Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opera and Theatre games - Round 2

Richard Blakeney, COT Teaching Artist

Hampton Elementary School

This year at Hampton is moving quite fast as we prepare for our Winter Showcase, December 13th at 2pm.  The students voices can be heard rehearsing The Boy and the Wolf and Se Vuol Ballare every Thursday morning.  They are ready to impress their parents and friends with their stage presence and teamwork, not to mention their Italian.  We have also been rehearsing for their Knightly News performance that was on November 19th.  It was a huge hit with the students at Hampton.  I would not be lying if I said that the Young Artists' Voices rang through the halls of Hampton Elementary during their visit.  They received applause and cheer from teacher and student alike.  We lost a week to Turkey Day, so now we have to work extra hard to get ready for the 13th.  Here is one game we have been playing to enhance student engagement and reinforce positive behavior.  It can also be used for classroom management and creative expression.  Call and Response, with clapping and voice cues are used every day in Hampton's opera class.

Duration: 10 minutes
Before class, select a list of key phrases or sentences from the designated text. Virtually any lines can work, though the best choices are lines that carry an emotional or aesthetic punch and that are essential to an understanding of the text.
The class gathers in a large circle. Everyone in the room needs to be able to make eye contact with one another. Ask the students to pull their shoulders back, take their hands out of their pockets, and avoid crossing their arms during the vocal warm-up. This will help them to open their voices, to speak with conviction and clarity. Next, walk into the center of the space and call out lines of text. The students repeat the lines back in chorus. Read with emotion, matching the tone of the text and encouraging students to match the energy and quality of the reading.
You might then playfully point to individual students and challenge them to match your level of energy. The warm-up continues with many lines moving back and forth between you, individual students, and the entire group.

Reflection: Based on the lines you heard in the Call and Response, what predictions can you make about the text?  What was your favorite line of today’s Call and Response?

Cameron Elementary School

This year at Cameron, the students' and parents' participation has started off more like a Blast of Activities for All instead of Opera for all.  As Amanda said, their program just started in the beinning of November and since then they have had performances of Knightly News and the Chicago Opera Theater Young Artists.  The audiences for these two performances were comprised of parents and students alike.  Even with all of that activity, the students have been excited to start acting, singing, and writing their own opera!  We have a visit with the lyricist, Alyssa, on December 7th and we are preparing by brainstorming and writing about potential characters, settings, and plotlines.  We have asked the students to create Space-themed writings, the theme of this year's Opera for All.  Here are three games we will be playing as we create text for our Space Opera.  Check out for more classroom games.

Duration: 45-90 minutes

Divide students in the class into four or five groups. Ask each group to answer one of the questions from the character’s perspective, in first person. Certain qualities help monologues to be effective including: use active words, ask questions, speak in the first person, and have a beginning, middle, and end. Give students about twenty minutes in class to develop the monologues. Ask students at the end of class to share their drafts.

Continue to work on and revise monologues. When the monologues are ready, adapt the scenes from the text (see adapting the text activity), and insert the monologues into various points in the scene. The final performance will then be a combination of scenes from the actual text combined with student-generated monologues.

What are the qualities of an effective monologue? What are the best ways to combine the monologues with adapted scenes? What do you learn about the characters by creating the monologues? What do you need to know about a character in order to create a monologue true to that character?

