Episode 119: Shakespeare from the Outside In

A talk with teacher, physical performer, director and Drama Teacher Academy instructor Todd Espeland about looking at Shakespeare from the outside in. How can you physicalize Shakespeare? Listen in to get a great punctuation tool!


Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

You have arrived to Episode 119 and you can find any links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode119.

Okay, let’s talk Shakespeare. Let’s talk hate and fearing of Shakespeare. You know it. You’ve seen that look in your students’ eyes. So many students hate and fear Shakespeare. And, let’s be frank, so many teachers hate and fear Shakespeare.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that learning Shakespeare in a classroom is so often done sitting down at desks, silently reading, silently struggling, trying to look up words that we no longer use in a form that we no longer speak in. It makes total sense that teachers and students would hate and fear this. It’s boring and it’s not the way that Shakespeare would have wanted it, right?

In Shakespeare’s time, actors did not sit around and analyze the plays. They didn’t even get the whole play. They got their cue line, their line, and the line after. They didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. They were up, on their feet, and moving. That’s the key to Shakespeare.

So, how can you get your students up on their feet and moving? Let’s find out, shall we?

Here’s my conversation with teacher, actor, physical performer, director, and Drama Teacher Academy instructor, Todd Espeland.

Lindsay: All right. Hello, podcast listeners! I am here in beautiful Kalamazoo, Michigan. Actually, this is a treat because this is a podcast interview that I’m doing face to face and I have, face to face with me, Todd Espeland. Hello, Todd!

Todd: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: I noticed you laughed a little bit when I said “beautiful Kalamazoo, Michigan.”

Todd: It is beautiful. I thought you were making fun.

Lindsay: No, of course I’m not making fun. I’ve spent many times in Kalamazoo because you and I have known each other for many years. I think it’s ’96.

Todd: I was going to say ’96.

Lindsay: Todd and I met at the International Thespian Festival where we were both guest artists and we met – myself and Craig, and Todd and his wife Allison – actually, Allison Williams who you all know as one of our prolific playwrights – and we were both sort of to ourselves mumbling about a show, and then we mumbled together, didn’t we?

Todd: Yeah, we were sitting in the booth and Allison and I were not happy with the show and there was a couple sitting two or three chairs away in the crying baby booth at this theatre. We weren’t, like, in the middle of the theatre saying…grumble, grumble…

Lindsay: Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no, in the overflow booth.

Todd: The overflow booth. And then, we all started talking together.

Lindsay: And it was a beautiful friendship.

So, you’ve been teaching for quite a while.

Todd: Yeah, I was brought to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to be a sabbatical replacement at Western Michigan University in 2000 and I discovered I really liked teaching and, after that, I was a guest artist in residence at Kalamazoo College from 2002 until 2010. I wasn’t working full years; I was spending some time touring shows and directing shows around the country. From 2002 to 2010, I at least taught two or three classes.

Lindsay: What is it about teaching that really appeals to you?

Todd: I mean, I’ve had a really good time being an actor and it’s been fun and I’ve experienced a lot and I’ve experienced a lot of personal growth. What’s really great about being a teacher is helping students experience that same level of personal growth and teaching them to unlock their hidden wells of creativity. I know that sounded totally cheesy but I really mean it.

Lindsay: It really is. It’s the best part I find of any teaching experience is when – and, again, it’s totally cheesy – when the light goes off in their eyes and they go, “Oh! Oh!” and you’ve helped them come to that realization.

Todd: I mean, this is not to knock people who are, you know, my friends who work professionally or whatever, but there is a level of mundaneness that comes to the work or you’re going to work when you’re putting on a play or directing a show or acting in a show. There’s a mundaneness that happens and it doesn’t make the work any worse but it’s really cool to be around people who get really excited by the work because you’ve unlocked something in them.

Lindsay: I think that there’s no other group which is more interesting to write for as a playwright and also teach with just because of that – because they’re so excited and, when they get excited, they’re not afraid to show it.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: You do a lot of movement stuff, a lot of commedia stuff.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: You went to the Dell’Arte School.

Todd: Yeah. Well, it’s a really weird route. I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lindsay: Oh, you’re the one.

Todd: I’m the one. Well, I mean, I lived there since I was fourteen so I didn’t really grow up there. But I went to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and was studying at a traditional theatre school and a guy that I was in class with was a mime.

Lindsay: I’d like to point out that Todd just did mime hands.

Todd: I did mime hands. He was a mime and he used to perform in hotels and whatnot.

Lindsay: Oh, in Las Vegas!

Todd: In Las Vegas, yes.

Lindsay: I’m sitting there going, “Mime in a hotel? Oh, in Las Vegas.” Yes, yes.

Todd: Like at conventions and parties and stuff like that. Well, he got this gig being Caesar’s royal jester at Caesar’s Palace and they wanted two. I had a movement class with him and he said, “You move really well. Why don’t you do this?” and I said okay. It was awesome because it was 1989 when Vegas was just starting to explore doing more variety theatre in the hotels. So, I was Caesar’s royal jester and I was dressed in a weird kind of toga-y thing with the guy who had been Caesar at Caesar’s Palace for – I don’t know – twenty years and there was Cleopatra and all these performers and then they had all these circus performers that I shared a hotel room – it was our dressing room which was a hotel room with myself and David, the guy who was my partner, and then a guy named David Kesterson who was a human mannequin and a guy named Ming who was from the Peking Circus who did this crazy balancing act. And so, I was around all these circus people and I went, “This is pretty cool.” And then, I went on to become a Chaplin impersonator at a comedy club. These are not typical jobs that you have in college.

Lindsay: But the movement and physical is just really starting to hone in.

Todd: Yeah. And so, I went and took a workshop in Maine and I heard about this place, the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in Northern California, and I decided that’s where I wanted to go train. It’s a movement theatre school. It was founded by a guy named Carlo Mazzone-Clementi – the first teacher of commedia dell’arte in the United States – and I got into there after college and went and trained with them.

Lindsay: When you have this physical background, how does that translate into your teaching? How do you use it?

Todd: I try and, well, there’s the basic approach to acting in the United States is the Stanislavski which is from the inside out.

Lindsay: Very think-y.

Todd: Very think-y. You have a personal experience or an emotional experience and then you let it out. The crux of the physical work that we were learning at Dell’Arte and through mask was all about either creating a very beautiful physical theatrical world that the play took place in or, in the case of mask, giving yourself a physical experience that translated itself through being physical into an emotional experience, or unlocking emotional impulse in you. And so, a lot of my work is about trying to straddle the line between internal work and external work, and even if I do dabble in internal work, I try and add an external component so that you’re working from the outside in. So, it’s not just sitting there and “look at me having an emotional experience that you can always see beyond my face so that it’s the whole body working.”

Lindsay: And this actually transitions – nicely done – really well into what we’re really going to dive into today and that is Shakespeare – teaching Shakespeare – and about how so often Shakespeare is taught from that inside-out perspective, isn’t it? That it’s think-y, think-y, think-y first till everyone gets bored to death and they don’t take that outside-in approach.

Todd: Right.

Lindsay: So, why and how can a teacher who is a high school teacher sitting in their classroom – in Kalamazoo, Michigan – who isn’t comfortable teaching theatre, how can they take an outside-in approach?

Todd: Well, part of it was – and I ended up as well as working at these hotels and whatnot – I ended up doing Shakespeare in college and working for a couple of Shakespeare festivals while I was in college as an intern and a performer. I just discovered a methodology of working on Shakespeare so that you can analyze the text and then apply that analyzation into a physical performance.

Lindsay: Hmm.

Todd: Do you want me to get more specific?

Lindsay: Yeah, because I think that that’s an interesting thought. I think it’s really interesting that, instead of analyzing the text and then you read the text and then it’s just it stays very stayed, but to analyze the text and then get up on your feet, I think that’s something that’s really interesting.

Todd: Well, one of the many approaches to it is looking at the punctuation in the next. As I say, there’s just tons and tons of different approaches. One of the reasons why I like this approach of looking at the punctuation in the text is it really gets to the heart of the matter of making specific personal, emotionally connected decisions. Shakespeare, he wrote very fast; they rehearsed very, very fast; and we believe – and nobody knows exactly what was in Shakespeare’s head at the time because he never wrote about his process.

