Cross-Curricular in the Drama Classroom

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

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript Coming Soon! Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Drama-Teacher-Academy-Email-Header

On the fence about joining the Drama Teacher Academy? Now is the time to take action! Get the PD you need when you need it. Workshops and lesson plans on demand.

The response to the DTA has been tremendous. And now it’s time to close the doors so we can get to work focusing on our members. Doors close Friday! They WILL reopen but we have not set a date for that yet.

NEW! The Drama Teacher Academy now has a private Facebook group that’s free to DTA members. Come hang out with the world’s friendliest drama teachers share tips and tricks of the trade.

NEW! If you want to join but you can’t get a Purchase Order before the deadline, contact us! We will honour any Purchase Order for a one year membership after the deadline if you tell us in advance.

Join us at http://dramateacheracademy.com/join. The doors close at Midnight eastern on Friday, August 22nd.

Episode 106: Day One of the drama classroom

Episode-106

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

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

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

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

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

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

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

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

What do you do on Day One?

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

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

Matt: Hi there!

Lindsay: And you teach in North Carolina.

Matt: Yes, outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you very much!

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

Jessica: Hi, Lindsay! How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica: Yes.

Lindsay: And that it’s a safe spot.

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

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

Jessica: Absolutely!

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

Brian: Hi!

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

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

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

Brian: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Brian!

Brian: Sure!

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

Christian: Hi, Lindsay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome. Thank you very much, Christian!

Christian: All right. Thank you.

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

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

Lindsay: Ah, for sure!

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

Lindsay: Ah!

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

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

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

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

Jeff: Not really.

Lindsay: Not really?

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Episode 105: The Drama Teacher Academy

Episode-105

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

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

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

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Hello, Lindsay!

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

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

Lindsay: I guess that’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Well, you make the most wonderful segues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay.

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

+ + +

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

Allison: Hi, Lindsay!

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

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

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

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

Allison: Wow!

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

So, why should teachers take Introduction to Teaching Mask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison: Exactly.

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much!

Allison: You’re welcome!

+ + +

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

Steven: Hello, Lindsay!

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

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

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

Steven: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Steven.

Steven: You’re welcome!

+ + +

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

Matt: Hi there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Matt.

Matt: You’re very welcome.

Thank you, Matt, Steven, and Allison!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Ah! Me, too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I pay by the year?

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

Can you bill my school / district?

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

Can I pay monthly instead of annually?

Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I share my membership with a friend?

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

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

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

How long does it take to take a course?

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

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

Will the Price Go Up?

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

Who teaches these courses?

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

The Drama Teachers are teachers who have been in the trenches. They’ve been where you are, they’ve struggled and overcome all the challenges of teaching drama, and they’re sharing what they know.

Our professionals have real-life experience with their material. AND they’ve also learned how to teach their material. Allison Williams’Introduction to Teaching Mask course, for example, is based on material she’s taught to thousands of students. She knows the techniques and tips to teach kids and she’ll show you how. Lindsay Price has been teaching playwriting to students for over 10 years. Steven Stack gives you directing tips and techniques that he’s using right now at a drama camp for youth.

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

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

Join now! 

The Drama Teacher Academy is a professional development membership site with workshops on demand especially for drama teachers and educators.

The doors are open and are ready for you! Click the link below to become a charter member.

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Don’t miss out on our special launch bonus

If you join the Drama Teacher Academy before midnight on August 8th  (that’s tonight!!)  we’ll double your first month’s credits. Instead of 60 credits, you’ll get 120. You can use them to take two courses or pick a course and some lesson plans, or save your bonus credits to use later.

This bonus goes away at midnight tonight so don’t miss out.

Join us!

Why Shakespeare Today – Postcards From Shakespeare

Episode-104

Theatrefolk Playwright Allison Williams talks about her attraction to Shakespeare adaptations, why students should study the bard today, her best tips for acting and directing Shakespeare and her newest play Postcards From Shakespeare.

