Lisa Golda, COT Teaching Artist
We've had two sessions thus far at Hampton with Ms. Paz, Ms. Ochoa, and Mr. McFarland, and so far, the year is off to a magical start! We have two classes of lovely and lovely youngsters, and our oldest group is chatty but creative and very musically talented. Although Richard is new to this school, and the kids can be tough, he has already captured their trust, fascination, and respect with his amazing teaching approach. I have a video in which the kids cannot help but dance for joy and excitement as he sings with them, but yet are behaving and in total control of themselves. Sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't!
I am learning so much from the way Richard models and communicates expectations through theatre games, rather than lecturing about them (which NEVER works, anyway; but how else can one establish the rules? This way!). Richard also reminded ME, through his example, that students are fascinated when we perform what we are trying to teach them, rather than talking about it!
We know, though we forget, that a gesture, a sound, a facial expression, are worth a thousand words. This is the basis of theatrical performance, of course. And, everyone has heard about those teachers who can get a room of students on their side and in their seats with a LOOK. Try to explain that process mechanically (this is what you do with your body, your energy, etc. etc, blah blah) and you'll lose a group of elementary school kids. Communicate that to the students both through modeling of standards and by showing them with your own performance how exciting gesture and sound can be, and all of a sudden, you have a roomful of enthusiastic, impressed, inspired young actor-singers!
We used this concept in two ways. I taught two of our classes Se vuol ballare, a song they will be presenting at the Winter Preview in a few months, in just one class period, in this way. First, I explained the situation between Figaro and his boss the Count that precipitates the aria in age-appropriate terms. I had the students, many of who speak Spanish, find the Spanish cognates, such as ballare/baile and signor/senor. Then I performed it for them, in character as the Count, with all the menace and disrespect I could muster! They were instantly hooked and wanted to sing it with me because they were fascinated by the dramatic tension of the situation--Figaro is furious!--that I did my best to model in gesture, vocal inflection, and facial expression. Just teaching it to them by rote would have been boring and a chore. But they were, I think, fascinated by the angst in the situation. And I think they liked being entertained while they learned.
Richard had introduced the gesture/sound concept to them the first day by giving them five or six gestures and sounds to associate with characters in the Magic Flute; such as a pantomime of a flute for Tamino, or an outstretched hand and the famous theme (from Die Holle Rache) of the Queen of the Night. They will attend a dress rehearsal of the COT production of Mozart's , Die Zauberflote, The Magic Flute, next week (and base their own opera upon the themes of adventure and exploration evoked by COT's intergalactic setting of the work). This week, we reviewed those gestures, then had the kids act out other scenes in the opera as we gave them a synopsis of the plot. They were eager to act in the second class; which is quite unusual; and their choices were often quite clear and appropriate. This gets us off to a great start. They will no doubt be super excited after they see the show!
As we attempted to assess their takeways from the second day, we realized that themes of family communication (dysfunctional in the opera!) and tests were present in the work. We hope that the kids will understand that challenges in life, though they test your character, prepare us to tackle the next stage in our growth. Their comments on Pamina and Tamino's troubles included : "What kind of dad kidnaps his own daughter?" (Indeed). and "Maybe they had to take all those tests to prove they were worthy of each other." It will be fun to hear, after the opera, how they interpret what they see and hear; and also to take those observations and interpret them in their own story of challenge and discovery! We plan to ask them, again: Tell us, in a sentence or two, what the Magic Flute is about? What is the MORAL of the story? We'll see what they have to say!