Giving students the opportunity to direct is a great thing – it helps them to develop their leadership skills and creative thinking abilities, challenges them in a new theatrical medium, and helps them gain lots of new, transferrable skills, such as problem-solving. However, being in a leadership position can be nerve-wracking for students. They may have limited experience with being the person in charge and may try to shy away from making tough decisions or dealing with difficult situations that arise, especially those that involve fellow classmates and friends.
As teachers, we need to encourage and empower our students to have the confidence to believe in themselves, make decisions, and stick by them. We must be available to our students, should they need help. At the same time, we also need to step back and avoid the temptation to “fix” everything and solve problems for our students. Being able to deal with different situations is an important life skill that students need to develop.
Before assigning scenes and discussing dramatic intention, try this exercise with your students. This exercise gives students the opportunity to dip their toes into problem-solving – first as a group and then individually with an Exit Slip.
With the full class, introduce the idea of student directors and discuss what a director does and is responsible for. Part of a director’s job, aside from creating and executing the overall vision of the show, is to solve problems on the fly. Describe problems that you have had to deal with as a teacher and director and explain how you solved them. You may also wish to describe some fears and concerns you had as a new director and how you dealt with those fears.
Then, in smaller groups (four to five students per group), share the scenarios below. You may choose to have all groups work on the same scenario, or assign each group a different scenario. Give students some time to brainstorm ideas on how they could approach each situation and come to a positive conclusion, or take steps to solve the problem. (You may wish to do one scenario together as a full class first, as an example.) Groups can then share their ideas with the class or, if time allows, groups can present a short scene demonstrating the problem and their solutions.
1. Your teacher assigns you a scene to direct in class. You’ve never directed anything before and you feel nervous. You’re feeling especially nervous because you have never before heard of the play that your scene is from. What would you do in this situation?
2. You are trying to figure out which classmates to cast in the various roles of your scene. Both Alex and Mina would be equally excellent in one particular role. What would you do in this situation?
3. After you’ve completed your casting and released it, Una comes up to you angrily with a complaint that you cast Rob and Will, your two best friends in class, as the leads in your scene. Una feels that you’re playing favourites. What would you do in this situation
4. It is getting very close to showtime and John is still not off-book. Other cast members have expressed concern that John won’t be ready for opening. What would you do in this situation?
5. Monique and Yumi show you the set piece they have been working on and are very proud of. However, it is not even close to what you had envisioned this piece to look like. What would you do in this situation?
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.
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