Episode 110: Devising and Physical Theatre


Pilar Orti talks about how you can devise (create theatre from an idea) using physical theatre. How do you find stimulus for a piece, explore that stimulus physically, and (most importantly) how to fail when you create. “If you don’t fail you don’t discover.”


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 110! You can find all the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode110.

How are you this week? Are you getting back into the school swing? I’ve been out of school for twenty years, twenty-plus years, and, you know, I still get a little knot in the pit of my stomach come September. You know, that back-to-school worry. How about you? Are you knotted? Maybe you’re in a panic about grades? Or are you one of those types who just eases into the school year nice and slow? Because there’s lots of time to get things right, right? Maybe?

You know, getting something wrong in the classroom, especially the Drama classroom, is a tough thing for students to overcome – that it’s not a bad thing, that getting something wrong is exploratory – because, for them, if you get something wrong, if you fail, that means you get a bad grade. But, to fail in Drama when you’re trying something out, maybe if you’re creating a movement piece or creating a new script or doing an improv, if you mess something up, instead of going, “Uh, that was wrong,” and stopping, it’s an opportunity to explore a different path, right?

And I think, particularly if you’re creating a play in your class, it’s important to celebrate failure and to encourage students to, “Okay, try again.” And this is just one of the things I talk about with Pilar Orti in this week’s podcast about devising theatre. It’s a great talk so I think we should get right to it.

Lindsay: All right. Hello, everybody! I am thrilled today to have a guest on the podcast.

I am speaking to Pilar Orti. Hello, Pilar!

Pilar: Hello, Lindsay!

Lindsay: How are you?

Pilar: Great to meet you.

Lindsay: Yeah, great to meet you, too! Well, and it’s a very special sort of across the pond kind of conversation we’re having here. Tell everybody where you are in the world right now.

Pilar: I’m in London.

Lindsay: Are you from there originally? Where do you come from?

Pilar: Well, I was born in Madrid many years ago, but I came to the UK in 1990 and have been here since then so this is my home now.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, we’re talking today with Pilar. She has a book out, a second edition of a book called Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre, and these are two things which I think can go either way in the high school classroom, can’t they?

Pilar: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah

Pilar: Yes, unfortunately.

Lindsay: They can go very, very well or they can go pretty wrong. So, we want to focus on how to make these particular two topics, we want to make them go well.

Pilar: Yes.

Lindsay: Let’s just talk a bit about your background. So, where did your interest in devising theatre come from? Do you have a background in it?

Pilar: I think I blame my mother.

Lindsay: “I blame my mother for devising theatre.”

Pilar: Yes, for the good things in my life.

I grew up in Spain, like I said. My mother used to take me to.very theatrical stuff. Instead of taking me to traditional plays, she would take me to some of the more alternative scene and she enrolled me in mime classes, movement classes, which were always cancelled really quickly because my friend and I were the only ones attending.

So, I grew up seeing stuff on stage that I couldn’t see in real life and I saw people using their bodies in strange ways, using language in ways that I didn’t come across every day. So, I think my interest is more in physical theatre and devising because I didn’t really come across the word “devising” until I came to the U7K. I think it came from what I was being exposed to. And then, when I was eighteen, I came to do a Biology degree, so I’m very interested in the body.

And then, I went to Drama school and I went to Mountview Theatre School in London for three years doing classical actor training and was incredibly lucky to come across really good physical theatre directors and practitioners – some of whom had studied with Lecoq in France – you know, king of devising of physical theatre for this century. And that exposure just reinforced what I already knew – that I liked to do theatrical stuff; that language goes very well with movement; that theatre is about collaboration. For me, you know, you can still do theatre without it being extremely collaborative, but for me, it’s important. And that, as actors also – I trained as an actress – I also want to

have ownership of the piece from the beginning. I think, as an actor, it’s great to come into a good script and, at the end of that creative process, but it’s also really exciting to be there at the beginning and give it shape and decide where you want to go with it. So, that’s my interest.

Then, I set up a theatre company with a friend and then started to see how we taught physical theatre and that’s really where I started to learn what my practice was about when I started teaching others.

Lindsay: Well, I think these two particular things – devising theatre and also physical theatre – I think they have quite the place in a high school classroom. You know, the whole notion of devising.

So, let’s dive into that. What’s your definition of devising theatre? What does it mean to devise a piece?

Pilar: For me, it’s to start a piece from scratch. Well, from scratch as in maybe with a stimulus, so maybe an idea. So, you have an idea and then you create. Creative theatre is what I would call it. So, devising for me is you have an idea or the group has an idea or the group are given an idea and they create a piece. So, they decide where the story is going, the group decides the form which is very important. So, it could be that you devise something that has naturalistic dialogue – you know, that’s still devising. For me, it’s more interesting to put surrealism into it. But that’s, for me, my definition of devising is when a group creates a piece of theatre from an idea.

Lindsay: I know it as a collective creation kind of thing.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lindsay: And it’s just this whole notion, particularly in schools, we’re looking at building skills, right? So, the whole notion of communication between a group of students who have to work on a piece from scratch, the whole notion of working as a team and just working with each other when there is no script to fall back on, when they really have to build a piece, and the pride that comes at the end of something like that I think is pretty phenomenal and I think very impactful at the school level.

Pilar: Yeah, it’s a real learning experience. It means you have really learn to listen, it means that you have to learn how to take the initiative, and that doesn’t just mean that you have lots of ideas but the initiative of, “Look, let’s start working. We have to finish the script by day X and we don’t have a teacher that’s going to tell us. We need to do it. We set our schedule. We meet our deadlines. We make sure we turn up on time and start working. We make sure we make the most out of our time together,” and I think that’s really important.

Lindsay: Well, I think that hits right on one point where devising can go awry and that a schedule is actually very important. Like, it seems that, “Oh, it’s improv,” and there’s an exploring and experimenting stage and a creation stage. But, actually, the schedule of putting the piece together I think is one of the pillars of devising theatre.

Pilar: Yes, because you need that roadmap, and especially because you’re starting probably with very little restrictions, very few restrictions, you need to start guiding yourself and you have to put some limitations for yourself and some milestones or else, like you say, you just start creating.

And one thing that I think is very important is to set time for rehearsing because I think many students, like you were saying, it’s great fun to create and experiment but, “Oh, do we have to go over that again?” and the discipline of repeating stuff and fine-tuning, I think that is very important, especially if they want to go into the performance arts.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about the stimulus. You talked about how devising theatre usually starts with an idea or a stimulus. In a class, is this something that you think that the teacher should come up with? Or do you think it should just stem from the students?

Pilar: A bit of both.

In a way, I think the teacher has to take responsibility for some stuff, for some of the things when a group of students is creating, and one of them could be setting the stimulus, more than anything, because she knows the students – she or he, of course – they know the students, they know what might interest them, or also what might stretch them.

So, for example, they might know that a film might be a better stimulus than a painting for some. Or a novel. Or a newspaper cutting. Or he or she might throw it at them and say, “Right. Next term or whatever, we’re going to be looking at creating your own piece. Do you want to start coming up with ideas of where the story could go?” I don’t know.

