Thursday, 8 September 2016

Artist Toolbox: Sticky stuff


It's early in the year and you are building an ensemble in your class. Would you like to hear about an activity which you might not have heard of? Sure you would!

Well, the first activity I have for you is called the Helium Stick, and you could use it in pretty much any class or group to help build teamwork and communication.

  • First, get the group to line up in two rows which face each other.
  • Introduce the Helium Stick- a long, thin, lightweight pole with tennis balls stuck on the ends.
  • Ask participants to point their index fingers and hold their arms out.
  • Lay the Helium Stick down on their fingers.  Make sure that everyone's index fingers are touching the stick.
  • Explain that the challenge is to lower the Helium Stick to the ground.
  • The catch: Each person's fingers must be in contact with the Helium Stick at all times. Pinching or grabbing the pole in not allowed - it must rest on top of fingers.
  • Reiterate to the group that if anyone's finger is caught not touching the Helium Stick, the task will be restarted. Let the task begin....
  • Warning: Particularly in the early stages, the Helium Stick has a habit of mysteriously 'floating' up rather than coming down, causing much laughter.
  • To be successful the group needs to calm down, concentrate, and very slowly, patiently lower the Helium Stick - easier said than done.

students working on the challenge

A success? Great!
Would you like another one? Even greater!

This next activity is a good one for partner work and can be extended into performance material as a further step.

  • First, split the group into pairs. Preferably with partners they know the least.
  • Give each pair two (30cm) sticks
  • Students hold the sticks between their index fingers and try not to let them drop.
  • They are not allowed to pinch or hold the sticks with their other digits. The pressure they put on the sticks with their index fingers should be enough.
  • Challenge the students to explore the range of movements they have with these restrictions: Can they twist around? Step over the sticks? Lay down together? Balance?
  • After 5 minutes of exploration, ask them to share their best 'stunt' with the group. If they're trying something particularly difficult, commend them on going all out for the glory!

  • First, split the group into pairs. Preferably with partners they know the least.
  • Once you have done this, if you want to take it further, ask students to practice three moves, which are combined into a routine or phrase. 
  • They practice with the sticks but when they share their phrase with the group they will do it without the sticks. In performance they must still have the same concentration as if they were still using the sticks however.
  • As an added twist, students can experiment with changing the length of the imaginary sticks. What happens if their stick is super tiny or really long? What happens to the phrase if the sticks shrinks or grows half way through.
  • Add some interesting music and watch what happens...
  • Ask the audience to feedback with their interpretations of the performances. Did the performance remind them of anything? Were there stories that emerged? A particular theme or idea?
If one or both of those activities is a new one to you then I'm happy! They certainly provided my students with some important learning moments.
And remember, if you get stuck, use a stick to get unstuck!

(Yeah, I just made that up.)


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