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Themed Theater: Expressions of the Third-Culture Experience

By Kelly McKay
Themed Theater: Expressions of the Third-Culture Experience

Themed Theater is a strategy for educators. A theme is chosen, by the teacher and/or students, and a script is written based on the theme. For this project, we chose the theme “Third-Culture Experience.” Students were given the opportunity to explore characteristics of the Third-Culture Experience while developing their Introduction to Acting/Public Speaking skills and attitudes. Three Introduction to Acting/Public Speaking classes participated in this project. During the initial sessions, students brainstormed the meaning of the Third-Culture Experience. Discussions included questions such as, “Could I be a third-culture kid if I have lived here my whole life?” and, “How many countries does one have to live in to be considered a third-culture kid?” We discussed the meanings of the Third-Culture Experience and how meanings may differ, depending on an individual’s experiences. Several of the groups’ definitions were exceptional. Students then created a list of subthemes, which included acceptance, culturally coping, respect, a sense of belonging, home, perspectives, adaptability, identity, diversity, new experiences, change, connections, rejection, lifestyles, feelings, challenges, and more. Students voted on the most important subthemes to be the focus of the class’s production. Each class chose similar subthemes; group size ranged from two to seven students. The subtheme groups are below, according to each Block/Class: Block B = Acceptance, Culturally Coping, Home, Identity, Perspectives & Adaptability, Respect, Sense of Belonging Block C = Acceptance & Identity, Diversity, Feelings, Home, New Experiences, Rejection & Racism Block E = Acceptance, Change, Coping, Diversity, Lifestyles, Open-Mindedness, Respect As you can see from the list above, the same subthemes exist in a few of the Blocks. This is pure coincidence, and demonstrates that similar issues exist for all students. We can then assume that students care for and value the subthemes. Also, each student confidentially selected which group to join. This allowed each student to have ownership of his or her learning; more is invested into writing and working together to express the subtheme when students are given choice. Each group established essential agreements about how they would work collaboratively toward a common purpose. Students then viewed a variety of public speaking and theater examples to explore ways to present information. We viewed poetry slams, skits, debates, movement/dance pieces, poetry readings, and short speeches. After that, group script writing began. Students were encouraged to write in their first languages. The scripts were written, rewritten, organized, edited, reorganized, rehearsed, and edited again. For most groups, writing the script and deciding how the piece would be presented was the most challenging part of the process. It was imperative that every group member participate. After a few sessions reading the script aloud, students edited and presented the draft to the class. Others gave verbal/written feedback. Below is an example of a script end, with the subtheme “New Experiences.” The beginning of the piece explains the difficulties when you move to another school or country. At the end, positive elements of “New Experiences” are expressed: Ronald: New experiences can be hard. Zara: But they can also be rewarding. Sara: But you won’t get the reward unless you put in the effort. Zara & Ronald: But you won’t get the reward unless you put in the effort. Sara: It’s true. ALL: It’s new. Ronald: There are many positive outcomes. Zara: New friends. Sara: Learning a new language. Ronald: Progress. Zara: New passions. Sara: New achievements. Ronald: Personal growth. Zara: New beginnings. ALL: And finally. Sara: New experiences. ALL: It’s new. In the performance process, students developed skills and attitudes through vocal warm ups and public speaking/theater activities. Memorization techniques were applied. Students were encouraged to add creative resources including video, slides, hand-held LED colored lights, use of different-sized black boxes, stage lights, costumes, props, flags, mirrors, and more. Each Block performed the Themed Theater productions for members of the American International School – Riyadh school community. Classes from Grade 3 through High School signed up to attend. The feedback was very positive. “Each group was clever and different, but all of the pieces were based on the same values and all ideas connected.” – MS Teacher “It is so important that students are able to express their thoughts without feeling they will be judged.” – MS Teacher “The performances connected to the Global Citizenship learning we are doing and I love how students spoke in their mother tongue.” – HS Teacher “It was authentic and emotional. The students loved it.” – MS Teacher In conclusion, “We were able to fit different ideas into our poem. Diversity is something most of the students in our school are subjected to, because AIS-R is a completely diverse community. Therefore, students are able to realize how acceptance and respect of other cultures can influence them.” – HS Student/Performer. Kelly McKay teaches High School Theater at American International School – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has also taught in the Philippines, Germany, Japan, Zambia, Bangladesh, and Ghana.

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