So, it’s a mixture. I think it really depends. But I think the teacher should make the decision of who’s going to give them the stimulus.

Lindsay: It could be something too that, you know, if you’re going to do it in a month or so, or six weeks or so, like, “Okay. For a couple of weeks now, everyone’s responsible for coming in with one painting or one current event or one thing that interests them,” so that there’s a methodology to coming up with ideas. So, when they get to Day 1 of their devising project, instead of throwing it at them and saying, “Okay! Ideas?”

Pilar: Yeah, that’s great, and it also will get them into the state of mind where they’re looking around them to then create this piece. So, to also get to the artist inspired by lots of stuff around us that we don’t even expect is going to influence us. So, that idea of starting to look out, yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah, like when I talk about playwriting, I’m always emphasizing, like, observation. “Look around you. Start gathering. Gather what’s going to inspire you instead of just sort of waiting for amuse to hit and make it a practical application.”

Pilar: Yes.

Lindsay: Three things you talk about in your book that seem to work well as common stimulus are fairy tales, paintings, and current affairs. Are those three things that just seem to commonly hit home?

Pilar: I think that’s the stimulus I’ve seen teachers use. Also, I think, with fairy tales, for example, it means that immediately you have the group on the same page, more or less. Of course, there’s variations, but at least it’s quicker, maybe it needs less research. The painting is something very visual so we all know what we’re looking at and then we can have ideas. And with current themes, I think, sometimes, with students, creating their own work, it’s easier if it’s in the now. If their hook at the beginning is now, it’s a world they understand. So, I think that was my reasoning behind using those three.

Lindsay: I find that what’s going to hook a student more than anything is something that’s in their world, right?

Pilar: Yes.

Lindsay: A current event that’s going on in their world.

I really liked a couple of suggestions you had like, for example, if you have a painting where there’s no people in it, to get students to create a population – you know, like, come up with the character that would live in this painting. Or, for the fairy tale, to create characters who, like, are the minor characters who you don’t actually see in the original fairy tale.

Pilar: Yeah, I think it’s good to remember that these are stimulus and that’s the thing – that it’s something to get you going and then you can move away from them as much as you want or you can.

Lindsay: Okay. That’s a really interesting point to come up because I think that devising really requires students to try things out, to fail, to try again, and that’s hard. That’s hard for students to grasp.

So, how do you circumvent the students who don’t want to fail? What would you tell teachers? How to encourage students to try and try again?

Pilar: That’s a very interesting question because the other thing I do at the moment is I work in organizations with adults.

Lindsay: Who don’t want to fail either?

Pilar: Yes, and actually, nobody wants to fail. It’s difficult to take risks. But, if you don’t fail, you don’t discover. I think, really, you can’t really bring this in just for your devising unit. I think it’s something that has to underpin all practice in your Drama classroom – that every time someone gets it horribly wrong, you laugh with them, you say, “How was that? Yeah? Why was it like that?” You know? But how great because, if you hadn’t stumbled over, we now wouldn’t have a comedy scene!

Or, “Are you having problems with that line? Okay. What might that tell us about the character?” and really make every time that somebody does something that they might think of as wrong, show that it’s part of growing – it’s how you deal with that – and, also, that there are things that we might learn when we get things wrong. And then, that means that, by the time they come to devise, they’re used to making mistakes and also not to take yourself too seriously.

Lindsay: You know, I kind of like that as a bit of side coaching for teachers to kind of just say, when a mistake happens, say, “That was great!” To really switch that around and when, oh, they’re just so afraid of being wrong, isn’t it? It’s hard.

Pilar: There’s a game I came across. I didn’t make it up myself. You throw a ball and every time the ball drops – you’re throwing it in a circle and you’re trying to make nice patterns or whatever but every time someone drops the ball, everyone goes, “Hurrah!” and that’s the beginning of celebrating getting something wrong.

Also, getting things wrong when you’re devising, it just means you open up other possibilities. So, it’s also about thinking in a different way about what it means to get something wrong. You know, turning up late is getting it wrong.

Lindsay: Yes, right! Not following the schedule is getting it wrong.

Pilar: Exactly.

Lindsay: Fascinating. Okay.

So, for a devise piece, you sort of put together a couple of stages. So, it seems that things out with research. When you’re telling a teacher or a class to research a stimulus, what kind of things are they looking for?

Pilar: Well, it depends what they’re doing.

If they’re setting it in a specific time, then they would research that time. If they are setting it now, for example, then once you have an idea for a character, you can look into their world. So, if they have a profession that you’ve never heard of, you will look

into that.

You can also research visually. So, you can look for images and, again, when we’re devising, we also need to think about what the show is going to look like so we might want to look at what colors inspire us.

So, it’s about looking into what can you bring into the rehearsal room that will feed the process, and it could be something quite random. You could just say, “You know what? I was looking at this painting,” or, “I came across this story or this photograph. I’m not sure, I just wanted to bring it into the rehearsal. Let’s see what we can do with it.”

And there’s also the academic part of that. If you’re following a curriculum, you will need to support what you’re doing with theatre theory or drama theory.

So, for example, if you’re looking at physical theatre, you might want to research into Lecoq and to companies in your city or your country that are doing a similar style. If you have a painting as a stimulus, you’ll want to research that painter, et cetera. So, it’s about understanding pretty much what context you’re working in, just like if you were studying a playwright.

Lindsay: Yeah, excellent.

Pilar: What’s influencing you.

Lindsay: Good. Excellent.

And then, we move on to the experimentation stage. How long would you suggest that students experiment with their stimulus?

Pilar: I think about 50 percent, yeah.

Lindsay: Okay.

Pilar: If we say that about – I don’t know – 10 or 15 percent at the beginning is just getting used to working together and knowing what is this that we’re doing, then 50 percent of experimenting, creating material, because experimenting is about creating your own character as well – trying things out, seeing what works, what doesn’t. And then, the last quarter or so, a bit more, then you start to nail down, “Okay. This is what we’re doing.” But that experimentation phase is about you understanding your own process, also about you understanding how you’re collaborating with others, and really understanding the world of the play.

Lindsay: What are some activities that would be good for experimentation? Would they use a lot of improv?

Pilar: Yes, again, it depends because, if you have somebody who is quite a good writer, you can have people improvising a scene where they’re talking and somebody writes down what they’re saying, or it could be improvisations around the world of the character. So, for example, if we have a couple – say we have a couple in this piece – and they are about to break up, we could have improvisations around how they met. So, we’re using that experimentation to improvise the world that the audience might never see and I think that’s very difficult for the students to understand.

Lindsay: Usually, I find that too with student playwrights, they get very focused on the world of the play that happens from word one to word last and yet that experimentation of what’s going on with characters outside the world of the play can be very informative.

Pilar: Yeah, and the thing is – sorry on that, Lindsay – that you can have very strong ideas in your head of how your character is, but until you improvise or are just in the space with another of your friends playing and improvising, you’re not going to really discover anything beyond your own experience also.

Lindsay: So then, what happens in the creation stage? Do things become a bit more formal? We’re talking about the creation of the actual piece.

