Episode 108: Directing the Middle School Musical


Brian Borowka teaches a grade 8 musical theatre class which culminates in a production. He passes on his tips for directing a middle school musical, the challenges for casting an entire class and, his favourite/least favourite experience.


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 108. You can find all the links at theatrefolk.com/episode108.

So, today, all theatre – middle school theatre – we’re talking the middle school musical and a super fun middle school play. Let’s do it!

Lindsay: All right. Hello everybody!

I am thrilled today to be talking to Brian Borowka.

Hello, Brian.

Brian: Hi there,

Lindsay: So, Brian is one of our Theatrefolk playwrights. He has written a wonderful, delicious play called Roshambo and we’re going to get into Roshambo and what on earth Roshambo means because, when I first got the play, I had to look it up and it was one of those moments, Brian, because I’m a word freak and so, when I see a strange word and then it’s actually something that is related to something I already know, well, you just made my day. Little things amuse me, I think.

Brian: It’s a great word! I love the title. I’m glad that it means what it means.

Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally! All right

So, now that all of you are in suspense. We’re going to ignore that for a little while because what we want to start out with is, where are you in the world, Brian?

Brian: I am in Greenwich, Connecticut, USA.

Lindsay: And you have a very sort of unique story, I think, in that you have taught both middle school and high school. Is it middle school and high school in the same school?

Brian: Yeah, it’s in the same schoool.

Lindsay: Ah!

Brian: It works out really well, you know. It’s actually the school itself goes all the way from elementary all the way up through high school, all on the same campus.

Lindsay: Do you like that? Do you like having all those grades in the same area?

Brian: Yeah, I think it’s great. I think it’s great especially because there are a lot of teachers like me that get to work across disciplines so I work with some of the high school kids, I work with some of the middle school kids, and a lot of other teachers do the same. So, the kids now that I’m teaching in high school, a lot of them I have directed since they were in fifth grade which is kind of nice.

Lindsay: And how is that? That must be really good for creating community and sort of relationships with students?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely, especially since the school – Greenwich Academy – it’s just a fantastic school. Everybody is very supportive. Everybody really works together well. It’s definitely a school that works and that happens a lot. I mean, you really get to develop strong bonds with the kids because you kind of work with them in so many different ways and we’re all kind of together on a relatively small campus so it has a really community feeling to it.

Lindsay: Why did you decide to go into teaching Drama?

Brian: Well, a lot of it is, you know, I did a lot of acting when I was a student. I did a lot of writing when I was a student and, in college, I studied playwriting and I studied theatre and sort of one of my first jobs after college was being an actor in a touring children’s theatre troop and I just loved kind of putting on shows for kids and seeing how excited kids got when you did shows for them and did anything theatrical for them so that kind of first got the bug in my mind about, well, maybe I can actually do something that’s a job that’s related to my love of theatre and playwriting without having to worry about being a working actor necessarily and kind of like use the energy that I got from working doing children’s theatre and then look into the possibility of being a teacher and so I sort of went down that road and it’s worked out very well for myself.

Lindsay: That’s good.

Brian: I’ve been very pleased.

Lindsay: Well, it’s always a good thing because, sometimes, people who strive for acting and being theatrical are not necessarily the best teachers.

Brian: Exactly – definitely true. And, I think, the experience that I’ve had working with young people kind of right out of college helped me a lot because I kind of got a sense of where they’re coming from early and I just really connected well, especially with the middle school and high school age groups, and, you know, it just kind of worked out and I’m really glad that I made that choice because I have a lot of friends who are struggling to be actors and it’s a lot more stressful to go down that road than to have the stability of being a teacher in a job where, like I said, I’m so supported by my administration.

Lindsay: Absolutely. So, let’s talk about, first of all, the middle school level. There’s lots of places out there that just don’t have Drama at the middle school level. Why is it important to start Drama so young with students?

Brian: Well, I think a lot of it is it gives them confidence. I mean, the kids that I work with in middle school are just so excited about sort of trying different things and they’re kind of open and they’re less cynical than some of the high school kids so you can really, like, kind of help them come out of their shell and be a little bit silly and be a little bit crazy and kind of give them the chance to be on-stage and to play different characters and to kind of help build that confidence that will serve them in anything that they do as high schoolers and beyond. I feel like that’s the number one thing.

The other thing is it’s good at kind of creating a sense of unity and kind of coherence. I mean, a lot of them are first being on sports teams for the first team and so they have that experience and this is kind of a less competitive environment where they get to work with kids that they might not normally know and – I don’t know – it feels like they’re open to things as middle schoolers that theatre really kind of serves that need.

Lindsay: And I think one of the really cool things you do, you actually teach a musical theatre class for your middle school students.

Brian: Right. Yeah. So, the eighth graders can kind of choose a bunch of different electives. That’s sort of the first year that they get to make those choices. So, one of the electives that they can choose is Musical Theatre which I co-teach with the Music teacher. So, she and I work together with the main focus being creating a musical featuring the students in that class.

Lindsay: Okay. So, is it a musical that they create or one that you choose?

Brian: Oh, yeah, directing a musical, I should say. It’s one that we choose – not an original piece.

Lindsay: Okay. So, let’s get into that. The whole process of putting on a musical with grade eight students. So, what kind of pieces are you looking for?

Brian: Well, I mean, it’s tough because the first place we go, you know, MTI Junior sort of publishes musicals – shortened versions of popular musicals that are specifically geared towards middle school performers – so that’s kind of like the first point of exploration in terms of shows. So, for example, they’ll do a lot of the Disney shows which are very popular. Like, we’ve done Mulan JR, we’ve done High School Musical JR. So, the good thing about using MTI Junior is they have plays that are specifically geared for this timeframe with this age group and they kind of give you all the materials – not to push another publishing company but they give you all the materials that you need.

Lindsay: Hey, man. You know, they’re the place to go for musicals. I’m like, you know, our listeners are teachers. I think it’s important to kind of put out there where you go. So, I’m cool with that.

Brian: Well, I mean, because a lot of the kids will know, the Disney shows have a built-in appeal. I mean, I will tell you, if I put it to a vote that the kids all want to do those kind of shows that they remember from their youth, you know, those Disney shows are very, very popular.

Lindsay: Do you have a challenge when you’re picking plays though? Because you have to use a class and I’m assuming you have to use everybody in your class.

Brian: Yeah, it’s really challenging. There’s a couple of challenges. I mean, there’s one, we ran into a little bit of difficulty where we did, like, Thoroughly Modern Millie JR where you have certain – and this is a challenge that’s interesting, it comes up a lot in high school, too – where you have certain roles that are written for specific ethnicities you might not have that, you know? So, you kind of run into problems where, do you want to cast someone who is the ethnicity that the role calls for or go outside of that box and try something different but then are you kind of muddling the message that the play’s trying to communicate? So, I mean, that’s one interesting challenge to take the group of kids that you have and find a play that suits them because, you know, we’re going into it kind of backwards. We already have the cast before we choose the musical.

Lindsay: Do you ever do auditions in your class or do you just choose parts for them?

Brian: No, we definitely hold auditions. We choose the play and then we’re kind of auditioning for who gets to be which role within the class.

Lindsay: So, what’s that like?

Brian: It’s horrible because, you know, you’re going to have kids, especially, you know, these kids are so young, they’re going to be very sad if they don’t get the parts that they want. You know, we’ll do High School Musical and everybody wants to be Gabriella and most of the kids are not going to be that part so it’s a really, really tough process, especially because we have to work with these kids. I mean, I think that’s one of the hardest things about being a middle school Drama teacher is kids can take it very personally when they don’t get lead roles and you have to maintain that kind of relationship that you talked about earlier with the students who you’re going to teach and work with for years to come and a lot of middle schoolers will get that impression, “Oh, this teacher hates me because this teacher doesn’t think I’m talented because I didn’t get the part that I wanted in a play.” I mean, it just has such a powerful impact for kids that age, especially, you know, having a lead role in a musical and middle schools is a pretty big deal.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Brian: And, when you have a bunch of kids competing for those one or two parts, it’s really tough. Casting is my least favorite part of my job because I know I’m breaking a lot of hearts in the process.

Lindsay: When you set up the audition, what do you ask students to prepare?

Brian: Usually, we’ll have them do a selection from a song and then an excerpt from the play. So, a semi-cold reading where I’ll kind of give it to them to look at and, from the acting side, I’ll give them a piece to look at a little bit in advance and then I’ll have them do it.

And then, the other key thing is to give them direction and see how they take the direction. So, I’ll have a pair of kids do a scene one time and then I’ll give each of the kids a couple of directing notes and kind of see how they respond, see if they do it differently the second time through.

Lindsay: Do you give them class time to prepare their auditions or is this a strictly out of class exercise?

Brian: Yeah, we make this like an in-class experience. So, like, early on in the semester, we’ll have our audition day. Usually, we’ll do it over two days. We’ll have one day be mostly the singing day and then one day be the acting day.

Lindsay: And I’m assuming that you assess. The audition is also an assessment exercise as well. How do you assess the audition process?

Brian: Well, a lot of it has to with, like, do they make strong choices? I mean, this is something I tell the kids all the time – just make a choice. It might not necessarily be the choice that ends up working for the part, but try something. Try to kind of bring something to what you’re doing in the audition. And then, if you get a direction that says, “Try something else,” be willing to go in a completely different direction that what you had thought of in the first place. So, that’s usually what I’m looking for as a director in terms of assessing their audition. You know, did they make a strong choice and are they able to take direction well?

Lindsay: So, how long do you rehearse the musical?

Brian: We rehearse the musical over seven weeks and we try to do the rehearsals during class time. This class is structured that we meet twice a week for an hour and a half each time. It’s like an afternoon arts elective block – different from their regular academic schedule. So, we do most of the rehearsals in class until we get to about the two weeks before show-time and then we’ll start doing some after-school rehearsals.

Lindsay: How do rehearsals go at the middle school level? Particularly when, you know, musicals are intense.

Brian: Yeah.

Lindsay: Are you literally rehearsing for all seven weeks? Do you take breaks? What is that rehearsal process like specific to these young performers?

Brian: Yeah. I mean, a lot of it is a lot of time into learning the songs, of course. So, we try to break it up between music time and acting time because, yeah, an hour and a half even is a long time for kids this age to be focused on one thing. So, they’ll learn the songs, they’ll sing the song, I’ll take a couple of kids out and they do the work on one scene together. We try to balance it out so that I can pull kids who are in one scene while my colleague works with kids on singing something else.

I mean, my big thing is to keep it fun. I feel like, a lot of times, kids in a play, the play itself becomes this horrible stressful experience – all the rehearsals and long hours.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Brian: So, one of the things that I try to pride myself on is making the rehearsal time just fun and light and easy. Like you said, you know, taking some breaks and not working them too hard to the point that they aren’t enjoying the process which would defeat the purpose of why we’re doing a play.

