Episode 200: The 48 Hour Play Project
In this episode we talk to a middle school teacher who takes her students from script to production in 48 hours. How does she do it? How can you do it? Listen in to find out! It’s a mega mix of skills: creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.
Welcome to the Drama Teacher Podcast brought to you by Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Resource Company.
I’m Lindsay Price.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 200. Woot! Woot! And you can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode200.
200 episodes! Celebrate! Fireworks! I’m trying to say, “Fireworks!”
Okay, 200, that’s a lot. I know it’s not a lot for some podcasts. Some of the podcasts I listen to, I think The Nerdist is closing in on a thousand episodes, but we are just chugging along here, doing our little thing, making our little recordings.
The podcast is one of the things that gets mentioned to me time and time again by folks when I go to conferences. So, I just want to take a second to, again, say thank you. Thank you for listening!
Today, we are talking about putting on a play as part of a speed round. 48 hours from getting the script to performance. That’s what our guest does with her middle schoolers.
Let’s find out the what, the how, and the why, shall we? It is a mega-mix of creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.
I’ll see you on the other side!
LINDSAY: Hello everybody!
I’m here with Angela Watkins.
ANGELA: Hello, Lindsay!
LINDSAY: Awesome! You sound like chipper, ready to go! Love it!
LINDSAY: Or you fake it really well, right?
Okay, can you tell everybody where in the world you are right now?
ANGELA: Where in the world I am right now is at the Telluride Middle/High School in Telluride, Colorado. It’s in the southwest mountains. It’s a beautiful little resort town that I’m lucky enough to get to teach at.
LINDSAY: Awesome. Lovely.
How long have you been a teacher?
ANGELA: I’ve taught for about 25 years, but not formally in a school for that long. I’m going into my tenth-year teaching at a regular school and with a theatre curriculum.
LINDSAY: Have you been teaching drama all this time? Or is it new?
ANGELA: Yes, I’ve been teaching drama all this time. I initially founded a little theatre company here quite some time ago and my position was education and outreach. So, the school subcontracted me to do plays within the school. After – I don’t know – 15 years or so, I decided not to be in a theatre company anymore and just teach. That’s where this position came along. And so, I’ve taught, I’ve directed plays – you know, many, many hats.
LINDSAY: Always, always, the drama teacher wears a gazillion hats.
What is it about teaching drama that connects to you?
ANGELA: Well, I guess, when I think about when I was young, what I enjoyed most about school was drama – the fact that so much can be learned in playing and pretending and role-playing and stuff.
Every student, no matter who they are, can get something out of theatre, and some take it very seriously and go very far, but it can go in many directions and it’s so nice to give kids that don’t usually have those options some opportunity to try things or discover things. And I think that can happen in my classroom.
LINDSAY: I think that, the more we get further into the 21st Century, I think drama is becoming – I know lots of people don’t think this but – it’s the most important class for all of those reasons that you just outlined. You know, they’re so worried about their marks and sometimes, they’re just so caught up in what’s happening that that chance to play is really important.
ANGELA: I couldn’t agree more, and the things that they discover is awesome and they’re all great learning lessons and life lessons. So, it’s kind of exciting. It’s super fun and I’ve been able to develop my own curriculum and I work with kids from kindergarten through 12th grade, so I get kind of the gamut.
LINDSAY: You get them all.
Oh, my god, your brain must be going in a million different directions, all at the same time.
ANGELA: It keeps you young, Lindsay. If you need the youth potion, teach drama, K through 12, and I think you might last longer.
LINDSAY: That’s awesome. That’s our selling feature for youth. Teach drama.
LINDSAY: For all ages. Why not? Why not?
So, we’re here to talk about a very specific thing which you told me about and I was like, “Oh, we’ve got to share this!” and that you did one of my plays, Box, but you did it in a very specific manner and a very specific time limit which I think might be of real interest to our listeners.
You organized, you did a 48-hour play project. Talk about that. Where did this come from?
ANGELA: Well, in the beginning of the year, we wanted something to sort of get the kids excited about our big project. We do a musical in November. So, getting the kids back to school and sort of excited about theatre and their options, there’s a lot of middle school kids that are just moving up.
And so, a student that came visiting to Telluride gave me this idea. Their project was a bit more ambitious. They actually did original work and playwrights worked before the process began and the kids produced original work.
But the idea is that you have a play, you have your actors, and you commit to being together from Friday night at 5:00 until Sunday night at 6:30 when the play is over. We lock ourselves in the theatre and read a play; cast a play; play games, develop techniques, and characters, and sets, and props, and lighting, and all that; and put on a play in 48 hours.