Play

Show Notes

Video: Shakespeare’s British accent is closer to the Southern US

Episode Transcript

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

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

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

This is Episode 104 and you can find all the links – and there will be links today – at theatrefolk.com/episode104 and I want to point out a very special link in those show notes, DramaTeacherAcademy.com. What is that you ask? Stay tuned to the end of the podcast and I’ll tell you all about it.

Today, I’m talking to Theatrefolk playwright, Allison Williams. Allison and I go way back. It’s a wonderful rollicking conversation, as all our conversations are, and we’re going to talk about the question, “Why Shakespeare?” So, let’s find out!

Lindsay: All right. Hello, everyone! Thanks for joining me here on the podcast and today I have a very special guest, Allison Williams. Hello!

Allison: Hello!

Lindsay: Now, I do this with most of our podcast guests, but I think this one is pretty interesting. Please, tell everybody where you are sitting right now.

Allison: I am in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, yeah.

Lindsay: Yeah, that’s pretty unique.

Allison: It’s kind of cool. I’m here as a freelance writer and a journalist and there’s some really interesting things happening right now around here that I’m sure many of you are seeing in the news and that I’m excited to discover more of the human face of which brings us to Shakespeare!

Lindsay: Oh, you’re the best!

Allison: How about that segue?

Lindsay: How about that segue! So, Allison has been a Theatrefolk staple for many, many years. Many of you, I’m sure, have read her work that we love to have in our catalogue, all the way back to – and I’m not saying the year because it’s too frightening to think about.

Allison: We’ve known each other for a beautiful long friendship.

Lindsay: That’s right, but her first play with us was Hamlette which some people affectionately call Hamlettie.

Allison: Hamlette, Hamlette, Princess of Denmark.

Lindsay: That’s right. And then, we also have Mmmbeth because we do not say…

Allison: Don’t say it!

Lindsay: We don’t say the Scottish play’s name. We have Drop Dead, Juliet! where Juliet decides she’s tired of the death – less death, more love.

Allison: Love stories end with weddings, not with funerals.

Lindsay: Exactly! Do you know how hard it is to take blood out of a dress?

And then, her brand new play that we have, and I hold in my hot little hands, it’s still fresh off the press and that is Postcards from Shakespeare. So, we’re going to talk about Postcards from Shakespeare in just a little bit. But the first thing we want to talk about and I want to talk about with you, Allison, is why Shakespeare Why does Shakespeare tickle you so much that you choose to adapt it over and over again?

Allison: Oh, man, I love Shakespeare. It is the greatest material ever and people always say, you know, Shakespeare is eternal and I think about why and it’s like, “Oh, because he writes the same stuff that we all deal with – love, sex, death, fear, power. You know, and his language, it’s elevated for us, but it was common language at the time, and that’s why I love doing the spoofs because it points out how current Shakespeare is.

You know, A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a sporting event. Well, it’s teams of people running through the woods, each of them fighting for possession, you know? And commentating is exactly what Puck does in the play. So, my hope is that, when the actors work with this material, it’ll not only be fun, but it will give them greater insight into the original play.

And, I mean, you look at a play like Measure for Measure, nobody does Measure for Measure – nobody – and you’re not going to do it in your high school any time soon, you know? But the idea that this duke says, “Hey, sleep with me and I’ll state your brother’s execution,” and he says that to a nun and she goes to her brother and he says, “Well, you’re going to do it, right?” and that’s something we can all identify with – not that we’re nuns or dudes in jail, but we’ve all been in a position where we had to decide whether or not to compromise our morals to help out a friend, you know? And I think that’s why Shakespeare is so powerful because he’s dealing with the same things that all of humanity is dealing with.

Lindsay: You know, Romeo and Juliet, I always say it’s not about that language; it’s about a boy and a girl who fell in love with each other and they weren’t supposed to. That’s what every high school student is going through!

Allison: Yeah! Yeah! You know, “Must close chat window. Parent over shoulder.”

Lindsay: And I’m totally with you on that whole notion of universality. So, with that though, the news keeps coming over and over again. Should we be studying Shakespeare? Should Shakespeare be in the classroom? And this not only comes from the students; it comes from the teachers. Teachers don’t want to teach Shakespeare.

