My first love began in 3rd grade when my teachers, Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton, announced that our class would be performing the play "Santa Claus Takes a Vacation." In that moment, my little 8-year-old self knew what I wanted more than anything: to play the role of Mrs. Claus.
One by one, teachers called out the parts and students raised their hands to volunteer. I remember vividly sitting on the rug, watching who had volunteered for each part, waiting eagerly to raise my hand. Finally, finally after what seemed like an eternity, Mrs. Heller said, "And who would like to play the role of Mrs. Claus?" I literally jumped up and my heart nearly burst as I shouted, "I do!" Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton changed the direction of my life in that moment, they introduced me to the stage. My love of the stage, performing, creating characters, letting go, and taking risks, all of these things are still very much a part of me today.
This week I have the privilege of directing an acting and improv camp for 4th - 6th graders. It is always amazing to me to watch a group of 20 kids who barely know one another come together and share their creativity with such transparency. On stage today I witnessed students overcoming fears to take risks and let go of restraint to be real and fearless. It was exhilarating!
Then I had one of those light-bulb moments. If these drama and improv games encourage such open thought and creativity for the stage, why couldn't these same games and exercises encourage the same open thought and creativity for my class with writing. Ding! Lightbulb.
In our first day of camp, we explored walking in different ways, like animals, through weather, unusual scenarios, and then move into walking to show an emotion. When actors move on stage there is always a purpose, a motivation. So we work quite a bit on motivation for emotions and movement. Then we transition into pantomime scenes where the focus of the scene is not the action but the motivation, relationships, and beginning-middle-end.
All of this ties into creative writing (and part of me is wondering why I didn't make this observation sooner!). I am very excited to incorporate improvisation games and exercises into my classroom to support our writing endeavors. Students struggle with ideas for writing, desperately at times, and I think some of these games are a fantastic source for character development and plot. It would also be fun to try a workshop environment to actually act out students' in progress writing as a tool for revision.
One of my favorite resources is Improv Ideas: A Book of Games and Lists. Full of detailed directions and lists upon lists of ideas, places, emotions, objects, etc... this book is a tremendous resource to both the acting teacher and the classroom teacher with a flair for the dramatic.
Thank you Mrs. Heller and Mrs. Stapleton for the opportunity that has inspired me for a lifetime.
Break a leg!