And your play was it this year.
LINDSAY: Yeah, but I think that just the process of that because, you know, I know a lot of schools, they rehearse plays for months because that’s that. Sometimes, that’s the time that they have. They can only do maybe once or twice after school and things dragged on. But the whole concept of going from concept to performance in this tiny amount of time – and they do it, don’t they? They get it done.
ANGELA: You know, I think about that sometimes in my classes, too. I go, “Okay, you have these four sentences and go make a play out of it,” and then I give them too much time.
I feel like a lot of the creativity can happen if you don’t give them a lot of time and they have to really think on their feet and go for it or make decisions and stick with the decisions and really get the work done. It evolves in a really fantastic way with that time crunch. Sometimes, they have too much time and it’s wasted.
So, it’s super fun and it’s very challenging and it’s definitely down to the last, you know, five minutes. But they’re really proud of their accomplishment and it’s pretty astounding and your script was really great. It gave the kids a topic that they can relate to and characters that they know and characters that they know but they aren’t, so they were able to play that other girl or the bully or the popular kid. And so, it was all those wonderful characters that we see every day in the hallways of our school and they all get to mix it up and get a chance to be those people.
And so, it was very cathartic. They came out the other side, I think, being better kids and having more empathy for people that are different than them or don’t fit in or are just not who they are. So, that’s why it was so popular with some of the administration and faculty.
LINDSAY: Well, you know, it just offers a bunch of opportunities. I was thinking back about what you said about that they have to go with their choices – you know, be that blocking choices or character choices or whatever. I think that notion of perfection is something that is haunting a lot of our kids these days and I just love the idea that, “Okay, you have 48 hours, you have to make a choice. You can’t ruminate on what’s going to be the best choice. You just have to make a choice.”
I think it helps. I think, just when we’re thinking about what kind of plays work best in this framework, that probably plays where they, just as you described, you know, there are characters who are like them and characters who are not like them but still in that same realm, you know, all of the characters in this particular play in Box are middle school students.
You think that that helped get them to the end product? Or did it not matter?
ANGELA: Uh, I don’t think it mattered. But it was a little bit more “meaty” topics than we’ve done before in our plays. You know, generally, to push it through the other side in 48 hours. We’ve done more comedic light material and it still had a playful feel to it and some really funny characters and scenes.
But the underlying theme was, you know, “Listen to me. I’m not this person and I’m not in a box and I an do a lot of different things.” I think that resonated with them because that’s what’s happening to them as they move out of intermediate school and into 8th grade or middle school.
At our school, our middle school is kind of right next to our high school. So, everybody is going through their transitions very close. Your intermediate students are looking to the middle and the middle is looking to a high and they intermingle. They’re close. So, those relationships and those challenges and stuff are really real for them and it was fun to get to act that out and sort of remove themselves from the reality and do it in a play, I think, was gratifying to them.
LINDSAY: Okay. Let’s go through the process. What happens in these 48 hours?
So, it’s Friday night. Oh, here’s a really technical question. How did it work with admin and with parents being in the school over a weekend?
ANGELA: I love my school. We have a really nice school. It’s new. We have a pretty lovely state-of-the-art theatre that is my goal. It has been my goal since I started to have the kids in there in their space and working their space and doing everything in there.
You know, through the years, many kids have graduated into the staff of theatre. It’s part of the school, but it’s under its own umbrella and it does a lot of outside rentals, movies, many of the festivals that happen in our town use this theatre. It’s grooming the kids to know how to use the space.
Technically speaking, we’re lucky and that they trust us.
My music director and I buy groceries and beg, borrow, and steal meals and drinks and stuff. Some of the restaurants give us food and moms bring in things. On Friday night, first, we go to the radio station and broadcast to the world what we’re doing and get people to come.
We have a little radio station and then the kids come in and we play a bunch of games and introduce each other and sort of get a feel for each other. And then, we have a big meal together and we read the play out loud and we tell them that that reading is kind of their audition. And we do have a really good sense of the kids, anyway. We know everybody.
And then, with their meet and greet, if we know any extra talents – whether they brought their trumpets or their magic tricks or that they can sing – we kind of find out what other things they’re good at. After that, I cast the show. They play some more games and I cast the show.
By the time they’re going to sleep on Friday night, they know who their part is.
You guys are sleeping at the school?
ANGELA: Oh, yeah, the kids bring their hammocks and their tents and sleeping bags and we’re spread out all over the theatre, sleeping.
LINDSAY: How many additional adults do you have? Is it just you and your musical director? Are there parents who stay over?
ANGELA: It’s just me and my musical director.
