This past Monday evening, I was a guest lecturer at the CCNY Program in Educational Theater Teaching Literacy Through Drama graduate course. One of the assignments is The Diary Project; wherein, classmates create diary entries from their childhood and adapt them as monologues and/or scenes culminating in a devised performance.
To get them started on this project, I selected a playwriting icebreaker exercise from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play Curriculum called What’s In A Name? Each participant introduced themselves by substituting their last name with a new one that reflected either an aspect of their personality of which they are particularly proud, or something they recently accomplished. For example, I became Fran Dream Reaper; others included Sobha Seedplanter, Marissa Laughter, Laura Lunacy, Joe Bridgemaker, Eric Silkscreener, and so forth. The group selected Amy Jazzhands as the name they found to be the most evocative. Delineating the difference between the REAL Amy and the one that the group would create, the character evolved as a seven-year-old girl who wore red sequined tap shoes with bows, a neon green tutu with yellow suspenders, had bright red-curly pigtails that bounced when she walked. She carried a journal in her doggy bag pack and spoke with a froggy voice. She left her home in
Staten Island to tell the group something that made this
day different than any other. She said, “I am leaving home.” Another response, “I have jazzy hands and I
need your help.” Another had her announce,
“A crime has been committed and I’m here to solve it.” Each participant was instructed to choose one
of the prompts and write a monologue clarifying Amy Jazzhands’ Need To Tell. The renditions were read aloud and the group
discussed how the character communicated WHAT she needed to tell, WHO she
needed to tell and WHY this day was different from all other days? To
facilitate the lesson further, the class deconstructed the exercise: the power of choices, how names tell us
something about the character, how selections impact characterization,
etc. In addition, a discussion ensued on
how the exercise could be integrated into their professional praxis. During the hands-on demonstration, I stepped out
of role to note “teachable moments”; for example, how it applied to a CORE
standard, literacy goals, classroom management strategy, etc.
The Paper Airplane exercise was used as an assessment tool: every member “flew” their paper airplane and shared what they learned. We explored how that same urgency for feedback can be applied to playwriting. To learn more about how these exercises and others are used as playwriting tools, the class was encouraged to attend Young Playwrights Inc.’s Teacher Training Institute.
To further assess the efficacy of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to imagine possibilities, integrate the lesson into their programs, and share their implementation through their testimonies on my website. Ultimately, my goal was to INSPIRE them to take these new tools out into the field as theater education practitioners and encourage them to put them to use!
Thank you, Professor Sobha K. Paredes and the CCNY Program in Educational Theater!
How do you use playwriting as a teaching tool?