Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: These Terrorist Attacks Are Not About Religion

As a Drama teacher I always struggle with make up work, sub work, those kinds of things. You have to be in my class to get something out of it! You have to participate. I read this article and decided this is certainly something I would use as paper sit work of any kind with my classes. I would attach some questions to the article and they’d have to read and write.  I think this article was well written and what needed to be said and my students need to hear it. I’ve known this about myself as a teacher for a long time, I am not above indoctrination. I would sometimes really like to influence my students belief system. I value being some one who says what I deem the good things. So I think if I need to have work for a sub or something, great articles like these are the good ones to choose.  Hehe, sorry parents, yes I am trying to fill your kids heads with love… Now if only Time would let me copy and paste this article. SHHHHH! Don’t tell them!

TIME

Another horrendous act of terrorism has taken place and people like myself who are on media speed-dial under “Celebrity Muslims” are thrust in the spotlight to angrily condemn, disavow, and explain—again—how these barbaric acts are in no way related to Islam.

For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.

Violence committed in the name of religion is never about religion—it’s ultimately about money. The 1976 movie, All the President’s Men, got it right when it reduced the Daedalus maze of the Watergate scandal to the simple phrase, “Follow the money.” Forget the goons who actually carry out these deadly acts, they are nothing more than automated drones…

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You can never shut the teacher off

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We rented Guardians of the Galaxy last night and I loved it.  Rocket, the wise ass genetically modified raccoon was my favorite.  He gets angry at all the heroic-self-sacrificing-non-logical-thinking friends of his and pitches a fit.  You.  Are.  Making.  Me.  Kick.  Grass.
I died.  So funny.
I quickly decided the next time my class drove me crazy I was going to do exactly the same thing.  There I go, found a tension splitting classroom management technique from a quirky space movie.
Ok, I lied earlier.  Groot was my favorite.  Such a beautiful, really innerly beautiful concept.  (Maybe I didn’t lie.  Maybe Rocket is the devil on one shoulder and Groot in the angel on my other.)  Throughout the beginning of the movie all Groot can say is “I am Groot.”  Through the middle of the movie he says this but Rocket, his bestie, can actually understand and responds to his friend although all anyone else gets out of it is “I am Groot.”

So, bam, theatre improv game called “I am Groot.”  I shall share it with you.  Someone is Groot and can only say “I am Groot.”  They are given a situation: Groot is your bestie and is asking you why you are sad today.
Or, Groot is a police officer and you are getting arrested.  or reverse those roles.
The other person needs to respond to Groot as if he or she is really having the conversation.

It can go like this:
Situation:
Regular person:  Police officer
Groot:  Getting arrested

Reg:  Excuse me could you please pull your car over?
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  That’s nice, pull over.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  Do you know why I am arresting you?
Groot:  I am Groot!
Reg:  Yes, Arresting you.  DO you know what the charges are?
Groot:  I am Groot?
Reg:  A ticket?  There is no ticket for this offense, sir.  You evaded police in this stolen vehicle.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  This is not your grandmother’s car.  This car belongs to a 23 year old man.
Groot:  I am Groot.
Reg:  Well, gosh, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.  I guess finding out your grandmother is a car thief can really put a damper on your day.

In the spirit of sharing theatre resources with you, I will also share the rules of improv.  These are the rules “I wrote” and how I explain them to my students.  Disclaimer:  I did not come up with these.  They are simply a mix of rules I’ve been taught by many directors and I am sure are published in many books on the subject.  They are commonly known rules, this is just how I put them to my kids:
1.  Always say yes.  This means, go with the flow, don’t make someone else feel stupid if they bring up an idea.  Say yes.
2.  Do not think.  Thinking doesn’t belong here.  This is car with no breaks, baby!  If you think before driving this car you never will.  So don’t think.
3.  Don’t say disrespectful things.  Don’t use this as a chance to pick on someone.  Don’t use it to be offensive to any group of people.
4.  Don’t say/do things that will get me fired if an administrator walks in.
5.  Feel free to fail, for the scene to flop, maybe you get out there and you can’t think of any thing funny or anything at all.  No tickets were bought for this show, no one is going to demand their money back.  The important thing is that you walked into the scene and you tried.
6.  The rules matter.  Listen and pay attention to the constructs of the scene before you start.  To mess up is to be forgiven, to have not listened all class is to now make a fool of yourself.