Lindsay: Nor is he here to talk about it.

Todd: Yes. If not, I would say, “Zombie!” and then run away.

Lindsay: And then, Zombie Shakespeare would get up and he’d say, “You know…”

Todd: “You know, iambic pentameter….”

So, what we think is that he put clues in the text on how actors should act the text. Some of it is the way the iambic pentameter is written, some of it is word placement, and some of it has to do with punctuation.

Lindsay: Because there’s no Shakespeare that we know of, there wasn’t really a lot of stage direction and you just only had the text to work with.

Todd: Right.

Lindsay: Isn’t it true that, when actors of his time too, they didn’t even get a full script?

Todd: No, they didn’t. They got a roll. Your script was rolled up and you got your cue line and then your line and then the line after your line, and that’s all you got.

Lindsay: Amazing.

Todd: Yeah, you had to listen to the actors, you had to pay attention. I actually did a show like this in 1998 at Kentucky Shakes.

Lindsay: Everyone got rolls?

Todd: Everybody got rolls, yeah.

Lindsay: Oh, my gosh!

Todd: Yeah, it was the Scottish play which I’m super superstitious about talking about.

Lindsay: Yes. If you don’t know what the Scottish play is, you’ve got to look it up because we’re not going to say it.

Todd: Yeah. But the guy who played the lead in that, Tim, and it was the fourth time he’d played the role so he knew the role but it was huge. It was huge.

Lindsay: Oh, my gosh. I think that would be such an interesting experience, like, if you wanted to take Shakespeare to a new level – teachers who are listening – give your students rolls. It’s so funny because that kind of flies in the face of some other things that we teach students which is, “You have to read the whole play in order to understand your character.” It’s like, “Well, okay, let’s try this where you just get your cue line and your line and then the after line.” Oh, you’d have to listen so hard.

Todd: Yeah, you totally have to pay attention. You totally, totally have to pay attention.

Lindsay: Ah! I love that. Okay, back to punctuation.

Todd: All right. So, what we think is that Shakespeare – and, again, this punctuation is all theoretical because he didn’t publish any of his plays during his lifetime; his actors put it together so we’re still kind of hinting in the dark about what it could be but one of the big tools in there – and it’s a weird piece of punctuation that we don’t often use – is the colon and the semi-colon.

One of the things is that whatever happens, whatever line is said before a semi-colon which is the dot and the comma, whatever is said before the semi-colon somehow triggers an emotional response in the character for some reason so that anything that happens after the semi-colon is emotionally driven. It’s an emotional impulse that’s pushing it.

With the colon which is the two dots, whatever happens before the colon somehow triggers an intellectual change in the character so that everything after the colon is somehow intellectually driven. It’s free of emotion.

Lindsay: Oh, okay. Well, that’s something that you can actually play, isn’t it?

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: That, if you have a line and there’s a semi-colon, whatever comes afterwards is either going to be, well, emotion filled or completely calm.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: I’m totally putting you on the spot. Do you have any good examples that we could direct teachers to? What good speech be then that has a lot of punctuation in it?

Todd: I’ll talk about a specific speech. One of the things that just occurred to me is right now I’m editing down Richard III because I’ll be directing Richard III in spring and there’s a couple of great moments where, if you don’t know Richard III, he’s a bad guy and he’s completely putting one over on everybody in order to sort of stick a knife in their back, and there’s a great moment where he’s pretending to be really, really holy and really pious in Richard III, he has a lot of semi-colons while he’s acting being this sweet, nice man who only thinks about others. There’s a lot of semi-colons in this particular speech and, reading it through, it’s really funny to me because it’s clear he’s approaching it from a standpoint of trying to pretend to be emotionless and sweet and nice. But then, when we get to some of his private speeches, he’s got a lot of semi-colons in there because he’s pissed. He’s a hunchback. Everybody looks down on him. They call him a bunch-backed toad. So, that really drives him.

Lindsay: Okay. That’s one thing. That’s the analysis where you look at a speech and you go, “Okay, here’s punctuation.” For example, semi-colon, emotional reaction; colon, intellectual reaction. Okay. So, how do students physicalize that? What’s a physical action they can take with the semi-colon and a colon?

Todd: All right. So, the physical action and the way I’ve sort of broken this down to give us a simple place to begin working from is anything that happens after the semi-colon which is the emotional response, one of the things I’ll do if I’m working on a speech or having an actor work on a speech is to begin walking. A lot of times, we want to start working on a speech from sitting. I mean, acting’s about real life, even when we’re giving a monologue in our life – yelling at our parents or arguing with a boss – it’s not us coming at it from a place of sitting and rest; it’s a place of action.

So, I like to get actors up and moving and doing this kind of nice vigorous walk. And then, when we get to that semi-colon, I like to have the actors switch directions as fast as they can without thinking. So, you’re delivering the speech, you’re delivering the speech, and you get to that semi-colon and you just switch directions. That does a couple of different things because we’re reading but our brain is trying to deal with this violent action our bodies have done. And I like to think that, by engaging our physical apparatus, it allows us to travel deeper into that moment of emotionalness or emotional reaction by physically just acting in an emotionally uncontrolled way. When we get to the colon, I like to have actors, as they’re doing this little walk, when they get to the colon, to stop, take a breath, decide what direction they’re going to go in, and then go, especially when we have the actor walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, walking, and stopping, there’s a lot that happens to our physical instrument when we adjust in that way. I like to think it gives the actor a moment to gear shift because a lot of the times we think, “Oh, I’ve got to keep acting, I’ve got to keep acting, I’ve got to keep acting,” and we don’t take those times to gear shift. With this approach of switching directions quickly or stopping and being very meditative about where we’re going to switch directions, I like to think that acts on kind of our inner impulse center where we’re trying to act from.

Lindsay: There’s two things that come to my mind. One is that, when you give a student an action to do, in that emotional moment where afterwards there’s an emotional impulse, instead of saying, “Be sad. Be happy,” you’re not dealing with the emotion or the thinky-think, you’re dealing with actually doing something.

Todd: Yes, emotion’s a by-product. Emotion is a by-product of getting what you want or not getting what you want, and what’s great for me and working with actors – or, more importantly, what’s great for me and working as an actor myself – is that, when I get to that moment of the meditative shift or the quick violent shifting – in the case of the semi-colon – it makes it easier for me to go, “Oh, I’m going to play this action,” and attaching an action, the next thing I’m going to do – you know, on that quick violent shift, am I attacking or am I jumping for joy or vocally or whatever?

Something to think about too is I’m also influenced by a guy named Tadashi Suzuki. If you’re familiar with Suzuki method, the people who do Suzuki method founded the city company and this staging process called viewpoints. Suzuki’s physical method started out as a vocal method and Suzuki said, “We teach voice and we teach movement, but voice and movement are the same thing. The voice is actually the body. The voice is the body leaving the body, traveling across the room to your body and affecting your body.” So, whatever the body can do, the voice can do. So, if the body can hop and skip and jump, then the voice can hop and skip and jump. By using this methodology of the colon and the semi-colon and this other punctuation stuff, I think it makes it easier – for me, at least, as an actor – to discover where the action is either by playing the action and paying attention and going, “Oh, wow! It felt like I was punching there,” or, “Oh, wow! It felt like I was tickling there,” and then saying, “Well, why don’t I try this next moment punching?” or, “I’ll try this next moment tickling or slashing her.” That’s my action.

Lindsay: And, so often with students and working with Shakespeare, everything tends to come across like a monotone vocally and also physically. They never know what to do. They just stand still and they deliver as opposed to, you know, acting.

Todd: Or worse, it becomes just really arm-waving.

Lindsay: Yeah!

Todd: Because students think that Shakespeare has to be done one of two ways. They get that weird sort of phony British accent in and everything becomes very declamatory which I’ve experienced in working with actors on every level of the spectrum. And then, actors, yeah, like you said, they get really monotone. I worked with an actor directing a high school production of the Scottish play and this one actor, the whole time, he was really quiet and you couldn’t hear him past the front row the whole time and he was kind of mumble-y too. The whole time, I kept giving him notes and I was like, “Dude, what are you doing?” and I finally had to pull him aside at the end and, instead of trying to coax a performance out of him, I said, “You’ve got to stop doing this. I don’t know what you’re doing, what’s going on?” and he had watched the Judi Dench-Ian McKellen version of the Scottish play which – if you’ve ever seen it – is really dark and it’s filmed all in close-ups.

