In this lesson, students will experience and reflect on the process that lies at the heart of Verbatim Theatre: telling other people's stories. Beginning with their own stories, students will learn to make respectful observations about their classmates and re-tell a classmate's story in role.
How can we share and re-tell our stories in a way that feels safe and respected?
What verbal and non-verbal cues should we pay attention to when observing others tell stories? Whose stories in our society get told? Whose stories do not get told?
How can theatre tell other people's stories without exploiting or appropriating them?
A1.3 create and interpret a wide range of characters using a variety of acting approaches
A3.1 demonstrate an understanding of how different acting and staging techniques reflect and support different purposes in drama
C3.1 identify and follow safe and ethical practices in all drama activities
B1.2 analyse a variety of contemporary and historical drama works to explain and evaluate how they communicate themes and dramatize issues
B2.1 demonstrate an understanding of how drama questions social and cultural conditions in a variety of Canadian and global drama sources and traditions
B2.2 describe ways in which their personal experiences in drama have influenced their attitudes to others and their world view.
B2.3 describe ways in which drama can support or influence school and/or local community affairs.
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Students should be familiar with voice and movement exercises and the experience of building a character both physically and vocally. Students should have built trust and respect for each other through various ensemble building activities at the beginning of the year.
Clip from Anna Deavere Smith's filed play Twilight Los Angeles (if copyright permits)
Chart Paper and Markers
|Approximately 30 minutes
Pause and Ponder
Whole Group > Walk in Space > Observation
Invite students to walk around the room at a normal speed. Every ten seconds, ask them to change directions so as not to fall into any pattern of walking around the room. Ask them to speed up, slow down and walk backwards and sideways, change levels etc.
Instruct students to observe one student in the room without letting them know they are being observed. Coach them to notice the speed at which they walk, the shape of their body when they walk, if they are holding any tension, etc. Ask students to notice another person without letting the first person out of their peripheral vision. Add a third and then a fourth. Ask students to consider: how much can you observe about other people at one time?
Direct students to choose one person to shadow without being obvious about it. All of their movement should now be determined by the person they are shadowing - their rhythm, posture, foot placement, etc. Emphasize that they are not to mock or imitate each other but to capture the essence or 'truth' of how each person moves.
Instruct the students to follow that person for about thirty seconds. Ask the students as they continue to work to consider the following: Where are their eyes looking-forward, down, to the side or up? Where is their chest and posture? Where are their arms? Pelvis? Knees? Toes? Consider tempo.
Instruct the students to follow another student and then another, constantly switching subjects to follow them as they move into their field of vision. Ask students to try borrowing movements from two people in the room. They might copy one person's tempo and the way another person moves their arms. Ask them to gradually try to add more.
Whole Group > Inside-Outside Circle
Have students form two circles facing each other so that every student has a partner. Instruct the inside circle to tell a 30 second story about themselves as a food lover. Instruct the outside circle to shift one or two students to the right and tell a story about their love for food in the style (attempting to capture the gestures and speech patterns) of the previous partner. Now ask the outside circle to tell a 30 second story about generosity while the inside circle observes. The inside circle shifts to the right but tells their story as a generous person but in the style of their partner from the outside circle. Ask the group what they would like the next story to be about. Continue telling stories this way until they have practiced telling stories at least three times.
Suggested Topics: Tell a story about selfishness, tell a story about your vision of the future, tell a story about a recurring dream, tell a story about love.
Whole Group > T-Chart
Direct the students to create a t with the headings voice and body. Invite students to name physical and vocal qualities they observed (i.e. pauses in speech, the words Um and like or the way a person ends a question in a sentence). Ask the students to examine the list and consider: What are the most difficult human behaviors to recreate as a performer? Why?
Assessment for Learning (AfL)
While students are telling their stories, pause them at anytime and ask students to perform on the spot or circulate and listen in on their stories. Use this to gauge how much they are changing their bodies and voices.
