In these days of uncertainty about the remainder of the school year, I wanted to offer some ideas and that I use to teach online. Keep in mind that school districts around the country will want their teachers to use specific resources; however, the ideas that I offer you can be used on any platform.
Teaching theatre arts online is a foreign concept to those of us in public education because it is a performance based class so creating online lessons that keep the learning performance-based can be difficult. Finding resources in 2020 is easy; it's finding ways to utilize and structure information to incorporate in your class may cause a bit of anxiety. Just as we work to have your theatre arts classroom active, we cannot simply give students reading and writing work. We must keep them engaged and invested in the learning.
With the exception of live performances, anything you can do in your classroom, you can incorporate into the online theatre classroom. Most online platforms for classrooms allow for collaborative learning, presentations, videos, reading, writing, games discussion, etc.
Sample Lesson for Musical Theatre: Acting the Song Lesson
Warm Up: I start with a writing warm up. For example: "Write a thank you note to a friend who gave you onion and garlic-flavored chewing gum."
Video Class Discussion - It's important for the students to see you face. This will remind them that you are there for them, validate your classroom, and remind them that your class is continuing. I recommend that you can record a video of your self, discussing the lesson. In this lesson I wold discuss the importance of a song being something that the character is saying. Maybe I would talk about the stair steps of emotion in a musical, explaining that each step is a higher level of emotion. The first step is speaking, the second is singing, the third is dancing. Explain to the students what that will be doing. This video would be no more than 10 minutes in length.
Reading: Once a week, I give my students something to read that is relevant to the lesson. I highly recommend Dramatics Magazine. There are many online articles written just for students. For this lesson, I would ask the students to read this article:
Discussion: Discussion is very important in online learning because it is one form of holding students accountable. Most online platforms have a discussion feature that allow students to comment or remark on a post, much like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Have the students discuss the their thoughts about what they learned. Require them to comment on three other student’s remarks. You also will comment on remarks. It will be important that the students know you comment on their remarks. So make sure that you spend time participating in the discussion.
Assignment: This lesson might be the introduction to performing a song so there are several things you can do. For a long term project, have the students pick a song from a musical. And have them record themselves speaking it, like a monologue. They must up load the video for you to critique. The following lessons could include student performing the song with music, using note you give the.
The students can also search the internet for videos of someone who doing a really great job of acting the song and share it in a discussion. You might also have them find bad examples and explain why the actors approach isn't believable.
I want to take a moment to share two more online lesson examples for you, one for technical theatre and one for theatre arts.
Sample Lesson for Tech Theatre: Costumes
Warm Up: I start with a writing warm up because it reinforces the ELA standards.
"If you were to work in the theatre, what job would you most like and why?"
Video record a video of your self, (10 Minutes) teaching the hierarchy of the theatre and all the jobs/careers in the performing arts. Explain that you will begin with costuming. Include whatever information you believe is important.
The Center Theatre Group has a series of videos that you could show your students each day. You could choose to have the students view the one of both of following video or read the following article.
Discussion: Have the students discuss their thoughts about what they learned. Require them to comment on three other student’s remarks. You also will comment on remarks. You may have to prompt them by presenting a question.
Assignment: Problem Based Learning project: Build a costume made from recyclable items. Have them take pictures of their process/progress each day. On the due date, they have to do a costume parade by sharing a photo of themselves wearing the costume.
Give them a rubric to look at and use as they create.
Sample Lesson for Theatre Arts - Auditioning
Warm Up: Once again, I start with a writing warm up. Write a short monologue about going to the store to get toilet paper and realizing the world is out of this precious commodity.
Video Class Discussion - record a video (10 minute limit) of your self, discussing the audition procedure. Slate, greeting, 2 contrasting monologue.
Have students watch videos of good and bad auditions. If you are an actor, you could demonstrate or ask for former/upper-level students to demonstrate for students.
Discussion: Have the students discuss the their thoughts about what they watched. They should discuss what is good and bad about the auditions they watched. Require them to comment on three other student’s remarks. You also will comment on remarks. Remember, this is important because it holds the students accountable for the learning.
Assignment: The students will record themselves performing 2 contrasting monologues and upload the videos for you. You can give critiques and direction to the students as they prepare the audition pieces. In the past, I have compiled the videos and had the class watch and give peer critiques.
These lesson ideas are easy to implement and with a little bit of "outside-the-box" thinking, you can create ways for your theatre classes to continue through our social distancing time or until the end of the year. Finally, I'll offer this:
Most importantly, rigor should not equate to stressful. Don't pile tons of work on the students. Many of them are as stressed and concerned about the future as we are. You may have students that will have to balance babysitting siblings while doing their own work. Our theatre classes should be less stressful than other course. It is the one course that they should allow them relieve stress and tension through creative expression.
fThe Austin Chronicle photo
In 1987, I had the good fortune to student-teach under the late, great Jerry Worsham. (For those of you new to the game or who might not have heard the name, Jeremiah Pleasant Worsham was the theatre teacher/director at Snyder High School for more than three decades. He was wildly successful in the UIL One-Act Play competition; his students made 27 appearances at the State Meet and won 13 State Championships!) Although he encouraged me to call him Jerry, I found that difficult. He was deserving of a title. So Mr. Worsham it was.
One day, as he prepared his company for the year's first contest, I noticed that the school bus windows were shoe-polished with the phrase "Austin is Beautiful in the Spring!" I recall asking, "Mr. Worsham, what's the meaning of the saying on your bus?" His response was, "Well, if we decorate with 'State or Bust' then we're really sending an awful message to our kids. Why should they feel like their work was a 'bust' just because they didn't advance to State? By putting 'Austin is Beautiful in the Spring,' we still have a true statement that is independent of their work. We're going to State, whether it's to compete or to watch, and I want them to look forward to either possibility."
I have always remembered that wonderful philosophy, and it the basis of the speech I give each year on the first day of our UIL One-Act Play rehearsal. I am not the only person to ever hear these words; Jerry often told the tale during his numerous workshops. And still today, I hear the phrase -- or some variation of it --spoken all over the state. If it's new to you, I highly recommend you adopt it.
For far too long, too many directors and schools have considered winning to be the measuring stick for what they have accomplished. I urge you to free yourself of that pressure. Do your play to the best of your ability. If you're lucky and advance, then I'll see your show at State. And if you're not lucky and don't advance, then I hope to see you at State anyway, fully satisfied with the beauty of Austin.
Perspectives is our new blog. If you are interested in reading a his and her perspectives on theatre and life, then you will be in for a treat...maybe a laugh.
The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don't have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it. ~Chris Pine
A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. ~Steve Jobs
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