Lindsay: Oh, the movie version?

Todd: The movie version, yeah, not the stage version – the movie version.

Lindsay: Ahh.

Todd: And it was filmed all in close-ups and it was, like, the only Shakespeare play he’d ever seen and he thought that’s how you do Shakespeare because, you know, he was told that Ian McKellen and Judi Dench are the greatest Shakespeare actors around and, “Well, that’s how I must do it!”

Lindsay: He must do it mumble-y and in close-up.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: Okay. I think that’s really excellent and I think that using anything that we can do to get students physicalizing in acting when you teach Shakespeare, I think that that’s the road to go down, isn’t it? If you were to give one piece of advice to teachers in teaching Shakespeare, would you say physicalization is up there? (As I put words in your mouth.)

Todd: Yes, Lindsay. I would… “Yes, Lindsay. I think physicalizing is brilliant.”

Lindsay: I got in the middle of that sentence and I’m like, “That was the worst question ever.”

Todd: No, I mean, yes, I agree with you. I drank the Kool-Aid. But the thing I like about this method, and as I keep working as a teacher, is I’m constantly trying to come up with ways that students can do analysis so that you’re sitting and you’re being thoughtful about the work, but then finding out how to take that thoughtful analysis and turn it into something that can be put on-stage and presented because, all too often, I mean, I’ve seen a lot of movement theater people that I’ve worked with who it’s all about just putting it out there, putting it out there, putting it out there, and there is not a lot of thought given to the work, and I think you’ve got to find the balance. But I think that the analysis is there to serve the physical work as opposed to the physical work being there to serve the analysis. The analysis has to be the foundation that you then build your house on.

Lindsay: Yes, love it.

As we wrap up here, if this is something that really gets you interested and it’s like, “Oh, this is something I want to learn more about,” Todd, we’re very excited that he is teaching a course called Friendly Shakespeare in our Drama Teacher Academy. It’s this and more – just how we get Shakespeare, how we make it friendly, right? Like, how we make it accessible.

Todd: Yeah, and I want to thank you guys for asking me to do this because I love teaching this workshop and I love teaching this course in Friendly Shakespeare and I’m really, really excited to be able to open it up to a really wide array of people so that this can get out there and people can start using it beyond just my teaching in class or teaching in workshops.

Lindsay: And that we don’t get to, we get past the point of “I can’t do Shakespeare” or even worse, “I can’t teach Shakespeare. It’s not accessible to me. It’s not relevant to me,” when, in fact, it’s so wonderfully relevant and universal. So, any tools we can give, we’re going to do, right?

Todd: And I’m hoping that this can be a foundation for people to love Shakespeare, to explore it further, and to go into those many other methods that are there to learn how to do Shakespeare – you know, become a scansion nerd and learn all about scansion and see how that aids in back to the process that I’m hopefully laying a foundation for.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Todd.

Todd: Thank you. Shake your powerhouse!

Thank you, Todd!

Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!

So, I mentioned there that Todd is an instructor in our Drama Teacher Academy and the doors are open for the DTA again! We are accepting new members. Go to dramateacheracademy.com. You can also find the link for this in the show notes for this episode – theatrefolk.com/episode119. Go there. Check out the website. Kick the tires. Read testimonials from existing members. You can check out Todd’s courses – Friendly Shakespeare and Big Picture Blocking: Staging Your Play From The Outside In. Check out other courses. You can watch a couple of modules from each course to see exactly what you’re getting. Look through the lesson play library. We want you to see what you’re getting when you join so there’s no surprises.

Again, that’s dramateacheracademy.com.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The Professional Development Roadmap

A guide to defining your strengths and weaknesses as a drama teacher.

Picture yourself at a crossroads. Map in hand. Maybe a couple of tumbleweeds. A farmhouse in the distance, ragged scarecrow – use your imagination. You could go in any direction.

The problem is you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know the destination so how could you possibly choose? And there’s an even bigger problem: you don’t know how to read the map.

Does the classroom ever feel like this for you?

You struggle to get through each day without a plan. Or you’re overwhelmed with testing and assessments to even think about a plan. Or worse, you’ve been thrown into the drama classroom without any map reading skills with no time to learn them. How can you even think about creating a plan when you barely know the basics?

And when you’re in the middle of that struggle, the only thing you can think about is how you want to do better. You want to know more. You want to be able to offer a well-rounded education to your students. They’re your kids. But every Professional Development opportunity in your area is irrelevant to drama or filled with assessment paperwork.

In order to do the best for your kids, here are three important questions:

  • What do you know?
  • What do you need to know?
  • How do you get what you need to know?

How do you answer these questions? You need a Professional Development Roadmap. Read on to learn more.

As we go, there will be actions to take and a lot of questions to answer. We’ve put together a Professional Development Roadmap in PDF format that you can download at the end of the post.

There are two types of people – those who will read this post and think about it, and those who will download the roadmap and do the work. I promise you that the ones who dig in and do the work will have far more success.

What do you know?

This question addresses your strengths. Do this in two stages: Brainstorm and List.

Brainstorm: Give yourself two minutes and a clean sheet of paper. Your job is to automatic write every strength you have on the paper without judgement or censorship.

Write everything down, big and small. Nothing is irrelevant. Don’t deny a strength because you don’t think it fits the classroom. Write them all down. And even further, don’t stop writing during your two minutes. The brain is a funny tool – sometimes it thinks best when it’s not forced to think. So just keep writing (even if you have to write I am stuck over and over) and you’ll be amazed at what your brain gives you. Do this exercise three times in a row so no strength is left out.

Once you have your three brainstorm sessions in front of you, go through them with a highlighter. Highlight every strength you wrote.

List: Once you have your highlighted brainstorm, you need something a little more tangible. Look through your pages and list ten strengths from most important to least important. (Our Professional Development Roadmap has a fill-in Strengths List). And don’t say you don’t have 10 strengths! You are a teacher. You made it to the classroom. You have something to offer so acknowledge it and write it down.

This is your known list. This is what you know.

What do you need to know?

Many drama teachers come into the drama classroom with one speciality. They did tech in school. They’re actors. They sing. But in order to teach students fully, the drama teacher has to know something about a lot of different subjects. It’s not just acting – there’s projection, and movement, and different styles of acting. Then there’s theatre history. Then playwriting. And don’t forget stage management! The list goes on and on.

The best drama teachers aren’t specialists, they are generalists. They are the GP’s of the theatre world.

So how do you become a generalist?

First off make a list of all the different areas that encompass theatre. Don’t worry about whether you know anything or not just yet, just make a list: Theatre history, set design, improvisation, projection, directing, mask, mime, movement, playwriting and so on. (our PDF has this done for you!)

Next, beside each item on your list rank your knowledge:

  • N = Not-confident. I don’t know enough to confidently teach it yet.
  • C = Confident. I know enough to teach a short unit on this topic.
  • E = Expert. I know enough to teach a multi-week unit on this topic.

Don’t judge your knowledge. This has nothing to do with whether you’re a good teacher or not. You are simply gathering data. You’re gathering information that you can act on. Write down an N, C, or E beside each item.

When you look at your completed list, it’s time to assess. Take two minutes and automatic write your reaction. Does it overwhelm you? Scare you? Does it inspire you? Does it seem impossible? Does it seem doable? Write for two minutes without stopping to get your reaction out of your brain and on paper. This is especially helpful if the list seems too big to take on.

And then address your list. Don’t just leave it in a drawer. Address the areas where you marked down “N.” Write those out separately in their own list. If your “N” list is long, then start with ten. Choose the Top Ten items that you want to add to your toolkit as a drama teacher.

Now that you know what you need to know, it’s time to figure out how to deal with it.

How do you learn what you need to know?

You now have a list of strengths and have identified areas to work on. Don’t let this list scare you. Be systematic in dealing with it. Take one item at a time and repeat the following process:

Let’s say that one of the items on your list is mask. You know nothing about mask. You’ve heard other drama teachers talk about it, maybe you’ve seen it in a show. You know your students would benefit greatly if they could communicate physically instead of verbally, but you don’t know where to start.

