“It’s really wonderful to see all the pieces coming together.”
“I am so impressed that these are all their words!”
These are just a few of the comments made to me by the classroom teachers in the last few weeks of my Artist-In-Residency program at Washington Yu Ying, a Chinese immersion public charter school in Washington DC. I am currently in the midst of a 5 session residency, in partnership with Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), in two 6th grade classrooms. The residency will end in a student performance Culminating Event. I am thoroughly enjoying these classes and the process of creation with these students. They are smart, funny, insightful, thoughtful and their enthusiasm each time I arrive is infectious.
To give this project a little background…The classroom teachers and I met prior to the start of the residency and they expressed several goals.
1) Explore how to find the author’s voice and present different narrative perspectives
2) Go through the process of creating a script for performance from a narrative text, identifying key plot elements and character objectives.
3) Make connections to Chinese culture and history
4) Gain experience performing for peers
We chose the story Yeh-Shen, A Chinese Cinderella story, for our source material.
So we read the story and in small groups, we created tableaux to physically recreate the events of the story. We compared and contrasted this version of the familiar fairy tale with the more well known European version, discussing elements of Chinese culture present in the story. The students then individually and in groups generated lines of dialogue and wrote entire monologues, deeply exploring the ideas of character objectives and tactics. I combined all their ideas into one script, making almost no edits…this is THEIR script, no question. Then we read and rehearsed the script, using the tableaux they had created as the backbone of the staging. And now, they are preparing to perform their two different versions of the story of Yeh-Shen for an audience of their fellow students.
At this point in the residency, awaiting the final event, I am so proud of the great work these students have been able to accomplish in such a short time. Their scripts are funny, bilingual, and demonstrate an understanding of key ideas and themes. I am certain that the teachers will be able to apply many of these techniques in future lessons and projects. I feel incredible satisfaction knowing that we will have accomplished all the goals we set for this process, and then some. And the students have clearly had a blast doing so. It might look like all smiles, joy and laughter, but I think that’s what learning should look like. Don’t you?
- Theatre Teaching Artist & Story Tapestries Program Coordinator, Debbi Arseneaux