So, how do we keep it fresh and why? Why should we study Shakespeare?

Allison: I think studying Shakespeare gives us an appreciation for beautiful language. We can then take into the language that is our colloquial language today. I think, when we do teach Shakespeare, it’s really important to stress that, at the time, this was not elevated language. This was common language. This was everyday language. This was colloquial language. And I think there’s a lot of advantages to looking at the different ways different characters speak and pointing out, you know, this guy is supposed to be speaking like a redneck hick, you know, and this is what about his speech tells us that.

Lindsay: Hey, and I’m going to put this link in the show notes but I just saw this really awesome YouTube video in which this woman basically outlines that, you know what, Shakespeare actually sounds like people from the south – about the way that language has changed and that, when they came over from England, you know, on the Mayflower into Virginia and it moves into Alabama and Arkansas and Georgia, that that drawl and that lengthening of tones is actually closer to the way that Shakespeare speaks than that posh accent of today.

Allison: Oh, yeah, Queen Elizabeth sounded like Jeff Foxworthy.

Lindsay: But, if we could get that into students, you know, that’s something that they can hold on to – that it is close to them, it is relevant to them.

Allison: I think it’s an important thing to try in the language of Shakespeare because, nowadays, we’re so used to, “Oh, it’s CGI. It’s a stuntman.” But, when we actually speak the language, when we read it aloud, when we play it, when we hear it, it lets us take it into ourselves in a way that watching a movie does not let us take it into ourselves.

And, I mean, so much of Shakespeare is about masquerading. Like, in the play, I have this joke, you know, “No one will know I’m a girl if I put on this hat,” and it’s a recurring joke but I think that says something greater – that we’re trying to hide our true selves out of fear or out of wanting to be something that the one we love will want, but we’re not as hidden as we think we are. And, in some ways, that’s also about acting, about pretending that we are someone with power or pretending that we are someone with courage.

And I think the greatness of Shakespeare’s characters – the nobility of some of his characters – I think that play acting those characters, play acting people more powerful than ourselves helps us try on power and helps us try on courage. And I think that’s why it’s important to read it out loud and to teach it.

Lindsay: Well, there you’re hitting on something else, too – that we have got to a place, particularly in our English classrooms where Shakespeare isn’t read aloud, where it’s that silent reading and that is the death, you know?

Allison: In Shakespeare’s day, people didn’t say, “I’m going to watch a play.” They said, “I’m going to hear a play.” The sound was primary. The sound was the most important part.

Lindsay: Well, that’s what they had, right? You know, if they’re standing in the globe theatre, you know?

Allison: No stage lights.

Lindsay: No stage lights and, if you’re one of the groundlings and you’re in the pit, you know, and you’re craning your neck, maybe you’ve got someone tall in front of you, what are you actually seeing? Shakespeare is very much an aural experience and I think that’s something that maybe is a great exercise to really hit home in your classroom is to take a speech – take To Be or Not To Be or whatever it is you’re studying – and hit what are the sounds and what are the vowels and what happens, like, how many O’s are there in a speech and how does that incorporate into the emotion when you are really chewing on those words.

Allison: And reading it out loud makes it so much more understandable. You know, I mean, not necessarily for your high school classroom but, when you read it out loud, you also kind of figure out where the dirty jokes are, too – and Shakespeare is full of them.

Lindsay: That’s my favorite. When I talk to teachers and, you know, they talk about all the subjects that they can’t say and all the subjects that they can’t do. In the modern plays, you know, we get it all the time about, “Oh, we have to cut such and such and such and such,” and then, we say, “Well, what about Shakespeare?” and it’s usually, “Well, the administration is not quite…”

Allison: They haven’t caught on yet.

Lindsay: That language is rife with, oh, the worst – the worst!

Allison: Yeah!

Lindsay: The dirtiest!

Allison: Well, I mean, Hamlet basically calls Ophelia a ho.

Lindsay: Oh, and more! You know, there are other words which shall not named here that he calls her.