Take these steps to get what you need to know.

  1. Define what scares you: What stops you from learning to teach mask? What scares you and why? Get your reservations out of your brain and on to the page.
  2. Identify why learning mask is important: What are your students going to learn through mask? How is mask an important skill? The more you identify the student outcomes, the easier it will be to specify what you need to learn to teach those outcomes. Instead of thinking Oh I need to teach them mask, focus on the fact that learning mask will enable students to determine how body language can communicate thoughts and ideas. Students will learn how to present a character non-verbally. Students will have a safe learning environment to express ideas visually.
  3. Gather local information: What’s going on in your area? Are there any local workshops? Is there an opportunity for drama teacher Professional Development on mask? Don’t worry if there’s not. This is just one of the steps in this process. Do a little hunting. Let everyone in your network know that you’re looking for mask information.
  4. List people who can help you locally: Brainstorm a list of people you could reach out to face-to-face. It could be another teacher in your district who might know something about mask. It could be a local community theatre. Call them up and offer to buy them lunch and pick their brains. You may be thinking I could never do that! I could never just call someone! This is about giving the best to your kids. If you have to do something out of your comfort zone to achieve that goal, you’re going to do it, right? The key to asking a stranger for help is to have an intro, an offer and a plan.
    1. The intro: When you reach out to someone, you have to put your best foot forward. Provide a context. Identify who you are and what you do. That way you’re not a stranger out of the blue.
    2. The offer: If you’re asking someone for help, it’s important to give something back. Offer to buy them lunch or at the very least coffee. Do not expect information for free. By providing an offer, you’re showing that you respect this person’s time and knowledge.
    3. The plan: You’ve got your meeting. You’re ready to learn. Never sit down and say tell me everything you know. That’s unfair. Thank this person for talking to you. Ask them how their year is going in their classroom, or in their rehearsals. And then come to your meeting with at least five specific questions about mask. Relate them to your student outcomes – I never know how to get my students to stop acting like themselves in their characters. Do you have any specific exercises? Or do you have any suggestions for where I can buy masks?
  5. Look for a community: It may be that your local options are zero, nil, zilch. There’s no theatre in your area and you are the sole drama teacher in your district. If that’s the case you’re going to have to look farther afield. Thanks to the internet the world has become a much smaller place. There is no reason for you to struggle alone. Research drama teacher organizations. Is there something at the State or Provincial level? Is there a National organization? Is there a Facebook group? What you’re looking for is other like-minded people, a community. They may not be within driving distance, but they’re going to be a great help. For example, the Theatrefolk Facebook page has over 20,000 likes which means it’s filled with drama teachers who check in on a regular basis. When we post a question like: “I have large classes of middle-schoolers (27-32) and whenever we try to do monologues or scene work, I find I just can’t be in all places at once” the answers flow in. Find a community and start asking questions.
  6. Look for online resources: The internet can be a gold mine. You don’t have to be limited to your local resources. You can reach out and make contact with a drama teacher across the country and you can gather resources from around the world. The internet can also be overwhelming. I typed “learning mask” into Google and it came back with 35 MILLION results. You don’t have time to sift through 35 million results! When you’re looking for resources you have to be specific. Identify keywords that link to your student outcomes and will narrow down your search. So instead of “learning mask” you really want mask exercises. And you don’t want posts on how to make masks. And you want the exercises to be specific to your grade level. When I typed into Google mask exercises drama high school these are the top results:IMAGEWhen you look for online resources ask yourself these questions: Can I apply this resource to improving my knowledge of the topic? Do I understand how to teach this resource? Does this resource help with student outcomes?
  7. Look for conferences and workshops: At this stage, don’t worry about logistics. Don’t put roadblocks in your way – I can’t pay for this, I don’t have time for this. We’ll get to those in a minute. You are simply gathering information. You need to learn about mask. Where can you learn about mask? What conferences are out there? That’s all you want to know at this stage. Where can you get Professional Development in this topic area?

How do you use your PD Roadmap?

Let’s talk about conferences. Conferences are a great place for Professional Development. If you have the opportunity to attend one you can learn from seasoned teachers or even professionals in a specific field. But conferences can also be a bit of a trap. I’ve been to many conferences where teachers seem to be at a loss for what workshops to take. They go to the ones their friends are going to so they won’t be alone, or they go because they know the instructor. And it’s clear these teachers aren’t getting the most out of their experience.

That’s why you need a PD roadmap. You need to identify both your strengths and the areas that need work. Take this document to conferences and only sign up for workshops that are going to address your “needs work” areas. Better still, contact the workshop co-ordinator for a conference and request that they bring in somebody to offer workshops that will improve your knowledge base.

You can also use a conference for networking. Sit down at a table of strangers at lunch and ask them what exercises they use in their classrooms. Make it known you’re looking for help with teaching mask. If someone makes a relevant comment in a workshop, pull them aside after a workshop and buy them a coffee.

Step out of your comfort zone. It’s what’s best for your kids.


Before we wrap up, let’s talk about roadblocks. When you start addressing your “N” list a number of roadblocks instantly come to mind – cost, time and location being the biggest ones.

These are not inconsequential. And thus it’s easy to dismiss doing the work: I don’t have time to go to that conference. Or My school board will never cover the cost of that workshop. Or Why should I learn how to run a lighting board? We don’t have one.

Remember, you’re not trying to become a specialist in these areas. You want some knowledge that you can share. Because for every topic that you don’t pursue, you’ll have a student in your class who will benefit from it. So start brainstorming. Write down every idea – go big! Don’t self-censor or judge. Some things to consider:

  • If time is your issue, many colleges and universities offer / distance learning / summer programs.
  • If money is an issue, think about the long term benefits of investing in a workshop. What is the value of being able to give your students the education they need?
  • Consider online workshops. These can be done on your schedule, and you don’t have to take time away to get to the workshop. At Theatrefolk we offer the Drama Teacher Academy, a website that primarily offers online courses just for drama teachers. We know how busy you are!
  • Do some research on different sources of funding. There might not be anything specific to Drama PD. But what about technology funding? Or media funding? Or library funding? Any online course could be considered use of both technology and media. Does your district have technology funds? Media funds? Think outside the box.
  • Your administration expects you to partake in Professional Development. Will they pay for PD if the training is documented to align to standards and 21st Century skills? For anyone interested in our Drama Teacher Academy we have an Executive Summary just for school boards that outlines the courses, Common Core connections, and addresses both student and teacher outcomes. Contact us if you want a copy.

You can become a well-rounded drama teacher.

Click here to download the PDF version of The Professional Development Roadmap.



Picture Prompt: The Portrait

November is Picture Prompt Month here at Theatrefolk! That means we’ve got a month of Picture prompts for your Saturday exercise. Each picture comes with a process that will take students from automatic writing to a monologue.

Ideas can come from anything and everything. But it’s always a good idea to give students a jumping off point. Pictures are a great jumping off point for creative writing.

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!

Today we’re looking at the the portrait. There are so many things that can go on behind the scenes in a happy smiling picture. Just because they’re smiling in the picture doesn’t mean everything is okay. And what if they’re not smiling at all? What does that mean? I chose this one because the standing bride’s smile struck me as odd. It’s almost like a grimace. What is the story behind the picture?

Using the picture at the top of the post, take these steps:

  1. Automatic write on the picture. Set a timer for two minutes and tell students to write down everything and anything that comes to mind when they look at the picture. Don’t self-censor or judge any thought, just get it down on the page. Explain to students they’re creating source material to draw from for future writing.
  2. Have students answer the following questions:
    • Who are the standing bride and groom?
    • Where are they from?
    • What’s their social status?
    • What is going on in their minds as this picture is being taken?
    • Who are the other people in the picture? What is their relationship with the bride and groom?
  3. Based on the automatic writing and the answers to the questions, students will write a monologue. Write the inner monologue of one of the people in the picture. What are they thinking about? What do they want? Where do they wish they were instead of taking the picture? What do they think of the other people they are standing with?

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!



The Jack of All Trades Myth


Have you ever heard this? You have to be a specialist in order to teach something.

Or how about this? Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

And then there’s this: Jack of all trades, master of none.

You’ve probably heard these statements. Maybe you believe them. When it comes to drama teachers, we think none of these statements are true.