Pilar: I think that’s about giving it structure. The piece, in the end, needs to have structure. So, we need to see, “Okay. How are we going to start this piece? What order are the scenes going to follow? Are we going to have short scenes? Long scenes?” and really nailing down the script in whatever way that comes out. So, it could be, if it’s a movement piece, we need to know what’s happening, more or less, in each scene.

Lindsay: It’s not necessarily a particular written script which we’ll talk about in a second with physical theatre. It could just be “Here’s the description of scene one. Here’s the description of scene two.” It’s all about the schedule, isn’t it? And the structure.

Pilar: Yeah, and when you don’t have dialogue, you have to remember that you might still have technical support. So, somebody might need to follow some sort of script.

Lindsay: Yeah, if you’ve got a guy who’s doing your sound, if you just are like, “Oh, we might be doing this and we might be doing this,” that’s of no help to them.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lindsay: And there’s always an audience. If you’re going to put this in front of an audience, you can’t have a mish mash. It’s got to follow a procedure.

Pilar: Exactly. So, I suppose, from that point of view, what you’re saying, “The creation piece is okay. Now, we’ve got to present it to an audience. How are going to communicate everything we’ve been working on? What’s the best way?”

Lindsay: And then, lastly, you talked a bit about how the rehearsal process is that you’re just sort of going over and over again. How do you stop students from getting into a rote where they sort of nail down one way of doing things and then they never vary?

Pilar: It’s very important to get them trained in a way to observe each other and to observe other groups because I think that, by seeing how different groups or different people are working on their own pieces, you can have “a-ha!” moments of, “Oh, they’re doing this! Isn’t that interesting? Oh, okay. Oh, we’re not doing this. Oh, could we do that differently?” and also get input from other students.

And then, also, just don’t be afraid. I think the teacher – although they have to be hands-off – you can still come in and look at something and make suggestions. “That is very heavily scripted. Do you think you could come up with a thirty-second movement sequence that would sum that up? Wouldn’t that be more exciting?” So, yeah, I think you can come in and make specific suggestions.

You can also give them exercises that will unlock them. So, for example, I think it’s something I suggest in the book is that people swap characters.

Lindsay: Oh! What a great idea!

Pilar: Yes. So, swap characters. When you have something like a script, give them to someone else to do your scene and watch and see what they do with the material and that might unlock something different. Or go away and do it really fast – this is something we used to do in rehearsal. Do the piece really, really fast or do the piece without words or put extra words or do it as if you were Shakespeare, et cetera. So, just really play with it and that might just go, “Crrrk!” and shift something to then carry on the other side.

Lindsay: You also have an exercise on your log for the book. It was the old women exercise. So, you imagine two old crones and, if they were talking about your show – so not your actors or not you as actors or not you as the act of it, but – what would they say about your show? So that you are honing in on knowing exactly what the show is presenting and maybe what you want for the show. When students get awry that they don’t exactly clearly know what they want to communicate.

Pilar: Yeah, it’s very difficult.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Okay. So, one of the things that happens in devising theatre – as I’m sure you know but for our listening audience – is that, once you have the stimulus, you also want to decide on a style and about what kind of style. It could be a musical theatre style, it could be a realism style, it could be in the style of a particular practitioner like Brecht, or it could be in the style of physical theatre.

So, what to you is your definition of physical theatre?

Pilar: To me, it’s where text and physical expression have equal weight or where physical expression has more weight than text.

When I used to the run the theatre company, there was always this spectrum of physical theatre which is from doing Shakespeare but stylizing it heavily using chorus, et cetera, to right to dance theatre which is right at the other spectrum.

But, for me, it’s when what the actor is doing physically is as important as or more important than what they’re doing vocally.

Lindsay: I think that’s one of the hardest things to instil in a student performer – the physical body – because a lot of them, they have so much issue with their body in life that, you know, things are changing, things are growing, they’re becoming themselves. All they want is to be as inside themselves as possible.

Pilar: Yes. Plus, you don’t get that much stimulus to this kind of theatre also because there’s a lot of television, there’s a lot of film, and there’s sometimes access to musicals. But there is not that much exposure to this kind of theatre so it’s difficult to imagine sometimes.

Lindsay: How to do it, you know?

Pilar: Yes.

Lindsay: You’ve got a quote – I believe I heard this on your site, but I think it’s in your book too – from Christian Darley which was that imagination is in the body and I just think that’s the best image when we’re talking about how do we physicalize, instead of using imagination with words, to use the physical to be imaginative.

Pilar: Yeah. And that, again, is something that we can lay down the foundations during all the Drama lessons to really be aware of space – the fact that we have space behind us and to our sides – not just in front of us. The space above us and how we relate to this space makes us look different and feel different. We can move in different ways. We can move across but also to the sides and down and up, and getting used to that – the fact that just moving differently gives something different to an audience.

Lindsay: One thing you say is that, in physical theatre, you’re using the body in ways it isn’t in real life and that is a concept that I think is hard for them to grasp. But, oh, if they could, right? How do you get them to use their body in ways it isn’t used in real life? Well, that’s another podcast for an hour!

Pilar: Yes! It’s difficult sometimes because sometimes I used to come across, especially teenagers who will say, “Yeah, this is all very well, but when are we doing proper acting?”

Lindsay: Yeah.

Pilar: If they can have exposure to Jacques Tati or Charles Chaplin or something. So, you can take them to a place where you know this is a style. I’m not saying that this is the only way of doing theatre, but look, by doing this, you can have comedy, you can have sadness, and you can transport your audience wherever you want.

If you want to set a place in the moon, but you can’t change the way you move, how are the audience going to believe that? Or, if you want to set a play – I don’t know – for example, in rural Spain in the 1930s – like a lot of Lorca is done, you have to change how you move because a person moving in the middle of the countryside in 40 degrees heat is not going to move the same as you in your Drama studio.

I think it’s getting them to observe also. Look at how people move outside. Watch different films set in different countries. You know, people move differently so you need to learn to move differently so the audience can believe you, really.

Lindsay: Do you use video a lot with students? Do you think that’s a good practice to get them to sort of understand what physical theatre is?

Pilar: I didn’t use to because, being in London, it was quite easy to – well, usually, the groups would – watch some of this theatre and I used to teach in a sixth form and we’d bring my own theatre company in.

Lindsay: You’ve had access to yourself.

Pilar: Yes, I had access to myself.

Lindsay: Okay. So, what about those teachers in the middle of nowhere who doesn’t have access to it?

Pilar: I think videos are really good. I think something like DV8 videos or any experimental theatre videos you can get on YouTube, anything to show, “Look, we’re not just doing this in the classroom. There are people out there who are professional actors who work in this way.” If you can have access to any Frantic Assembly videos, they’re a British company of theatre; the Complicite – again, I only know the British companies.

So, it’s about giving the art form the respect it deserves by saying it’s not just something we do in the classroom. It’s done outside. It’s proper theatre.

Lindsay: How important are warm-ups when you’re working in physical theatre?

Pilar: For me, they’re important for every kind of theatre!

Lindsay: Ah, well, that’s true, too.

Pilar: Warm-ups have lots of different functions and the most obvious ones are getting the body ready. Usually, in everyday life, like I said, maybe we don’t move our fingers much or we don’t move our elbows a lot. So, if you’re going to get ready to work in a physical way, you have to remember you’ve got these appendages and that you can move them. So, that’s the very practical.