Duration: 20 minutes

Jan’s students each took a piece of paper and pen and sat in a chair or on the floor in a place where they were comfortable. She explained, “There is not a right way or a wrong way to write. This is your life. These are your stories, your words. Write as fast as you can. Don't take your pen off the paper.”
Jan then gave students a series of prompts for which they were to write quick lists, allowing a brief time for each topic. The students began writing. After about thirty seconds she instructed, “Stop. Draw a line across your paper. Don’t worry if you didn’t finish. This is about generating quick ideas. Next topic.” She had her students brainstorm in rapid succession the following topics:
• Foods you love to eat
• Images or things in your neighborhood
• Things you did when you were a child, toys you played with, memories, places you went
• Music you like to listen to, music that rocks your mind, settles your soul, music you listen to escape, lyrics from songs that come to you
• Things you love, things you love to do, your grandmother, your best friend, climbing on mountains, taking a vacation, anything that comes to mind.
When students finished, Jan explained, “This will be your cheat sheet, the notes you will use. I will give you a poetry prompt. Begin with the words ‘I come from.’ Use that phrase as often as you like and fill in with words from your lists. Play with it. Add to what you’ve written. Change it. It just helps to have something to begin with. You have 10 minutes to create a poem.”
Students worked silently on their poems using the rough ideas from their rapid brainstorming page. After about ten minutes, Jan instructed the students, “Pick up your paper with the poem on it; get up on your feet; walk around the room; just walk. Now read your poem out loud. Don't worry about anyone around you. Just start reading.” Students walked and read their poem aloud.
After a brief time, Jan stopped them and explained, “The next time you walk, I want you to edit the poem down to a size you would be brave enough to share in the room. Choose the parts you want to keep, and those you want to throw out. This is what I call editing on your feet. Take your pen with you. Add something new if you like.” Her students walked again, reading their poems and editing as they walked.
Jan instructed, “Find a partner. Introduce yourselves. You’re just going to read a little bit of your poem. Choose person A and B. A will read to B. B, please be the most respectful listener on the planet. Make eye contact, I won’t let you read for longer than a few seconds. Go.” Students read until Jan said, “Switch so that B is reading to A.” 
Jan then brought the class together in a circle. “First repeat after me ‘I' [everyone said ‘I’ in chorus], ‘Come,’ [chorus], ‘From,’ [chorus], ‘I Come From,’ [chorus]. Now we’ll go around the circle and you will share your edited poem with the rest of the class. Read as much of your poem as you are comfortable sharing. For you, maybe that’s just one line or one verse, or maybe it’s the whole poem. Share any part you want.”
That summer in Jan’s class, students read the novel Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. After the students read their own poems, and before they began reading the novel, Jan gave an inspiring speech that captured the essence of why we read and why we write:
These are very personal poems. We're doing this as artists, as poets. This is how poets begin writing poems. They begin at the very beginning, by just using basic language, introducing themselves, telling a little bit about their story. And when we get into the Bless Me, Ultima, you’ll hear another person telling a story; and it's a lot more words, and that's the only difference.
Jan’s process of rapid brainstorming breaks down inhibitions and encourages innovation. We’ve used this process in a variety of classrooms when beginning different types of writing from narrative to poetic.

Duration: 20-30 minutes

Prior to this exercise, the participants had been exploring the concept of childhood spaces. Robert asked them to think of places that were important to them as children. In pairs, they shared their stories.
Robert then handed everyone a standard size sheet of paper. He demonstrated, folding the paper in half, then in half again to form four equal parts.
Robert explained, “In the first quadrant write the name of the place from one of the stories you told earlier. When I say go, start drawing circles around that word until another word comes to mind. Then quickly write that word and begin drawing circles around the new word until you think of another. Fill the first quadrant up with words and circles. Don’t take your pencil off the page. If you can’t think of another word, then keep making circles. You have about three minutes. Go!” 
In the second quadrant, Robert asked everyone to write an important question someone else might ask about the story, “something that is missing from the story as you previously told it. A very important detail or perhaps some background knowledge that you didn’t explain the first time around.”
In the third quadrant, Robert asked the participants to focus on the senses. He instructed, “There are five basic senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Write a word for each of those five senses that relates to your story so you will know the story you are telling by just those five words. A sight. A sound. A taste. A texture. A smell.”
In the fourth quadrant, he asked everyone to write a headline that captured the essence of the story.
Robert then instructed, “Using all this rough material, take out a fresh sheet of paper and begin to write your story.”
Over the years we have added variations to the four quadrants, depending on when and how we have used this tool in the writing process. We have asked students to do the following:
  • List the key objects in your story
  • Write a mini-dialogue between two characters
  • Sketch the setting of your story
  • Describe the setting
  • Describe one of the major characters in your story
  • Describe one of the minor characters in your story
  • List the major symbols in your story

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