fully embody the goals and pedagogy of ISB, and we are all incredibly lucky to have these kind of opportunities. 

So, as the year goes on, the memories of our time spent at TAPS will keep us energised and inspired through those cold winter months and beyond.

Monday 2 October 2017

48h Theatre Project


This past weekend, 21 Middle School students participated in the 48h Theatre Project at ISB. Starting at 4pm on Friday evening and finishing 4pm Sunday, it was an event of team-building, creativity, gaining confidence and having fun. In that time, the cast devised, prepared and rehearsed an original performance from start to finish. The final piece, titled Everyday Encounters, was presented as a promenade performance in which the audience was free to explore various spaces, while actors performed a mashup of solo movement scores, duet scenes and character development pieces.



But the event was much more than just a performance. As one student put it during the Q&A which followed the show, quoting Abraham Lincoln, "We spent a lot of the time building trust and confidence in each other, and I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said if you have 4 hours to cut down a tree, spend the first 3 hours sharpening the sword." 

Most of Friday evening was spent doing team building tasks, such as Shrinking Islands, and an exercise from Augusto Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors in which blindfolded participants are carefully moved around by their partner. The evening then culminated in watching West Side Story, before the special event of sleeping over at school together. 

After waking up and eating breakfast as an ensemble, a large part of Saturday morning was spent exploring expression through movement and gesture, using Anne Bogart's Viewpoints technique. Working in a full group exercise, we built images using elements of space, tempo, proximity, gesture, & voice. 

It's worth noting, that at this stage, students were still mostly in the dark about the content of the final performance but, without knowing it yet, were beginning to develop the necessary skills needed later in the day, and also to construct some of the early material which was then developed in the proceeding activities. 

The core devising task came after lunch on Saturday. As students took a break and played Werewolf, Sandie Pergallini and I gave a make-over to the two drama studios, the props/make-up room, and the dressing rooms; filling them with props, staging blocks, costumes, lighting and music, to create an actors playground in which a large-scale improvisation could take place. We also seeded the room with performance tasks, inspired by a workshop I took on site-specific, immersive performance with the (awesome) company Punchdrunk

For a list of example tasks, go to my post here.

It was sheer creative joy for over an hour, as the cast experimented with character, image, physicality and voice. Comedy duets formed, powerful and emotional stories were told, fragile lullabies were sung, and even a space filled with horrific screams and tales emerged. It was an exercise of risk-taking, of experimentation, and of students using a myriad of their skills and knowledge.

Much of the material created in this exercise became critical to our final performance, and for the rest of Saturday afternoon we began reflecting on, selecting, editing and developing the material, combining it with some of the work from early exercises until we more or less had the skeleton of a plan for the show.

That just left Sunday morning to smooth out the (many) wrinkles and to rehearse, before presenting our work to a full audience at 2pm.

The weekend was intense. Beautiful. Challenging. Full of student ownership and growth. A laugh a minute. Unforgettable. 

What/where knows you best?


"No one knows me like the piano in my mother's home
You would show me I had something some people call a soul
And you dropped out the sky, oh you arrived when I was three years old
No one knows me like the piano in my mother's home"
Sampha- (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano

Here's a prompt for your drama classes; for helping students get to know each other, for an autobiographical generating task.

What or where knows you best?

Is it a musical instrument that you've poured your soul into? Maybe a stage you've performed on a hundred times? Or it's your bedroom or garden or favourite place to hang out?

Present this space or object to the group. Present it without words. Reproduce a singular moment that occurred in that space/with that object.


For me, it's these back woods behind my childhood home and probably in the branches of one particular tree. So many memories made there and so many defining moments...