This paper will explore strategies and an array of activities to be integrated into the school curriculum for children participating in school plays. An important component will emphasize the active participation of children in using creative dramatics to invent or create imaginary situations.
As an example of how creative dramatics and the production of a school play will be integrated, each student will have the opportunity to participate in a school play, using techniques utilized during creative dramatics in order to bring a character to life.
My unit will also contain suggestions of multi-cultural stories and the works of writers with various backgrounds suitable for adaptation for school productions. A sampling of a few plays that I will be using in the classroom will accompany this unit. These plays will not by any means be end projects in and of themselves. For I believe that whenever children become involved in drama, they will alter the script by entering into a character and ad-libbing in a natural and spontaneous way.
My love for acting began when I explored the art of ventriloquism. For, in order to present an illusion and bring a puppet to life, one must be able to communicate to the audience that your puppet is alive and well. I remember a rather amusing incident while giving a school program. My husband was sitting in the audience. During my presentation, a lady sitting next to him whispered: “It’s so nice that you do the male voice for your wife’s puppet.”
I also fell in love with the art of acting through participation in a church drama production, “The Victor.” There I participated in the parts of Martha and Mary Magdalene. For me, I found acting the part to be very rewarding and therapeutic. Rewarding in the sense that I was able to communicate feelings, actions, ideas and expressions to the audience. I, also, found that during rehearsals, time had no meaning. In other words, it did not appear to me that I was connected to daily concerns or problems because I had escaped into the world of the character that I was portraying. To me, that was very therapeutic.
I teach first grade in a self-contained classroom at L. W. Beecher School. My classroom has children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds with varying abilities in the six to eight year old age range. The unit that I am organizing will be for my After School Program.
Unlike the regular classroom, the After School Program has children from a various classes, first through third grade. The class is smaller in size, consisting of 12 to 15 children. In addition, the program has an hour and half block of time which allows for more concentrated effort for dealing with the material at hand.
The After School Program’s schedule is for eight weeks with my drama class meeting once a week for ninety minutes. Although my unit is designed primarily as an eight week After School Program, many of the activities suggested can be integrated into any language arts or social studies curriculum throughout the school year.
My overall objectives for the eight week program are:
(1) To provide an interactive experience through the use creative dramatics as:
a. a mode for individual expression
b. a give and take didactic exchange
c. a group process interaction exchange
(2) To stimulate intellectual and cognitive development, as well as, creativity through the use of imagery and fantasy as part of creative dramatics and class discussion.
a. acting activities
c. play productions
(3) To develop cultural sensitivity through the utilization of culturally appropriate racial/ethnic stories which stress:
a. fairy tales
b. folk tales
(4) To improve verbal and reading skills of participants through:
a. memorization of scripts
b. rehearsal activities
(5) To develop confidence and a positive self-image as participants in productions such as:
b. production staff
d. members of an audience
(6) To integrate the theory and practice of creative dramatics into the curriculum through:
a. the teaching of language arts
b. instruction in social studies
c. development of socialization skills
Children love to dramatize, “dress up,” pretend or invent situations. Not only do they enjoy acting a part in a play, but they love to watch a play or listen to one being read to them. It is as if for that moment, they are allowed to reach beyond the boundaries of self and explore themselves in an improvisational experience. In other words, it is plain fun, relaxing and therapeutic.
Andrews calls this stage of early development the “I” period. She contends that children in this age group are generally in grades one to three. One can often hear such common expressions as: “I did this.” “See what I did.” “Look at me.” She, also, suggests that healthy children at this age are in constant motion and find it very difficult to stand or sit still. Theirs is a world fueled by curiosity, a sense of urgency and increasing motor activity. They constantly bounce in their chairs, run instead of walk, scuffle their feet, push, tug, and climb over things. It is a stage when motor abilities are flourishing. In other words, they love to move because it is fun to do so. (“Creative Rhythmic Movement For Children,” page 6-7.)
This stage of development is also characterized by increased verbal expression. Children love to chatter and talk about themselves. It is an age where the world becomes a stage and they, a star performer.
Therefore, the classroom setting is an ideal place for creative dramatics to liberate those forces which help a child to explore the world around him and encourage the expression of feelings, actions, and ideas. For creative dramatics, the child must communicate what he is doing to an audience by enabling him to develop those inner resources such as: fantasy, imagination, intelligence, to name a few. In other words, creative dramatics enhances the learning that takes place in the classroom by allowing the child to become an active participant.
Unlike creative dramatics in the classroom, a school play (i.e. one that is rehearsed for the public) has a definite end in view. For example, a child who participates in creative dramatics and builds a snowman, may at any point in time stop and decide that he is no longer interested in building his snowman. The task has served its purpose. A school play, on the other hand, requires a series of interdependent tasks which must be accomplished in order to culminate in a product which will be taken before an audience for their consideration, criticism and enjoyment.