  • It’s better if you’re a generalist rather than a specialist.
  • It’s essential that you have chosen to be in the classroom.
  • And EVERY drama teacher is a Jack of all trades! You have to be.

Most teachers believe they have to specialize in order to give the best to their students. That’s true for 99% of school subjects. But it’s not true for drama. Drama is different. Here’s why.

The physics teacher needs to be a specialist in physics. Because that’s what she teaches. But drama covers every subject area possible – acting, directing, playwriting, costuming, stage management, mask, movement, music, dance, and on and and on. Oh – it also includes sound and lighting (which is part of physics).

Students take your class for any number of the subjects above. But there isn’t enough time and training in the world for you to become a specialist in all of those areas.

You don’t have to be a specialist. But you do have to be savvy. To be the best for your kids you have to know something about everything in theatre and drama.

It’s not fair to say, “I don’t know anything about playwriting so I just won’t teach it.” What about your student playwrights? The ones who are terrified to get on stage but love to write plays? They should be included.

It’s not fair to say, “I don’t know anything about tech so I just won’t teach it.” What about your tech students who hate every other class but yours? They should be included.

You have to become a generalist. You have to become a “Jack of all trades” in order to give the best to your kids.

This is not accepting mediocre work. This is not an insult.

Let’s re-examine the phrase Jack of all trades, master of none. Did you know that when the phrase was invented, it was meant as a positive thing? It was a good thing to be competent in a number of areas. “Master of none” was added by naysayers.

Did you know that naysayers insulted William Shakespeare by calling him a Johannes factotum (Johnny do-it-all)? They weren’t wrong. Shakespeare did do it all. He was a playwright, a poet, an actor, a businessman, a landowner, and a fundraiser. I think you’re in pretty good company if you’re a Jack of all Trades.

Let’s look at another Jack of all trades. The Doctor. A GP is a generalist. A General Practitioner. A GP needs to know something about a lot of topics in order to take care of her patients. You’re not going to go to a GP for brain surgery and you’re not going to go to a brain surgeon to find out why your cough won’t go away.

Teachers are often put down with the insinuation that they “failed” at something and ended up teaching it instead. This is ridiculous. Would you say the same of a GP? Never. A GP is respected and necessary part of our lives.

Drama Teacher: you are necessary to your students.

Where can you learn to be a Jack of All Trades? Find out at the Drama Teacher Academy website.

Episode 118: Inside the Drama Teacher Academy


We’ve re-opened the doors! The Drama Teacher Academy is open again for new members. If you’re struggling to find Professional Development that helps you become the best for your students, look no further. Listen in to hear more about the DTA and to hear from three of our instructors: Amy Pugh Patel, Todd Espeland, and Gai Jones.


Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast – the place to be for Drama teachers, Drama students, and theatre educators everywhere.

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

Welcome to Episode 118! You can find any links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode118.

Today, we are talking about the Drama Teacher Academy! Why? Because we’ve re-opened the doors to the Drama Teacher Academy. I repeat; we have re-opened the doors. “The Drama Teacher Academy?” you ask. “What’s that? Where is it? And why were the doors closed in the first place?”

So, here’s what we’ve been doing. Craig and I, here at Theatrefolk, we spent six months developing a place for Drama teachers that addresses a couple of things.

  1. Drama teachers want to do the best for their kids. Period. I’ll bet you that’s your primary goal, too. You want to be the best for your kids and you want to give your students the best education. That’s why you’re a Drama teacher.
  2. Drama teachers, they kind of have to be wonder teachers, right? You have to know something about all aspects of the theatre spectrum. A biology teacher teaches biology. A physics teacher teaches physics. A drama teacher teaches… you know where I’m going, right? It’s in your head, I can tell. You’re thinking about all the things right now. I want you to jot down all the different spokes in the wheel that is theatre. You know, go ahead. I’ll wait. Actually, I won’t wait because you know the list is long.

You can’t just say “acting” because, in acting, well, there’s character development, there’s vocal work, there’s movement, there’s different styles of acting, there’s mask. Someone has to direct the actors. And what about playwriting or everything on the tech side or theatre history? If you leave out one of these elements, one of the spokes in the wheel, you could be neglecting a student who loves theatre but really wants to write or someone who loves being in your class but hates being on-stage.

You can’t be a specialist as a drama teacher. You can’t be a specialist in the drama classroom. You have to be a generalist, and that’s not a bad word, right? A GP is a generalist, right? A general practitioner can’t know just one thing; they have to know something about a lot of different areas. Their patients come in with all sorts of ailments. Drama teachers can’t just know one thing which leads to point number three.

  1. Drama teachers have limited access to professional development that’s for them. Or, if they do have access, they have to have PD that doesn’t apply to them. English PD – how often does that happen to you? What access do you currently have? What are you doing to become a generalist? What are you doing to learn something in all areas of theatre?

The Drama Teacher Academy is a professional development website. For a monthly fee, we offer on-demand courses just for drama teachers. That means you don’t have to check your schedule to fit in a conference or an out-of-town workshop. You don’t have to take another PD training that won’t help your students. You can take workshops on your time, on your schedule, and they never go away. Oh, have you taken a workshop and it was wonderful and you remember all this wonderful stuff that you learned and then you get home and you look at your notes and you’re like, “Uh, how does that exercise go again?” With DTA, you can learn a technique and take it into your class the next day. Load up a video right before class to remind yourself of an exercise. You have the videos to replay over and over again. And, if you want to learn in a different way, why not download an MP3 version and listen in your car? Multitasking!

So, at this exact moment, we have classes in mask, classroom management, playwriting, Shakespeare, building an ensemble, the process of taking a show from audition to curtain call, creating a mission statement for your program, and a wonderful staging course called Big Picture Blocking. But that’s not all! We also have a library of lesson plans. We have resource handouts, play guides, exercise sheets. The Drama Teacher Academy provides what you need to give the best to your students.

Okay. That’s enough from me. Let’s hear from our instructors. We have three today.

First, I’m going to talk to Teacher Amy Pugh Patel who’s going to share her course, Mission Possible: Creating a Mission Statement and a Unified Vision for Your Program. And then, I’m going to talk to Todd Espeland; he has two courses in the DTA already – Friendly Shakespeare and Big Picture Blocking – but he’s going to share about an upcoming course called Laban Advanced Characterization. And, lastly, I’m going to talk to educational theatre guru, Gai Jones. We’re thrilled to include Gai as an instructor for the DTA and her first course is coming out in just a couple of weeks – Working with Monologues for Rehearsal and Development.

Let’s start with Amy!

Lindsay: Hello, Amy!

Amy: Hi Lindsay! How are you?

Lindsay: I’m awesome. How are you?

Amy: Good. I’m great!

Lindsay: Awesome. So, first of all, tell everybody where you are located.

Amy: I am in Madison, Alabama, which is the north end of the state. So, actually, within an hour of the Tennessee line.

Lindsay: Ah, okay! Cool. And how long have you been teaching?

Amy: This is my seventeenth year. I taught for fourteen years at one school. I took a year sabbatical and then, I’ve been at this school, this is my third year.

Lindsay: Now, the cool thing about your school is – you were telling me before – that not only have you been three years at this school but, when you started, it was a brand spanking new school.

Amy: Yes.

Lindsay: What was that like? What was that like to go into a place that no one else has ever been in?

Amy: Well, it’s exciting because, you know, there are so many possibilities. But it’s kind of a little overwhelming too because you think, “Okay. We’re starting from nothing.” You know, we really had a beautiful school and a beautiful space, but our props closet was totally empty and, you know, we’re learning faculty administration names and then student names too and we didn’t really have much of a system in place yet. You know, we’re learning that as we go.

One time, I talked to my principal and I said it was almost like we were climbing steps as we built the steps. You know, up to the next level and couldn’t always see where we were going. So, it was really exciting but it could be a little overwhelming at times.

Lindsay: A little frazzling, I imagine.

Amy: Yeah, yeah

Lindsay: And it must be too because, because there’s no system in place, it must have felt like everybody’s coming in from different directions, you know? Like, you don’t know where your students are coming from or your administrations are coming from.

Amy: Right, right, right.

Lindsay: And how did you deal with that?