Again, we’re doing something that we don’t really want to succeed at. We’re just warming up because we need to do it and we do it together and we look silly while we’re doing it because a lot of warm-ups don’t make us look very glamorous. So, we get used to that. We get used to being silly and we get used to coming together to do something together and we practice things like failure. If we do games, we practice getting it wrong and then it just eases into the practice.

Lindsay: It’s sort of a training ground for everything that you need in all theatre where, when things go wrong, it’s a good thing.

Pilar: Games are really powerful and they’re still seen just as the little thing you do at the beginning of a rehearsal or the class. But I think you could teach theatre through games and then leave the proper acting till later because they teach you a lot.

Lindsay: If you’re using warm-ups to sort of get everybody used to the notion of working together, the ensemble in physical theatre is really important, isn’t it?

Pilar: Yes, for me, it’s key. Again, it’s a matter of taste and opinion. But what I really like about devising is that it really is a piece that the group has created and, when people watch it, they go, “Wow! They’re working so well together.” Again, that’s beautiful to see because you don’t see it every day!

Lindsay: I think that’s another issue, too. Students sometimes hear the word “ensemble” and they’re used to a musical theatre world where ensemble means lesser and it’s like, “No, the ensemble is the full cast. It’s everybody all together.”

Pilar: Yeah, it’s everyone and making sure that everyone knows that every time they are on-stage or watching a rehearsal, they need to be contributing in some way.

Lindsay: Yeah, and that’s my favorite use of the word – that every theatre company is an ensemble and that everybody needs to work together.

Okay. So, as we wrap up here, when we’re doing physical theatre in a classroom, what are three key points that teachers need to make sure is happening with their students? What are three key points to make physical theatre really come to life?

Pilar: One is something that actually applies to all Drama and it’s make sure that people are looking at each other.

Lindsay: Ah, looking and listening, right?

Pilar: Yes, that people are making eye contact, that they’re giving space to other people. That’s very important. That underpins all theatre where it’s not a monologue.

The other thing is that space is being used in different ways and that we change our relationship with space. Every time we show our work to the rest of the class, we are always there on that bit of wall and we all sit here with our chairs. Change that.

Lindsay: I love that.

Pilar: Yeah, because then it gets the students thinking about space because part of devising and physical theatre is also thinking about where am I going to perform this and how. So, those are two.

And, the third one is, just as soon as people are not laughing or enjoying themselves and getting all passionate, then there’s a problem. So, watch out for low emotions. I think high emotions are great – even if at some point they are angered, it doesn’t matter. But, if people are coasting along, something’s wrong.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Okay. So, Pilar’s book is Your Handy Companion to Devising and Physical Theatre. I have read this book. I really enjoy it and I really think that students and teachers will enjoy it because, first of all, it is not – and I say this with love – it’s not fancy pants. I don’t want to read theory. I want practical and I want exercises and, when I read this book, I’m like, “I want to go devise theatre. I want to go do physical theatre,” and I think that that’s really important for particularly high school teachers. We’re not talking about pedagogy. We’re talking about stuff you can do in the Drama classroom.

I’m going to put Pilar’s website – devisingandphysicaltheatre.com – in our show notes and I think you should all go to her Twitter @DevisingTheatre – #decourse. There’s a whole bunch of Twitter tips that Pilar’s got for devising theatre which I think is awesome.

Also, one more thing that I got from her website, you talk about how important it is to journal the process and you have an online journal there and I’m going to murder her name horribly but Danielle Hind.

Pilar: Yes.

Lindsay: And she has a whole blog about her process. Now, was she working with students? They looked quite young.

Pilar: No, I think she’s a student herself. I just came across her in the website.

Lindsay: Fabulous!

Pilar: Yeah, absolutely fantastic.

Lindsay: And I think that there are some videos on daniellehindtsdevising.blogspot.co.uk that really eliminate what you’re talking about in terms of physical theatre. There’s an inner outer character exercise that just shows what you’re talking about, how it can work, and how it can just take students in a whole new direction.

Pilar: Excellent.

Lindsay: Thank you so much, Pilar! I really enjoyed this discussion and I think that our listeners are going to enjoy, too.

Pilar: Well, I hope so. Thank you very much, Lindsay! And thanks for reading the book, too.

Thank you, Pilar!

So, the links for this episode can be found at theatrefolk.com/episode110.

So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!

Our latest catalogue is now out in the world – completely up-to-date with all our new plays, all our educational resources, all the information you need about getting a play, getting rights, getting it all done.

You can get an electronic copy of our catalogue on our website – that’s www.theatrefolk.com – or you can also request a hard copy there as well and we will send you your very own printed copy in the mail and everything.

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. You can also 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.


You’ve heard the saying. “A Picture is worth a Thousand Words.” Here is an exercise that puts that expression into vivid detail.

Click here to see an Imgur gallery. It shows eight paintings of the same man. They are self-portraits of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; eight years of a man slowly disappearing until the year he forgot to send a picture.

It’s a heartbreaking visualization not only of the self, but of of a disease. It’s an perfect, if terrifying, example of how a disease can be represented artistically.

The pictures tell a story. There are no words and yet we know exactly what’s happening to this man. He is slowly disappearing. He is in despair. The ground he always knew as solid is slipping away.


  1. Save the pictures separately (so that the captions are not visible) then project them on a screen or smart board. Show your students these pictures without telling them what they mean, or even that they’re the same person. Have students write a brief reflection on each photo. What do they see? What words come to mind? What emotions?
  2. After going through all eight slowly, show each picture again. Stop on picture 7. Ask students to take a minute and automatic write the inner thoughts of this person. Think of this portrait as a character. Based on what you see, what’s going on in their mind? Give students two minutes.
  3. Have students share their automatic writing. What thoughts do they identify? How do they interpret this portrait as a character?
  4. Show the pictures again. This time, tell students there’s a story going on here. From the first to the last, think about what the story could be. Divide students into groups. Have students share their views on the pictures and decide on the story being told. What is the story? Give students time to come up with a presentation (either oral, or a series of tableaux).
  5. After students share their versions of the story, discuss them. And then let them know the true story of the eight pictures, that they are self-portraits of a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They represent the last eight years of his life up until the year he forgot to send a picture.
  6. Discuss with students what they see in the pictures now that they know the context. What words come to mind?
  7. Explain to students that theatre can also bring stories to life visually. It can visualize concepts, issues, and emotions without being literal.
  8. Give students the following assignment.
    1. Multi-infarct dementia is a disease that affects the brain. The sufferer has a series of small strokes that affects how the brain works. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily shut off. It affects short term memory, causes inappropriate behaviour (like laughing or crying), wandering or getting lost, and difficulty with normal tasks. The symptoms are not always present. In groups you are going to create a one minute presentation that visualizes multi-infarct dementia using children’s games.
    2. In your groups, use a children’s game (e.g. red light / green light, musical chairs) to show multi-infarct dementia.
    3. Remember! The disease affects the brain – the way the game is played will be affected by this.
    4. Don’t focus on the literal. Do not include a description of the disease in your presentation. Focus on the visual.

