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Prepare to Act: a One-of-a-Kind Theater Class

By Christa F. Eleftherakis
17-Jun-14
Prepare to Act: a One-of-a-Kind Theater Class


Above: Ms. Eleftherakis’ three musketeers, doing what teenagers do best (photo: ECA).
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It was every drama teacher’s worst nightmare. Last August, my class roster was dangerously empty. For various reasons, instead of the usual seven to ten students, I had just one student enroll.
My immediate thought was, “How can I teach a class, let alone one based on performance, with just one kid?” Luckily two other students enrolled shortly thereafter, and by then I had formulated the solution to our problem: the collaborative class website.
At its barest level, theatre requires two basic elements: performers to create a show, and an audience to observe it. With just three students, it would be impossible to maintain a sustainable balance of performance and peer-critique throughout a semester-long course. That is when I explained our solution to my students: we would take our class work and projects to the internet.
When you cannot bring an audience to the performance, then you bring the performance to the audience. If nothing else, it was an exciting and daunting challenge.
As an ensemble, the students and I developed a collaborative framework. We learned about a specific topic, rehearsed, researched and performed together as a class, then took what we learned to the web in an attempt to “teach” this information to others their own age. In our case, our three students also happened to be bilingual, so we had the unexpected layer of targeting students from French, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking countries.
This certainly added an extra challenge, as each student was expected to both instruct and comment artistically and constructively in both English and their mother tongue.
Class assignments and assessments consisted of both written and filmed projects. Generally speaking, I am hesitant to combine film with theatre. To begin with, they are separate art forms and have different theories, histories, and acting styles. It could be argued that as soon as you film a theatrical production, you are removing the essential experience of participating in the live event and therefore compromising the integrity of the performance.
But on a more realistic and immediate level, I find students often mimic certain actors they see on TV or film and create a superficial copy of that character rather than formulate an organic, authentic study understood on their own level.
Outside the area of drama, however, this may not be a realistic concern. Other disciplines may actually encourage the opportunity for students to film themselves or create more web-based projects on a more regular basis. This has applications in practically all disciplines, even in ones where the teacher has good reason to be hesitant about filming.
So how did it work? Our class covered four units, which I found were easily convertible from my lesson plans from previous years. Throughout the semester students were responsible for uploading all assignments to a website in order to complete specific pages by given dates.
My students were also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the site which was not something I had originally planned for but found worked well in keeping them engaged. I opted for Weebly as our platform because of its easy formatting options, but there is a large variety of sites available that my suit individual teachers’ tastes and needs.
Though this experiment was done in a theatre class, it would easily be applied to any discipline. My students enjoyed the challenge of knowing all their work would be available to the public.
This realistic publication aspect raised the stakes and added an extra level of engagement to the project. And at the very least, my students appreciated the chance to do something totally different in one of their classes. l
Ms. Eleftherakis is IB Theatre Teacher at Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, Venezuela. To view the class website or to understand more about the process, visit http://prepare2act.weebly.com.




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