Lindsay: You include a lot of games in that respect? Do you have them do character development games or just mind break games? What kind of exercises are part of your rehearsal process?

Brian: Well, we have some fun kind of vocal warm-ups that are very popular. We kind of do some tongue twisters and do a little bit of physical, a little bit of vocal warm-up. It’s sort of like a regular thing for every rehearsal so that becomes a kind of fun way that we start and they shift gears from being in academic mode to being in theatre mode. And so, we do sort of a bunch of standard vocal and physical warm-ups and, you know, there’s not a ton of character work that you can do in these sort of forty-minute really short musicals. But, you know, again, I feel like a lot of this stuff happens, you know, we have this class all year round so we get to do sort of more acting techniques stuff in class whereas, when we’re rehearsing for the musical, we can focus on just kind of making the show itself work.

Lindsay: Why do you think this class is important for middle school students? What are they learning?

Brian: Well, I think a lot of is, number one, it’s a fun way for them to get all this energy out that they have during the day. I mean, they’re taking all these academic classes and then now they get to be up on their feet, they get to be creative, they get to have fun, they get to be funny. You know, they’re learning confidence.

One of the things that I get a lot from parents is that they appreciate how well the kids can speak and articulate after doing a show because that’s one of the things that we focus on so much because I feel like the number one complaint that I hear about middle school shows is, “Oh, we couldn’t hear the kids.” So, I go out of my way to make sure that’s not a problem in our shows and I feel like that goes a long way because these kids in classes now have to do so many of these presentations – get up in front of the school, get up in front of the class. So, I feel like, by doing a show, it really helps to kind of make that less scary because we do this show in front of the whole middle school at the end and so they’re going to have, like, an audience of not only just their peers but, like, the whole fifth through eighth grade watching and it’s such a great moment when they do a show for the kids and they get all the support and the kids are laughing and cheering and they kind of feel like rock stars, you know?

Lindsay: That’s not a bad feeling, right? Everyone wants to feel like a rock star.

Brian: Exactly.

Lindsay: And then, as you get to the end, you know, it’s a very long rehearsal process, there’s lots that these students have to take on their shoulders. So, how do you deal with student frustrations, student breakdowns which I’m sure are much more pronounced at twelve than they would be in high school?

Brian: Yeah, you definitely do get some of that, especially, as you said, as you go down to the wire. So, I think part of it is, you know, one-on-one conversation sometimes. I mean, the good thing is I’m kind of co-directing this with the Music teacher so we both can kind of have an eye on kids that seem like something might be going on with them. So, we’re able to maybe pull them out for a minute and kind of talk to them and see what’s up and see what they’re stressed about.

The good thing too is that I’m always in touch with the middle school director who can tell me, “Oh, this girl is having trouble in her classes so you should be on the lookout for her at rehearsal. She was very sad about a bad grade that she got in such and such a class.” So, I feel like that communication helps to prevent any big surprises so we kind of know what kids are going through – stresses and the rest of their academic and social life. So, we just try to be sensitive to that, you know, if we need to pull the kid out of rehearsal for a while. If they need to lie down for a little bit, that’s okay. Not to make kids feel like they can’t come to one of us if they’re having an issue. To kind of make it an environment where, if they’re stressed out, they can say if they’re stressed out and we can kind of deal with it and work around them.

Lindsay: Okay. So, as we wrap on this, do you have a favorite musical that you’ve done?

Brian: You know, there’s a show called Dear Edwina JR which we did last year which was really fun. It was like one of the few that wasn’t based on either a Disney show or a Broadway show that the kids knew and it was just so silly and light and the parts were very evenly spread out among everybody and everybody kind of got their little moment to shine. So, I think that, for that reason, it was a really fun show to do.

Lindsay: Yeah, sounds like a nice ensemble, not too many stars kind of show.

Brian: Exactly.

Lindsay: Okay. What’s the one musical that, if you never did again, you could live a happy man?

Brian: Well, the Millie experience was really… I mean, I liked it because it was so girl-focused – you know, you had a lead who was female. But, I mean, dealing with cultural sensitivities and characters who are kind of parodies of Asian stereotypes, it was just the kettle of fish that I don’t know was necessary to open that up on the middle school level.

Lindsay: Right. Right. And what advice would you give to a middle school teacher who is sort of maybe thinking about the musical experience at that level is kind of daunting?

Brian: Well, I think, if you go into it with a “we’re going to have a good time with this” attitude as opposed to “this needs to be a show that can be on Broadway” attitude, I feel like a long way, and I know you don’t want to sacrifice quality but I feel like some of my colleagues – other teachers that I’ve known – can find themselves just pulling their hair out and getting so stressed over, like, the minutia of the choreography or something with the set not going right and I feel like, if you take a step back. You know, it’s more about process than product.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Brian: Have a fun process and have the kids get something out of it. I mean, you always get the music man phenomenon where the parents love it no matter what happens so don’t worry so much if it’s not quite ready for Broadway.

Lindsay: Yeah, and what’s the educational aspect, right? The education aspect is always going to be in your process and not in your product.

Brian: Right.

Lindsay: Really.

All right. So, Brian, you have written a play for us called Roshambo. So, please, tell everybody what Roshambo is.

Brian: So, Roshambo is sort of the official name for Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Lindsay: I love that!

Brian: That everybody knows and loves and, amazingly, there actually do exist Roshambo tournaments around the world where people come and play Rock-Paper-Scissors and actually compete in these tournaments which just seem like the craziest thing I’d ever heard of when I encountered this.

Lindsay: Was finding that out, did that sort of spark the inspiration to write a play around it?

Brian: Well, I sort of merged that with noticing how serious folks are about sports even at the middle school level at school. And so, seeing these hardcore parents and coaches kind of really, really getting serious about sports with kids who are sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we kind of spoofed that through this Rock-Paper-Scissor idea where you have kids who are pressured to be the best Rock-Paper-Scissor player in the world?” and so the play kind of takes off from there.

Lindsay: It’s really fun and I think the characters are really fascinating. You’ve put this on at your school, yes?

Brian: Yes. Yeah, I wrote this actually specifically, I was doing a seventh grade play and I knew a lot of the kids and I felt like this would be the kind of show that would work with the kids that we have and so we put it on with our seventh graders.

Lindsay: And how did they respond to it?

Brian: They had so much fun with it. I mean, the Rock-Paper-Scissor tournament concept was just so silly to them too. They thought it was hilarious and they couldn’t believe also that it was a real thing and we actually, in the play itself, we have these showdowns where the kids are playing Rock-Paper-Scissor against each other and there’s a ref and there’s coaches.

Lindsay: And then, there’s parents who are so insane about their child being the number one Rock-Paper-Scissors competitor and the number two cheating. I think it’s great to take something so silly and put it into such a serious world.

Brian: Right. Thanks. Yeah, because the kids could recognize a lot of that because a lot of them are athletes who are being pushed maybe to the point where it gets a little crazy. So, I think they had fun making a little bit of a spoof of all of that nonsense.

Also, the good thing that I found with the play that I had written for them was that we could change stuff. Like, if they had an idea for a funny bit, I can throw it in and, “Okay. That sounds great. Let’s add a funny bit.” So, a lot of times, the kids would say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we had her say this,” and we’re able to make changes and add things that came from them which you don’t always obviously get to do when you buy a script that’s already been licensed.

Lindsay: Well, when you’re working on something for the first time, that’s sort of the ideal experience, isn’t it? That you can not only have your play at the end, you have a play that you know works, which not all playwrights do.

Brian: Yeah, exactly, and the kids kind of call you out on stuff. They’re like, “Well, no kid would actually say this.”

Lindsay: Oh, that’s awesome!

Brian: They help me out with the lingo for what twelve-year-olds are talking about although, of course, that always changes within the year. I mean, I’ve gone through the phase where they’re all obsessed with One Direction to Justin Bieber to, you know, god-knows-what’s-coming-next.

Lindsay: Yeah. The two things I’ve learned never to put in a play are slang and technology.

Brian: Exactly.

Lindsay: I have a play that literally – because this is what we did, what I did in school, when you exchanged tapes with people.

Brian: Mixtapes.

Lindsay: You made a mixtape! And then, you know, now, I had to change it to CD and then I just left it in the world that it was because that doesn’t exist. The whole notion of exchanging tapes doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone! And soon phones are going to be gone!

Brian: I know! Now it’s like a period piece when you have that stuff.

So, yeah, I feel like, when you get input from the kids, you know, you must have noticed middle school plays where the kids don’t know what the heck they’re saying and it feels so alien to them and so they’re not really owning the characters. What I thought was cool is that we can make sure that the kids in this particular play felt confident with who they were playing – that what they were saying was, that they had a role in shaping that.

Lindsay: I think that’s important. I think it’s important and that’s kind of where our thinking is that we need plays that are written specifically for the age group.

Brian: Yeah.

Lindsay: I get playwrights who try to counter that to me and say, “Oh, it’s important for students to play older characters,” and I’m like, “Okay. That’s fine. You can go somewhere else.” Here, I want and I think the best compliment and it’s certainly in Roshambo for sure is that the characters sound like the age that they’re playing.

Brian: Right.

Lindsay: The best compliment that I get – somebody has said to me – is like, “Oh, you must have taught middle school at some point,” you know, because it’s so clear and it’s like, that’s when I threw my little rocky fist in the air.

Awesome! Okay. So, that’s Brian Borowka and his wonderful play, Roshambo, which is literally the world of Rock-Paper-Scissor tournament play as serious as sports. I think that’s the tagline for this play. Wonderful characters, wonderful age-appropriate characters for middle school. So easy to stage and just basically a ton of fun. It is a ton of fun in thirty-five minutes or less, and I think that’s wonderful.

Brian: Thanks.

Lindsay: Thank you so much for talking to me, Brian!

Brian: Oh, absolutely.

Lindsay: It’s been great. Have you started back to school yet? You must be gearing up.

Brian: Gearing up. We haven’t started yet but I’m already getting all the emails and the paperwork so it’s coming soon.

Lindsay: All right. I would like to get back to it. Thank you so much.

Brian: Thank you. Thanks!

Thank you, Brian!

So, the links for this episode can be found at theatrefolk.com/episode108.

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

So, Brian talked about his play Roshambo. So, let’s hear from the play itself with “It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play!”

Okay. So, Roshambo is all about the intensity that can go into an organized sport – in this case, it’s Rock-Paper-Scissors. This is scene two. We have Coach K. Coach K is the coach of Team Strike Force. And we have Amanda who is a very, let’s say, intense Rock-Paper-Scissors player – no. We have Lindsay who is a very intense Rock-Paper-Scissors – how can I forget that? Lindsay is a very intense Rock-Paper-Scissors player. Amanda, not so much.