Allison: Oh, yeah. Yeah, totally. Totally, yeah. That whole scene where they’re watching the play and he wants to put his head in her lap. Oh, man.

Lindsay: Yes!

Allison: See? And I think, in some ways, that can be a fun way to engage your students is, you know, you don’t have to tell them explicitly what it is, but you can say to them, “You know, this is a scene that, for some teachers in the past, was considered controversial because it’s a little bit dirty.” You know? “So, see if you guys can think what parts of it might be a little bit dirty,” and that makes them pay closer attention to the language. You know, you know your class, don’t start them on a rabbit that they’re going to have, you know, too much fun running, but it can be a really interesting exercise.

Lindsay: And, also, we’ll bring up here that, you know, all schools have their rules which, you know, are following and you don’t want to lose your job.

Allison: Please abide by your local regulations.

Lindsay: Exactly so. You don’t want to lose your job because you got students to point out a certain word in a scene in Hamlet. So, that would be the most ironic. So, let’s not do that. However, this is how you bring Shakespeare to life. You read it out loud. You focus on the fact that it is not dusty – this language is actually very ribald. The fact that it’s the stories that we want to connect to.

Allison: And that’s why I love writing the spoof versions because I think the students have a much greater understanding of the major play, the regular play, when they’ve done the spoof. You know, it’s not only fun to do but it also gives them some insight into the original. You know, let’s lay bare Lady M’s motivations. She wants to throw the best party in the kingdom. Well, that’s functionally what she wants, you know? It’s just expressed in more heightened language.

Lindsay: And, also, too, is that a lot of times we will have customers who do, for example, the spoof version, Mmmbeth, and then they’ll also do an original language adaptation, you know?

Allison: Yeah.

Lindsay: And that we hear from teachers that the seeing the spoof version just opened up every door – not only for the students who were in the play, but for the students who watched the play.

Allison: Yeah. Suddenly, they understood what’s going on and it’s so much easier to return to the text and start reading it when you already understand what’s happening and you can watch for the clues in the language.

Lindsay: Okay. So, you have acted in Shakespeare and you have directed Shakespeare. Let’s do both. As an actor of Shakespeare, when you are preparing a role, what do you think is your most valuable tool?

Allison: That Shakespeare is incredibly easy to memorize. We look at iambic pentameter and we kind of beat it out like a rhythm, you know? And we never really let students know why it’s in iambic pentameter. Well, it’s in iambic pentameter because it makes it easy to memorize. I mean, Shakespeare is the easiest lines to memorize I have ever had because they have that rhythm – they have that rhythm of natural speech.

There’s a great story I love that one of my Shakespeare teachers told me and she was a nun – she was a teaching nun – and she was explaining to the class about iambic pentameter and one of the kids said, “But, sister, we don’t talk like that in life.” But, sis-ter, we, don’t talk, like that, in life.

Lindsay: Exactly.

Allison: You know? And so, I think Shakespeare has given these incredible tools and, also, if you observe the punctuation in Shakespeare, that also gives you clues as to what to do with the acting. I think you guys are planning on, at some point, doing a course with that in your Drama Teacher Academy. But just this idea that there are clues in the text for how to act, how to behave, and in Shakespeare, there’s no subtext, you know? Anytime anybody thinks something or feels something, it comes right out of their mouth and they announce it to the audience, and that’s so useful for actors.

Lindsay: And, as a director, when you are directing Shakespeare, for all of our teachers out there who may be afraid of taking on directing the bard, what’s your good tip for directing Shakespeare?

Allison: Table work.

Sometimes, it’s hard to make table work fun so you might want to do just a little bit of it at a time unless you really are into it and your students are into it. But just sitting around a table, reading each line out loud, and making sure that everyone knows what it means can be really important and it really helps the students identify their characters and understand what they’re saying. So then, when they get up and start acting, it’s so much easier for them because they’re not trying to navigate the set and their fellow actor and the text. They’ve already navigated the text and they’re able to start acting it.

So, I really think sitting down and going through the language is very useful and very valuable and saves a lot of heartache later on when you look at a student and say, “Billy, do you know what you’re saying there?” and Billy goes, “Nuh uh.”

