Episode 120: Writing the Reflective Review

Do you tear your hair out when students write play reviews? “It was good…it was ok….it sucked.” Writing an objective and reflective review is tricky because going to the theatre is a subjective experience. If you hate a play, how can you write about it objectively? Craig and Lindsay discuss a method to do just that – writing the reflective review. Use it in your classroom!


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 120! You can find any links for this episode at the show notes at theatrefolk.com/episode120.

Okay. So, some of my favorite podcasts are the ones where Craig and I get to discuss theatre – we get to talk shop – and sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree, but it’s fun! It’s fun to talk about the thing that we do and the plays that we’ve seen and it’s good for the brain cells!

So, last month, we were in New York and we got to talk a lot of theatre because we saw a lot of theatre – some of which we didn’t like at all – and that led to this specific podcast. How do you review something that you don’t like? How do you review it reflectively, in an objective manner? How do you teach a student to review something that they don’t know how to articulate, right? It’s so key for student reviewers.

We’ve identified a process that we use with a play and that you can use in your classroom. Let’s get to it.

Lindsay: Okay. So, hello everyone! Today, on the podcast, we are talking about reviewing – the act or reviewing, how you can encourage your students to review in a reflective and an in-depth way so that they’re not just saying, “I liked this play. I didn’t like this play. I thought this play sucked.” We’ve got to get them to go further than that, right? If you’re not doing reviews with your students, I think it’s an excellent exercise, you know? If you have a drama club that’s putting on a play, have your classrooms come to see the play and write a review. I think it’s a great analysis exercises. So, Craig and I… Hello, Craig.

Craig: Hello, Lindsay.

Lindsay: We were in New York last month and we saw a number of plays – one of them that we didn’t like at all, right?

Craig: Yes, and I mean, we can’t just say “I didn’t like it.”

Lindsay: No. Well, I wanted to set that up because now what we’re going to do is we’re going to go through the process of reviewing the show and we’re going to go beyond that. We’re going to go beyond the simple gut reaction that we had to this show and write an effective review. Are you up for it?

Craig: I’m up for it.

Lindsay: Okay. So, there’s a couple of steps that we want to take. The first thing is, what is the show? So, Craig, what was the show that we saw?

Craig: The first show we’re going to talk about is a production of Tempest. The Shakespeare play is called The Tempest and this was called Tempest.

Lindsay: Okay. So, the first thing that you really want to do is you want to start gathering clues, right? “What is the production trying to achieve?” is the question that, as a reviewer, you have to start with. This usually is going to happen before you even see the play.

Craig: Yes. Luckily, in our case, we have their website and their marketing materials that tell us what it is they’re attempting to accomplish in the show. So, for this particular show, it says on their website, “Internationally renowned director Karin Coonrod and Obie-award winning composer Elizabeth Swados bring their significant craft, daring, and imagination to Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a world-premiere music-theatre production at La MaMa.” I’ll stop here. La MaMa is a very well-respected and well-renowned alternative theatre.

Lindsay: Experimental theatre, right? They’re supposed to be, I guess, turning things upside down.

Craig: Yeah, and then it talks about the cast.

Lindsay: That’s something that we need to know.

Craig: So, it’s a music theatre production. It’s a whole new adaptation and look at The Tempest, and they’ve even changed the name to Tempest.

Lindsay: Yes, I think that’s really key, you know. If you’ve got something that’s well-known and it’s got a new name, okay, we’re supposed to be looking at something new. There are three words there that they’re describing their styles, isn’t it?

Craig: “Craft, daring, and imagination.”

Lindsay: So, that’s a bit of a setup, right? If they’re putting that in their marketing materials, that’s what I’m expecting.

Craig: That’s what I’m expecting to see, for sure.

So, we walked into the theatre and it was set up as one big long thrust and we really thought it was cool. I thought it was very interesting because it reminded me of what I would expect to see in 8a Shakespearean theatre – the court theatres, right? Is that what they were called?

Lindsay: Yeah, yes.

Craig: So, Shakespeare, everyone thinks he performed at the globe; he actually performed in kind of two theatres. There was also an indoor venue called the Blackfriars. This reminded me of how it would be set up there. It’s basically one long thrust and the audience sat on three sides of the thrust.