Okay. So, scene two, Coach K enters.

COACH K: Team Strike Force. First positions. At ease. All right, all right. Good, ladies. Now, listen up. The national youth Roshambo rankings came out today.

AMANDA: Oh, how exciting!

COACH K: Amanda, you’re not on the list. Unranked. Just like last year.

LINDSAY: Whatever. Get to the point. Who is number one? As if I don’t know.

COACH K: Who is number one? Well, funny you should ask because the answer is not you.

LINDSAY: What? Give me that! This has got to be a mistake.

COACH K: It’s no mistake. It’s a disaster. You’ve dropped to number two. Second place. Shameful.

LINDSAY: There has to be a mix-up. Can’t you talk to someone?

COACH K: I don’t think so.

LINDSAY: Oh, come on, coach, please?

COACH K: Fine. I’ll talk to the Roshambo ranking committee. You two practice the scipper. One hundred scippers apiece. Now get to it.

AMANDA: Wait! Coach? What’s a scipper again?

COACH K: You tell her, Lindsay. I’m out of here.

LINDSAY: A scipper, Amanda. It’s a standard Roshambo play. You start to throw scissors but, when you see the other player throwing rock, you change it to paper at the last second. Like this.

AMANDA: Isn’t that cheating?

LINDSAY: Duh! Now let’s practice. You’re doing it wrong!

AMANDA: Sorry! Hey, so if you’re not number one, who is?

LINDSAY: Some girl named Taylor.

AMANDA: Taylor? I think I know that girl.

LINDSAY: Oh, really? Well, that gives me an idea. Walk with me.

Now, Lindsay – which is a very wonderful name but – I don’t think she’s going to do something very nice.

Anyway, it’s great humor, really great characters, really age-appropriate characters. This is written for middle school students. It was performed by middle school students and would be absolutely such great fun. It’s such a different type of fun that I think that a lot of middle school plays have for their students which, of course, is why it’s in our catalogue.

Okay. So, that’s Roshambo by Brian Borowka – that’s Borowka with an A. You can find a link to the play with free sample pages for you to read at the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode108.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday 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, and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on 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.

Ultimate Audition Guide Teacher Edition Auditions happen everywhere at every level, from middle school plays, to high school musicals, to college admissions. Audition styles range from prepared monologues, to cold readings, to group activities. No matter the audition, directors go through the same set of emotions, issues and concerns:

  • Will I be able to cast my show?
  • What am I supposed to be looking for?
  • How do I stop the kids from getting so nervous?

The Ultimate Audition Guide: Teachers takes you through the audition process and provide suggestions for the above questions. Auditions don’t have to be nerve wracking experiences! Click here to download The Ultimate Audition Guide: Teachers in a printable PDF format. It’s FREE!

What’s in The Ultimate Audition Guide: Teachers?

There are Seven sections:

  • Preparing for Auditions
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  • Which is the best audition for your production?
  • Activities to help your students ahead of time
  • How can you prepare students to audition effectively?
  • Activities during auditions
  • How can you calm student nerves?
  • Audition Day
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Start the new year off right with a great audition. Click here to download The Ultimate Audition Guide: Teachers in a printable PDF format. Break a Leg!

Cross-Curricular in the Drama Classroom

Teacher Jeff Pinsky will embark on a new cross-curricular journey with his drama curriculum this year. He’ll be incorporating the holocaust into drama exercises, reflections, projects, and more. How do you include such an intense subject into today’s classroom? How do you get students to connect to cross-curricular? What if the exercises fail?

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 one and all to Episode 107! You can find all the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/107.

So, today, we’re going to dive right in. We’re talking cross-curricular and, more than that, how do you explore something new in your curriculum with your students? Let’s do it!

Lindsay: Okay. So, I am really thrilled for today’s conversation. I am talking to Jeff Pinsky.

Hello, Jeff!

Jeff: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: How’s it going?

Jeff: I am doing very, very well this summer. How are you?

Lindsay: Ah, pretty good, pretty busy. But, you know, it’s better to be busy than not, I think.

Jeff: It is, what with Drama Teacher Academy launching as of Wednesday and everything.

Lindsay: Aww! Nice plug there! I love it. I love it. I didn’t even say that.

Jeff: Happy to shell for you!

Lindsay: Jeff, tell everybody where in the world you are.

Jeff: Right now, I’m in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and I teach at Beaconsfield High School which is about ten minutes from where I live right now.

Lindsay: Ah, nice close commute.

So, how long have you been a Drama teacher?

Jeff: I’ve been teaching Drama exclusively for about eight years now, and this year coming out would be my tenth in the business, but I’ve been involved in Drama teaching – in one way, shape, or form – for the last, I’d say, maybe fifteen years or so. Since Summer Camp, I started up a program at one of my old Summer Camps.

Lindsay: Ah, awesome, and what drives you specifically to teaching Drama? You know, as opposed to performing or backstage or what.

Jeff: Because I get to go to work every single day and it doesn’t even feel like work. I mean, one of the best advice I ever got is that, if you truly have a job that you love, then you never have to work a single day in your life. And so, I loved the fact that I’m surrounded by creativity and my job is to teach kids how to channel that creativity and to turn all these crazy ideas bouncing around their head and funnel it into stories and characters and moments and scenes and plays and the works, and I love it. No two days are alike and that’s probably the best part of my job; I really don’t fall into any kind of routine as far as that goes.

Lindsay: Well, that enthusiasm must help when you have students in your class who maybe aren’t so engaged with Drama. Because we all have those classes, right? Where you’ve got the students who love and then the students who aren’t so excited. How do you deal with those kids?

Jeff: With those kids, it’s just Drama is, you know, very personal and I love getting to know my students and just trying to find in talking to them just that one thing that they’re interested in or something that they can hold on to – anything that they like – and just try to glom onto that and encourage them to use that as far as telling a story or creating a character or a moment – anything from which you can develop any kind of foundation and then using that as a Launchpad and, as you know, it’s really rewarding to see when a kid who never thought that they’d be able to get it to a performance scene, let alone stand in front of an audience, in front of a group of people, and just tell a story or memorize a monologue or anything like that is really incredible.

Lindsay: I agree. You know, it’s not about whether they’re going to perform on Broadway or not but whether or not they could go to a job interview and just be confident.

Jeff: Exactly.

Lindsay: Ah, love it.

Jeff: I mean, part of what I tell the kids, especially when they get older and older, I say, you know, as we’re doing this Drama, “Yes, it’s about performing arts, it’s about writing, it’s about creating characters and doing plays, but it is really life skills that we’re learning about. It’s learning about how to talk to someone. It’s learning about how to conduct yourself, how to organize yourself,” and all the little things that they wouldn’t normally associate with Drama that they end up learning just through osmosis.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Okay. Now, the reason that we’re talking today – aside from, you know, this love fest about Drama which I’m always happy to talk about and I know that our audience is always happy to listen to, but – you participated in a very unique program.

Jeff: Yes.

Lindsay: So, give us some background about what it is you did and where you went.

Jeff: Okay. The program that I participated in is called International School of Holocaust Studies and I just got back from Jerusalem in Israel and what it was is that it’s a scholarship program that I had to apply for through local sponsors in association with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the world Holocaust memorial site, right in the heart of Jerusalem, and they have an education center, they have an incredible museum, they partner with other Holocaust associations from around the world to share information about that. And what it was, it was three weeks in the desert, in the extreme heat.

Lindsay: In the summer.

Jeff: In the summer and it’s very different from Canadian humidity heat. Theirs is just odd. You pant like a dog while you’re there. And what it was it was nineteen days for the seminar and about 85 percent of time spent in classes with world-renowned professors and lecturers and doing sessions – everything related to the Holocaust meaning learning about its historical roots, life in the ghettos, kids during the Holocaust, other countries’ reactions to it, trying Nazi war criminals today, Holocaust denial – you name it, it was part of the program.

We also met with several Holocaust survivors in special sessions. One of the first ones we met was actually, her name was Hannah Pick and she was a childhood friend of Anne Frank. She told us about those experiences.

We also traveled around and saw different parts of the country as well.

Lindsay: So, no fun time for you this summer. A very intense subject matter, huh?

Jeff: It was. It was emotionally draining. It was also physically draining just because of the number of classes. I had to remind myself what it was like to be a student and, you know, sit in class and listen and take notes. But we had downtime, too, to meet with all of the other delegates. We were the largest group they ever had there. There were 45 people involved in education – one way, shape, or form – about half of which were teachers. Some of them actually worked at Holocaust museums in the United States. Others were PhD candidates and, you know, using this material to write their papers and what-not.

Lindsay: But, for you, this wasn’t just about going to learn something. You were going to bring this back to your Drama classroom and apply it. So, that’s the reason we’re all here. So, not only has Jeff went and learned a subject, you know, he’s going to come with the most amazing cross-curricular project ever to kind of apply this learning in the Drama classroom. So, I think that’s what I want to know. How are you going to do that?

Jeff: I’ve got a bunch of ideas. As I was listening and taking notes, I’m jotting down side ideas in a separate notebook about how, you know, some ideas and what can I do here and there. I’m still disseminating all the notes. There was so much material that they presented. They gave us CD-ROMs and I bought some books and they gave us some textbooks as gifts and what-not.

So, what I’m going to take apart is, the first thing I have to decide on is which parts of my curriculum do I want to replace this new Holocaust study with because I have a set five-year plan because I am the only Drama teacher in my school and so I have to decide which units are going to go out, which ones I’m going to put in, and which grade levels would be appropriate, and also look at the big picture. What kind of unit do I want to create in terms of do I want this to come in a play? An installation piece? Just in-class stuff? Invite the class C? Just invite parents? Or how big do I want this to grow?

Some of the introductory lessons I’m going to look at would be focusing on looking at the Holocaust from their perspective – from a teenager’s perspective – because, you know, you talk about the Holocaust and, you know, one of the most tragic events in all of history and how could it have all happened and everything. But some of our classes that really interested me were the ones that dealt with the kids, and we’re asking a kid in Canada today, you know, first-world country, you know, I can’t go out and say, “Put yourself in their shoes.” They absolutely cannot.

Lindsay: They have no idea.

Jeff: Exactly. It’s building this understanding of what would it be like. So, you know, starting off with a simple thing about looking at, for example, Warsaw in Poland which had 30 percent of its population were Jewish, and you take 30 percent of the population and now you’ve put them in a ghetto which represented 2.4 percent of the entire city space.

