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 this particular group's rights, or that 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 that as privileged, well-educated, young citizens of the world that 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 practice 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...

Artist Toolbox: Immersive Performance Tasks


























This is the story of two lovers. Princess Orihime, the seamstress, wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way. Because Orihime worked so hard weaving beautiful clothes, she became sad and despaired of ever finding love. Her father, who was a God of the heavens, loved her dearly and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens.
Orihime’s father became angry and forbade the lovers to be together, but Orihime pleaded with him to allow them to stay. He loved his daughter, so he decreed that the two star-crossed lovers could meet once a year--on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime returned to her weaving. On the first day they were to be reunited, they found the river (Milky Way) to be too difficult to cross. Orihime became so despondent that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge for her.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Artist Toolbox: How To Learn Your Lines Faster


Learning lines (or not) can be one of the biggest challenges faced by a cast of actors. If someone doesn't know their lines, rehearsals can grind to a painful pace, shows can fall apart and tensions can form in the ensemble rapport. So what can actors do to help overcome this challenge?

Well, one solution is right there in your pocket.

Most people own or have access to some kind of device with voice recording ability -smartphones, computers, even a cheap dictaphone. Using recording tech like this can rapidly increase the speed at which you learn your lines and (just as importantly) your cue lines.

What you need to do is to record everyone else's lines from the scenes you are in, leaving timed silences in your recording for the places when you speak. For example, take this scene I did from Peter Pan The British Musical. In the show I played the role of Hook, so to learn my lines I recorded every line except Hook's. I just used my own voice, sort of did a bit of an accent to distinguish between characters but didn't spend too long worry about the quality of it.

As you can hear, there are long pauses in the audio, and this is so that I can play the track back in real time while practicing my lines at home. I listen to my cue lines then try to repeat my lines back from memory in the relevant pauses. If I forget a line, I simply check my script, start the track over and do it again. Always, I try to do as much as possible without looking at my script. I'll have it open beside me if possible, but try not to look at if I can.

This process drastically speeds up the line learning process and makes sure that cue lines are also learned. A few evenings spent doing this and you can have whole scenes down before you know it!

Scene 1.8
          The Neverland. A forest clearing.
Music 12: Pirates’ Song

Pirates (enter singing; ) Avast Belay, Avast Belay, Avast Belay, A ……….vast belay, yo ho, heave ho A-pirating we go And if we’re parted by a shot We’re sure to meet below! The pirates enter singing, 4 pirates  carry James Hook, their captain, in a sedan chair. He lies at his ease.    He is carefully polishing his iron hook. In his mouth he has a holder which enables him to smoke two cigars at once. The pirate women follow the sedan chair
Yo ho, yo ho, the pirate life The flag o’skull and bones A merry hour, a hempen rope And hey for Davy Jones.

Nibs briefly returns to retrieve his bow before retreating back into the safety of the forestBut Starkey sights him, and quickly pulls his pistol out   ― but an iron claw grips his shoulder 

Starkey Captain, let go.
Hook Put back that pistol first.
Starkey It was one of those boys you hate. I could have shot him dead.
Hook Ay and the sound would have brought Tiger Lily’s natives upon us. Do you want to lose your scalp?
Smee brandishing his cutlass Shall I after him. Captain, and tickle him with Johnny Corkscrew? Johnny’s a silent fellow.
Hook Not now, Smee. He is only one and I want them all.
Smee All of them! (to the rest of the pirates) The captain wants THEM ALL!
Pirates Ay ― let’s get them all.
General murmuring of agreement
Smee So ― unrip your plan, Captain.
Hook The plan is simple; to return to the ship and cook a large rich cake of a jolly thickness with green sugar on it. We will leave the cake on the shore of Mermaids’ Lagoon. The boys are always swimming about there talking to the mermaids. They will find the cake and they will gobble it up because, having no mother, they don’t know how dangerous ‘tis to eat rich damp cake.
The Pirates laugh. Hook gives a particularly gruesome laugh (pointedly) They will die.
Smee It’s the wickedest, prettiest policy ever I heard of Cap’n…..And how d’you reckon to make a rich, damp cake?

Music 13: Rich, Damp Cake
Hook Well, what are you standing around here for? Go to it, you swabs.  Scatter and look for them! The pirates scatter and exit  SR
Sedan chair carried off USL
Smee, Starkey, Cecco, BillJ stay with Hook

It’s the wickedest, prettiest policy ever I heard of Cap’n…..