Chilver suggests that a school play is essentially a project which children must enter into with their own free will. However, those free wills must be brought into a peer common bond in order to yield the finished product. This means that there must be respect for each other’s contribution. Particularly, each must respect the other’s need for a conducive atmosphere where there is quiet and relaxation. While some are waiting their turns to rehearse, it is important that a team spirit develops and everyone takes an interest in each other’s part. (“Staging a School Play,” page 2)
I have selected six strategies which build upon each other and lay the framework for school wide productions. However, some of the strategies can be used individually and integrated into the regular classroom curriculum. For example, the eight-week After School Program does not allow enough time for writing creative stories. However, because it is an important component in my unit, I will use stories that were written during the regular classroom time and expand them into plays. Also, I intend to use my unit over a period of many years. This unit allows the incorporation of many activities which can result in a variety of productions.
My unit will include the following time table: The first week will be devoted to those tasks outlined in strategy one; the second week will focus on strategy three; the third through eighth week will concentrate on strategies three through five; strategy six will be accomplished on a designated day during regular school time. Bear in mind that the above time frames are not rigid since the entire activity is an evolving process subject to many influences which cannot be totally controlled.
Examples of overall strategies for the course of the eight week period are:
Strategy (1) The utilization of reading a variety of stories with multi-ethnic authors or settings and expanding these themes into related activities for the classroom.
Children need to be read to on a daily basis in preparation for development of reading and writing skills. This strategy will help to lay the foundation for later activities.
Distance whether physical and/or psychological has the effect of producing cultural isolation so that one can easily become provincial, self-centered and indifferent to the world at large, missing the diversity which supplies dynamic energy for creativity.
A delightful book written by Ed Young, “Lon Po Po,” helps to bridge the gap between cultures by bringing us a familiar story with a Chinese setting. This book is a Red-Riding Hood Story from China. I would start my unit by telling the more familiar version of Little Red Riding Hood to the children. By telling the story, one can dramatize different parts of the tale, developing each character by using different voices and lots of gestures. Children feel more free to become involved in something that they already know.
After telling the European version of Little Red Riding Hood, I would introduce the story of “Lon Po Po.” We would find the country of China on the map and discuss where it is located in relation to our own country. By looking at a few pictures of Chinese families, noting their clothing and hairstyles, we would get a good sense of the characters and how they look and are dressed in Young’s book. I feel that it is important while telling this story to use the pictures in the book because in addition to portraying Chinese features and clothing, they present a combination of techniques used in ancient Chinese panel art with a contemporary palette of watercolors and pastels.
Once the group is familiar with both stories, we would discuss their similarities and differences. We would talk about the number of characters required for each story, noting the similarities and differences in the number of characters. Also, the children could get together in groups of two or four and discuss parts that they liked or disliked in both stories. A recorder from each group would report back to the class while the teacher lists their findings on chart paper.
A similar presentation of any combination of the following works could achieve the goals of my first strategy:
“Tales of Mogho”—Frederic Guirma
“The Bojabi Tree”—Edith Rickert
“Songs and Stories From Ugana”—Moses Serwat
“Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad In The Sky”—Faith Ringgold
“The Rainbow Serpent”—Dick Roughsey
“Lon Po Po”—Ed Young
“The Moon Lady”—Amy Tan
“The Terrible Nung Gwama”—Ed Young
“Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Czechoslovakia”—Virginia Haviland
“The Little Wee Tyke”—Marcia Sewall
“The Teeny Tiny Woman”—Barbara Seuling
“Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Greece”—Virginia Havila
“How Maui Slowed The Sun”—Suelyn Ching Tune
“Grandma’s Latkes”—Malka Drucker
“Elijah The Slave”—Isaac Bashevis Singer
“Audun and His Bear”—Barbara Schiller
“The Talkative Beasts”—Gwendolyn Reed
“Fat Gopal”—Jacquelin Singh
“Momotaro The Peach Boy”—Linda Shute
“Three Strong Women”—Claus Stamm
“Tales The People Tell In Mexico”—Lyons
“Cherokee Animal Tales”—George F. Scheer
“Arrow To The Sun”—Gerald McDermott
“Dreamplace”—George Lyon and Peter Catalanotto
“Ladder To The Sky”—Barbara Esbensen
“The Legend of Scarface”—Robert San Souci
“The Cobbler’s Reward”—Barbara Reid and Ewa Reid
“My Mother Is The Most Beautiful Woman In The World”—Becky Reyher
“Pepito’s Story”—Eugene Fern
“The Monkey’s Whiskers”—Anne Rockwell
“Fairy Tales From Viet Nam”—Dorothy Lewis Robertson
Strategy (2) Utilization of stories or themes as models for writing one’s own stories and developing plays.
“Let’s pretend that you’re a little chick in an egg and you do not know how to get out.” “What would you do?” Immediately all eyes are riveted to the face of the storyteller. It is as if one can see those little wheels begin to spin and the air is charged with excitement. My first graders and I are about to embark on a creative writing experience in which we try to use all of the children’s ideas in some way shape or form.
The children are ready for this step because they have been introduced to a variety of stories in the regular classroom and in the After School Program. They have been listening to stories presented to them, and actively writing stories of their own. I file my children’s stories in folders which we call our “Smart Folders,” and store them in the school classroom.