So, that would be one of the first things to get them used to. “Everyone stand in the classroom. Now, I’m going to take away all that spot and now you’re all going to cram into exactly 2.4 percent of the space in the classroom,” and that’s the first thing right there, just to give a sense. “Okay. Now, how do you feel? You had all this room to sit. You could put your chair any way you want. You know, you can spread yourselves out. Now, you’re all cramped in here. Now, how do you feel?” Now, we’re talking about other things like that.

Then, you have the power of the Nazis in the ghettos actually limited their food rations to exactly 184 calories per day.

Lindsay: Oh, my god, really?

Jeff: Yes. So, now I’m developing a lesson. “Okay, guys. You have to create now a meal plan for yourself where you cannot go over 184 calories and now I want you to look at these things.”

So, it’s really cross-curricular. We’re not even into the dramatic parts yet. We’re just developing this understanding. So, now they have to bring in food labels. “Okay. I want to eat this apple.” “All right, that’s fine. Eat this apple. How many calories is that?” “How about this one piece of bread?”

Lindsay: And yet, you know, I think I had a discussion with another teacher quite recently about how Drama is really about the exploration of the human experience.

Jeff: Exactly.

Lindsay: You know? I can’t think in our – well, no, you know what, that’s totally not true – this is one of the examples of very extreme human experience.

Jeff: Exactly.

Lindsay: And to get our modern 21st century students just on the whole notion, I think that whole calorie thing, I think that would hit home. Think of a sixteen-year-old boy who’s on a sports team, you know, who eats 3,000 calories a day. Just giving them another perspective, and the whole notion of reflection, what a wonderful…

Jeff: Oh, we have to reflect and talk about everything.

Lindsay: Yeah.

Jeff: One of the most striking things that I found that actually will become the basis of a lesson and a writing unit was actually inside the historical museum which is one of the most incredible museums I’ve ever been into in my life. It was structured in such a way, chronologically and thematically.

We got to one room that was devoted to the Concentration Camps and we walk in and, as soon as we looked down, the floor was a glass floor and, underneath the floor, they assembled just hundreds of shoes – actual shoes that they were made to take off as soon as they get there and, you know, whatever season it might be. And so, all you’re looking at are shoes and shoes, and I thought to myself, “That tells a story in itself – just this entire floor full of shoes.”

And so, I asked, “What does this shoe mean to this person? Was it handmade? What it a hand-me-down? Did they spend their life’s, you know, things that they’d been saving up for years and years and years just to buy these shoes. Look at your shoes. What do these shoes mean to you? Are they athletic shoes? Are they just flip-flops? Do you wear them for comfort? Do you wear them for style? Now, take that away.”

Lindsay: Yeah. I went to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and one of the things you walk by are, like, a mountain of shoes and, actually, it’s so funny because it made me cry a little because it’s just like, “What a waste,” you know? And I’m sure that, in 1939 or 1940 or whatever, they felt about their shoes, you know, some of them the same way that our students do, you know? It’s just something that goes on your feet. But, if it’s taken away from you, or if that’s the only thing that’s left of you, what do you do, right?

Jeff: That’s it. Exactly, and that tells a story in itself. And the shoes were actually near a collection of personal possessions. I mean, we saw things like, you know, a child’s doll, a pocket watch, and from that alone, I’ve got hundreds of ideas for lesson plans, for stories, and things that they can write. You know, asking the students now, “What are things that are precious to you?” because, as they were evacuated and made to put on these cattle cars or into the ghetto, it was said you can only pack one suitcase weighing 50 kilograms. So, think like a carry-on luggage onto an airplane. And so, there’s an idea, too. If you were asked to pack your entire life away into one suitcase, what would you put in there? Tell me a story.

Lindsay: It’s all about getting them to relate, isn’t it? And just these little things like, you know, the first thing that comes to my mind with those objects or the shoes is like, object monologue, right? Like, just who is the person who belongs to this object? The whole notion of your whole life in a carry-on. Like, this is taking things that they can relate to, in an exercise that they can relate to, and then bringing in the history. And I think that’s where Drama is so important – it’s an important avenue for cross-curricular, isn’t it? Because it’s not “I’m sitting down learning facts.” It’s a human experience of a piece of history. What do you think?

Jeff: I completely agree, absolutely, and we talked at length about the importance of Drama within these ghettos – that they kept theatre going because the people needed it. It was an escape. It was a connection to their past lives.

Lindsay: I just knew this would be such an interesting topic, and one of my favorite aspects of Drama is to take something that isn’t normally dramatized and find a way to bring it to life, and just the whole notion. I mean, there’s so many Holocaust plays out there that just don’t do it, you know? Like, it’s about the over-rottenness of the emotion and everyone gets caught up in the emotion and it’s like it’s the humanity that I want to see staged.

Jeff: I actually managed to take in a one-woman play my first week that I was out there and they said it’s optional – you know, everyone’s free to go. I was one of five people in my class that actually wanted to see it because my students would have my head if, as a Drama teacher, I had the option to see a play while I was there and didn’t do it as I’m always preaching for them, you know, support the performing arts. It was a one-woman play called “Etty” and it was based on journal entries by a woman named Etty Hillesum and it was in a little black box theatre about two blocks away from my hotel and, just what you said, it wasn’t about the over-rottenness, it wasn’t meant to be depressing. It was just her looking at her life and this woman had attitude, she was talking about love affairs, she was talking about, you know, she missed that she was, you know, “…and I won’t be able to play the violin anymore,” things like that.

Lindsay: Well, I think that’s why Anne Frank’s story exists today and people are still reading it today. It’s because she was a human being in those pages. What else have you got? Is that sort of like it’s still all jumbled in your head?

Jeff: It’s still jumbled. I still have to find time to sit down and disseminate it all. You know, after 24 hours of traveling, the jetlag can be pretty hard on the weekend and catching with friends and trying to have something of a summer for myself. But I got a lot of ideas bouncing around.

But one of the things that they actually said is that, as far as writing and activities like that, they said, “Don’t have the students write in role.”

Lindsay: How come?

Jeff: They said, like, it’d be too hard and they wouldn’t be able to place themselves in there. I thought, “You know what? Maybe they might if we give them the proper background.” As you and I have been talking, just develop the framework for it. They can’t understand at the beginning – of course not – but then it’s a process. You get them to understand. You get them to image what life might be like then. And so, I’m toying with some ideas.

Lindsay: I think that students always work best in steps. So, I think they’re totally right. If you just, as your very first exercise, you know, threw them into the pit as it were and said, “Okay, you’re going to write a play or write a monologue about such and such a person’s life,” they would resist because they would be like, “Well, I don’t relate. I don’t know anything about this.” But, if you built in steps into the process like the location exercise with the 2 percent and the food exercise and just start reflecting on that and then gradually introduce that, “Oh, yeah, and, by the way, this happened to people.”

Jeff: Exactly, exactly, and what you said was the key word there – it’s the reflection. Get them to talk about it and have this be an open forum where they can discuss their feelings or if they’re nervous about something, if they’re scared, if they’re unsure of themselves. Journaling has got to be a big part of it.

Lindsay: Do you use cross-curriculum often in your curriculum?

Jeff: Sometimes. I mean, any time with my grade ten and eleven class which is my advanced class, I call my Drama studio and we do world styles of theatre with lots of help from the blogs on theatrefolk.com. Things like Commedia and Greek theatre. I want to try the Japanese Noh theatre. But I try to give as much historical context as I possibly can for lots of things.

I guess, as far as cross-curriculum, most of my stuff would be History, Geography, and, of course, some English. We do a lot of plot diagramming for all of our original scripts – all the time, all the time, all the time.

Lindsay: So, as you venture into this new experience for yourself as a teacher, what are you thinking? What are your expectations? What are your fears?

Jeff: One of my fears was that they wouldn’t – not so much a fear as much as an apprehension is that I don’t know how they’re going to react to this. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to treat it with a seriousness that it deserves or if they’re going to take it seriously for the sake of taking it seriously instead of just reacting to it as they naturally would. It’s not my place to say, “Okay, this is a serious topic, take it seriously.” I want to just go with the flow, you know? Just like with all things in a theatre class. It’s being able to improvise and react to the situation in front of you and to roll with the punches.

One of my apprehensions, I’m excited to try things out. I’m always excited to try new things and, fortunately, I’m lucky to have a lot of great students that come back year after year after year that trust me and are willing to go along with something new.

Lindsay: Do your students know this is coming?

Jeff: No. Really, I’ve only told my grads as they graduated that I got this thing and I’m going away, and they follow my Drama class Facebook page where, you know, I just advertise and, you know, put pictures and shows and what-not. So, a lot of them were asking as I was gone, like, “Oh, what’s going on? We really wish we could be part of this.” I said, “Well, come back and check it out. Come and visit.” If I do an installation or I haven’t decided how big this thing is going to get, like I said, I’ve got to sit down and piece this whole thing together and figure out what’s my starting point and what’s, of course, going to be my ultimate goal. What do I want them to get out of this?

Lindsay: Okay. So, we know what your fears are. So, what’s the best case scenario? What is the best case scenario?

Jeff: Best case scenario is that we just continue Holocaust education in my own way. I used to teach it as part of when I taught English alongside Drama, but I haven’t done anything with it in the last seven years or so. So, that’s one of the big things – just to carry on. Holocaust education is important for them to know because the people who survived it and were part of this era, they’re dying off and so we have to continue the memory of this and keep people talking about it.

That’s one of the big things, obviously, is the education that goes with it. And, also, just have them explore different styles of story-telling. Like you said, object monologue. We’re going to try some interesting dialogue things. I want to try some installation piece type of stuff.

Lindsay: So, when you say installation piece, what does that mean to you? Is that, like, visual? Is that, like, abstract? What do you mean?

Jeff: A little bit of everything. I want to try some visual stuff with some of the kids who are artistic. We’ll get the chance to do that. And, you know, just kind of an entire theatre experience from the lobby all the way in to the stage where they can observe some visual stuff they can walk by and, like, someone’s performing a monologue or do a short scripted play on-stage or I don’t know. Like I said, it’s all bubbling around up there. I’m sorry I don’t have, like, more concrete answers for you today.

Lindsay: No, but it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting to talk to you when you’re about to do something new, you know, because it’s one thing to sit down and have a conversation and, like, you know, when I talk to someone, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve been doing this for twenty years.” Well, here’s a situation where it’s like it’s brand new, it’s in your head, you’re about to go do it, and I think that – for those of you listening – that there may be some of you who rely on your curriculum, you do the same things over and over again, would happen if in year eight that you turned your curriculum on its ear and that you took units out and then you put something in that is: a) completely different, b) that the students aren’t going to expect, and c) something you haven’t done before. And that’s what I think you’re doing; I think you would agree.

Jeff: Absolutely, yeah. I’m one of these people, you know the nature of Drama and everything that we do in my program is completely original. It’s very, very rare that I actually hand to them a practice script or an, of course, a Theatrefolk script for our major productions.

