How could this possibly be a good thing?
I am gearing up for a performance.
After three rehearsals, my new group is about to perform in front of a decent house at the Bayfront Theatre in San Francisco, competing in a "Cave Match" at BATS Improv. As the minutes tick away and my performance becomes a reality, nervousness gives way to excitement, to drive, to adrenaline. I wait in the wings of stage left as my first improv coach and early inspiration for this work (acting as Lightician, etc.) cues the theme song I picked out earlier in the day; the ultra-cheesy beat pumps and I jump up and down, making faces at my fellow players waiting on stage right. We run out to the front of the stage, and I announce the beginning of our show.
Integrating performing arts offers a multitude of benefits: From building community, to understanding narrative, to processing information with depth and complexity, the social and academic possibilities of improvisational theatre in the classroom are endless. However, in the end, we do our students a favor if we offer them opportunities to genuinely perform. They may perform for each other throughout the year, and I suggest that you give everyone a chance (a nudge, really) to perform for a wider audience as well.
I recommend that we do not blindly throw our students to the wolves of performance. Rather, build up with whole-group games, with partner and small-group workshop activities, and then move on to low-stress performances in the classroom. Arrange your classroom during improv time so that there is a performance space, with a designated area for audience members to sit (the floor or risers should be just fine) and a "stage" area (a specific spot on the floor is okay) for performing players.
Talk with your class about having everyone being an active participant during in-class performances. There are performing players and audience players. What are the roles of your class's audience performers? Give them something to look for--certainly "what works" and "what may need adjusting" are good starts.
They may also need/be ready to take on specific identification goals such as...
- Who is the protagonist in this story?
- What role does the setting (the "where") play in this scene?
- Who was changed?
- What's the goal/objective of the scene?
One way to encourage support is to openly talk with the kids about how it feels to be on stage and how it feels to be in the audience. If everyone performs at one point or another, they can develop empathy for one another...and give helpful, constructive criticism in an honest and respectful environment. Yes, this is a tall order in a classroom. We are setting the bar high, and our students are capable of handling themselves with respect and decorum.
When your class is ready--or when you're ready to coach them through a new level of challenge--take the risk yourself and schedule a performance for a few classes, for the whole school, or for a parent audience. I'll discuss ideas for successfully planning such a performance in a later post. Until then, play on!