How’s this for a course title?
Page to Stage; Literature and Performance
Course Description: We tend to think of stories as static; they exist between the covers of a book and are the same every time we return to them. When we begin to consider that these stories are much more than just words on paper – that characters are dynamic and that the themes and lessons that stories have to teach us are very often timeless – we open ourselves to seeing beyond the page and into the wonder of possibility. In this course, we will explore a variety of genres for that wonderful possibility.
Short stories, novels, plays and poems that have as their centerpiece a theme of social justice will be carefully investigated not only to reveal their structure and craft, but also to uncover what they mean to us. Students will think, read, write, and talk about critical questions that will bring us closer to understanding how these stories work. Next, we’ll view films and learn to critique the interpretations of actors as they represent the characters and stories we’ll study. From there, we’ll move on to dramatic performances, which will be comprised either of excerpts from the pieces we read together or of original pieces that were inspired by the critical work we’ll do in class.
This all came about after a meeting with myself, the director of CHS, and the theatre teacher (we’ll call her Anne) on Tuesday. It seems that the original intent for this coming semester was that Carrie and Anne were going to collaborate on a class where the students would study and produce a staged performance of The Crucible. After looking into what resources we have – both in terms of time and, it seems, talent and work ethic in the student body – the decision was made that The Crucible was too high a mark to hit. From what I understood from what she said in the meeting, Anne is going to be stretched far too thin in her other commitments to be able to attend to a full-blown production, and her opinion of the students’ willingness to do the work required to get their skills to the point where such a thing would even be feasible is not particularly favorable.
The three of us together brainstormed the idea of a two-part class. I would take the first session, where the students and I would investigate literature for its dramatic potential. The idea is that I would teach the students to look critically at the pieces we read and view in an effort to get them to the point where they’re not just looking at the “what,” but more importantly looking at the “why” of the art they’re engaged with, and help them to understand the dramatic work that they do with the parts that they choose. I will lead them through understanding characters, motivations, themes and big ideas, and the idea is that they will use that knowledge to inform the dramatic choices that they make in terms of moving a piece from the page to the stage. One of Annie’s primary complaints about her acting students is that they know the words, but they don’t understand what’s behind them – what makes the words work. While I don’t know much about theatre and production, I can certainly help the students with understanding what makes words work.
From my class, the kids will proceed to Carrie’s theatre arts class where they will learn how to take the pieces we’re studying in the lit. class and put them in space. I have every intention of following my kids to the next class because I, too, want to learn about how to put something from the page into a three-dimensional context. I can certainly appreciate when such a thing is done well, but I myself have no idea how to make that happen without relying on far too much luck than is wise.
My question for you, Dear Readers, is this; the overriding theme of the unit is focused on tolerance, acceptance, and social justice. I’m looking for ideas across genres – shorts, novels, poems, films, pretty much anything – that you think would tie nicely together into a cohesive unit from which the students could choose vignettes that would work together as a larger production. Carrie has visions of a number of short, dramatic pieces interspersed with music and art as a culminating experience for the students, and I want to make sure that the literature we work with in my portion of the class offers substantial enough material. I’ve already chosen The Merchant of Venice as a play we’ll read, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a film to watch. I’m thinking that The Book Thief and sections of The Diary of Anne Frank will be rich in potential, as will a number of poems from African-American and Arab-American writers. I’m kicking around The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, as well as A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
What else ya got?