LINDSAY: Oh, wow.
ANGELA: This year, we had 20 kids.
LINDSAY: Not too many. That’s good. That’s a good number.
ANGELA: Yeah, I kind of limit it to 20. I think they want me to grow the program. But I think I convinced them that then it’s not a really great bonding thing because it’s too many kids. And then, my friend and I are policing more than engaging and, you know, really hanging out with the kids because we want it to be fun, too. We don’t want it to be this gruelling… I mean, it could grow, but I kind of like it at 20 right now.
LINDSAY: Do the kids sign up?
LINDSAY: This is an extracurricular activity?
ANGELA: Yes, they sign up. It’s first come, first serve. We charge a small fee and it’s mostly, like I said, for food. We’ve filled it to 20 perfect without really leaving anybody out. Of course, you know, if there was somebody that we thought would be a great mix that didn’t sign up on time, of course, we’re not hard and fast around here. We want to keep everybody involved if they really have the desire.
LINDSAY: Awesome. When you say, “a small fee,” is it $5.00? $10.00? $20.00?
ANGELA: No, it was $50.00.
LINDSAY: Okay, that’s good to know. See, that’s good to know.
I like that distinction between you don’t want to be policing; you want to be engaging. I think that’s really important, particularly when you’re being trusted to stay in a school out of school hours, right?
LINDSAY: Awesome. I also want to re-hit again how you hold your audition and that it’s not a formal audition. Again, you’re still keeping things really light and easy and you’re using the read-through and then their little piece that they sort of introduce themselves as their audition moment. I quite like that. I think, for a project like this, again, keeping it light and keeping it engaged, then kids don’t have to start off with a harrowing audition process. It just happens.
ANGELA: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it could get competitive like that. I hope it doesn’t and I think the student that gave me this idea, I think, at his school, it is very competitive to get into the project. It’s a much bigger school with many, many more theatre kids than I have. So, I could definitely see how it could go that way. But, lucky for us, we’re kind of small and we want to keep it in that sort of nurturing kind of scene for the kids so that they can experience something cool.
LINDSAY: Okay. So, they wake up Saturday morning, they know what part they’re going to play. How does Saturday play out for you?
ANGELA: Me, I make a strong pot of coffee in the teacher lounge. We just got a new addition built on our school, so it has a culinary arts room. They let us use it. I whipped up pancakes for everybody and we started talking about the play while we ate.
And then, we really whip them into shape. They warm up, we play some games, and then we just dive right in. Hopefully, the kids have read the play and worked on their lines a little bit the night before and we just start talking about, first off, how do we want the set to look and how involved are we going to be.
I think that was our starting point so that we could block or at least experiment with blocking and movement and the flow of each scene. I think that’s pretty much what we did all day on Saturday – just go through the play from beginning to end and work each scene with the actors and did some coaching and directing and technical kind of things. “We want a spotlight” or “We need to have this prop” or whatever.
The one thing the kids all had to bring was a box. So, some brought already-made little boxes; some just brought cardboard boxes. And so, at the end of the process on Saturday, then we also added music to your play. It didn’t turn into a musical, but we did add a song at the end and had two trumpets, an alto sax, and then everybody playing their drums.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I think it works quite nicely. It would have gone quite nicely from that because the end one has a percussion.
ANGELA: Yeah, it’s like a little beat rhythm and everything. Since my music director does it with me, what song was it? The band is called World Party and the song is “Put the Message in the Box.”
LINDSAY: That’s appropriate.
ANGELA: It’s a sweet song and it’s about spreading the message of love and caring and stuff like that. It’s great.
LINDSAY: When you’re doing something like this, how much are you a collaborative director and how much are you “move here, move here, move here”? Just thinking about the time thing, when you discussed the set with the students, are you getting their input and using their input to influence things like set, things like costume? Or is there a bit of sometimes you have to make the decision?
ANGELA: Oh, yeah, for sure, because they’re kids. But I definitely give them that freedom at the beginning because, you know, they’re smarter than me sometimes. I did have two kids that were part of the group, but they just wanted to be tech. They weren’t even in the acting process. While we were working through the scenes, they were going for the set and focusing lights and making sound effects and all that stuff. It was great to have two kids that were like, “This is all we want to do.”
The process was really simple. “What do you think of this?” We have some already-made platforming, tons of cube boxes, and that was primarily the set. They painted them and then they made all kinds of cool boxes and suspended them above the stage. Three of the boxes had a B and an O and an X on it. It was very simple but cool. And then, the kids all make their boxes, too. Some of them had to have time to make their box that went along with their character and that was really extraordinary – some of the art that came out of that, too. It was really touching and nice.