Lindsay: That’s a pretty good clue. I think talking head syndrome is an issue sometimes with the Shakespeare play. What’s a good tip to give to teachers in terms of blocking Shakespeare?

Allison: Again, I would say pay attention to the clues in the text. There are times when a character says, “Keep seat,” which means the other person just started to stand up – that gives you some clues. But I’d also recommend to have some fun with it.

I mean, yes, there are directors who say, “If I never see another Old West Taming of the Shrew it will be too soon.” But it can be really helpful to lay a contemporary theme over your Shakespeare. It gives the actors ideas for what to do because it ties it closer to a situation where they know what the action would be. You know, if you’re doing an Old West Taming of the Shrew, that tells you something about how Petruchio walks into town and slams open the saloon doors.

If you’re doing modern gang Romeo and Juliet, it gives them an idea of who these people are and what these characters are like and I think that brings the play to life for the audience as well as for the actors.

So, you know, some people are kind of like, you know, “Just do the play.” But I think it’s more fun when we draw the parallel relationships a little bit more clearly to the audience and to the actors.

Lindsay: Awesome. That’s great. Okay. Let’s get into Postcards from Shakespeare. What’s the premise behind this play?

Allison: Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block and he suffers from it right there on-stage with it acted out and we kind of see that he’s having a hard time writing and Queen Elizabeth – who is his friend – gives him some money and says, “Dude, go on vacation and see if you can get some new ideas.” And then, the rest of the play is Shakespeare sketching out on postcards these new ideas for the Queen.

Lindsay: Yes, and it goes back and forth, and he sends her letters of the idea. He goes to Denmark and sort of roughs out Hamlet. He goes to Verona. He goes to Egypt, Venice, and so we kind of get to see the genesis of writing process in a spoofy way.

Allison: Yeah, it really is, it really is, and I like this idea that I kind of point up how Shakespeare recycled plots and recycled tropes in a way that writers do.

Lindsay: I love that!

Allison: One of the great joys for me was being able to put in plays that most people are not familiar with and still have it be a joke.

You know, there’s a moment in the Troilus and Cressida scene when Troilus and Cressida are talking about, you know, “It’s the morning. I hear the lark. Please, don’t leave me,” and Troilus says, “Whoa whoa whoa! Wait a minute. Larks dawn. Please don’t leave me? Haven’t we heard all this before?” and Shakespeare says, “No, no, no, no, no. This is a completely different play about two teenagers whose families try to keep them apart. In this one, you live, and everyone else dies.”

Lindsay: See? I love that because I’ve read Troilus and Cressida and I kind of forgot about that and literally went, “Holy smokes!” and went running back to the script and kind of looked and went, “It’s the same play!” and then, the whole idea of Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedict are older couples who don’t get along which is kind of like Taming the Shrew where we have two older couples who don’t get along.

Allison: I have to say, one of my favorite moments in the entire play is Richard the Second storms in and we’ve just seen the Welsh army cross over and run off-stage and Richard the Second storms in and he’s like, “I know I had 10,000 soldiers around here somewhere,” and Queen Elizabeth says, “How did he lose a whole army?” and Shakespeare says, “It makes sense in context,” and Elizabeth says, “I didn’t read the whole thing,” and Shakespeare says, “Nobody else has either.”

I love that, you know, because I originally started writing this as a full-length before I took it to a competition length. My original intent was to include every single play and, I have to say, I am really, really happy that I got in Pericles and Coriolanus and Timon of Athens.

Lindsay: You know, I quite like that. Oh, and way more, like The Winter’s Tale, the Henrys – we’ve got Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. You know, at the high school age, there’s really a very small cannon of Shakespeare that students do and can do. I think Julius Caesar is a great play. I love Julius Caesar! But how many high schools have one girl and forty guys? Like, it just doesn’t happen and, you know, how many Midsummer Night’s Dreams have we seen?

Allison: Because Midsummer Night’s Dream has eight leads and half of them are women.

Lindsay: Well, the other half you can make women.

Allison: Yeah, exactly.