Lindsay: And there was a huge pendulum, I think. It was sort of a globe that was set up and the very first thing they did when the show started was that someone came out and pushed the pendulum and lights came on and the entire audience ooh’d because it really was a little bit of theatricality.

Craig: Mm-hmm. The pendulum was lit from within and it had holes poked all through it so, when it was in motion, it was putting this dazzling kind of light show all over the theatre. It was quite effective because the play starts with a storm so your first challenge as a director of this play is how are you going to stage a storm at sea with a ship being wrecked on-stage and I thought this was a very effective way of starting the show. I was riveted at this point.

Lindsay: And this is what I expected. This is the kind of thing I expected from looking at the materials and sitting in the theatre. That’s exactly what I expected. And then, things changed, and it’s really important particularly to tell your students that, if they’re seeing something that they don’t like, you have to be even more particular and you have to be even more specific about what it is and you have to start documenting.

So, the next question to ask is, “How does the production go about achieving their goals?” What are they trying to achieve? They’re trying to achieve something new, right? This production of The Tempest changed the name and they’re very specific about saying that this is going to have craft and imagination.

Craig: And it’s a musical.

Lindsay: Yeah, that’s right. It’s taking the Shakespearean to a new level because it has a musical form.

So, what you want to do is you want to start looking at how does it go about achieving these goals? Is there imagination? Well, that opening had a lot of imagination, right?

Craig: Mm-hmm.

Lindsay: Yes. The first thing that happens in this play is that there is a huge storm. Then, afterwards, Prospero, the main character, tells a very, very long story.

Craig: Yes, it’s actually not the greatest bit of writing on Shakespeare’s part because it’s all exposition. It’s this long multipage story about how it is that Prospero and his daughter Miranda came to be on this island. They’ve been stuck on this island for many years. In any production of The Tempest that I’ve been involved with or I have seen, there is also an attempt to tell the story non-verbally – sometimes there’s a dumb show, sometimes there’s a video – because there’s a lot of text that we’re going through. My expectations for this show were that that part was going to be done in a song or a musical number because this is a musical. My expectations were also that it would be told in a visual and engaging way because this is an experimental theatre and I expected to see some sort of interesting staging.

Lindsay: Something that used the imagination.

Craig: Mm-hmm. And my first clue that this production was going to fall short was in this particular section because the entire bit was just statically told as dialogue – the same experience one would have if they read it in the script and listened to it in their heads.

Lindsay: So, we go on, what is the production trying to achieve? It’s trying to achieve a musical theatre production, it’s trying to achieve something new, and it’s trying to achieve something with the imagination. Let’s go with those three. Was it new? No. Did they try to do this moment with musical theatre? No. Did have any imagination? No.

So, that’s what you want to get. Instead of saying, “Oh, this moment was so boring!” you have your students identify what is the production trying to achieve and then apply it. How does it go about achieving it? Are they achieving it?

Here, in this first bit, the answer is no.

Craig: No.

Lindsay: So, let’s talk about something that was new and that is the approach of Ariel in this production. The character of Ariel is usually a sprite and it’s usually played with a lot of physical movement, with a lot of other-worldly costuming, with a lot of imagination and play because he’s not human – he’s not a real person.

Craig: No.

Lindsay: This part was played by a Broadway actor, a young actor. He was the lead in Billy Elliot and the way that he was directed and the way that it was staged is that this actor played the character of Ariel as if he was Billy Elliot.

Craig: Mm-hmm. Every line he gave was accompanied with a ballet move.

Lindsay: Or very much a Broadway musical theatre move.

Craig: Mm-hmm. And it was very much against the style of everything that had come before his entrance. That’s another thing I’d like to address in this show – every single grouping of character just had a completely different style of performance.

Lindsay: Like they were all in different plays.

Craig: Mm-hmm. I wanted to believe that this was an intentional thing from the director. If it wasn’t, that’s not a good thing because everything in the play should be intentional.

Lindsay: That goes into question three so don’t get too much into it.

Craig: Okay, sure.

Lindsay: Oh, that’s a little teaser for everybody listening.

Craig: Okay.

Lindsay: But we were very confused because he wasn’t dressed as Ariel is usually dressed and he didn’t act the way that Ariel usually acts. Okay. So, are they doing something new with this character? The answer is yes, and we’re going to leave it at that. It’s not whether or not we like it or we don’t like it. Is it addressing what the production is trying to achieve? We have to say yes because he’s different. We kind of think that the production was trying to purposely ground Ariel and sort of force him to be human because, at the end, took off all his worldly human clothes but he didn’t do anything different. He just walked off-stage.