    Click here for a printable PDF version of this Assignment

  9. After groups have presented, discuss what it was like to visualize a disease without explaining the disease? What was it like to watch the presentations? What was your experience?
  10. Have students write a reflection on the exercise. Is it effective to visualize something on stage without offering a full explanation? Why or why not?

APictureIsWorthAThousandWords - Copy-page-001


Sound is a powerful sense. Many objects and actions are clearly identified by the sounds they make. Sound also triggers powerful memories. When I hear a screen door slam, I am instantly brought back to my grandparents’ cottage on a chilly summer morning. The kettle that I use to make my tea each morning has a distinct sound. The beach where I live has a multitude of sounds from the waves lapping on the sand, to the seagulls, to kids squealing playfully in the sand.

How do you express a location using just sound?

  1. Start the exercise with a discussion on sound. What specific sounds happen on a daily basis in your life? What would life be like without sound?
  2. Show a picture of a specific location. Use the picture provided in the download or choose your own.
  3. Ask the class to brainstorm on the different sounds that evoke the location. Have them practice making the sounds using whatever you have on hand. All sounds for the exercise will be manmade.
  4. Divide the class into groups. Each group gets their own picture.
  5. Groups have five minutes to discuss the picture, brainstorm on the possible sounds and come up with five sounds that evoke the location. All these sounds will be made by the students.
  6. Each group presents their sounds for the class. Can the class guess the location just by hearing the sounds? If a group is unsuccessful creating effective sounds, work with them. Get suggestions from the class on how they can refine their sounds.
  7. Have students write a reflection on the exercise.

Click here for a Printable PDF of this exercise including Pictures and Reflection Rubric.

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Episode 109: Dealing with Student Strife

Dealing with Student Strife

The drama class is one of the only places where students truly examine themselves and their world through reflection and contemplation. Because of that, sudden emotional tides can sweep through your activities. Teacher Christian Kiley talks about the common teen issues that can expectedly and unexpectedly arrive in your classroom and how to deal with them. He also shares his latest play Inanimate whose main character deals with her own emotional issues.


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 109. You can find all the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode109.

I’m really thrilled about today’s topic and sharing today’s topic with you because it’s one that most – if not all – Drama teachers have to deal with at some point in their career.

Drama teachers have a very unique relationship with their students, right? The Drama class is like no other class. Those relationships sometimes are less structured, less traditional, and sometimes Drama teachers see students like other teachers don’t see their students and hear things that normal teachers wouldn’t normally hear. Things bubble up – whether they be events or secrets or even just emotions – so, when that swirling emotional tide that comes from a teenager comes your way, how do you handle it?

So, let’s hear how one teacher – a long-time teacher and Theatrefolk playwright – Christian Kiley deals with student strife.

Lindsay: All right. Hello, everybody! I am here talking to Christian Kiley.

Hello, Christian!

Christian: Hello, Lindsay! Hi, Craig!

Lindsay: How are you doing?

Christian: I’m very good. Thank you.

Lindsay: Awesome. So, we’re talking with Christian for a couple of things. He’s one of our long-term, long-standing playwrights. Christian, you just seem to know the kind of material that I think really hits home with students in a very unique way. Like, there’s always something a little sharp. We like the plays that you write!

Christian: Well, I think we’re going for the same thing which is taking things that are fantastical and imaginative and merging them with a kind of reality, and when those two things come together, I think it really does resonate with audiences and with students.

Lindsay: I think it’s important to have those kinds of plays available for students, too, because, you know, in their world right now where we are so intent on television and movies, where everything is sort of replicated and maybe less theatrical, that when a subject matter is explored theatrically, I think that that’s a win-win.

Christian: Absolutely.

Lindsay: Christian has a brand new play with us which does what we’re talking about very effectively. It’s called Inanimate and it takes place in a world where inanimate objects come to life for a teenage girl – a coffee pot, a door, her clothes – and we learn, as we get more and more into this play, that this is not some kind of Disney story, Disney fantasy, where animals talk and they’re very cute. But there’s something deeper going on and we thought that, before we get into the play, that that was a very interesting subject because the whole notion of “what’s going on in the inner life of a teenager?” because, Christian, you are a Drama teacher.

Christian: Yes, I am.

Lindsay: How long have you been one?

Christian: This is my tenth year at my current school, Etiwanda High School. This will be fifteen years total for me.

Lindsay: And what attracts you to being a Drama teacher?

Christian: You know, it’s interesting because a lot of people are adapting and dealing with the common core right now and there are mixed feelings about it. One thing that’s a commonality for us in theatre – in teaching Drama – is that we really get to create the lessons ourselves. And so, as artists – which I know many of the high school teachers and junior high teachers that you work with, they are artists – it does give you that feeling of creating in the moment.

I thought about it this morning when I was kind of getting ready for this and, in a Biology lab, you might dissect a frog and examine it. But, for us, it’s really about dissecting and examining the human condition and that’s what really makes it exciting. And you’re going to lead into, I know, some questions about there’s a fragile part of it, too. But that’s, I think, what makes it so valuable.

Lindsay: Well, when you exactly said that, when you said the looking and examining the human condition, what that means is that teenagers start to examine themselves, and that can get into some tricky territory, can’t it?

Christian: Yes, self-evaluation and introspection can be tricky business. We’re asking them to use substitutions and then, when they do it well, it can open some doors and windows that they’re not used to having open.

Lindsay: And not only that, if you are the teacher and you are there when perhaps a student is maybe revealing something very private or when they are experiencing emotion that they have been maybe stuffing down that they don’t want anyone to see, you’re there and you’re experiencing it. How, as a teacher, do you deal with, you know? What kind of relationships do you have with your students?

Christian: Yeah, it’s difficult. I try to set some rules and guidelines for myself as much as for the students. I had an experience my first year of teaching an acting class where we were working on the object exercise and I had a student bring in and old pen that his grandfather had given him and it opened a floodgate of emotion and it really didn’t stop throughout the day, and that’s when I realized how powerful this can be.

One of the things that’s really helped me is we have a co-teaching program at my school and that enables these older, more experienced students to kind of be buffers. So, I find out a lot of things before they happen and, with adequate time to prepare, that really helps.

I’m also doing this year, for the first time, I’ve created a self-evaluation sheet with some questions for the students so that I can learn a little bit more about them and some of the positive memories and things that they have in their life because then I can get to know them in a different way.

I also think it’s important to create a safe environment for the students and give them an opportunity to have a place to go if they need to. I have a side room where I teach and, oftentimes, if one of the students needs to go there and have a moment, I leave that available for them to be able to do that, and one of the co-teachers can go next-door with them and help them if they’re dealing with an issue.

So, with experience, I think, comes a certain amount of flexibility and you try to come up with different strategies for dealing with this because you want people to express themselves in a safe way.

Lindsay: Well, yeah, it must be very shocking when a student maybe breaks down in your class for the first time. If you don’t deal with it appropriately – keeping as you as the teacher – but, also, in a way that a student is going to feel safe, your students will never open up, will they?