How I scaffold things for my students:  They see improv youtube videos.  Then they do improv writing where they have to write things without thinking on the spot quickly.  It shows them they do have ideas in their heads.

I will share with you how this goes over in my classes when I try it.  It may have to be until after the semester switches over but I am very much looking forward to trying this out!

All you can do is breathe…and maybe blink.

And for Christmas, I give you Zombies!

zombies

I’d show more images and some great video but I don’t like putting my students’ faces out there for the world.  BUT, this was an image from my class project of zombie statues.  Its a great little project to do and could be done in any subject.  Here’s how I did it:

Showed exemplar videos, there are many on youtube but I avoid the ones where the living statues punch someone in the crowd who has gone too far.  My students always want to see those ones.  Then we discuss being expressive with body pose, strategies to keep from laughing – breathing, taking it seriously, staring off into space rather than at someone, shifting slowly and mechanically into another position when one is too hard.  Then we practice in incrementally larger and larger time frames, some times I invite another teacher in to surprise my students and try to get them to break character.

I’ve done this before just as a class activity and I have done it before as part of parent teacher conferences that were all held at the same time in the school cafeteria where my students dressed in school colors and posed as science student, cheerleader, musician, etc.  I also did roughly the same characters as part of a field day where we invited students from an Elementary school.  This time around I decided they would do zombie statues because it was an engaging topic.   The rule was that they had to devise a clear story and portray it in expressive, STONE statues.

It was a successful project.  My students took it seriously and stayed in the statues for longer than the five minuets I told them they had to stay.  One class even devised a scene where humans were trying to make it into a compound, zombies were chasing them, allies in a car were attempting to rescue them and snipers tried to help from the risers.  Doing these statues is usually my favorite part of a semester.  It is the ONLY time I get my students to be quiet.  I get them into statues sometimes just so I can give announcements I need to tell them about.  it is worth doing to show there are many types of performance styles and to teach a lesson about discipline in Theatre.

How time operates in the theatre (or in any situation where the creative process is under the pressure of a looming performance date):

Do you ever have that director or teacher that says: “Let’s do it again!” and there is only five minutes left of class or rehearsal and you’re tired and sick of whatever it is you are rehearsing or just plain tired and when you say: “Ummm, we only have five minutes,” she or he loses it on you?

That is because they know exactly how much time is left and need every precious drop out of the clock that they can drain.

Let me explain to you how time works in the “Getting Ready for Performance Zone.”N91812HWCB_z[1]

You enter the theatre or dance space or classroom and time immediately skips ahead and hour and speeds up. You may even let slip a day or two and it sinks through a drain built into the floor.

Meanwhile, line memorizers, and dancer move perfectors, and costume designers, if you are lucky enough to have any, they are moving half the speed of your director, who is moving too slowly to keep up with warp rehearsal speed.

Your director is not superhuman. That is not why he is moving faster than the actors and the sound tech and the dancers. Your director is fueled with a certain magic juice called responsibilitay conductorium. Your director is the conductor of all the responsibilities of any performance. Many factors must fit together and a very small number of people have the responsibility of putting them all together in choreographed, harmonious lines. Your director is living several different levels of reality at once.

So when you feel like you’ve got this, your director sees something else. Out of one corner of her eye she sees minuets and even hours quietly sneaking out the back door. She may know you have your lines memorized, but has future plans for your blocking that you don’t even know about yet. Maybe you know all the blocking, and are marvelously into your character, but the lighting operator doesn’t have her cues down yet and you are needed to help her, this is an ensemble after all! Now, meanwhile, she has to get this accomplished, set, tightened, because she still has to design that veil for Frankenstein’s bride and the fairies are supposed to have come up with a song to sing for Tatiana, but they’ve come up with nothing! Beside, you don’t have anything down unless your director has seen you have it down. He can’t rely on trust, he has to see it, and that will take even more time.

So listen, when five minutes walks back through the door he just snuck out of, use it!

“Flaws” Devised Theatre Piece Day Four

My students were tasked with the job of devising four physical theatre pieces for a performance on Jan 9th. I started this last week and currently we have 9 days until this performance. I told them: for piece number one: here is our stimulus, our inspiration. I found an amazing acoustic version of Bastille’s Flaws and told them we must come up with a performance using movement that tells a story and promotes a message. I was prepared with an idea but encouraged them to stop me, interrupt, add, delete, transform and adapt my ideas.

