Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Connecting to Writing through Theater

Having been in the New Orleans school system for a number of years now I know that students struggle with one thing more than any other: writing. Many low-income students in charter schools here just don’t have much experience writing, and feel intimidated by the process. It’s tough. It’s especially tough to get students to write creatively and openly when they feel unsure about their skills. As we know, the creative process is hard if you feel worried and nervous about how you’re going to be judged.

For YO NOLA, I’ve been having my students try out their hands at some playwriting, and they have really taken to it. A few of the students went home to continue the writing process there, and returned later in the week with freshly written work. It’s nice to see them connect to writing, and I think part of the reason for their enthusiasm is dialogue. They hear all sorts of interesting dialogue at home between parents, at school between peers, in the classroom, etc. Playwriting is a way for them to record this dialogue and to be creative with it. I have a full pile of plays about cell phones, bad classroom behavior, missed assignments, bad clothing, and on and on.

However, I really want them to go further, and here’s where the struggle comes in. Saying to a student, “use your imagination” has proved to be useless in my experience. It hardly ever results in a more imaginative product; just students feeling like they’re doing something wrong but unsure how to fix it. Like any artist, students need some fodder from which to be imaginative. As part of this quest to add to their writing repertoire, I’ve introduced something called “See, Think, Wonder.” Students look at a photograph, and have to write down three categories of things:

-Things in the photo they see and can point to.

-Something they think might be happening in the photo

-What do they wonder about? What questions doe they have about the photo?

Once students have brainstormed a whole bunch of see, thinks, wonders, they circle a question or thought of particular interest. This thought then inspires a short play. It’s an interesting process, and one that I’ve found creates some fun plays. Here’s the first few lines of a play by Sabria, who was inspired by a photo of a fog covered bridge I brought in. Her ‘wonder’ question was, “I wonder if there are birds on that bridge.” Then she wrote this:

Crow 1: Look, there is bird seed on that bridge.

Crow 2: Let’s go get some.

Crow 1: This is great.

Crow 2: Let’s tell the others.

Crow 1: Okay.

Crow 2: Our feet are stuck!

Crow 1: Wait, no they’re not. (tries to remove feet) Okay we’re stuck!

Crow 2: I knew it we’re going to die. Whoa is me, why , why!

Crow 1: Zip it earl.

Okay, that’s it for now. Happy Holidays all!

Chris Kaminstein

YO NOLA Teacher

Southern Rep Theater

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