Amy: I really just tried to get to know everybody as quickly as I could. There was a lot of team-building – really in the faculty too. I was really excited about that, that our administration recognized that we were all coming from different places and we couldn’t just expect to step in synch at the same time. You know, we really had to get to know each other and it was funny because, in our faculty meetings, we were doing some of the same things that I do in theatre class when I’m really team-building and getting to know everybody. That was really fun.

Lindsay: So, your course is all about mission statements which I think sort of was like kismet that you were in this new situation, there was no groundwork, there was no system in place. What a great way to start from scratch! So, what made you decide that you were going to start from scratch with using a mission statement?

Amy: Yeah. Well, you know, if I had stayed at my previous school, I never would have been pushed to do a mission statement and I think, if I had gone to a different school that already existed, I probably wouldn’t have been pushed to do it. But starting from scratch, I just felt this need, and my husband had just started his own company a year before and I watched him go through that process and something about that just really made me recognize how it important it was, not just to corporations but to theatre companies. You know, we are called companies after all.

Lindsay: For sure!

Amy: So, there are a lot of things that we can borrow and learn from money-making corporations. We could use that in the arts as well without having to become money-making organizations and, you know, we can still borrow some of the procedures that they have in place and I think the mission statement was a really powerful one. I’m so glad that I did it.

Lindsay: Well, what is a mission statement? Just for those people listening going, “I’ve no idea what she’s talking about. What do you mean I’m going to use the same thing as a business?” and it’s like, “Yes, you are! Yes, you are!” So, what is a mission statement?

Amy: Yeah, a mission statement, it’s really a concise statement which, for lack of another word, it’s just a concise verbalization of your organization – what you do; how you do it; and, most importantly, why you do it.

Every mission statement is a little different; some of them are really short and some are very long, but they all answer those three questions and really just get to the heart of what your company is about.

I know, when my husband was starting his company, he said he needed to come up with an elevator pitch so that, when he met people, he could very quickly explain to them what his company was, what they did, and why they did it so that they could latch on to that. If you only had the time that it took to ride in an elevator with someone, what would you share with them so that they know what you’re about? I think a mission statement does that.

Lindsay: You know, a lot of drama teachers out there have to build their own curriculums, don’t they?

Amy: Right.

Lindsay: What a great way to sort of hone in on how you should follow your curriculum with having this overall mission statement as sort of your guide.

Amy: Yes, that’s exactly what it does. It kind of clears a little path for you so you go, “Oh, I know where we’re going now,” and your students know it, too. Really, the truth is that the mission statement itself as a product is incredibly powerful because I as a teacher know it, my students know it, I can share it with administration and parents and community. But, really, the process that we went through to create the mission statement was just transformative. I really think that that created our program. Even if we never looked at our mission statement again, the process that we went through itself was so critical to forming our company.

Lindsay: Well, you built a community, didn’t you?

Amy: Absolutely! Absolutely. We could really look each other in the eye and know that we were on the same page with each other.

Lindsay: Yeah, what a wonderful thing to put out there. It’s like, you know, that’s the reason why every drama teacher and all drama programs should have a mission statement because we talk about community so much on the stage and with each other. What a tangible sort of representation of your community.

Amy: Exactly. It is. It’s a statement and the students know that they did that together. It was really the first thing that they created together. Before we created shows, before we created scenes, we created this mission statement, and it meant so much to us. It was really incredible – a very important part of our program.

Lindsay: Will you read yours, please?

Amy: Yes!

“To be or not to be… Unexpected, dedicated, inspired, and inspiring. To train our bodies, minds, and voices. To perform multiple productions from original and modern material to classic plays and musicals. To empower young artists and engage the audience. To engineer imagination and build our community. To be or not to be… We choose to be. James Clemens Theatre.”

Lindsay: Lovely!

Amy: I love it!

Lindsay: Ah, I know, you don’t have to tell.

Amy: It does, it gets me excited. Every time the students say it, there’s this energy that’s built up. It’s like, if we need anything to motivate us, we just need to say our mission statement and it just reminds us once again of what we do and how important it is and how fantastic it is and fun and powerful – all those wonderful things that it is.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, as we wrap up, what are people going to learn? What are drama teachers going to learn specifically when they take your course?

Amy: They’re going to learn the process. It’s in several chunks that they will learn the importance of a mission statement and the power that comes from having it. Then, they’ll learn the questions that you really need to ask yourself and your students. They’ll learn the actual writing process of it and then how to share the statement once they have it. You have some Twitter and Facebook and how else to follow-up on the mission statement and make tangible products out of it so that it becomes an integral part of your program and that the rest of the world can’t help but notice it.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Amy!

Amy: Thank you!

+ + +

Lindsay: All right. So, I am now sitting here with Todd Espeland.

Hello, Todd! Are you sitting?

Todd: I am sitting.

Lindsay: Okay. Good. For all our podcast listeners, we are both sitting. So, Todd, I am really excited actually. This is really cool because, Todd, we’ve just finished two days of recording your new DTA courses.

Todd: Two epic long days.

Lindsay: Two epic long days and we’re going to talk about one of them. We’re going to talk about Laban Advanced Characterizations.

Todd: Cool.

Lindsay: First of all, what is Laban?

Todd: Laban is a guy named Rudolf Laban who was a movement theorist, a choreographer, and a dancer. What he did was he categorized human movement into four component parts. So, human movement is direct or indirect; it’s heavy or light; it’s quick meaning there’s nothing and then the movement happens and then it goes back to nothing or sustained which means it goes and it goes like a helium balloon that never stops floating or it has tension, it’s bound or free of tension. And then, he combined these together and he came up with something called the Eight Efforts and it was primarily used for dancers and dance choreography to break that up and to discover new ways to move or throw ways to move at dancers and choreography. In the 80s and 90s, movement theatre people got a hold of this and started using it to help actors and to help performance.

Lindsay: Well, I can see it being really helpful for actors because it’s specific.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah, you can tell a character and you go, “Well, how does this character move?”

Todd: Well, even more than that, one of the things I love about it is I can look at other people and start to categorize their movement. I can just observe the movement and categorize their movement. I’ll put myself in the spot. So, I’m kind of naturally a flick and flicking is indirect, it’s light, it’s free, and it’s quick. If you could just hear from my talking, I’ve kind of got that quality in my voice and it’s really ridiculous. So, if you can look at other people, you can categorize their movement and then you can do things like you can look at a character in a script and either look at the actions that they have in the script and see their kind of movement quality or you can look at their text and see how the playwright has specifically written their text with certain vocal rhythms that can then be categorized in certain ways and then that gives you a way to physicalize that character or text.

Lindsay: And that’s what I think is really important here because, in this class, you’re not just talking about how a character moves but how a character sounds – how you can use Laban in their movements but also by creating a vocal quality.

Todd: Yeah, and all of this goes together to help encompass how the character thinks. You know, our outward movement is merely a representation or we believe our outward movement is a representation of our inner life. Like, if you think of a squirrel, when you see squirrels kind of running out, like right now, it’s autumn and squirrels are running out and they’re looking for nuts and they’re running around the yard and they’re going in, there’s so many things, and then they look at you and they look at you and they get all stiff because you walk out. They get all stiff and still. Even though their bodies are completely still, internally, you can look in their eyes and see that whole process of them going “bzzzzz!” and then, when you turn away, boom, they go. So, it also gives a physical and a vocal quality to play with and also just a mental place to put our characters’ heads.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Todd: It’s to create impulse. It’s to help us understand and create impulse in the body and then act on impulse.

Lindsay: So, let’s just talk about this word “advanced.” Now, it’s very important because this is an advanced class but we don’t want people to be scared by this word. There’s a reason this class is called advanced.

Todd: Yeah, please don’t be scared by it being called “Laban Advanced Characterization.” It’s advanced for two reasons. One is I think you can take this class and thread this entire class through an entire semester or even a year of work. It’s about sixty hours of work for you and your students to explore and play in. You can do this with beginning actors, all right? It can be done with beginning actors. What makes it advanced is just the time that we’re putting in to explore the Laban efforts, within that, the students are going to be exploring the Laban efforts through monologues and, if you want, you can adapt it into scenes.