And I have four separate classes and I am trying my best to come up with a unique performance for each one for the same song.

For the most part, they just look at me like I’m crazy. I don’t have much argument there. So I keep telling them, I’ll put the ideas in and we will try it, but if you don’t speak up after thinking creatively, you may end up with the same performance as another class. You don’t want that.

I went through some very tough classes where when I asked for ideas I got crickets, when I gave the idea they didn’t like it, a student nicely spoke up and said this was “wack.” (I love that that word is still a thing!) I got nasty attitudes and many why do we have to do this? Block 9 and block 3 were the worst. Every time I went up against road blocks I approached it positively.

This is dumb wack? Ok, what can we do to make this something you won’t be embarrassed to do? I even went to the extent of showing the next song I had in mind, which is way more hip hop. Offering to do that first. Writing ideas out, offering to participate as an actor myself. I have not yelled at them for not giving me answers, I have not taken it personally when they refuse to participate. I have simply been insidious. A mixture of getting even one or two students to try something or a new idea that I can keep coming back at them with has started to seep in to even my most difficult classes.

As of now, my block one is doing several living statues and a step routine, and we will add in some dialogue tomorrow, Block three had the hardest time getting started, mostly because they were thinking outside of my box and bucking my system when they were honest about simply not liking my ideas, and today we really had a break through. My dancers were working on their things and I have two actors as fighting parents and a girl who is coming out to her family. It really started to come together today. I have one class who pretty much has choreography down and students in the class will hopefully play the song live! Lots more work to do on that. And my last block class started to drop their nasty attitudes on Friday and get down to work and I even had a students tell me: “I want to participate today.” When he refused to the two classes before. I told him I had been thinking about him and I had just the way he could participate. He jumped right in getting stock footage on my iphone that we will use to edit a video together that will get projected onto the scene of a living statue flaw museum.

It’s starting to show that when you stick with it and don’t get disheartened they can really begin to fall in love with theatre. I’m changing the tone around in my classroom. And we only have three more performances to think up!!

This is How We Shoot Back

I saw this video and was deeply moved. No matter what your views on the Gardner case, or the Brown case, I believe most people can agree that this was a power example of peaceful protest and can attest to the power art can have to send powerful messages. I showed this to my classes and told them this is why I do what I do, because art can have the power to change things for the better. I also asked them to analyze stylistic choices, like the chest thumping, how it sounded like a heart and what that symbolized. I asked them what “this is how we shoot back” meant and we talked about what historically peaceful protest has accomplished. My students have been given a project to create a step routine with a message. Let’s see if this inspired them!

Theatre Resource: National Theatre and Five truths

One of the best resources I have found is youtube videos from National Theatre. They have, among many other amazing instructional videos and videos about and of amazing live performances, a set of videos called “Five Truths.” In these videos the same actress performs Ophelia’s monologue from Hamlet. The differences in each video are to illustrate the different styles of theatre from five theorists: Stanislavski, Brooks, Artaud, Grotowski, and Brecht. I used this as a catalyst for my honors theatre class. Yes! I have an honors theatre class! It is an International Baccalaureate course which is a lot like Advanced Placement. Here was the lesson:

Students viewed each video and answered these questions:

What did they observe?

What was different about each video?

What do you think the theorist of this style of theatre thought the purpose of theatre was?

Then, in groups, they did some research and presented and taught each style to the class.

Then, I did something a little risky – but I like living on the edge. I gave them copies of about four pages of Cormac McCarthy’s Sunset Limited. It is a novel in dramatic form, as he calls it, and there is some stronger language, nothing too bad, on the subject of suicide. What each group of students had to do was to perform the scenes in the style their group was working on. One group had Epic theatre and had to do it in that style, etc.

It was an incredibly successful small unit. The group working with Stanislavski’s methods made sure they had some hints of costumes and very important props and knew their characters objective, tactics, and obstacles, but the group with Growowski’s poor theatre focused only on their acting and sat in their regular clothes facing each other with no props. The Epic theatre group was marvelous! They popped gum while on stage, they turned and spoke to us – the audience, they added “she said” into their lines, they purposely held long awkward pauses. They did really well.

I don’t even want to talk about the Theatre of Cruelty performance, well done, but freaky!

This is an advanced lesson but I have decided to pull aspects of it into my introductory Drama courses for the purpose of teaching students that theatre can be looked at from many different perspectives.