Lindsay: So, what I really like about this play, it just gives an opportunity within the realm – it is written for the high school market – and that it’s got a wonderfully large cast and that we can just sort of visit some plays that they never would visit in a wonderful comedic fashion.

Allison: Yeah, and in a way that’s funny.

Like, one of the really rewarding experiences for me was I read the initial draft of this play with a group of students in Utah – shout out to Weber High School. Thank you, guys. Thank you, Mr. Daniels. And, at the end of the reading, the teacher came up to me and he was actually kind of embarrassed – bless him – you know, he said, “I’m so embarrassed that they didn’t know half of these plays. They couldn’t pronounce the names,” and I’m like, “Dude, they laughed at all of the jokes.”

That was the great feedback that I got from them. They were like, you know, “We don’t know all of these plays, but it was still funny.” That, for me, was like the biggest and most fun challenge in writing it – making it funny and including a whole bunch of really obscure plays and making it many girls.

Lindsay: Yes, many girls – as many girls as you need. Do you hear that, schools? Many girls.

Talk about the process for writing this. So, you’ve got your Shakespeare – that’s not easy – and it’s also comedy and I think comedy is way harder. Of the two, it’s the hardest to write. So, what’s your process when you are working on a play like this?

Allison: Well, when I’m writing a Shakespeare spoof, the first thing I do is re-read at least some of the original and I also look for a summary of the original that I usually find online and kind of look and go, “Okay. What are the key scenes that I really want to have in here?” You know, “How can I tell this story in the fewest possible scenes?”

I kick out the famous lines because it’s good to have the famous lines in there; and I pick out lines that make me, as the actor, or me, as the director, go, “Wait. Wait. You said what?” because I think those are some great moments of comedy; and I look for stuff that can be taken literally.

There’s a moment in Postcards from Shakespeare where Antigonus yells out as he’s leaving the stage, “Exit pursued by a bear,” and Queen Elizabeth says, “Nobody can afford to put a bear on-stage.” For me, the joke is the actor for me that we’ve got this famous stage direction but, really, who’s going to put a bear on-stage?

From that point, I try to draft it out into scenes and then make there be some kind of overarching framework that gives somebody something that they want and then I read it out loud with students and I make smiley faces every time they laugh at the line. Then, I go home and I look through, and any page that does not have at least three smiley faces on it needs more jokes and I deliberately write more jokes for any page with not enough smileys.

Lindsay: It’s the dreaded “this play has half a smiley on it.”

Allison: Exactly.

Lindsay: “This page has half a smiley on it.”

Allison: This page has half a smiley, yeah, because there’s this theory that, you know, if you have entertained the audience, they will stay with you for as long as they were entertained. So, if they’re laughing really hard for three minutes, they’re with you for three more minutes until you have to be funny again. So, you really have to pay attention and make sure that the laughs keep coming. And I really do that in a kind of a precise and technical way.

You know, some of it is, “Wooh! It’s funny! What’s going on here?” you know? And just riffing. And some of it is, “Okay. I need a line that responds to this and it needs to end with chicken so that I can bring out a rubber chicken.” Side note: there is no rubber chicken in this play. But, if you would like to put one in, feel free. You know? And so, it gets very technical.

Lindsay: It is very. I think comedy is very technical for just that precise reason and it’s all about rhythm and beats.

Allison: It really is. And, you know, you’ve got to end a sentence that’s a punch line on a downbeat. You’ve got to end with a hard consonant whenever you can. You know, there’s a reason why a word that ends in “ck” is very popular with comedians. You know, it’s got a funny sound. It’s a punctuating word. You know, and so, you restructure.

I just started doing Twitter a couple of weeks ago and that’s a way that Twitter has really helped me. I start writing this really funny line and then, all of a sudden, I’m out of characters so I have to go back and go, “Okay. How can I restructure this to be as funny as possible in the shortest amount of time?”

Lindsay: It’s very technical and it’s very, like, “Okay. Joke, joke, joke,” but your ending is not funny. It’s very powerful and it’s very poignant and, if you guys want to see the ending, you’re going to have to go find the play. But I don’t lie – and Allison knows that I tell the truth when it comes to her work that it made me tear up.