The capstone of the class that also makes it advanced is you’re going to have your students create an extended character. So, it’s in two parts. One part is all of the lessons that you can cover in class and break apart and use and explore through monologues or scenes. The second part are things that the students are going to do on their own. The capstone of the class is an extended character assignment. The students are going to observe an individual in life, break down through these Laban efforts that person’s movement, and just observe them and observe their bodily behaviors, and then they’re going to use that person and their imagination to create an original character based on their observation. That original character will get brought in a couple of times for the students and teacher to observe and give feedback on and see how the work is going.

The end of it is going to be a big, long improv with the students coming in with their extended character that they’ve created from their observation and their imagination that is going to get performed – an improv where they come in, in costume, in character, and are their character for an extended period of time with all these other characters. So, it’s a big course.

Lindsay: It’s a lot.

Todd: Yeah, it’s a lot, and the other reason why it’s advanced is I’m trying to give you tools to use as an instructor but I want you to also adapt those tools. I’m looking at this and some of the lessons are about using it in interfacing with a monologue that your students will do but, heck, you could have your students do a monologue and a scene or a monologue and two scenes. It’s really adaptable.

Lindsay: Yeah. So, I just want to reiterate that – sixty hours of work and not only just sixty hours of work but sixty hours of specific work, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, and I think everybody should be looking for these kinds of tools and these kinds of exercises that they can pass on to their students.

Todd: Can I also say?

Lindsay: You bet!

Todd: Yes, it’s sixty hours of stuff, it’s sixty hours of work, but don’t feel like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s sixty hours of work. Now, if I take it, I have to do sixty hours of work.” No, no, no. You can also take this class, listen to it, and pull elements of Laban out and some of the exercises I’m doing. I mean, it’s really here for you to adapt. However, the sixty hours or all of the lessons I have and the time that’s involved is really there to provide you with a process for your students. But don’t also feel like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to know take advantage of the sixty hours.” It’s a series of discreet lessons that you can also pull out and adapt and work into your process. What I’m trying to do is give you a whole process that you can string through.

Lindsay: Awesome. So, that’s a little teaser of an upcoming course.

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: Laban Advanced Characterization. Well, it makes me want to get into a class. Actually, it makes me want to act which is something that I have a vast dislike of. It makes me want to go create a character and give them a specific effort. So, Todd, you’ve made me do something I don’t want to do.

Todd: Awesome. Yeah!

Lindsay: Thank you very much!

+ + +

Lindsay: All right. So, I am very excited to be talking to Gai Jones. Hello, Gai!

Gai: Hi Lindsay!

Lindsay: How are you today?

Gai: Wonderful from Ojai, California. I appreciate being able to talk with everybody.

Lindsay: Ah, well, the reason we’re here and we’re talking is because you are one of our new instructors for the Drama Teacher Academy. What is the name of the course that you are teaching for us?

Gai: It is Working with Monologues: Creating and Devising Monologues for Rehearsal and Performance.

Lindsay: Ah, okay. So, why is it important for teachers to include monologues in their curriculum, do you think?

Gai: I think, sequentially, it’s an obvious choice in the sense of the student usually begins with mime and movement, moves to voice development – well, actually, I start with creativity and mastering stage fright and developing uniqueness in themselves but then you go with mime and movement, then you go vocal, and then improvisation. With all that creativity going along, I really believe in then letting the student become engaged in the monologue process.

So, I think, for me, monologue is probably about the fourth or fifth step – after ensemble work with the whole group and then monologue. Even though it’s kind of a solo acting process, there is a way to implement within a classroom. So, what I’m presenting is the student’s work and the teacher’s directing the students so that they can work individually and then, at the end of the course, I talk about how to implement it when you have the classroom full of 45 engaged, wonderful, enthusiastic students or not-so-enthusiastic students.

Lindsay: Now, there’s a couple of things that you talk about in your course that I think would be really great to just put out there. You talk about two specific things – creative inquiry and reflective inquiry. What are these? Why these?

Gai: Well, first of all, I have to learn how you say it – creative inquiry – I can’t do it that way. Okay – creative inquiry and reflective inquiry. Reflection brings the student or the actor – which I call any actor is the student of the art – to engage himself creatively in the sense of imagining answers, giving input with thoughts and feelings – that’s creative input. Reflecting may be a recall. With Bloom’s Taxonomy there’s a lot about knowledge and also analysis. Well, that’s the reflection. I may present something and then ask the student to reflect on what I’ve presented by rephrasing it, by applying it to themselves. But they basically reflect what’s being taught or they reflect something from their own memory or they reflect a conversation they heard. So, they hear something, they reflect it.

Then, from that point, they may take it into what I call creative inquiry and say, “Well, how can I develop this creatively?” and I think, for a monologue, particularly one who writes your own original monologues – and I know, Lindsay and Craig, you do that quite well – is that the student can have something based on a reflection and then develop it into a creative, imaginative way. So, it’s still based on reality but taken in another direction.

So, I think it’s kind of a marriage of the left and right brain – left brain being the reflective and the right brain being the creative.

Lindsay: I think that’s great! A great way to sort of approach a monologue instead of just going into the classroom and saying, “Okay. Here you go. Learn your lines. Throw some blocking up and then you’re going to present.” If a student doesn’t know how to approach a monologue, this gives them some tools.

Gai: I think so.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Gai: I think, also, it will engage them to a more organic approach to it. I know I’ve seen monologues in which they’ve been obviously well-directed – stand center stage, one quarter right on this line, cross down right. This one is an organic approach in the reflection and the creativity because they engage as the character might think or feel in their creative approach. So, I really like the organic.

Now, that’s not to say the student just wanders around while doing a monologue. I think then it becomes set and it becomes very familiar to the character on how he or she wants to move on a certain feeling. But it becomes much more of a process than it is a guided project.

Lindsay: Yeah, and I think that’s great for the classroom. Now, you talked a little bit right there about a character and how they’re thinking and feeling. One thing that you’ve spent a lot of time in this course on is I believe there is lesson a called Keeping It Real which is kind of the opposite of indicating and I know – I’m sure you have, I know I have – when you see high school students and middle school students in doing monologue competitions where they’re not really connected. They’re just sort of, “Well, this is what somebody looks like when they’re sad so I’ll just pretend that.” You must see a lot of that.

Gai: I do. As a matter of fact, my master’s thesis was oral interpretation of literature done from the elocution period to now. Elocution was wonderful at the time in which there were prescribed movements – placing your hand to your forehead with your palm facing towards the sun, your elbows akimbo, one hand on your hip, looking forward and up will generate the feeling of pride. So, that’s elocution. That’s outside in. And then, thank goodness, over the centuries, in the 20th century, we’ve developed obviously to the other side with method but the more organic in which the feeling guides the movement, guides the facial expression, guides the hand gestures.

So, indicating to me is not really being connected to the text. Sometimes this happens when you’ve rehearsed the monologue over and over and over again and you just go through the steps. But once you’re into an audition or once you’ve into the performance aspect of the monologue, I think the actor needs to pretend as if those lines have never been said. I know the actor knows how it’s going to end but the character doesn’t know how the monologue is going to end. He doesn’t know whether it’s used as objective or not. And so, I think, by guiding the student to feel the emotion moment by moment and not play the end of the monologue or scene but play just the moment until he’s moved to move onto something else is very important.

So, indicating, to me, is probably the death of realism in monologue.

Lindsay: That is a statement. I love that and nobody can see this but I can see Gai and she was doing the demonstration of the hand on the forehead with the palm to the sun and, if I can find a picture of that – of a classic elocution – I’m putting it in the show notes.

Okay. As we end here, you know, a really good thing for students to do is to kind of, when they look at their monologue, to figure out what their given circumstances are, you know? What’s a good exercise for students to use when they’re looking at their monologue for the first time?

Gai: One of my favorites which I developed after working with improvisation – improvisation loves CROW. I developed the CWOW which students can remember.