Lindsay: You just keep buttering us up. We’re not paying you.

Jeff: I love the company. I’m sorry. Like I said, I’m a fan.

Lindsay: Oh, I’m happy to hear it!

Jeff: Long-time listener, first-time caller.

It’s exciting because, you know, being in charge of my department, I can run it any way that I want and my five-year program – because, in Quebec, the high school is five years – it’s a progression. It’s starting off learning about, you know, the bare basics of Drama and character building and story-telling. And then, by the time they’re in grade eleven, they’re doing, you know, full-on twenty-minute plays that they’re writing themselves and then are big production years.

But it’s really exciting to always try something new. I mean, that’s how I do it every single year. At the end of every year, I have all my grades fill out evaluations. “What did you like? What didn’t you like? What are things you’d like to try?” And I’d look at them, I’d read 240 evaluations at the beginning of the summer, and decide, “Okay, well, they’re all saying that they really didn’t like this one. Okay, that’s out. They’re all saying let’s try something along these lines. Okay, let’s try it.”

Lindsay: I think that’s important. It’s important to listen to your students because, otherwise, it stays static.

Jeff: That’s it. I don’t want to drag them through a six-week unit that they’re absolutely hating and they’re just afraid to tell me.

Lindsay: Yeah, that’s something else, too.

Jeff: Exactly. So, I’m always excited to try new things – always.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Jeff: And it’s amazing when lightning strikes and I’m hoping that lightning strikes twice when I introduce the new units.

Lindsay: You know what? It’s not even a bad thing if it doesn’t work out because, if it fails, you can learn from that, can’t you?

Jeff: Oh, absolutely. I coach improv as well – that’s two after-schools a week every single weekend – so a lot of times they get down on themselves if they don’t do such a great scene. We talk about it. I say, “Okay, why didn’t that scene work out?” and they sometimes become their own worst critics and I’d say, “I’d rather you succeed big time or fail big time. Either way, you’re learning something.”

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Jeff: Either way, you know? I tell them all the time myself. Sometimes, I’ll try a brand new game with them or a new activity in class with any one of my grades and sometimes, yeah, they didn’t like it so much. I’d say, “Okay. So, tell me why.” We always have time to reflect – we have to. “Why didn’t that work? Okay. Well, let’s try this differently,” and we’ll come back the next day. I’m happy it failed. I’d say, “Guys, you know, I’m learning alongside with you. I’ve been in this business a long time – this teaching business – and I’m happy just as much as when I succeed as when I fail because, either way, something is being done.”

Lindsay: Thank you so much for taking time out today, Jeff. Not only do I think it’s great to hear the beginning of a project but also to hear what you’re thinking about doing about it and that, if it works, awesome! If it doesn’t work, that’s awesome, too.

Jeff: Well, I’m going to send you all the info.

Lindsay: Oh, please do, please do! I would love to hear about it.

Jeff: You can follow at all my websites for my department.

Lindsay: Awesome. We will put a link to that website in the show notes for this episode.

Jeff: Great!

Lindsay: Thank you so much!

Jeff: My pleasure.

Thank you, Jeff! I love Jeff’s enthusiasm. It is totally infectious.

So, the links for this episode can be found at theatrefolk.com/episode107.

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

Okay. Have you been to our blog? Have you been to our blog? Have you been to our blog?

We’ve been taking a bit of a break for the summer but, starting next week, we’re going back in depth. We post articles once a week on topics relevant to the theatre classroom and we always include a download or hand-out of some kind.

So, since we’re talking cross-curricular, I thought I would include some cross-curricular links to our blog in the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode107. I’ll post three links to blog articles. We have “Writing Your Research,” a “Speeches from History” unit, and an article on verbatim theatre. Go to the show notes. Check them out. Download them. Use them in your classroom. Fly! Be free!

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday 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, and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on 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.


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Episode 106: Day One of the drama classroom


For many teachers, the first day of class is the most important day of the whole year. What do you do on “day one?” Listen to five drama teachers talk about what they do with their students to make the most out of that first day.


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 106 of TFP. You can find all the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode106.

Now, on the day that this podcast airs, some of you will just be getting in the last throes of summer. Some of you started school two weeks ago which boggles my mind. It has been engrained in me for, I don’t know, almost forty years that school starts the day after Labor Day. School starts the day after Labor Day. You people who start school in August, they’re freaking me out.

And some of you, speaking of which, you’re getting ready to get going right now, and what that means is teachers everywhere across the country, across multiple countries, that first day of school has either just happened or is looming, and for many teachers, the first day of class is the most important day of the year.

What do you do on Day One?

So, let’s find out. We have five teachers who share what they do with their students to make the most out of that first day. Everyone is different; everyone is valuable. Let’s get to it!

Lindsay: Okay! So, now I am talking to Teacher Matt Webster. Hello, Matt!

Matt: Hi there!

Lindsay: And you teach in North Carolina.

Matt: Yes, outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

Lindsay: Awesome. We’re talking about Day One.

How many different classes do you see at the beginning of the year?

Matt: Beginning of the year, I have a lighter load because I’m the department chair for fine arts so I teach typically two classes a day and people are going to pull their hair and roll their eyes at that, but I teach two classes a day and, usually, I have four classes overall that I teach and two of them are often beginning theatre classes. That’s not true; I teach eight classes because we do A Day, B Day. So, I have more classes.

Lindsay: All right, Matt. You teach a lot of classes, right?

Matt: Yes, I have less than most, but it’s all good.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about those beginning theatre classes. So, you’re walking into this class for the first time, it’s Day One, it’s your beginning students, what’s the first thing you do?

Matt: First thing I do is hand out my syllabus because the syllabus is the contract between the teacher and the students, and it lays out the expectations for everyone. It also gives the rules of the classroom, it lays out the curriculum that we’re going to follow, and basically tells the students what I expect from them, what this class is going to look like, and what I’m looking for out of them as students as the teacher.

Lindsay: Okay. So, you think it’s more important to do that kind of legwork first as opposed to, “Hey, let’s play a game! Hey, let’s do that!” Why do you choose to do it that way?

Matt: There’s always time to play games and setting that tone, Day One, is going to set the tone for the rest of the semester or the rest of the year, and it might not take the whole time to go over all of that material and we’ll still have time to maybe play a game. But, when you start off playing a game, what you’re telling the students is “this class is playtime” and that’s what they’ll take away from it. And, if you want your class to be more than playtime, then you need to set that expectation.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you very much!

Now I am talking to Jessica Stafford. Hello, Jessica!

Jessica: Hi, Lindsay! How are you?

Lindsay: I’m all right. Okay. So, Jessica is a middle school teacher in Owensboro, Kentucky. How long have you been there?

Jessica: I’m going into my fourth year at Owensboro.

Lindsay: Ah, awesome. So, what do you like to do – and I like this, we’re going to get something with middle school – so, what do you like to do on Day One at the middle school level?

Jessica: Day One, I make sure I’m at the door, I’m smiling, I’m saying hello, I’m welcoming them in, and then it’s very much my expectations. We go over rules, expectations. We talk about how we’re good audience and how we support each other and how this is supposed to be a very safe environment and, because what we do is so personal, I want to make sure they understand that that’s the number one priority.

Lindsay: Oh, I like that. I like that, too, that it’s a welcome. It’s like, “Hey, welcome into my world,” essentially.

Jessica: Yes.

Lindsay: And that it’s a safe spot.

Jessica: Absolutely. Because, otherwise, the kids aren’t going to work for you. You know, middle school kids, they already have so much that they are struggling with anyway – just with identity and hormones and all that fun stuff – so, to make sure they come in and they know that they’re wanted and they’re welcome there, and that I have, you know, expectations and they’re set pretty high, it kind of lets them know where they’re starting.

Lindsay: I love that. I think that’s great. Thank you so much, Jessica!

Jessica: Absolutely!

Lindsay: So, now I’m talking to Brian Borowka. Hello, Brian.

Brian: Hi!

Lindsay: Now, you’re in a bit of a different experience with your school in particular for Day One because you basically know your students, right? Because you have elementary to grade twelve all in one school.

Brian: Right. So, I’ve worked with most of these kids already before this class when they were younger.

Lindsay: Yeah, and they all know each other so you don’t really need the setting up of things. You don’t really need the icebreaker games. But you do teach a musical theatre class for grade eights.

Brian: Right.

Lindsay: So, what’s something you would do on the first day of a class like that?

Brian: Right. So, we kind of like to set the foundation for the class itself by talking about musicals. So, we’ll sit everybody out and we’ll kind of have them share, like, what shows have they seen, what musicals have they liked, and just kind of get that conversation going – why do they like a particular musical, what is it about musical theatre that appeals to them, what shows really knocked them out and for what reasons – and then that kind of sparks that conversation that gets us talking about why we do musical theatre and why we love it.

Lindsay: Also, it must get you to know where their level is about which students have a lot of musical theatre knowledge and maybe which ones don’t.

Brian: Yeah, exactly right, and you definitely have that variety which is interesting. You have some kids who have seen – I mean, we’re so close to New York so you have kids who have seen a lot of Broadway shows and talk about everything that came out, and you have some kids who have never seen a Broadway show. So, to kind of get that conversation going and kids will all of a sudden get interested because one kid will say, “Oh, I saw this show and that show,” and it’ll be, “Oh, I’d love to see that,” and so it kind of gets the kids talking about musical theatre in a way that they would not have otherwise.

Lindsay: Do you think that this kind of conversation – like, when you figure out who knows what and maybe how many of your students aren’t as familiar – do you adapt maybe exercises later down the road depending on what you’re learning in this first day?

Brian: Yeah, definitely! I mean, because, a lot of times, I can empower some of the kids who are sort of musical theatre experts to take the lead in some activities and so they’ll have things that they know from shows that they’ve seen. Like, “Oh, it would be really fun to do this kind of warm-up.” A lot of these kids have already been to camps and they have some theatre background. So, I feel like kind of getting them to buy into being sort of a helper in the class can go a long way.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Brian!

Brian: Sure!

Lindsay: Now I’m going to talk to Christian Kiley. Hello, Christian!

Christian: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Okay. So, we’re talking Day One with your students. What’s something that you do on Day One?

Christian: I’m going to start this year – as I have other years in the past – with an exercise I call “prop magic” which is I take a bunch of just random props and I put them in a line downstage and the actors get up and they introduce themselves and then just, when they feel like it, they go down and they interact with one of the props briefly, they set it back down, and they go back to the upstage neutral line which would be when they’re out of character and then, of course, when they move downstage and they’re interacting with the prop, they’re in character. So, you can stop the exercise and teach a lot of principles about stage geography, about staying in character, about fourth wall, and all those other things while it’s going on.

