Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Armed Robbery Makes Me... Nervous???

I am in the middle of trying to teach drama in summer school right now. Up until yesterday, I was actually quite pleased with the way the unit has been progressing. The students have mastered (mostly) the basic vocabulary, we have discussed and analyzed structures, and had some surprisingly interesting discussions based on themes and actions from the one-act plays we've read. Based on how well the kids have been handling the sprint through drama, I decided it was time to let them show their acting skills, and put on our own performance. *sigh* What is it that they say about best laid plans???

As any good teacher knows, you cannot just walk in on Monday morning and tell your class, "Hey, guess what? Today you are going to perform this entire play in front of the entire class!" You really need to ease into these activities. I thought I would begin with a quick review of the importance of staging, stage directions, and actors' expressions and gestures. Again, my students surprised me with a rather insightful discussion. Needless to say, I was growing ever more ecstatic, thinking that I just might be able to pull this off and have a great lesson AND performance. So, I introduced the warm-up activity. *sigh* And that is where the downward spiral began.

I had students count off, in order to put them into 5 groups. Unfortunately, as my luck would have it, FIVE of the most rambunctious students I have ever taught ended up in a group together. Looking back now, I know I should have split them up. However, I allowed myself to be swayed by their enthusiasm for the activity.

Ah... the activity... My brilliant idea... (Consequently, I do feel the need to admit that I came up with the idea for this particular activity while drinking a glass, or two, of wine.) Because the one-act play I wanted the kids to act out relies heavily on tone, facial expressions, and gestures, I thought the students needed some practice in matching their own tones, expressions, and gestures to corresponding emotions. So, I decided we would do a pantomime activity. The students would get into small groups, each group would be assigned 3-4 emotions, and would have to "mime" the emotion. The rest of the class would then have to guess the emotion. My goal was that my students would learn 1. how to over-exaggerate facial expressions and gestures for the sake of a stage performance and 2. appropriate expressions, gestures, and body language to convey emotions. (Sadly, many students today do not know how to adequately demonstrate emotion.) Lofty goal, apparently.

Group 3, the 5 rambunctious boys. And, because it DOES matter in this instance... 4 black kids, 1 white kid. Their emotion... NERVOUSNESS.

I call for Group 3 to come to the front. The lone white kid gets up and walks to the front of the room and faces the chalkboard. The four black kids arrange their desks in a 2 x 2 block and one pretends to be the "driver".

I can already see the impending disaster. But, before I can stop them...

The white kid begins to make gestures like he is withdrawing money from an ATM. The "car" rolls up and all four black kids jump out and rush towards the ATM, brandishing their "pretend" handguns. The white kid runs for his life...

The classroom erupts into wild laughter. I shake my head. Students begin calling out their guesses as to the emotion they were trying to portray.

Homicidal Mania!
Prejudice and Discrimination!
The five students in the group become exasperated with their classmates' guesses. "No, stupid! Nervousness! [White kid] was nervous." This, of course, causes the other students to laugh that much harder. I continue to shake my head, bewildered.

"Boys, I don't even know where to begin to explain all that was wrong with your performance."

"What do you mean? That was tight!"

"No, you completely missed the point. Pantomime is an over-exaggeration of facial expression and hand gestures, not a full on skit that perpetuates modern stereotypes. Seriously? You put the token white kid at the ATM?" I stifle my own laughter. "You jumped right over nervousness and plunged head first into terror, panic, and paralyzing fear."

"No way! [White kid] was nervous! Didn't you see his face when he saw us?"

"[White kid] was nervous when he first saw you in the 'car'. The minute you jumped out with guns waving he went straight to fear and terror. Again, you missed the point."

"But you said we had to over-exaggerate our actions."

I sigh, and shake my head. "No, I said you needed to over-exaggerate FACIAL EXPRESSIONS and HAND GESTURES, not kill someone in a drive-by shooting."

"Man, it wasn't no drive-by. It was armed robbery."

The class again erupts in laughter. Tomorrow, they work individually.

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