They look at it from the character. Who is the character? Who are you going to be? And then, I get into an interview process as the character. How old are you? How do you feel about whatever’s going on? Where are you? Et cetera. So, the first C is character. Who are you? The W can either be to whom are you speaking. I like to do where so I’m going to put the character “where are you?” and it’s very specific – not just “at school.” It’s “my character is right outside my locker and I just dropped all my books because I opened the locker door and everything fell out.” That’s a very specific “where.” The objective is O and the objective may be “I want to be the coolest kid in this school. It’s my first day. I want to be so cool because I was so popular in elementary school so my objective is that I want everyone to look at me and say, ‘Oh, my gosh! How cool she is!’ That’s my objective. I want to feel included. I want to be the leader.” The second W can be to whom am I speaking and the monologue could change. It could be “I could be talking to myself on my first line.” There’s a moment before that probably something happened – someone said something to me or I did something or they did something to me that causes me to speak. So, I might be speaking to an implied other – a person that’s invisible – in the monologue. But, in my mind, the person is real because the person just said something to me and then I could change and I could be talking to myself. There may be what I call a “plea to the heavens” every once in a while. “Oh, please, let me be okay.” So, the last W I like to do is whom or to whom.

So, first C is character, the W is where, the O is objective, and the last W is who or to whom are you speaking. It’s kind of like an acronym that everybody can approach. It works in improve. It works in pantomime performance. It works everywhere so I like that a lot.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, that is Working with Monologues in Rehearsal and Performance – an upcoming course on the Drama Teacher Academy with the wonderful and amazing Gai Jones. I have to say, we are pleased as punch that, Gai, you’ve decided to teach a course with us because we think it’s a real wonderful thing to share your knowledge with our members. For those of you out there who are going, “Who’s Gai Jones?” First of all, you should know! GaiJones.com is her website. How many years did you teach in schools?

Gai: I taught 38 years and then I’m continuing because now I freelance so I’m teaching at a couple – actually, one university, two community colleges in California. And then, also, I freelance. I go into a charter school and a high school and teach at the equity theatre down the road. So, the nice thing, there is life after retirement in theatre education. It’s called “encore career.” You get to create your own career and it’s just the best of all worlds because you do have flexibility so that’s what I do. So, I think I’m going on 50 years because I started really young – 50 years of teaching theatre.

Lindsay: Awesome. I love that – “encore” – an encore career. May we all have one, right?

Gai: Yeah.

Lindsay: All right. Thank you so much, Gai!

Gai: Thank you!

Thank you so much, Amy, Todd, and Gai for talking to me today. If what Amy, Todd, and Gai have talked about interests you, if it’s going to help you give the best to your kids, come and join us in the Drama Teacher Academy. Go to DramaTeacherAcademy.com. You can also find the link in the show notes for this episode – theatrefolk.com/episode118.

Check out the website. Kick the tires! Read testimonials from existing members. Check out the courses. You can watch a couple of modules from each course to see exactly what you’re going to get when you join. Look through the lesson plan library. We want you to see exactly what you’re getting when you join.

If a monthly fee seems too much, if you’re thinking, “Ugh! I know, with my schedule, I’m never going to be able to make this fly. I have eight productions this year. I have testing!” We thought of you, too. You can take a single course in the Drama Teacher Academy. It works just the same. You can download the material, take the course at your leisure, review whenever you need to.

Again, that’s DramaTeacherAcademy.com.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Tuesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk and you can find us on the Stitcher app. You can also subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word “Theatrefolk.”

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


The Drama Teacher Academy is open again for new members! We’ve been working away for the last three months recording new courses, adding FREE resources, and making some changes so that you get the most value out of the site.

You can go to the Drama Teacher Academy website right now and look at course trailers, preview a module or two, and read lesson plan descriptions. You can see exactly what you’ll get when you join.

Don’t delay! The doors will not stay open for long.

What is the Drama Teacher Academy?

If you want to be at your best for your kids getting relevant, specific professional development is a must. DTA offers Professional Development on demand with courses, lesson plans, and resources for drama teachers and drama educators.

Click here to check out the DTA website!

What are the courses?

There are currently eight courses, specifically designed for drama teachers. Each month we add at least one new course and DTA members get to take one course every month.

Courses cover:

  • How to set up your classroom for success and address the most common discipline issues in the drama classroom.
  • The top ten playwriting exercises in a step-by-step sequence to prepare even the most insecure students to write.
  • The exact system that instructor Allison Williams has used to teach mask to thousands of students.
  • Advice from a pro who has directed dozens of plays on the process from audition to curtain call.
  • An amazing physical staging exercise that will change the way you think about blocking.
  • The secret to unlocking Shakespeare for your students forever.
  • How to create a mission and unified vision for your program.
  • Improving your rehearsal process by empowering the ensemble to make bold character choices.

And here’s what’s coming

  • Long time theatre educator Gai Jones gives a detailed curriculum on working with monologues.
  • A Do it All Guide to Costuming for high school directors.
  • How to combine Laban and character development.
  • Get the best theatre games and warm-ups for rehearsal and ensemble building.

Learn on your own time, on your own schedule, in a method that works best for you. You can access the videos 24/7. You also get downloadable MP3s so you can listen in the car or at the gym. You also get a transcript and a PDF of the slide deck to fill in the gaps.

In addition there are over 50 lesson plans written by drama teachers and professionals. Plus a free resource page full of handouts, play analysis guides, videos, and articles.

The DTA gives you everything you need to build your skillset in a specific topic; everything to build your confidence as a drama teacher.

Click here to check out the website

Who teaches these courses?

The DTA faculty is made of of two types of educators – Drama Teachers and Professionals.

The Drama Teachers are teachers who have been in the trenches. They’ve been where you are, they’ve struggled and overcome all the challenges of teaching drama, and they’re sharing what they know. Todd Espeland has been teaching the exercises in Friendly Shakespeare for twenty years. Amy Pugh Patel created Mission Possible after she went through the process with her own students.

Our professionals have real-life experience with their material. AND they’ve also learned how to teach their material. Allison Williams’ Introduction to Teaching Mask course, for example, is based on material she’s taught to thousands of students. Lindsay Price has been teaching playwriting to students for over 15 years. Steven Stack gives you directing tips and techniques that he’s using right now at a drama camp for youth.

My school board may pay for this, but I need some kind of documentation!

Absolutely. Click here to download the Drama Teacher Academy Executive Summary. Take it to your school board to show them Common Core Connections, course outlines, instructor biographies, and learning outcomes for the Drama Teacher Academy.

Commitment: How long do I have to stay a member?

DTA is a monthly membership site, so you are billed month to month. You can leave the site any time.

Each month, we’ll be adding a new course, new lesson plans, and new resources. This is not a static site, we will be growing with you.

How do I sign up?

Click here to go to the Drama Teacher Academy website. Look around. Review a model. Kick the tires! We want you to see what we’ve got because we’re proud of it. We’re excited to share this wonderful professional development opportunity with you.

The doors for the DTA close on November 21st at 11:59 PM Pacific.

Check out the Drama Teacher Academy today!


Picture Prompt: The Aftermath

November is Picture Prompt Month here at Theatrefolk! That means we’ve got a month of picture prompts for your Saturday exercise. Each picture comes with a process that will take students from automatic writing to a monologue.

Ideas can come from anything and everything. But it’s always a good idea to give students a jumping off point. Pictures are a great jumping off point for creative writing.

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!

Today we’re looking at The Aftermath – a picture that shows the aftermath of an event. Something has clearly happened – so let’s decide what that is, and how a character might react to what has happened.

Using the picture at the top of the post, take these steps:

  1. Automatic write on the picture. Set a timer for two minutes and tell students to write down everything and anything that comes to mind when they look at the picture. Don’t self-censor or judge any thought, just get it down on the page. Explain to students they’re creating source material to draw from for future writing.
  2. Have students answer the following questions:
    • What happened here five minutes ago?
    • What is the world like in the aftermath of this event?
    • Will this event happen again? Why or why not?
    • Who took the picture and why?
    • What is this person thinking about?
    • What happened to the owner of this car?
  3. Based on the automatic writing and the answers to the questions, students will write a monologue. Here are some suggestions:
    • Write an inner monologue from the perspective of the photographer. What are they thinking about as they look at the car? What do they want from life?
    • Write a monologue from the perspective of the car. Personify the car. What were they like before the event? What happened to them?
    • Write a monologue from the perspective of the owner of the car. What is their response to seeing what happened? What do they want?
    • Write a monologue in which a person talks about life after the event. How were they affected? What is it like in the aftermath?
    • Write a monologue in which a person sees the event coming. What is their response?

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!