Collect the recorded stories and provide written feedback on any important parts they may have missed.
Assessment as Learning (AaL)
While students are rehearsing their partner's stories, ask them to refer back to the T-chart created to remind themselves of the physical and vocal nuances they might recall about their partner in the re-telling of their stories.
Assign pairs or allow for student choice depending on the group. Tell them that they will get the most out of the activity if they choose someone they do not know very well.
If you have ELL students in your class, give them the option of telling stories in their own language as a way of beginning the activity and then encourage them to move into English.
Consider doing the debrief as a written reflection first if students have difficulty opening up about their responses to the activity.
This inner-outer circle activity can be done in a straight line or in pairs but the key is to randomly change partners quickly and many times. This is a warm-up activity and should move very quickly. Limit the stories to 30 seconds or one minute.
Prepare a list of different topics for the inner-outer circle. Think about what this particular group of students might be interested in telling stories about.
Post the T-chart and use it as anchor chart for the lesson. Add to it over the course of the unit.
If you cannot access the link to Twilight Los Angeles, use information about the play and the playwright on line or use a copy of the play.
Link and Layer
Link this type of acting to various styles of acting such as the outside-in acting technique that is a variation on the Stanislavski method.
After sharing stories, have the group identify similar themes that emerge as a way of building topic material for a collective creation.
Consider linking Verbatim Theatre to the oral tradition of storytelling where stories were passed on from one generation to the next. How were stories told so that people could remember them prior to writing being available?
Hyperlinks in the Lesson
|Approximately 75 minutes
Pairs > Storytelling
Invite the students to think about and prepare a two minute story about a pivotal moment in their life (i.e. a turning point) when they went from thinking one way about their life or the world around them to thinking another way. It can be a story about an experience they had, or an inspiration from a book they read, or a speech they heard-- anything that significantly changed their way of thinking. Remind them to be specific in their storytelling.
Inform them that whatever story they choose to tell will be shared with the class so they should not share anything that will make them feel uncomfortable.
Invite the students to tell the story to a partner. Instruct the students that the student who is listening to the story must listen to the words carefully while observing how the story is being told. Explain that they will share that person's story in role as that person, attempting to capture the truth or essence of that person but making the story seem like their own.
Allow students to decide who is going first and then time them for two minutes exactly.
After students have told their stories, ask students to sit back to back with their partner, practising telling each other's stories for approximately 5 minutes.
Direct each storyteller to immediately record their partner's story in writing to keep for the Culminating Task. Remind them that the story should be written in the first person.
Whole Class > Storytelling Circle
Invite students to form a circle. In any order, students should tell their partners' stories to the group, attempting to capture the essence of the story and how it was told. Ask partners to sit separately from each other in the circle, and not to tell their stories one after the other. Instruct the students that they will share all the stories and debrief the stories and the activity when all the students have shared.
|Approximately 20 minutes
Whole Class > Storytelling Debrief Discussion
Engage students in a debrief discussion about the storytelling activity.
Key Questions for Discussion:
How did it feel to watch your story being told by your partner? Did it feel respectful? Why or why not?
Did you recognize any of your classmates in the stories that were told?
Did it feel like the story 'belonged' to the teller even though they were imitating another person? What changed about the story in the re-telling? What is lost and what is gained in the actor's interpretation?
What new understandings do you have about other people in this class?
What makes it feel safe to do this activity? What makes it feel unsafe?
Whose stories get told? Whose stories are hidden?
What are the implications in telling someone else's story when they are a different gender, race or ethnicity from you, the performer?
What is your responsibility when telling someone else's story?
If copyright permits, show clips of difference characters from Anna Deavere Smith's play Twilight Los Angeles (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/stageonscreen/twilight/twilight.html), a play based on interviews from a range of people responding to the Los Angeles riots following the 1992 Rodney King trial. Ask students to comment on the ways she changed her voice and body to indicate create new characters.