Now, let’s talk about the music. So, it’s a musical theatre production.

Craig: Can I address that?

Lindsay: You betcha!

Craig: Okay. What I would love to address about this is that, in the play – the original play, The Tempest – there are several songs – maybe four or five songs, with maybe one or two very tiny exceptions, those were the only songs that were in the show. It was a great deal of a long time. We were very deep into the show before we first heard our first song, and this is supposed to be a musical theatre adaptation. And so, what confused me with this production was what was different about the music in this show than there would be in any other show because there is music in The Tempest; it’s a play that’s very magical, the island is possessed with all sorts of magic and sprites and faeries and who knows what’s going on in this island. And I felt that there were a great many opportunities to turn moments of this play into what was promised – music – whereas I think there was only one or two times where they made a song out of something, and in those instances, they really only just used the Shakespeare text and just kind of tried to squeeze a melody to it. They would take a soliloquy of Ariel’s and just kind of have him sing it. Is he the only one who really sang?

Lindsay: No, Trinculo sang.

Craig: Right, but they sing in the original play.

Lindsay: They do sing in the original play, too. So, now we’re addressing, “How does it go about achieving these goals?” For the musical theatre part, they, for the most part, only used the lyrics that are in the original production and a lyric fashion that I don’t quite understand. I think that, at some point, if you have musical theatre, leave the theatre and it’s in your head. One song should be in your head.

Craig: You know, I couldn’t tell you one tune from the show.

Lindsay: Which leads us into the last question: “How effective is a production?”

So, you have, “What is the production trying to achieve?” We think this production was trying to achieve musical theatre, imagination, and something new. “How does it go about achieving these goals?” Changing some of the characters, Ariel is not played any way that he is usually; imagination, we have the wonderful pendulum at the beginning; musical theatre, having some of the lyrics of the text put to music. But how effective is all this? Not effective at all.

Craig: Well, not really, and not if you’re talking about doing something new and exciting and the only new exciting thing you do is at the very beginning of the play in a moment that’s always done in some kind of different theatrical way. Sadly, after that moment, it went for another two hours without really seeing any kind of magic.

Lindsay: Imagination.

Craig: And this is a play about magic.

Lindsay: Yes! There was so little magic! And how effective is this production? It was completely unmagical. It was not magical at all which is, I think, very different than saying, “I didn’t like it.” It’s very specific. You’ve got to be very specific.

Why don’t I like it? I didn’t like it because it didn’t employ any of the magic. I didn’t like it because it wasn’t effective – I’m not saying I didn’t like it; I’m saying it’s not effective. It wasn’t effective because it didn’t employ magic in an imaginative way. It wasn’t effective because the fact that the musical theatre elements didn’t stay with me, they didn’t do anything new with the musical theatre aspect. They didn’t do anything new with The Tempest text. The text was pretty much a straight-forward version of the play. Why is this new? Why go and bother changing the title of the play? Why tell me I’m going to be expecting a production full of craft, imagination, and music, and not deliver on anything? Any of those points.

Craig: So, if we were to summarize this, if you were to give a student the task, an assignment to go review a play, what would be the steps that you would ask them to go through before doing this?

Lindsay: Number one. What is the production trying to achieve? So, they need to do some research before they go see the show. Is there a programme? Is there a poster that they can look at and analyze? What are the images that are on the poster? That’s going to supposedly give you some clues as to what the show is about. Is there a blurb on a website? If you know the play – Craig and I know this play very well so, you know, we know it so we know what we’re expecting.

Craig: Well, if you have access to the script before you review the play, it’s good to read the script and so you have some kind of an idea. You also have to understand what kind of challenges someone faces when they’re staging this particular play.

Lindsay: And once you do all this information, I think it’s good to come up with maybe three things. So, what is the production trying to achieve? Three words or three sentences so that you can apply question number two. In this case, for us, it was “imagination, new, and musical theatre.” How does it go about achieving these goals? So, if you have three things that you can identify as what the production is trying to achieve, you can just make point form notes under each one of those things as you watch the show. It’s not about liking or disliking; it’s, “What are they trying to do?” So, I think, what I didn’t like at all was the way that Ariel was portrayed new so that goes down there.