These stories (i.e. individually or classroom written) provide basic material for expansion into themes for classroom skits and school plays. For example, the children in my classroom were given a picture of a rabbit dressed in clothing holding a basket filled with eggs entitled, “Miss Jennie Delivers Easter Eggs.” A classroom puppet read the story, providing the children with a model for writing their own story. Then the children were told to write their own version. They could change names and the characters in the story. After completing the exercise, I chose one story and helped this student to expand her story so that we could develop it into a school play. The following story was written and expanded by a first grader in my classroom:
“Miss Kimmie the Rabbit”
By Ashlie Russell
Once upon a time there was a rabbit. Her name was Miss Kimmie. Miss Kimmie lived behind a pile of bricks on the city sidewalk.
Her job was making colored eggs for good boys and girls then delivering them on Sunday.
It was summer time. Kimmie was in her house. She was hot. So she went outside to get some fresh air. When she went outside, a stranger was walking on the street. The stranger grabbed Kimmie and took her away. She yelled and her cousin Pammie heard her.
Pammie lived next door in a gold cardboard box. Pammie ran outside to see what all the noise was about. She saw that Kimmie was being taken away. So Pammie dialed 911.
Bob the Cat, a police cat, answered the phone. Pammie told the police cat that Kimmie was taken away. She told him that the stranger was a bear with blue shorts, an orange hat and big brown glasses. Bob the Cat said he would come as soon as he had finished his lunch.
Finally, Bob the Cat came and found Kimmie. She was sitting on an old log in the park. She was crying and told the police cat that the bear had dropped her after he found out she only had two eggs. Bob the Cat knew the bear was John the Mean Bear. He said he would look for John the Mean Bear after he takes Kimmie home.
It was 5:00 when Bob the Cat went to look for John the Mean Bear. John was chopping wood for his fireplace. Bob the Cat told John never to bother Kimmie or anyone again.
Meanwhile, it was Sunday and time for Kimmie to deliver her eggs to all the good boys and girls. She made sure that Pammie got the biggest and best egg because Pammie helped to save her from John the Mean Bear.
(See section, Examples of Scripts, for the play, “Miss Kimmie the Rabbit.”)
Themes can be developed around seasons. Many of the stories listed in my unit lend themselves to seasons or months of the school year. For instance, February is an important month in our school when many activities center around Black History month. Faith Ringgold’s recent book, “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad In The Sky,” contains a rich history pertaining to the Underground Railroad and facts about Harriet Tubman’s life. This story could easily be adapted for children to perform in a skit or school play.
The following list gives suggestions of monthly themes and stories that maybe used in the classroom for developing stories and writing plays:
September: Harvesting—”Chico Saves the Money,” Illustrated by Monica Anagnostaras
October: Trees, Leaves, Woods—”Lon Po Po,” (A Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood), Written by Ed Young
November: Native Americans—”Arrow To The Sun,” Written by Gerald McDermott.
December: Christmas, Hanukkah—”Grandma’s Latkes,” Written by Malka Drucker
January: Snow—”The Golden Snowflake,” Written by Francoise Joos
February: Black History—”Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky,” Written by Faith Ringgold
March: The Wind; Flying Kites; Exploring— “Where Does The Trail Lead,” Written by Albert Burton
April: Showers—”The Rains Are Coming,” Written by Sanna Stanley
May: Planting—”The Little Red Hen,” Written by William Stobb
Strategy (3) Use of themes with mime and/or creative dramatics to portray actions.
The children have been listening to stories, acting out familiar parts, and writing their own anecdotes. Now they are ready to concentrate on one particular character or aspect of a character and make a presentation in class. In order to achieve this strategy, the children will use mime to portray actions or creative dramatics to perform the themes or stories.
Mime is a fascinating form of art that is entered into with enjoyment by most children. Mime requires no memory of lines and little memory of action because the children are encouraged to act spontaneously by using their imaginations and self-expressions. The children must keep in mind that all actions take place in total silence. To show that one is talking, lip movement is permissible, but the lips should not be forming actual words. It is, also, important to keep in mind that one uses as many parts of his body as possible to express an action, mood or emotion. For example, when expressing sleepiness, one could stretch his arms, rub his eyes, cover a yawn, droop his shoulders, shuffle his feet, lie down, etc.
I would begin by showing the children a few simple mime movements before we entered into any activities. Claude Kipnis’ excellent book entitled, The Mime Book, goes into great detail with pictures and instructions about techniques and body movement required for mime activities.
This component of my unit will stress the following rules of our classroom:
1) Everyone determines his space in the classroom. After deciding upon a space, each child respects his peer’s space and does not enter into another’s space.
2) Because listening skills are important for hearing directions properly, every student must focus their attention on the teacher.
3) When the teacher says, “freeze,” all action stops and is held until the teacher says, “relax.”
4) We will never negatively criticize anyone’s response or performance.
5) When anyone is speaking, all others will remain silent and listen.
6) We will hold our questions, comments or suggestions until we are finished with an activity.
The following lines are examples of mime activities to be used before rehearsals of a school play. After each line, I would tell the children to freeze their actions followed by relaxing their bodies. We would continue by discussing who they were or how they used their body to show the action.