Playwriting Teaching Drama

Learning

By Corey Leopold

Last week I took a left turn in a playwriting class and an entire group of students took a right. A hard right. It was awesome, not in the Spicoli-surfing-is-narly sense but the antiquated one. I was in slow motion Carmina burana awe, over powered with fear as an entire class rejected en masse what I was teaching. And it wasn’t their fault.

In retrospect, it wasn’t all that bad. I had a confab with the teacher and she didn’t seem concerned. They had a bad day. However, there were lots of elements that lead to the event. (Ps. I’m never watching that TV Show THE EVENT. I don’t care about THE EVENT. The commercials don’t make me care about THE EVENT. THE EVENT is never going to be all that EVENTFUL. It’s another show, like Lost that should have been a dramatic edge of your seat mini-series instead of something blown out that goes on too long and will never fully satisfy. The end.)

There were lots of elements that lead to the event. In the classroom.

  • Students in drama class are not expecting to write. Don’t you find that once you get a notion in your head it’s hard to be convinced otherwise? If you’re not expecting to write (and there’s not much around that, playwriting involves writing. Sorry. They haven’t invented the osmosis pen yet) and then you end up writing, you get resentful.
  • Not all students in drama class are drama students. This one is totally on me. I’m used to being in workshop situations where everyone in the room is a bonefied drama geek. Not only that, they get to choose what workshops they go to, so they’re choosing to come to my class. No one in school is really, not really, choosing to be there. They have to be there. And they have to take a variety of courses. And not every student takes drama because they love drama. (Isn’t that weird? I know!)
  • Students fear words. Especially overwhelming words like ‘idea.’ People, and not just teenagers, lots of people of all ages and all sizes, don’t think they have the capacity to come up with an idea. So when you throw the word around it gets people freaked out. I have more work to do to break down the idea of the idea.
  • The thesis is strong, but I wasn’t taking enough steps. I strongly believe everyone can write a play. And I’ve seen the magic when students who don’t think they’re creative, and don’t think they can do it – do. But you can’t just say, “write a play!” Play is another word that freaks people out. However, if you lay out the steps, so that writers are merely moving from step to step, (instead of writing a play) you get magic. The problem is I had a rather big pothole in this particular process, which everyone fell into at once. Sometimes you don’t see the potholes till you’re driving at full speed and IT’S RIGHT THERE.

One of my strengths is that when things go wrong, I’m good at changing. I do, I learn, I do again. It’s funny, school was never my thing, and by the end of my education I hated learning with pretty much every fibre of my being. But that’s because sitting in a classroom and listening isn’t the way I learn. I learn by doing. By trying and changing. Do, learn, do again. So real world learning has been been an excellent classroom for me. I do something, I succeed or fail, I go forward or I change.

So, I had another kick at the can with the next class, and then I tried something new with a class at another school and now I think I have the right language to convey what I need to to bypass the pothole and get them writing. Phew. We’ll see. I’m spending the entire month of October in three different schools working on this project. My goal is to keep everyone on the same road going in the same direction from beginning to end.

About the author

Lindsay Price

5 Comments

  • Embrace it Lindsay. No matter how prepared you might be for a class, you may end up throwing the whole plan out the window! I’ve been in the classroom for over 14 years and I’ve often needed to step back and rethink my approach. I think good teaching involves noticing when something isn’t working and trying another strategy. It’s part of the unpredictable nature of the classroom! Sometimes it’s my approach, sometimes it’s a social dynamic, and sometimes it’s just the full moon.

  • it was two things. One, they were in a drama class and they had, by in large, chosen the drama class because drama is fun (ie no writing) and playwriting is unfortunately, a lot of writing. This was a great thing for me to learn because when I inserted an activity amongst the writing, things ended up fine. And two it was me trying to conceptualize theatricality because, by in large, teens equate movies to plays. Which ends ups in a lot of plays where cars end up on stage, zooming off into nowhere. I was trying to get them to think about writing imagistically, which was just a little too abstract in the way I was describing it. Stay tuned to the next school to see if my adapted teaching language keeps them on the road!

  • I hear you, I hear you. It’s amazing how the greatest plan on paper can work one day and not the next. As I’ve said, I feel one of my strengths is changing the plan when it’s not working. Next week, I get to try my ‘new’ plan on a ‘new’ school, we’ll see how it goes!

  • PS: Hey I just realized it’s you Cathy! By the time I get to you with this, it should all be a well oiled machine. Or, I’ll have to change it all. I’m up for anything.