I make it mandatory that every student get up at least once and try it.

Now, the deal is you don’t have to speak. So, if it’s an umbrella and I just want to get up and pretend it’s a cane and take a couple of steps with it and then put it back, that’s all I have to do, and that’s a victory for that student. They get to go home and say, “You know what? I participated today.”

Lindsay: You know, sometimes, it takes baby steps, doesn’t it? You know, you do, like, “Okay. You’re going to take one step today.” There’s a whole semester, isn’t there? You don’t need to do the whole thing.

Christian: Well, in the last couple of years, I’ve been able to say this. If you could have full participation on that first day, you’ve won a lot of skeptics over to your side.

Lindsay: Because there must be students in your class who are just dead set against being there in the first place.

Christian: Yeah, it’s the “too cool for school” crowd that tends to be the group that butts heads with me a little bit because, really, what you’re saying is you’re too cool for life and, really, what you’re saying is you’re too cool for yourself. So, I always turn it back and kind of hold the mirror up and say, “Hey, you don’t want to be here, it’s you though, isn’t it? Because you like yourself. So, be with yourself for a week. Give this class a chance,” and then I make them have an exit interview with me. So, if they want to leave, they have to talk to me first before they talk to their counselor.

And then, see, it’s a win-win situation because, if they articulate their argument very well, I say, “That’s all good acting is, why don’t you just stay in the class?”

Lindsay: Oh, I like that! A little reverse psychology there!

Awesome. Thank you very much, Christian!

Christian: All right. Thank you.

Lindsay: Okay. Now I’m talking to Jeff Pinsky. He is the only drama teacher in his school and, Jeff, what do you do on Day One?

Jeff: On Day One, I like to throw them right into the deep end – sink or swim! No, it’s about drama, as you know, and theatre production, it’s all about teamwork.

Lindsay: Ah, for sure!

Jeff: If one cog in the machine doesn’t work, then the whole thing falls apart. So, I throw them the team games and, at the same time, they’re getting to know each other. We do some spatial exploration stuff, we do some trust exercises, we do some grouping and communication games – even something as simple as a game like “ten- or twenty-second letters” where I stand as high as I possibly can on a ledge or something within my classroom and I say, “All right. As an entire group, or groups of five or six or ten or whatever, I want you to arrange yourselves and make yourselves look like the capital letter B. Go!”

Lindsay: Ah!

Jeff: And they do it on the ground. And they just do it with their body – standing, sitting, holding hands, whatever it might be. And then, as the game progresses and they start getting the hang of it, then we take away the element of communication. So, we say, “Okay. Now we have ten seconds and you’re not allowed to talk. So, how do you still get this thing done with non-verbal cues?” It’s a quick and easy one to learn each other’s names along the way.

Lindsay: Yeah, and what a great introduction to that whole thing of ensemble building and communication.

Jeff: And I do that game of the first day with every one of my grades – from my brand new kids on the first day of high school, all the way to my grads who have been with me for three or four or five years at that point.

Lindsay: Hey. So, if they know this game is coming, are they like experts at their non-verbal communication?

Jeff: Not really.

Lindsay: Not really?

Jeff: Well, because after summer of living, of developing their thumb strength with texting, it’s kind of getting used to, you now, talking to people face-to-face all over again. And, at the same time, on the first day of school, they just want to catch up and talk about summers. I’m like, “No, we’re starting school. It’s time to get down to business.”

Lindsay: Ah, that’s important, too. It’s like, “Look, this is class, just like every other class,” right?

Jeff: Absolutely. It makes me both feared and loved.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much!

Thank you so much, Matt, Jessica, Brian, Christian, and Jeff!

And, again, you can catch any links at theatrefolk.com/episode106.

Before we go, let’s do some THEATRFOLK NEWS.

So, the doors are closing very soon on the Drama Teacher Academy, August 22nd to be exact. They won’t be closing forever – just for right now. Because this is a new project, not only for every member but also for us, there have been a ton of questions and we want to make sure every question is answered, everyone is happy, and that no one gets lost in the halls.

So, if you have a question, go over to the show notes, that’s at theatrefolk.com/episode106, and there’s a link to a questions post where we address a number of things. I think we get every question answered, but I’d love to hear it if there’s one that we haven’t got to.

And, if you’re thinking, “Drama teacher what?” Go, again, to the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode106 – and click the other link for the Drama Teacher Academy and you’ll find out all the info right there and do it quick! Door is closing, August 22nd – not forever, but just for right now.

Finally, where, oh, where can you get this wonderful podcast? Well, we post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can 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.


Episode 105: The Drama Teacher Academy


Announcing the Drama Teacher Academy! We are so excited to introduce our new membership site which offers workshops on demand. Lindsay talks about the site, the courses being offered and also talks to the three course instructors.


Show Notes

Episode Transcript

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

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

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

This is Episode 105 and you can find all the links – and there’s going to be some links today – at theatrefolk.com/episode105.

So, I have to say, I am thrilled beyond belief today in our topic. We’re going to be talking about the Drama Teacher Academy today.

So, what is DTA? Well, let me tell you. The Drama Teacher Academy is the premier spot for workshops on demand, specifically designed for Drama teachers – that would be you.

So, if you want to move forward, improve your skills, take charge of your professional development, consider becoming a member.

Lindsay: I have right here my Theatrefolk partner in crime. Hello, Craig!

Craig: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: So, we’re just going to talk for a couple of seconds because, Craig, you and I have been living with this and not really talking about it with anyone, have we?

Craig: No, just been talking about it with ourselves, I suppose, which is, you know, how we talk about most things.

Lindsay: I guess that’s true.

So, why did we decide to do this? Why did we decide to create the Drama Teacher Academy?

Craig: Well, there were a few reasons. One, about a year ago, you and I really started focusing on some aspects of Theatrefolk and how we could make it better for people and we started following some people online and eventually joined some communities and some membership websites that have really given us a lot of tools and ideas for getting great stuff into our customers hands.

Lindsay: I think, too, in the fall of last year, we started doing some things like webinars and Google Hangouts, and the thing that was just starting to really pop for us was how much Drama teachers crave information.

Craig: Yeah, there was kind of a revelation. Just back in January, I think it was, we decided we were going to try doing a few Google Hangouts to see what the reaction would be and it was quite amazing to me – and, I think, to you – how many people were out there, Drama teachers were out there, craving, you know, some PD, some community with other teachers.

We normally see teachers at conferences, you know, where they are in groups where they can discuss what it is that they’re doing and share tips and tricks, but there are so many teachers out there that we learned don’t get an opportunity – or don’t get much of an opportunity – to go to conferences, to get PD – if there is PD offered by their district; often it’s just PD for the four core subject matters, you know, stem subjects, and they’re just supposed to sit there and figure out how to apply it to their classes.

So, I think, really, the Drama Teacher Academy was born out of that massive need that we’ve seen to get PD to share knowledge and to learn how to teach things in the classroom.

Lindsay: And, also, that for a lot of the Drama teachers that we know, they are sort of out there in the wilderness. They are the one Drama teacher in their school and maybe they might be the one Drama teacher in their district. And it’s not like going into the English office and you can talk with other English teachers. If you’re the only one, you end up talking to yourself a lot.

And, also, I’ve been amazed this year about how many middle school teachers I’ve come across who got the job because that was the job that was open – not because they had any background in theatre, not because they had any training in theatre; they were getting middle school Drama teacher jobs and they were sort of floundering a little bit.

Craig: That, and also things like people who are History teachers or English teachers and the school Drama teacher left and the principal said, “All right! You’re the Drama teacher now! I mean, you know English, you teach Shakespeare, so you must know how to teach Drama.”

We found there’s a lot of people out there really struggling to find techniques and things that really apply to the Drama classroom because it’s a classroom that’s completely unlike any other.

Lindsay: Absolutely. So, that’s kind of our genesis. That’s where we’re working from and we’ve been working really, really hard, I think. We sort of started putting this into place six months ago. In the past three months, it’s been all hands on deck.

Okay, Craig. So, what’s been the most challenging part of putting together the Drama Teacher Academy for you?

Craig: Well, this was a bit of a mistake, but it’s also been, I think, a triumph in creating this site. One of the things that we were told was to not create your own website from scratch and there’s a lot of off-the-shelf solutions for doing this sort of thing. I have some programming experience – I’ve done all the programming on the Theatrefolk website – and so I figured, “Well, all I have to do is this, this, this and this and this,” and then I can make the website myself.

So, that was a mistake to do that and I’ve spent – I don’t know – a couple of hundred hours programming this website. But it’s also a triumph because it’s 100 percent exactly what we need it to be. If we were to get an off-the-shelf solution, we’d have to wrestle some things here and there. At least, this way, we were able to build something that’s exactly what we want and what I think our members are going to want.

Lindsay: Awesome. You know what? You answered my next question because then I was going to say, “Well, what’s been the most rewarding?” and it’s like coming up with something from scratch – whether it’s the website, or inviting teachers and professionals to teach courses.

And then, again, wrestling and making sure that these courses are exactly the way that we want them and that they are always being helpful and we’ve just sort of been just going over and over and over with our instructors and also with ourselves to make sure we know exactly what it is we want to give to you guys and that it’s useful and that it’s practical.

Craig: I think the most rewarding for me was actually when we first finished our very first course which was the Introduction to Teaching Mask. You know, it was the first one, so everything was new to us – you know, from the slides to how to put the video in there.

What was so rewarding to me was just finally seeing the final product. You know, it’s like putting a play together. You know, you start with your script and then you add the performance and then you shape it with technology and then you present it for an audience. And so, I feel now we have these courses and we’ve been in dress rehearsal with them – some of them for a month now – and I just can’t wait to get them into the world because I think they’re so valuable and I have learned so much from editing and putting these things together.

Lindsay: Well, you make the most wonderful segues.

So, we’re launching the Drama Teacher Academy with three courses.

Introduction to Teaching Mask taught by Allison Williams; Organized Chaos: Discipline in the Theatre Classroom taught by Teacher Matt Webster; and From Audition to Curtain Call: Directing Youth Theatre with Steven Stack.

And then, we’re going to be adding a new course each month. I think, Craig, you just hit it right on the head, is that I want to teach mask after getting all the information from Allison’s course. Actually, I have gone into a couple of workshops since we recorded her course and I’ve used a couple of her techniques already when I’ve been working with a couple of acting groups so it’s been in my head and it really sticks.

What Matt’s course on Organized Chaos: Discipline in the Theatre Classroom, he really hits home about how, a lot of times, theatre teachers have the content down packed, they have the passion for teaching down packed, and then it’s the whole nuts and bolts of actually being a teacher that sometimes go by the wayside, and this course is just – ugh! – it’s so great from that perspective.