Allison: It made me tear up writing it.

Lindsay: I’ll bet! And that’s a credit to, when comedy works, you know, there’s a difference between a sketch and a play. A sketch it a moment and a play is a journey. That’s what we’ve got here in this play – that Shakespeare gets to the end and he is able to move on and how his work has helped him – finding these works have helped him and that’s an interesting note.

Allison: Yeah, and for me it really reflects some of my process as a writer, too. You know, this constant like, “Is this good enough? Is this good enough? Is this good enough?” and I think that, when we’re playing comedy on a stage, I think we satisfy the audience because so much of comedy is about people trying desperately to get something they want and not getting it, and I think we satisfy the audience when, at the end, somebody gets it – they receive what they have been fighting for and what we have been rooting for them to have – and I think that makes it a very satisfying play to watch, I hope, and to do.

Lindsay: I think so, too.

Wonderful talk, Allison! Again, I’m amazed by the technology as I’m sitting here in Ontario, Canada and you are sitting on basically the other side of the world. And yet, here we are having a conversation about the power of Shakespeare – the power of technology, the power of Shakespeare – I think that’s a lovely note to end on. So, thank you so much!

Allison: Thank you for having me.

I love talking to Allison. Thank you very much She always has something to say and I encourage you to go check out her new play, Postcards from Shakespeare, and you can catch the links to all of Allison’s plays in the show notes – theatrefolk.som/episode104.

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

All right. If I had a trumpet, I would be using it right now!

Today is the day! Today is the day! Woohoo!

Today is the day for our brand new product launch, our brand new project that Craig and I have been working on for, oh, months and months and months now. It is the Drama Teacher Academy.

What is the Drama Teacher Academy? Well, let me tell you because I’m thrilled to bits, I’m very excited, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

So, DTA, it is the premier spot for workshops on demand, specifically designed for Drama teachers. If you want to move forward as a Drama teacher, improve your skills, it’s all about professional development. If you want to take charge of your professional development, consider becoming a member because that’s what DTA is.

The Drama Teacher Academy is a professional development membership site just for Drama teachers where you’re going to have access to workshops on demand and lesson plans that you can take into your classroom because, as a teacher, I know that you know this: you should never stop learning, right? Even an experienced teacher can learn new things.

And what makes the workshop useful are practical applications – hints, tips, exercises – that you can use with your students. Every DTA course answers the question, “How can I use this in my classroom?”

And the courses are taught in multiple ways. We have video for them, but you don’t have to watch video. If your computer doesn’t play videos very well, or maybe you don’t have the time, that’s okay. We want you to learn the material at a pace and through a method that works best for you. You can learn at your own pace. You can watch the videos on computer, you can download an MP3, put it on your iPod, listen on your way to work, multitask. You can download and print the transcript. You can read, you know, when you have a moment here or there.

Some of the classes that we are going to be launching with is:

An Introduction to Teaching Mask with Allison Williams who you just heard from, Postcards from Shakespeare;

Organized Chaos: Discipline in the Theatre Classroom with Matt Webster. Classroom management is such a very relevant topic these days. How do we manage these theatre classes that seem so chaotic and out of control? How can we make them creative and fun but also manageable?

From Audition to Curtain Call: Directing Youth Theatre with Steven Stack. Are you a first-time director? Do you have no idea how to go from audition to show? Are you an experienced director and you want a refresher course?

And then, from me, Top Ten Playwriting Exercises; I find that, sometimes, students jump into the deep end with their writing and then just dive into that big script and it falters and they don’t know why. It’s because they haven’t practiced the craft. They haven’t worked up to being ready to write a play. Like, when someone is learning to play basketball, they have to learn how to dribble. When you learn how to swim, you don’t throw someone into the deep end.

You learn the skills. You learn the elements first and that’s what we’re going to do.

So, all you have to do, go to the show notes, Episode 104. Go to Drama Teacher Academy, all one word – DramaTeacherAcademy.com. Learn more. Become a member and learn.

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

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

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