And then, lastly, once you have all this information, how effective is the production? They have what they’re trying to achieve and you know exactly how they have tried to do that, what’s your personal reflection on that in terms of whether it was effective or not – not like or dislike, effectiveness.

I have to mention too that, in this last question, you have to address the audience. You have to address the audience response. Was there laughter? Was there shifting in seats because people were bored? Was there applause at the end? Was there a standing ovation at the end?

Craig: What was your impression of the audience’s reaction to the play?

Lindsay: My impression of the audience’s reaction was that it was a lot of theatre people.

Craig: I felt that, too. I felt that a lot of people in the audience either knew someone in the play. In all fairness, we did see the show at a preview so I’m not going to address the fact that a great number of actors were not good on their lines. That’s not fair at that point, I suppose. But, nonetheless, learn your lines when there’s going to be an audience there, even if it is a preview.

Lindsay: And so, I think our audience is a little different than an ordinary audience because a normal audience is there to enjoy the experience of the theatre. Theatre audiences as in actors who are trying to get work or actors who have friends in the show or actors who want to look like they’re showing support – sometimes they are over-enthusiastic in their response so they were very enthusiastic in their response.

Craig: So, if you were to write your review, you would have to acknowledge that the audience was very enthusiastic.

Lindsay: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah, I think that is important to acknowledge that, if it wasn’t successful for you, but the audience seemed to enjoy it and it was selling out or there was good attendance, then I think it’s also incumbent on the reviewer to mention that.

Lindsay: Yeah, I agree, absolutely. So, I think that the review is an excellent exercise for students. But you’ve got to give them guidelines, you’ve got to give them a way to go, and just by having these three questions – What is the production trying to achieve? How does it go about achieving these goals? How effective is the production? – you’re going to get more from your students than “this play sucks” because that’s kind of how we felt.

Craig: Yes.

Lindsay: And I think we’ve said quite a lot about it.

Craig: Yes, I think we’ve said enough about it. We spent a lot of time talking about it afterward.

Lindsay: We did.

Craig: It was one of those experiences that, you know, you go, “Ugh! I didn’t really like that,” and you walk away and then it just sticks with you. And then, for hours later, you’re going, “Yeah, and what was with this? Oh, and what were they doing here?” We didn’t even get into costumes.

Lindsay: We didn’t get into costumes. We didn’t even get into… It just felt like everybody was in a different play and, if that was the case – because the person who played Prospero was a television actor; the person who played Caliban was a very documented Shakespearean actor and he really felt like he was in a Shakespeare play; Ariel, as we said, was a Billy Elliot Broadway performer – if that was the purpose of the show – to have all these people – and Trinculo and Stephano, well, they’re always in their own play – if that was purpose, to have all of these characters in different styles and genres, it didn’t go far enough. It just looked to me like everyone was making a mistake rather than making a purposeful choice and that’s how I feel.

Craig: Yes.

Lindsay: Okay. Awesome.

Craig: What more is there to say?

Lindsay: What more is there to say? And we will wrap it up right now. Thank you very much!

Did you get those three questions?

  1. What is the production trying to achieve?
  2. How does the production try to achieve those goals?
  3. How effective is the production?

If you go to the show notes for this episode – theatrefolk.com/episode120 – you can find a handout for your students that outlines the process for this reflective review.

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

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

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

We have a guest post this week! Please welcome Mel Bondar of brokeGIRLrich


Everything about the arts seems dramatic and romantic – especially to middle school and high school students (and let’s face it, do they really need more life drama?). Personally, I was in high school when *Rent* hit the boards in New York City and instantly fell in love with the idea of this crazy, bohemian lifestyle.

From the get go, I remember everyone telling me how difficult a life in the arts is (and they were right) and how I was going to struggle endlessly and be poor (they were wrong). The idea that I would always be poor if I wanted to do what I loved for a living really colored how I looked at how I should be compensated after I finished school.

Creating art is also a business

I really wish some teachers along the way had emphasized that creating art is also a business and we should view it that way. The kids who were great at math and steered towards engineering or accounting viewed it that way. Even in the humanities, the kids who were great at English and steered towards teaching or copywriting viewed it that way.

Teaching the business side of performance starting at a young age is definitely an under-explored aspect of the arts. Kids are used to doing bake sales or car washes to raise money for plays or band trips, but they rarely, if ever, see how the money is applied.