And then, I love what Steven does. Just basically, it’s an all-encompassing, all-purpose, what do you do before that audition? What kind of auditions should you hold? And all the way up to the curtain call.

I just think they’re wonderful and I think I’ve sort of summed it up. Is there anything you think that I haven’t said yet that you think is really great about these courses?

Craig: I think we’ve said what we have to say. And now, I think we’re about to shift into listening mode, you know? Get people on the site and tell us what it is that they like, what it is that they want more of, and develop more stuff for them.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay.

So, what we also want is we want our current instructors to sort of speak for themselves and to tell you what they love about their courses and what they’re teaching and what you’re going to learn from them. So, let’s hear from the instructors themselves.

+ + +

Lindsay: I have here Allison Williams. Hello, Allison!

Allison: Hi, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Hi! Allison is teaching the course, Introduction to Teaching Mask.

Allison, you have a long history of teaching mask, yes?

Allison: I do. I have been teaching mask for about twenty years now, really enjoying it. I’ve taught mask all over the world and one of the coolest things about it is that I’ve taught mask in a couple of different countries to students whose language I did not speak and I think that’s part of the beautiful power of mask – it’s so physical that we can still work together as actors and as teachers and as workshop participants even when we don’t all speak English.

Lindsay: Ah, and that’s a great lead into my first question for you. We’re talking all about DTA, all about the Drama Teacher Academy, all about these wonderful courses that we want to offer – workshops on demand for Drama teachers to take anytime, anywhere.

Allison: Wow!

Lindsay: I know! It’s exciting! I’m all a-tinkle!

So, why should teachers take Introduction to Teaching Mask?

Allison: I think the most valuable thing for a teacher as far as mask goes is we have a lot of tools for teaching the words, we have a lot of tools for teaching the nice voice and the nice actions around the stage; we don’t have a lot of tools for teaching physical characterization.

And, when we get students of high school age who are dealing with these gangly new bodies that they have just been issued and they don’t quite know what to do with, you know, and they’re all up on-stage doing the shifty foot dance and doing something weird with their hands, by working through a mask workshop, we’re able to teach them specific ways to use their body and specific tools for them to go, “Okay. I’m going to make some choices here about how this character is going to walk. I’m going to make some choices here about how this character stands,” so that they can be more comfortable on-stage and more visually appealing to the audience.

As far as the teachers go, I think the most valuable thing in this course is side coaching. Side coaching is this almost stream of consciousness thing where you’re conducting the exercise at the same time they’re doing it, and you can use it when you’re coaching a scene, too, where you’re giving verbal feedback that the students incorporate into what they’re doing, but they don’t stop and react to the feedback. They continue on as the characters and that’s such an incredibly valuable tool for all kinds of rehearsals.

I think the practice and the learning of side coaching is such a valuable resource for teachers and, in this course, we really stress that.

Lindsay: Oh, yeah. Also, in the course, because we offer not only the videos but there’s also transcripts and an MP3, you give very clear instruction during the video of examples of side coaching, right?

Allison: Yes, you get to hear me doing side coaching as a sound file and you also get to hear me side coaching while watching a video of the students reacting to side coaching. So, you really get a sense of exactly how it works.

And I also give some tips for how to learn to side coach because there’s ways you can practice it on your own before you try it out on your students.

Lindsay: And, if you want to read a text, if you want to read a script, you can just go through the transcript and see how Allison does her side coaching.

Allison: Exactly.

Lindsay: What we want to emphasize here as we wrap it up is that this is really a course for teachers to teach, right? It’s not how you learn to do mask, it’s how you teach mask, and that’s really most important, right?

Allison: Yes, and I think that’s really the plus – it teaches teachers this whole new technique for how to get their students to be more physical, how get their students to make specific physical characterization choices. And, I think, for teachers, this is such a tremendous tool that will help them when they’re teaching mask as an exercise, if they’re teaching mask for the sake of doing it in a play, or if they’re just working on physical characterization with their students. I mean, I think the strongest directors are the ones who are able to help the actors with the physical element as well as the verbal, the text, the blocking, and I think this is really that tool for teachers. This is really a great thing they can take with them.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much!

Allison: You’re welcome!

+ + +

Lindsay: Okay. So, I am now talking to Steven Stack. Hello, Steven!

Steven: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Steven is our course instructor for the course, From Audition to Curtain Call: Directing Youth Theatre. Now, that sounds like that is a pretty all-encompassing course, “From Audition to Curtain Call.”

Steven: It really is and, if you think about it, that’s the only way that it could be because all of those things – from audition to all the rehearsals to the curtain call – are included in the process of creating a show. So, if you leave one out, you’re leaving out important parts of the process and that just can’t happen.

Lindsay: Right. You know, like, if you want to know, it’s a step-by-step process, isn’t it? You know, if you’re preparing your play, then the next step is audition, and then the next step is that first rehearsal, and then it snowballs from one to the other.

Steven: Absolutely.

When I first started directing, I didn’t understand how important following a certain process was and my shows and the rehearsals never went as well as they could have. But, as I gained more and more experience, I started really going, “Okay. Point A to Point B to Point C to Point D,” and so forth. And then, the whole process just became so much stronger and more enjoyable for me and for the actors.

Lindsay: So, I think that what you’re saying is that planning is sort of your secret bullet when it comes to directing a play from audition to curtain call. You want to be prepared.

Steven: Absolutely because, if you don’t know how to get where you’re going, then there’s no way you’re going to get there. So, the more you plan, the less stress you feel, and the more successful you’re going to be in the long run.

Lindsay: Okay. So, let’s talk about some of the specifics of that planning that you’re going to cover in the course. What are some of the highlights in this course?

Steven: Well, at the beginning, it’s just making sure that you understand the play you’re about to direct – that you know the ins and outs, all the characters, the motivations, the conflicts in every certain part of the play, and that you can have some ideas of how you’re visually going to paint that picture on-stage – that’s the first thing.

And then, you’re going to basically go through that whole process from “When do I do my auditions? What do I want to do in my auditions? What should my first rehearsal look like? When am I going to block the show and how am I going to block the show?” and then you get into the rehearsals then all the other things that may come up.

And, in this course, we cover all of those from dealing with parents, from dealing with casting, from dealing with those moments that you might not want to deal with – everything, really.

Lindsay: We from A to Z, right? Exactly how do you deal with parents who don’t like the casting that their child has been given? Some of the keys that every student actor needs to learn.

You go through the five most important keys that student actors need to learn and my favorite one is that you tell them “don’t act” when they’re on-stage. Why is that? Why shouldn’t students act on-stage?

Steven: Well, because you don’t want performances. You don’t want people performing what they think the character should sound like or be like; you want the actor to actually know what the character is like and to be able to create those moments truthfully because, you know, they’ve been told so long how to perform, how to recite their lines. I don’t want any of that – not just for the audience because it’s a good thing for the audience because the audience can see when a moment is actually happening, but for young actors to be able to actually experience what it feels like to respond in character, for me as an actor, it was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me on-stage.

Lindsay: I think that’s such an important thing for actors to learn. And, I think, another really important thing for directors to learn is that, when they get to the middle of the rehearsal process and things aren’t going so well, to have some tricks and some exercises up their sleeve that they can rely on, right? To get rehearsals going.

Steven: Absolutely, and one of the key things, too, for us, is to embrace all those difficulties that pop up. One of the things I love is when those problems come up because then you can go, “Okay. Now, how do I solve this and make the situation better?” Sometimes, it’s a rehearsal game that we just throw in right in the middle of rehearsal out of nowhere that’s going to help – first of all, it helps them understand their character better, and also, it provides this spark that maybe was missing for a while. But yeah, it’s really key to embrace those difficulties because that’s really where you find the challenges then that’s really where you grow the most as a director and your students grow as actors.

Lindsay: And then, when you get to the show, what’s the most important thing that you cover? When you’ve done rehearsals and you’re leaving the students with the show, what’s one thing that you cover about this final step in the whole process of putting on a play?

Steven: Well, the main thing I stress to my students is that they know the end. They know the end of the show, but not to focus on that – not to focus on their nervousness, to focus on the moment – where they’re at at the moment. And, in this case, if I’m talking to them right before a show, I was like, “This is the moment you’re in and, when the curtain opens, you play that moment, and then every moment as it happens. Focus on the now. Focus on what your character wants and everything takes care of itself.”

Because, honestly, I feel that the true pressure is in rehearsal about putting everything together. By the final rehearsal, if I’ve done my work as a director, and they’ve done their work as actors, then they deserve a successful show and that’s the part that they control because we control the rehearsal – we don’t really control the show as much. But, if we put in the work, then our show is more than likely going to be really successful.

Lindsay: Awesome. I really think this course, if you haven’t directed before and you’re sort of looking around for “What do I do? What are the steps?” you know, this course is going to give it to you. And I also think – and what I quite like about what you’ve done here, Steven – is that, if you have directed before, there are some turn things upside down that you might not expect and I think that’s good, too. It’s almost like you planned it that way.

Steven: Absolutely. Well, because one of the things I’ve realized – with my wife’s help, mind you – was that I can always be better and I’m always looking to improve as a director because I know that, if I keep working for that improvement and looking for new ways to do things, then I’m going to be a better director next year than I am right now and that’s why I’m always looking, “How can I make myself better?” Because, if I’m getting better, so are my students, and that’s really the whole point of all of this – helping your students be better actors and better people, too, in the end.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Steven.

Steven: You’re welcome!

+ + +

Lindsay: Okay. So, now I’m talking to Matt Webster. Hello, Matt!

Matt: Hi there!

Lindsay: Matt is the instructor for one of our courses, Organized Chaos: Discipline in the Theatre Classroom, which, I think, Matt, that is just a fantastic title. Why “Organized Chaos”?

Matt: That’s a phrase that I remember. I don’t even know if it goes back to my college days or my childhood. But it seems to best describe what happens in a theatre classroom that, to the outside observer, it looks like chaos – it looks like the students are running around and the lunatics have taken over the asylum. But, when a theatre classroom is being well-run and well-managed, it’s being run like a tightly run ship and everybody knows what’s expected, everybody knows what it is they’re doing, the rules are being followed, and a great deal of creativity is occurring within that situation as well.

Lindsay: So, would you say that you are very happy with the classroom management that you put into your classes?

Matt: I am, and I’ll tell you, the other thing is that I continue to learn and really try to be aware of what works and doesn’t work in my classroom. And, if I feel something isn’t working, I’ll tweak it a little bit. If I feel something’s working well, I’ll continue to use it and see if it works with a different group of students and if it needs work. Theatre classrooms, like all classrooms, are fluid spaces and being able to know the basics and then adjust to make it work for the students in front of you is really important.

Lindsay: Do you ever discuss that with your students about when something’s not working, particularly with something like classroom management?