Monday, 20 March 2017

Directive-Response-Response: complete lesson plan


- a strategy for collaborative creation
Workshop by Carl Robinson (with Cat Leclerc)

This workshop has been written for teachers here, but could easily be adapted for students learning about devising.

Directive-Response-Response is a strategy for collaboratively developing creative work, be it drama, art, music, writing or otherwise, in which students’ contributions are remixed and re-imagined by the collective over multiple iterations. The resulting work which is produced becomes ‘inextricably linked’ to each and every contribution which formed it, creating a rich and complex product at the end of the process. Touching upon the ideas of some contemporary performance makers (Goat Island/Forced Entertainment) and visual artists (Richard Serra), the workshop will be grounded in modern creative practices and principles.

This workshop is intended to give a basic introduction to the ideas and principles of some key contemporary performance makers (context here) and visual artists and provide participants with some exercises and techniques which can be used in a range of creative classes, not just the arts.

Photographs or other images (evocative images here)
Music (playlists available here)
Extract of non-fiction text (examples here)
Extract of fiction text. (example here)

Note: The timings stated here are shorter than the ideal, in order to fit into the 90 minute session time. Ideally you would take 2, if not more, sessions to complete these activities and to repeat presentations but with different music and in different styles allowing participants to experiment with timing, tone, speed, intensity, etc.

Step 1- First Directive -5 mins
Divide participants into groups of 4.
Give each group one of the four stimuli pieces (a photo, some music, non-fiction, or fiction). They read/listen/view this directive for 2 minutes, then give immediate statements of meaning (see Critical Response Process here).
  • I saw…
  • I heard…
  • I noticed…
  • I felt…
  • It reminded me of…
  • I wondered...

Step 2- Considered Responses -10 mins
Individually, participants respond to the their group’s directive by creating a new piece of art which is inspired by it.
✭ This could be in the form of a poem, a dance, a song, some music, a photo, a drawing, a list of words, some instructions, etc. The art should be inspired (directly or indirectly) by the directive.
✭ It does not need to be a ‘finished’ piece after 10 minutes, in fact it’s best to encourage participants to leave their work unfinished and incomplete so it can be grown by someone else in the next step.

Step 3- Group Sharing 1 -10 mins
✭ The group comes back together to share their work with each other.
✭ This sharing can be informal or formal, but it is worth keeping in mind that performance material often works best when it is ‘delivered’, with some ceremony. Participants might want to present their work (even if it is unfinished) in a formal way.
✭ Each individual presentation is followed by immediate statements of meaning.

Step 4- Response As New Directive -15 mins
✭ Individuals now select some or all of the material created in step 2 (by others, not their own material) and grow it. They can change, edit, add to, depart from, develop the material in any way they choose. It becomes the inspiration for a new piece of art.
✭ In the same way as step 2, individuals create a new piece of art in any medium they choose. It doesn’t need to be the same medium as they worked in for step 2, nor the same as the medium of the material they are currently responding to.  
✭ Richard Serra’s verb list can provide interesting suggestions of how to develop material. Try adding friction to a song, or hooking and heaping your movements.
✭ Any attachments to the first directive should be put to the back of the mind in this step. Allow new connections, themes and ideas to emerge from the material that the other participants have created.

Step 5- Group Sharing 2 -5 mins
✭  The small groups get back together to share their work amongst themselves.
✭  If there is time available, give immediate statements of meaning. If not, go straight to the next step.

Step 6- Compose -15 mins
✭ Each group must now compose the material they have created into a structure that makes sense and rehearse it ready to present to the whole group.
✭ It can use some or all of the material, including the material created in step 2 and/or the original directive material (if useful).
✭ Parts can be organised sequentially, overlapping, juxtaposed, etc.
✭ This is a short amount of time, so quick decisions must be made. The piece doesn’t need to ‘make sense’ or have a concrete narrative running through it. It’s just a structure within which the material can be shared.
✭ Finally, if there is time, groups should consider the beginning and the end of their presentation, thinking about the way that they will open and close their performance with a *full stop*.

Step 7- Full group sharing -15-30 mins
✭ Each group presents their work, using any materials/music/staging that they were able to throw together.
✭ If there’s enough time, allows the audience to offer immediate statements of meaning after each presentation.

Step 8- Reflect -5-10 mins
✭ What is challenging, exciting, surprising about working in this way?
✭ Which ideas, themes, thoughts emerged unexpectedly while working collaboratively?

✭ Which are the other mediums of creativity that this can apply to?