Page to Stage

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?



Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, I love my boss, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, politics, popular culture, reading, Teaching

13 responses to “Page to Stage

  1. What about “The Help?” I know there is controversy around the novel, but it does raise a TON of issues about race, poverty, wealth, love, discrimination, fear, etc. LOTS to talk about. And, I really think it will be made into a movie in the near future. The characters are ripe for the screen. I’ve also heard the audio version of the novel is fantastic because of the voices. Sound literature vs. visual.

  2. Lurker

    Long time lurker…what about The Children’s Hour? We performed it in high school and it’s pretty great.

  3. Darci

    What about pieces from Frankenstein? and a look at the script of Hair

  4. Just brainstorming here,

    Blood Diamond
    A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman
    Crossing the Danger Water is ripe with possibilities.

    I’m guessing not all of these are suitable for high school, but …

  5. See? THIS is why I LOVE you guys! You’re all coming up with stuff that would NEVER have occurred to me (and quite a lot of stuff I’ve never encountered at all). I LOVE collaboration – thankyouthankyouthankyou!!

    Seester, I’m not at all familiar with The Help. Can you clue me in?

    Lurker, neither am I hip to The Children’s Hour….

    Darci, you know that Frankenstein is one of my all-time top-ten books, right? I tend to look at it through the lens of an adult child of abusive parents, though, so I read it very MUCH from that perspective. I think I need a little help broadening my view of it, because that’s the theme that I use to center myself in the text.

    I was thinking about Blood Diamond, Lily, but I would want to give the kids more background in the issue than the film offers. I REALLY want to teach Brokeback Mountain, but I don’t think that will fly in high school, so I need to find a more palatable GLBTQ story – maybe Torch Song Trilogy, or a documentary. I’ve got some great GLBTQ poetry that I’m looking forward to using in class. I’m not familiar with any of the other works you mentioned (I’ve got a passing familiarity with Hairspray, but only enough to know that it’s a musical and that John Travolta played a woman (or a transgender?) in the film version…

    • The Travolta Hairspray is actually a remake. In his version, it addresses ideas of weight and acceptance (oversimplifying, but …). The original had Rosie O’Donnell in it, before she was famous, and was about race and acceptance. I actually like the old one much better.

      I reviewed A Disobedient Girl this year (well, 2009) on my blog, and my review has links to several other reviews.

      Crossing the Danger Water was one of my texts for my honors American Studies class, which was focused on the black experience of America. It’s an anthology and contains writings of King, Malcolm X, WEB DuBois, and so many others.

  6. The Help is a 2009 novel about the help employed by wealthy white women in Jackson, Mississippi. Set in the 1960s, it illustrates the precarious employment situations of the black women (if you tick off the wrong white woman, you will not find another job, work was paid below minimum wage, etc.). One of the southern women, who doesn’t quite tow the dixie bell line, wishes to write about life from the point of view of the help. To her, it’s a project; to them, it could mean the difference between anonymity and unwelcome, violent, attention.

    Really, it’s very good. One criticism is that the black voices are written in dialog that sounds ignorant, where the white women are not written with any particular dialect. I tend to disagree because I “heard” the women say things I’ve only heard in Jackson, Mississippi in the 60s and 70s. (I grew up there.) I understand the portrayal could upset people today, but it is a very accurate representation of the inflections and sentence forms that I remember hearing well into the early ’80s.

    The author pegged the privileged whites, too. And the love a lot of them felt for their black caregivers. Like I mentioned above, people have told me the audio book is really good. I am thinking of getting it, even though I just read the book. I want to hear the voices.

    • I’m on my library’s waiting list for The Help. I really really want to read it, I’ve heard excellent things. Actually, I thought I’d recommended it to you, Mrs. Chili, a few months ago …

  7. The Children’s Hour is a very famous lesbian-themed play from the early 20th century. If you want a HS palatable GLBTQ intro story it’s your go to.

  8. How may remakes have their been of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle writes a great story in styles the students may not be familiar with. Ditto almost anything by Poe.

  9. Wordlily, just FYI: The original (1988) version of Waters’ Hairspray starred Ricki Lake, not Rosie O’Donnell.
    Kindred by Octavia Butler is good — would be interesting to see that interpreted for stage.
    Issues: race, slavery, mixed-race relationships
    Black and White by Paul Volponi
    Issues: race
    A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (my students like it, and it’s been done twice for the screen. They could compare Poitier vs. P Diddy)
    Issues: race, feminism, social class (due to race)
    Their Eyes Were Watching God — Zora Neale Hurston (Halle Berry starred in the most recent version)
    Issues: race, relationships, abuse
    These are just some ideas I had…most of the books deal w/ race issues between blacks and whites, but I know there must be other books out there that deal with other ethnicities.

    • These are all great – and I had Kindred in my mind, but it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I wasn’t sure it would work. I may have to revisit it.

      I’m struggling a little bit with a lot of my Holocaust literature. All of it deals with Jews, but almost none of it deals with Jews as a religious group. The Nazis considered Jews a race, and as such, I think that much of my Holocaust literature can be read against what we typically think of as “race-themed” lit. It’s an interesting question I’m still considering.

    • Oh, d’oh! Sorry I stated that wrong, Midwest Teacher (and all); I hesitated as I typed, but didn’t come up with anything else and so just continued. Sorry!

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