Matt: Absolutely. Absolutely, and I’ve found that it’s valuable to do that because, ultimately, you’re working with human beings. Yes, they’re students. Yes, sometimes they’re children or sometimes they’re teenagers. But they’re human beings and they want to be treated like human beings and they want to have a stake in what’s going on.

And you’re a human being as well and you might be making mistakes and you might be doing things that they can point out and say, “Hey! You’re not being fair when this person gets in trouble over something and that person doesn’t; you’re playing favoritism.” Or, “You said this yesterday and, you know, now today we’re doing it the same way. Why?” And, sometimes, you’ve got to swallow your pride a little bit and realize you’ve been called out, but it’s a way to grow and improve and sometimes you can say, “Well, I’m sure you see it this way, but let me explain to you why we’re doing it like this.” And then, there’s none of that simmering resentment or questioning of what’s going on and it’s a much healthier environment.

Lindsay: Now, I know you’ve been a Drama teacher for quite a while. When did you step into the classroom?

Matt: Oh, I stepped into the classroom full-time as a professor in 1996. But I had been teaching adjunct and college courses for about probably six or eight years before that so I’d been teaching for a while.

Lindsay: Yeah, and you also not only have spent the past number of years in the classroom but you used to teach beginning teachers.

Matt: Yes, I did. I ran a department in theatre education and I had students who started as freshmen, went all the way through with all of the coursework with me. I supervised their student teaching. I signed off on their teacher licensure and, you know, kind of saw them from entering the program to beginning teachers and then even a little bit beyond because I stayed in contact with them.

Lindsay: All right! So, let’s talk about that for a second. What is the most common mistake you see in beginning teachers when it comes to classroom management?

Matt: A big one is that they’re unprepared – that they walk into the classroom and they think that they can wing it and they can’t. You have to be prepared walking into the classroom and you also have to come in with a certain level of authority.

One of the things I tell my students is that, before you open your mouth when you are standing in front of your classroom on day one, you’re the most brilliant teacher that’s ever existed. The students will assume you know what you’re doing. They’ll assume you’re a seasoned veteran. They’ll assume that the classroom that they’re walking into is going to be a well-managed, organized kind of classroom, and you will prove or disprove that in the first thirty minutes of your classroom.

So, be aware when you walk in. The more prepared you are, the more organized, the more ready you are, the better your year is going to go from day one because the students will assume that you know what you’re doing up until the time that you prove you don’t.

Lindsay: It’s all about you, the teacher, right? You know, if you don’t feel like you’re that confident teacher, you have to be that confident teacher. It’s a Drama class!

Matt: Absolutely. Fake it till you make it. Absolutely.

Lindsay: Okay. So, this course specifically, Organized Chaos: Discipline in the Theatre Classroom. Discipline is such a weird word for the theatre classroom. We don’t usually associate discipline with theatre, do we?

Matt: We don’t, and there’s also this sense – as you said before – that theatre is kind of a free-for-all. It’s this kind of amazing place where we follow our creativity and we follow our muse and we act and we act out and we play and perform and do all of these things, and all of that is true, but there has to be a structure under which all of that takes place because, without that structure, then it really is chaos. It really a very difficult situation for everyone concerned.

Lindsay: So, we have this course, Organized Chaos, and any teacher who is thinking about taking your course, what are some of the things that they’re going to learn?

Matt: Well, they’ll learn how to set up a curriculum because, as I said, when teachers walk in on day one, they’re unprepared if they don’t know what it is they’re teaching, how their overall calendar is going to work, then they’re playing it by ear on a day-by-day basis, and being one step ahead of your students on a daily basis is exhausting.

So, how do you set up your curriculum? How do you set up lesson plans and unit plans and the overall shape of your class for a year-long course or a semester-long course? So, that’s something we’ll look at.

The pacing; how do you figure out the right amount of time to spend on a particular subject? When is it time to move on? When is it time to slow down? That’s something else that we’ll look at.

How to set your classroom up – I mean, this is one of the basic things that a lot of people have no idea about that they don’t think about when you walk in on day one, this space is now yours to control, and how you set that space up is going to have big consequences down the road of how well your class is managed.

We also look at the rules and boundaries of the classroom and what you’re accountable for when you have your students in front of you, that you need to have consequences for breaking those rules, and you need to be consistent in enforcing those rules – that, sometimes, having the students themselves create those rules can be a big benefit to you as a teacher because they’re ownership of it is something that will boost and enhance the discipline in the classroom.

And then, there’s the idea that you will have bad days as a teacher and what are some ways to deal with that, and that, as a theatre teacher, you really need to expect the unexpected because, as we know, the theatre classroom is not like every other classroom.

So, those are some of the topics that we look at in the course.

Lindsay: Oh, it’s fantastic! I think that, you know, we talk a lot when we’re teaching, particularly Drama teachers, about, oh, how to choose a play and how to do improv or how to block a scene, but this might be, I think, the most important course a teacher could take.

Matt: What’s really nice about this, there’s a phrase that I would talk to my students about, my up-and-coming student teachers, that I would say, “What I’m trying to do for you is to be like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz,” that you pull the curtain back and see what the wizard does, that we don’t really know when we take education classes or theatre classes, the nuts and bolts of how a classroom works.

And there are not a lot of classes that are taught that give you that information and that’s why I think this class is very valuable and very important because it may even be things that, intuitively, a new teacher says, “I really think I need this but I don’t know how to get it,” and this lays out some of the basic building blocks that you can use to create the classroom environment that then we do get the kind of creativity and fun and improvisation and scene work and things that you’re talking about. But you need a structure to build that upon and that’s what this course does.

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Matt.

Matt: You’re very welcome.

Thank you, Matt, Steven, and Allison!

Lindsay: So, you can get the link for the Drama Teacher Academy and also links to all of the plays that our three instructors have on our website as well at the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode105.

Craig: I’ll save you a click. It’s DramaTeacherAcademy.com.

Lindsay: So, if you want to cut out the middleman and you just want to go right to the source, DramaTeacherAcademy – all one word – DramaTeacherAcademy.com. Learn more! So, how much the monthly fee is, what the monthly fee gets you, and you can even see trailers for our launch courses.

Now, I have to tell you that we are not opening the doors to the Drama Teacher Academy indefinitely. The doors are going to close for now to the academy on August 22nd – that’s Friday, August 22nd. This is a new site and we want to make sure our charter members are getting everything they need.

And so, for that reason, we’re limiting enrollment to the DTA right now. So, Friday, August 22nd, the doors are going to close, and they’re going to be closed for at least a month. So, if you want to get in on the ground floor, if you want to be a charter member, if you want to start taking courses, you’ve got to act now – DramaTeacherAcademy.com.

And we didn’t even get into the fact that it’s not just courses on the Drama Teacher Academy; there’s also lesson plans that you can download. It’s really workshops on demand, it’s learning on demand. It’s for you when you want it, what you want, at the pace you want.

So, that’s our little pitch for the DTA. Craig, you’re excited, I know.

Craig: I’m just ready to see what people have to say.

Lindsay: Ah! Me, too!

So, finally, where, oh, where can you get this wonderful podcast? Well, we post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on 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.


It has been a whirlwind week with the launch of The Drama Teacher Academy!

This is a brand new project and a brand new adventure so there have been a lot of questions. We want to make sure you know exactly what the DTA is and what it’s all about, so let’s answer those questions.

How long do I have to stay once I join the DTA?

DTA is a monthly membership site. You can stay with the DTA for however long you want. There’s no minimum time commitment. If you ever decide not to continue with us, you can cancel your account. You’ll have access to your materials until the end of your month and we won’t touch your card again.

Is it possible to register for a few months and then, if I decide that I don’t use it enough, cancel my membership?

Yes. You can leave any time. The only caveat is that if you decide to return, you’d have to wait until we reopen the doors to new members.

Can I pause my membership if I get super-busy and won’t have time?

This is such a great question. And we know how busy drama teachers are. We don’t have that built into the system yet. It’s something we want to offer, but there’s a technical issue with the service we’re using for billing. So the answer right now is no. But we’re working on it.

What if I can’t use my credits this month? Do they go away?

The credits are like minutes on a really great cellphone plan. Anything you don’t use this month rolls over to the next month. They never go away as long as you’re a member of the DTA. So if you know that you’re going to be super-busy with a show one month, you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything. The courses will always be there for you when you have the time.

Can I pay by the year?

Yes! You can prepay for a year with a credit card or you can be billed and send in a check. Everything you need to know can be found here.

Can you bill my school / district?

We accept purchase orders for annual memberships, but not monthly memberships. Everything you need to know can be found here.

Can I pay monthly instead of annually?


How do I take a course or get a lesson plan?

Courses and lesson plans are “purchased” by redeeming credits. Each month you’re given 60 credits to use towards the materials in the DTA. There are also some resources that don’t cost anything. Unused credits roll over to the next month and are yours to use as long as you’re a member.

When are the courses? Do I have to be home at a certain time?

The courses are on-demand. They’re pre-recorded and you can watch them online anytime. You can also download the video files to your computer to watch offline, you can download MP3 recordings of the courses to listen to on the way to school or at the gym, and you can also download and print transcripts of each lesson. So you can take the courses at your own pace, your own way, and on your own time.

Once you’ve redeemed credits for a course, you have full access to it as long as you’re a member of the DTA.

Can I use DTA courses for ‘Contact Time’ / PD Credit / Continuing Education Credit?

It depends on the requirements of your school district. Every course comes with a certificate of completion that has a space to enter your name, the date, and the number of hours you’ve spent on the course. From what we’ve heard so far, this might be enough to fulfill the requirements.

Can I share my membership with a friend?

The membership is yours and yours alone. And the more members we have in the DTA, the more we’ll be able to offer. It’s in your best interest to encourage other teachers to sign up as well.

Do I have to use the same computer all the time?

No. The Drama Teacher Academy is a website. As long as you have access to the Internet, you can log in from your computer, from an iPad, even from your phone.

How long does it take to take a course?

It depends on you. The course materials themselves usually run between 90 and 120 minutes. But courses may also include bonus videos, worksheets, handouts, etc.

We recommend studying one module a day so that you can absorb and review at a comfortable pace.

Will the Price Go Up?

Yes and no. Once you’re a member, the price will never go up for you. So if we raise the price in the future, current membership fees won’t be touched.

Who teaches these courses?

The DTA faculty is made up 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.

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. She knows the techniques and tips to teach kids and she’ll show you how. Lindsay Price has been teaching playwriting to students for over 10 years. Steven Stack gives you directing tips and techniques that he’s using right now at a drama camp for youth.

What did we leave out?
Still have a question? Send us a message through the DTA Help Site and we’ll be happy to help.

How about you? Are you ready to become a member of the DTA?

Join now!