Christian: Oh, absolutely. You had, I think earlier today on the Theatrefolk website, from the first-person perspective of a teacher and the fact that my response or any of the teachers that you work with, their response, my response is critical because my reaction in that moment really sets the tone for what’s going to happen the rest of the year and the rest of the student’s life to a certain extent.

Lindsay: Do you have an example of maybe when you didn’t respond so well?

Christian: When I was a younger teacher, there was a certain amount of exuberance and energy that the margin for error was wider with me when I was younger. And, sometimes, you’ll say something critically and you can tell right away the student has taken it to heart and you know, and those are some sleepless nights for teachers because you want to push students to excel and to experience new things, but I don’t think any of us ever want to hurt another person, especially a young person, like that.

So, the pen example that I brought up earlier was when I thought, “Oh, man. I’m going to bring this object exercise in and it’s artifact-based. It’ll be really neat to see their reactions,” and I saw a few of them and they were kind of surface emotions and then this kid with his grandfather’s pen just broke down. He had to go to the nurse and that was two or three days for me of kind of emotional crisis going through that.

Lindsay: So, how do you deal with that? Do you take it home with you? Do you talk with other teachers? Like, when a student has been emotional like that, how do you keep yourself safe?

Christian: Yeah, it’s hard, and we’re on our own, really. We’re islands. It’s not like you can go to an English teacher, another teacher, even another performing arts teacher and talk about it because their choral experience or their dance experience is going to be very different from their acting experience.

So, I’ve tried – and I’m going to do it again this year – to start with more benign activities, more team-building, more ensemble activities, and kind of wait as the year goes on and even as the courses go on. I don’t think you want to really be delving into even some of the more serious Meisner and Eric Morse kind of stuff until you get into the advanced classes anyway. Just give them a taste of it.

Lindsay: And that’s the other thing that is very traumatizing for a student. If they break down and fellow students laugh at them, I can imagine the stress of that. So, I guess, if you’re starting your year with team-building and with ensemble-building so that they are a community, when someone breaks down, the hope is that they are the comforters maybe.

Christian: Right. Absolutely. That is an excellent point because then you’re building a community. I think, early on in the course, especially an intro course, you do have a good number of students that don’t want to be in the room and they’re kind of waiting to get transferred.

I always ask – and I’ll do this again on Wednesday when we start – I always ask that they give it a week and not just have a knee-jerk reaction of quitting straight away. I just say, “Look, give it the same opportunity that you would give a new relationship or friendship or a new job or whatever, and don’t just make a knee-jerk reaction.”

That being said, a lot of those things that you’re talking about with one student – and, sometimes, it’s just like a hiccup reaction – they’re not malicious but they’ll laugh because a student will have what we call a breakthrough. They’re having a legitimate emotional breakthrough and someone will laugh and now we’ve shut them down. And, as the teacher, now the big question is – and we’re leading to this – “What do I do?” because, from my heart, I want to defend the student who I feel is being ostracized or picked on or whatever. But, at the same time, I have to stay in that professional armor as well. So, it’s a tough spot and all the teachers out there know you’re in that place from time to time.

Lindsay: Is it hard to keep that balance of boundaries when you’re a Drama teacher?

Christian: Absolutely. You know these kids in ways that other teachers just don’t and other academic teachers have a huge impact on these students’ lives, but I know their parents and their personal life situations and, when we’re at a festival or something, sometimes you’ll have cell phone numbers and you’ll need to text or whatever – “Hey! We’re going to get on the bus. Where are you?” and things like that so you know them in ways, pragmatically and emotionally, that the other teachers just don’t.

They have to be able to trust you. You’re program depends implicitly on the fact that people can trust you, and I get goosebumps when I say that because, for my own children – I think about this one day – and our young people need adults – mentors who are not their parents that can step in and be positive, reliable role models for them.

Lindsay: That’s a lot of responsibility.

Christian: It is, yeah.

Lindsay: And I think that’s something that’s not taught. Well, we talked about being artists and there are so many artists out there who perhaps aren’t the best teachers but they go into teaching and it’s like, well, they’ve got the content down but those other aspects of being a Drama teacher are really just as important, aren’t they?

Christian: Oh, absolutely. I said the other day – and a lot of people don’t agree with me but I said – “I don’t think it matters so much the subjects that you teach in school but that you’re teaching people to be part of an ensemble, to be part of a community, to be able to lead, to be able to follow, to have a professional persona, to have a personal persona,” and that is not reliant on the subjects that are taught. That relies heavily on the group dynamic and the leadership and the quality of the teacher and things like that.

Lindsay: Well, I’ve kind of come to learn that, if anyone makes a remark about the lighter plays of mine or the fluffier plays of mine, and I’ve really come to learn that the subject matter of the play, by and large, it doesn’t matter. It’s the act of being in the play. Just as you say, it’s the act of building the community. It’s the act of a twelve-year-old girl who, in the middle of rehearsal says, “I will not go on-stage,” and then on performance day says to the teacher, “I’m ready to go on-stage.” Well, you’ve changed their life and it doesn’t matter if it’s the elf show or it’s something very tragic and dramatic. It’s that all those skill-building exercises and that that’s what made a difference.

Christian: Oh, absolutely. That’s beautifully said and I think, a lot of times, it’s the act of getting out there and running. Everybody would love to have a $300 pair of running shoes. I’m sure they exist. But it’s just the act of getting out there and doing it.

I mean, I think of two plays right off the top of my head – your play, The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note, and Bradley Hayward’s Split which one of my student directors directed last year – and just the potential for breakthroughs there are exponential and it’s very exciting.

But the thing that you pointed out which I think is one of the greatest things and it’s all the sports movies I like – like, The Rookie, and Rudy, and Invincible – they all focus on this too which is, as a coach, as a mentor, we have the opportunity to get a student to change their mind on something like that. I’ll have a kid – most often male young students – who will say, “I’m out of here. I can’t do this. This isn’t for me.” And, three or four days later, you see them kind of dig in and they’re going to stick it out.

I had a young man last year who’s I think going to turn out to be a pretty dynamic actor who went through that very experience, and had I not been firm but friendly, I think he might have just left after the first day or two.

Lindsay: What a rewarding experience though. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It’s the relationship and also that it was a professional relationship – that balance with dealing with students.

Christian: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Lindsay: Okay. So, do you have some examples of things that maybe some beginner teachers can be on the lookout for? Maybe some common issues that come up, that happen in the Drama classroom?

Christian: I think, first of all, a system that works really well – and it’s Teacher 101 – is greeting and saying goodbye to every student at the door. This is one of my favorite parts of the day because – believe it or not – we’re great at reading people – as Theatre teachers, and Drama teachers. And so, to make eye contact with each student twice – when they come in and when they leave – is critical. And I love the energy when you’ve had a really good exercise or lesson or set of rehearsals and everyone’s leaving and there’s a buzz and you’ve sent them off into the world with this renewed sense of optimism and excitement, and now you’ve connected with them. Often, I will see something that will be a red flag and I’ll be able to pull the student aside later and say, “Hey, is something going on?” So, there’s that.

I think having a few rules about the safe environment, I really am very strict about performance time. I actually take interior breaks in the class and it’s sort of a trade-off. I require that everyone is absolutely quiet during performances. Obviously, things like laughter that is stimulated from the material or the performance or someone gasps – that’s very different than what we were talking about earlier. But, I think, letting everyone know very early on that, you know, “Here are the things that we’re not going to tolerate,” instantly, people feel safe.