Furthermore, most of the time these activities come prepackaged – if you’re going to participate in the play, you will participate in the bake sale. It seems that a far better exercise would be to teach the class how to make a budget for their production and then have the group decide how they are going to raise that money.

Artists need to make a living too

Money becomes almost a dirty word in the arts, when really, the cost of creating performances should have a dollar sign on them. They should also be exposed to aspects like ticket sales to better understand that theater is a business.

So many job offers for these kids who go on to work in the arts pay stipends that are so far below the living wage it’s a joke. It would be one thing to be offered that kind of money for a job that only requires a few hours a week of commitment, but many of these require a full 40+ work week, making it incredibly difficult to develop another source of income.

The way to begin to break these common place stipend offers is to start rejecting them, and the only way that will happen is for the performers to realize that as much as what they are creating is art, they are also doing business. This doesn’t cheapen the art in any way; in fact, overall it will raise the caliber of productions.

If we raise a generation that sees art as business, everyone will benefit. Most kids who are interested in theater while they are in school don’t go on to careers in the arts, but they *do* become life long supporters. If we teach them early on that the arts are a business, they’ll be supportive of the costs that go into producing performances, allowing the kids who do go on to work in the arts to earn a living wage.

Click here for a printable PDF worksheet your students can use to estimate the cost of a production. You can let them run wild with any show of their choosing or pick last year’s school play and compare the numbers they got with the actual costs of the show.

Download the How much does your show cost? PDF!


You can find Mel Bondar at brokeGIRLrich. She writes about living a life in the arts and not going broke while doing it.



Picture Prompt: What are they talking about?

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

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

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!

Today we’re looking at a conversation. It’s two guys, looking out. Who are they? Where are they? What are they talking about? The possibilities are endless.

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

  1. Automatic write on the picture. Set a timer for two minutes and tell students to write down everything and anything that comes to mind when they look at the picture. Don’t self-censor or judge any thought, just get it down on the page. Explain to students they’re creating source material to draw from for future writing.
  2. Have students answer the following questions:
    • Where was this picture taken? Where are they?
    • Who are the two men in the picture?
    • What can you tell about them by the way they’re dressed?
    • What is their relationship?
    • What is the emotional state of each person?
    • Who took this picture?
    • What is the photographer’s relationship to the two men?
    • What’s going to happen five minutes from now?
  3. Based on the automatic writing and the answers to the questions, students will write a dialogue. Write the conversation between the two men. Think about what each individual wants in this conversation. Think about what is going to happen in the next moment. Is it something happy? Something unpleasant? Something dangerous? Something odd?

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!



Episode 119: Shakespeare from the Outside In

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


Show Notes

Episode Transcript

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

I’m Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd: Hello, Lindsay!

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

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

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

Todd: I was going to say ’96.

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: And it was a beautiful friendship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd: Yeah.

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

Todd: Yeah.

Lindsay: You went to the Dell’Arte School.

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

Lindsay: Oh, you’re the one.

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

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

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

Lindsay: Oh, in Las Vegas!

Todd: In Las Vegas, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Very think-y.

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

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

Todd: Right.

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

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

Lindsay: Hmm.

Todd: Do you want me to get more specific?

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

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

Lindsay: Nor is he here to talk about it.

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

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

Todd: “You know, iambic pentameter….”

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

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

Todd: Right.

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

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

Lindsay: Amazing.

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

Lindsay: Everyone got rolls?

Todd: Everybody got rolls, yeah.

Lindsay: Oh, my gosh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd: Yeah.

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

Todd: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Yeah!

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

Lindsay: Oh, the movie version?

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

Lindsay: Ahh.

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

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

Todd: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Yes, love it.

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

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

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

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

Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Todd.

Todd: Thank you. Shake your powerhouse!

Thank you, Todd!

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

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

Again, that’s dramateacheracademy.com.

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

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

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

The Professional Development Roadmap

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

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

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

Does the classroom ever feel like this for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you need to know?

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

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

So how do you become a generalist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you learn what you need to know?

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

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

Take these steps to get what you need to know.

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

How do you use your PD Roadmap?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You can become a well-rounded drama teacher.

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



Picture Prompt: The Portrait

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

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

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!

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

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

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

Click here for a printable PDF of this exercise!



The Jack of All Trades Myth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drama Teacher: you are necessary to your students.

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