Scenework: now we're really getting into it...

At the beginning of any workshop or class, I start with games.  They help us get to know each other--as students, as improvisers, as an ensemble.
When we're ready, I move onto an area of focus.  We may jump into telling stories or "sharing decision-making" or building rich environments on stage.
When we're ready for the plunge, we dive into the terrifying beauty of scenework.  As a student improviser, starting scenes from scratch was pretty much the scariest thing I had to do.  Now, I love it.  Most of the time.  There is always something new to learn in creating scenes with my fellow players.

Last Monday, my class was ready for the plunge.

To really go for it, I introduced two of the Icons of Depth and Complexity: Big Ideas and Multiple Perspectives.  (I was introduced to these at a GATE training.  See http://www.jtayloreducation.com/depth-complexity-icons/ for more information.)  I asked the kids to use one of these and/or one of the elements introduced below in their Reading Response Journal for the week.  More on this in a later post...

I then introduced the class to a core piece of the BATS Improv curriculum: CROW.
Character
Relationship
Objective
Where

We defined and took a few notes on these throughout the class workshop period, introducing concepts as they were relevant to the tasks at hand.
To warm up (after Ball, of course), we showed RELATIONSHIPS in a "Thank you Circle".
Each player took a turn coming into the middle of the circle, defining a character by making a human sculpture/tableau.  The next person would then add to the sculpture, identifying their character's relationship with the character before them by the shape they created with their body.  The previous person would then say, "Thank you." And so on.  Every person in the circle participates in very quick, two-person tableau scenes.
Side coaching suggestions: Make eye contact!  Show your character's emotions with your facial expression.  Make it bigger!  Use a different level.

We then defined and practiced the CHARACTER piece of CROW.  The class broke up into two concentric facing circles, making pairs for their scenes.  In these one-minute scenes, I instructed the players to name each other at least three times.   We rotated and practiced with a few different partners.
Side coaching suggestions: Be a character who is not yourself.  Justify WHY you're saying her name.  How does your character feel about this character?

Quick CROW
 I let the kids choose their own partners for this last bit--challenging them to show all parts of CROW (Who are they?  How are they related?  What do they want?  Where are they?) as quickly as possible in a scene.  They practiced this in two different 2-3-minute scenes, and then we took some time to process the workshop together.

When asked what they got out of the day, a number of kids mentioned how hard it is to do scenes.  Yup.  It is hard.  So is teaching.  And learning...and pretty much anything that's worthwhile.  When we see the pros do it, it seems like a piece of cake.  And then we jump in and find out that it really DOES take training and practice.
Annabella also said something that stuck with me at the end of the workshop: "It reminded me of the picture book project we just finished.  CROW kind of breaks down how to make a scene into the different parts.  It's like planning and understanding how to make a story."

When I've taught CROW in improvisational theatre classroom work before, the kids take a while to hold onto it.  However, when I ask them towards the end of the year which lessons were most valuable for them as developing writers, CROW invariably wins out over all of the other lessons I've taught throughout the year. 

This last week has been insane: getting ready for Science debates, and facilitating a professional development book club, and working on report cards dominated every moment of my academic time.  As I ease into my year-round schedule's beloved fall break, I'll finally have the time to read through my class's Reading Journals.  I can't wait to see what they noticed.

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