Now, as far as things to be on the look-out for, a lot of these students are going things that are pretty traumatic. It’s very common for me to encounter students that their parents are splitting up, they’re going through a divorce. There are a lot of things and I think we have to be careful as adults to say, “Oh, that’s a trivial matter. You know, that’s a gossip-laden thing,” and I try to be on the look-out for those things and watch body language and watch.

A lot of times, the students will tell you by congregating. So, when a number of students are around another student, it’s so tender and protective in a way, they’re actually physically trying to protect the student from something that’s happened. Sure enough, when you peel away those layers and look, the young man or young woman is crying or they’re upset or something like that. So, I think it’s just about being observant.

I think the key is to know your students. I am a big advocate for – and I’m going to find out if I can do it this weekend when they take their pictures at the beginning of the year – I’d like to know their names before they even show up on the first day.

Lindsay: Ah! So that you’re calling them by name when you walk in the door.

Christian: It’s a bit of Harry Potter wizardry to be able to know who they are and right away. It’s like bang! They know that they’ve got someone flying the plane that knows the ins and outs of the air space and what’s going on.

But, being observant, I think is critical. I think, letting them know that they can come to you individually. I have kind of an open policy. It’s a cliché but I think the door kind of remains open. You want to always let people know that you’re with students but you also want to let the student know that the information they share with you is something that you take seriously and that, obviously – unless it’s an issue of their own safety or safety of another student – that you will keep their confidence.

Lindsay: Sometimes administration comes down about how “don’t touch a student,” “don’t be alone with a student” – that must be maybe even harder for a male teacher dealing with your female students. Have you had any issues with that? How do you deal with that overhanging dynamic?

Christian: Boy, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? It seems like there could be numerous play ideas that could spring out of that.

Lindsay: Do you not even think about it? Do you just put your students first and just know that you’re going to act in a professional manner?

Christian: I’m lucky because, after ten years at my current school, I really make the decisions in the program and people are supporters and advocates and there’s not a lot of time – there’s never a time – that I’m pulled in and someone says, “Hey, what’s going on here?”

I think a lot of it is I don’t think we consider the strength of the collective student opinion about a teacher and I can’t speak to the accuracy of it but I know that, if you get the students onboard with vigor about what you’re doing and they’re enthusiastic about it, most of your problems – potential problems, skeletons that potentially are not there but could be in a closet – will be gone because the kids are onboard and they’re going home every day and at dinner or in the car ride home or whatever, one of the first things they’re talking about is about your class in a positive way.

Lindsay: Awesome.

Okay. Let’s talk about Inanimate. Where did the idea for this play come from?

Christian: Well, I’ve always been fascinated with personification and I’ve read quite a bit of the work of Ray Bradbury and he does this quite a bit, too. I just like the idea of people and their environment, and I’ve also been fascinated with agoraphobia and I feel like a lot of people kind of poopoo the idea that it’s a real social anxiety, it’s a real issue.

Lindsay: I think it’s even more of an issue now when you actually can stay in your room and feel like you are associating with the real world – with your phone and your computer and everything – when, in actual fact, you’re just masking a problem which I think is kind of what this character is doing in the play.

Christian: Right, and what I really like about this play is that it’s kind of whimsical and fun, these Mongols come in and there are dinosaurs later, but then it really takes a turn and there’s a dark kind of tone to it near the end – or at least the potential for that.

And, when we previewed it at school, there was a lot of laughter early on. And then, at the end, there were some gasps and so forth that, when we had our talk back at the end, a lot of people said they were really surprised about the ending.

Lindsay: That’s not a bad thing.

Christian: No, it’s great. I felt good about that.

Lindsay: How did your cast deal with this young girl? Not young girl – this teenager – the way that it does seem whimsical and then there actually is a pretty serious social and emotional problem underneath. How did they deal with that character? Did they relate to her?

Christian: Yeah, they were terrific, and this was a level one, year one, Drama one group.

Lindsay: Really? Wow! That’s awesome!

Christian: Yeah, and they really did well. I was very fortunate. They were very mature about it and they came to rehearsal every day, ready to work, and I think you know – and you’ve talked about this before, watching and being a part of workshopping your own plays, too – there’s a moment where you kind of have a sigh of relief and you say, “Oh, my gosh, this is working.” With a play like this that’s a little off-kilter, a little eccentric, there’s always some anxiety as the playwright that it might capsize or it might not work.

Lindsay: Or that, when you start out whimsical and you take that turn, sometimes, people won’t take the turn with you.

Christian: Oh, absolutely.

Lindsay: It’s a very delicate balance to get an audience and to get particularly young actors onboard with a character and then go where they go. So, I think that’s your specialty.

Christian: Well, I appreciate that. But, you know, going back to what you talked about earlier, we are just like the students in that, when you finish a draft or you have your first rehearsal or read-through, we don’t really want to be, obviously, laughed at either.

Lindsay: No.

Christian: In the same way when someone gets up and they perform a Juliet monologue or the weird sisters’ scene from Macbeth or whatever, they don’t want to be laughed at either. And so, that vulnerability, I think, brings us all together because we all share that.

Lindsay: I think so, too. And I think that’s where we learn how insightful high school students really are when they do appreciate those vulnerable moments in plays.

Christian: The idea that students, we should lower the bar for them, it’s just ridiculous to me. It’s the same thing and you just get used to it when you meet someone for the first time and they find out what you do. Typically, you get the “Oh, how fun!”

Lindsay: “How cute!”

Christian: It’s not Barney or Romper Room, you know? Or something like that. And I think the kids resent it, too. So, as soon as they see someone like you or me or the people that associate and affiliate with Theatrefolk and they see the level of passion and that the gloves are off, this is the same way that we would deal in an artistic world with anyone – adults, whatever.

Lindsay: And now, it’s quite comforting and empowering actually to know exactly what we write and why we write it and the impact that we have so that, when people are dismissive or condescending, it matters not a bit because they don’t really know the wonder of a student production and how it can change their life. And, quite frankly, we have a part in that and I think that’s the best job in the world.

Christian: Absolutely, and I’m not going to lie though, it does bother me sometimes, the reaction.

Lindsay: Sure. Of course, it does.

Christian: But it does do two things, though. I think it gives me motivation for future writing and it helps me relate to the students because I really think adversity is a common language that we all have and, when you suffer through something – whatever it is – it is horrible in the moment. But, as you start recovering from that and getting through, you can start to think, “You know what? This is going to give me the ability to relate to people in a better way.”

Lindsay: Awesome. That’s wonderful. And that is Christian Kiley’s play, Inanimate.

Thank you so much for talking to me today, Christian. It’s been lovely as always.

Christian: Thank you. Thank you, Lindsay.

Thank you, Christian.

The links for this episode can be found at theatrefolk.com/episode109.

So, before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

And so, Christian talked about his play Inanimate. 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, I’m just going to read two little bits because it just shows the switch because this play takes place a lot in the mind of the main character, Ani. And, you know, at the beginning, it opens with “Oh, how cute it is that these things talk to her!” Like, her closet is a character and her coffee pot is a character and her dryer is a character and her washer is a character. You know, she sort of lives in this life in her room and everybody’s really funny and, you know, she’s sort of the ring master in the three-ring circus and it kind of goes like this.

CLOSET: Ani, you may need this. It’s going to be cold and windy today.

ANI: Weather report?

LAPTOP: Windy and cloudy with high in the low fifties.

CLOSET: You never wear this anymore, Ani, and it looks so cute on you.

ANI: Jack-the-Ripper-kitten cute?

CLOSET: Kitten-awkwardly-on-ice-skates cute.

DRYER: Ding! Your clothes are ready.

ANI: Oh, good. Thank you, Dryer.

DRYER: Oh, you’re very welcome, Ani.

WASHER: Hold up! You know that there are two of us here. Without me, your clothes would be dry but dirty and stinky. I wash the clothes, Ani, and dryer gets all the praise.

ANI: Sorry, Washer. I’ll keep that in mind.

WASHER: I mean, without me, you would have to find some stream or river to wash your clothes in.

DRYER: Oh, take it easy, Washer.

WASHER: You take it easy, Dryer. You’re just a glorified clothesline which is basically a piece of string.

DRYER: What did you call me?

WASHER: String!

ANI: Stop arguing. You’re a team. Both of you make my life better. Thank you both.

Okay. So, Ani is very much in control of this world. But the thing is that it’s not the real world. It’s not how she’s interacting with the people around her. So, when her friend comes to the door and we are suddenly put into what life is really like for Ani, and things are not that great, and things are not that good, and we’re talking today a lot about that emotional strife that kind of bubbles up for students and what happens when they keep it all inside. So, Sarah comes to the door.

SARAH: Hey! Ready to go to school?

ANI: I don’t feel so good. I think I’ll stay home today.

SARAH: You’ve missed a lot of school lately.

ANI: I know, okay?

SARAH: Easy. I’m just looking out for you.

ANI: By sending civilized well-dressed Mongols that were no help with studying for the test.

SARAH: Ani, what are you talking about? Are you all right?

ANI: Yes, sorry. I’m just not sleeping well.

SARAH: What can I do to help?

ANI: Just go to school. I’ll work it out.

SARAH: Okay. But I’m worried about you.

ANI: Don’t. It’s just a phase. I’ll grow out of it.

SARAH: I hope so, Ani.

ANI: Why? Because this is inconvenient for you? I’m not the best friend from the magazines with the perfect hair and perfect skin and perfect personality? Because I – I don’t know – talk to my coffee pot?

SARAH: Because you seem unhappy. Miserable.

ANI: Well, maybe I like it that way. The blinds drawn and the lights turned down low.

SARAH: Maybe.

ANI: Just leave. I free you from your obligations to me.

SARAH: These things you call obligations, I call friendship.

ANI: You’re just like this stupid inspirational poster my parents hang on my wall to try and remind me of what I’m capable of when I try.

SARAH: Let me help you.

ANI: No! I don’t like you at all.

That’s Inanimate and you can find a link to the play with free sample pages that you can read at the show notes – theatrefolk.com/episode109.

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 – wait for it – 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 Student Edition

Last week we shared The Ultimate Audition Guide: Teachers. Now we’ve got one for students.

Students go through the same set of emotions, issues and concerns when auditioning:

  • Will I get the part?
  • What if I don’t even get cast?
  • What if I forget the words?
  • How do I stop being so nervous?

The Ultimate Audition Guide: Students takes you through activities and exercises you can give students to prepare them for the task of auditioning for a show, program, or class.

Auditions don’t have to be nerve wracking experiences! Coach your students to prepare themselves to give their best piece ever.

Click here to download The Ultimate Audition Guide: Students in a printable PDF format. It’s FREE!

What’s in The Ultimate Guide to Auditioning: Students?

Here are the sections:

  • Choosing material
    • What goes into choosing a great audition piece?
    • A senior extra credit exercise that will help your future auditions.
    • A class exercise in choosing appropriate material.
  •  Preparing material
    • What steps should students take when preparing a monologue?
    • Character Profile, Physical Profile, Vocal Profiles.
    • Preparation Reflection.
  •  On the day
    • What should students do right before their audition?
    • Pre-audition exercises and a handout for students.
  • Dealing with the aftermath
    • How do students deal with not being cast or unexpected casting?
    • An aftermath reflection.

Not all students know what it means to prepare effectively for an audition. Give them the tools they need to do so.

Click here to download The Ultimate Audition Guide: Students in a printable PDF format. It’s FREE!

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What: Tag Team Scene

Who: Divide class into pairs

Materials: Pens/Pencils, Character/Location/Line Pages, Timer

Why: Use this exercise to practice writing natural-sounding dialogue. With this exercise students must keep true to a character and situation and write dialogue that is responsive rather than calculated.


  1. Once students are in their pairs, have them decide who is Partner A and who is Partner B. Partner A will be responsible for Character A’s lines, and Partner B will be responsible for Character B’s lines.
  2. Tell students they’re going to write a scene one line at a time. Partner B will start with their first line, then pass the paper to Partner A, who will write their line in response, and so on.
  3. There will be a time limit to write the line. For the first round, the time limit is one minute.
  4. Give each pair a Character/Location/Line Page but place it face down. Instruct them not to turn the page over.
  5. Instruct students that on this page there are three pieces of information to pay attention to:
    1. An identifier for each character. For example, Character A: Mom, Character B: Teen. Character A: Dentist, Character B: Nervous Patient. They have to write for their character.
    2. A location. Amusement park, dentist’s office, kitchen. When they write, their lines they have to stay true to their location. They cannot leave their location.
    3. A first line for Character A. This is why Partner B starts. Partner B, your line must respond to that first line. Be true to the location and your character. If your character is a nervous patient and you’re in a dentist’s office, you can’t start a fight with nunchucks.
  6. Once the papers are handed out, instruct students that on your command, Partner B (and only Partner B) will turn over the page. Partner B will announce the two characters and the location. Partner B will then read the line to themselves and respond with the next line without sharing what they’re writing with their Partner.
  7. Tell students that you’re going to call out when time is up. At that point they are to switch papers.
  8. Instruct Partner B to turn the page and start the time.
  9. When the minute is up, call out the switch and restart the timer again. Now Partner A reads what Parter B just wrote and responds accordingly. Coach them to respond to the previous line. What would your response be, instinctually? Coach them to keep in mind who they are and where they are.
  10. At the end of the time limit, instruct students to switch and Partner B writes the next line. Keep going until each partner has written five lines (ten in total).
  11. Afterward, students read out their completed scene.
  12. Discuss with students what it was like to have to write so quickly, to not be able to discuss the scene beforehand, and to respond without predetermining the scene.
  13. Explain to students that organic regular conversation is all about response. We don’t often think about what we’re going to say, we just say it. We don’t get to go back and come up with the perfect line. Sometimes our response isn’t perfect. Writing natural-sounding dialogue requires you to be responsive.
  14. Repeat the exercise again. This time give students 30 seconds to write each response.

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise including 10 Character/Location/Lines Pages!

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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.