LINDSAY: That’s awesome – awesome, awesome, awesome.
So, Saturday, you go through the show. Saturday night, you’re adding music. What happens first thing Sunday morning?
ANGELA: That’s a hard day to get them out of bed. But they know that the pressure is on. So, we eat a giant breakfast and run it with me, trying not to stop, but that’s the first time they sort of run it together with everything – lights and props and music. Then, we break for lunch and then they run it one more time. And then, they give the performance.
LINDSAY: What do you do about lines? How are they learning lines in that short a time period?
ANGELA: Well, Lindsay, we were very good. We did not cut one thing from your show and the kids were pretty spot on. There’s that whole choral piece where they speak in groups which was really killer and that’s the part of the play that the principal really liked where they’re yelling at each other. “You’re not listening to me!” and that whole exchange. They had to have the cues in so many places where they’re moving while other people are talking, that sort of choral movement in the background and then freezing. They did it. I don’t know how they did it, but maybe it was because I was saying, “You better do your lines!”
LINDSAY: Pressure is an amazing thing.
LINDSAY: Time, too. I think that’s the most important thing about a project like this. There has to be a performance at the end.
ANGELA: Right, exactly. It came, and they were ready. You know, some kids struggled; some kids, no problem. The strugglers knew they probably shouldn’t have been watching videos at down time. But that’s a lesson in itself. Show goes on. You’re going up there. I am not. They were beautiful. I was really pleased with the product a lot.
LINDSAY: I think the whole notion that, at the end of the day, it’s an educational setting. All the lessons are learned lessons. And it’s like, “Well, this is what happens when you watch videos and you don’t learn your lines.”
Also, how was your group in terms of helping each other? It kind of sounds like, because of the way you’ve set it up and there’s a lot of group interaction, are you working with them to sort of help each other out when they get into trouble?
ANGELA: Oh, yeah, all the time. You know, the whole trust thing and who your scene partner is and, you know, what are we going to do? That whole friendship “I got your back” thing is imperative in a situation like this because it’s so fast that, even if you think you’ve got it, you might not. They were great and super supportive to each other, but it’s not always like that, but it was this time, for sure. It was really a cohesive, great working group.
LINDSAY: As we wrap up, what would you say is a couple of pieces of advice for a teacher who would like to start this at their school?
ANGELA: I would definitely be careful about how many kids you get involved. Even if you hand-chose those people, you want to have success for your administration and you want it to come out great. After you build some confidence, you know, you can branch out from there.
But set yourself up for success so that the parents and the faculty and the administration will love you being in school, playing with kids in your space, because ultimately that’s what they’re proud of – their school and the great things that come out of it. You know, think in those terms. Even if you start really small and actually precast or something, you know, that’s okay.
But, if you’re in a situation where you can embrace as many different kids as you can and give them a great learning opportunity, I think that is the perfect setup for you. You know, having that engagement with the kids and having a number of kids that you can connect with, I think, will lead to success. If it’s too big and it starts to be something else, then it takes away from that creative play and you’re still going to have to have a show no matter what. So, it’s more fun for you.
I mean, it’s not everybody’s dream weekend, locking up with kids in the school. So, make sure that you are fulfilled as well.
LINDSAY: Absolutely. I think that’s a great point, too. What’s your end goal? Is it a great production? Or is it giving the kids the opportunity to learn some communication skills and just learning how to work with each other? What an awesome opportunity, in a very short period of time, to give some students some opportunity to have leaps and bounds on how they socially interact and how they emotionally interact. You know, if something goes awry, then they’ve got to deal with it and move on because time is running out.
ANGELA: Right, exactly. It’s a great thing.
Your play was awesome. I’m so glad we picked it. It made my job pleasurable, for sure. It’s a lovely piece.
LINDSAY: Thank you so much!
Well, that’s a great place to end on. My piece is lovely. No, no, no!
Thank you so much for talking with me and sharing this with me. I think it’s a lovely possibility for a lot of folks out there to take a moment and put on a play. I think it’s great.
Thank you so much!
ANGELA: Thank you, Lindsay! Take care!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Angela!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
If you’re listening to this and thinking, “Oh, that was a cool idea. Where can I find more cool ideas for my classroom?” or if you’re thinking, “I am fresh out of cool ideas! I have no more cool… there’s still three months of school left!” Let me help you out.
Let me direct you to the education arm of Theatrefolk – the education elbow – oh, that’s what I should call it. It’s not the education arm; it’s the education elbow of Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Academy.
DTA is a membership site just for drama teachers with PD courses, curriculum, we have two full-year curriculums, units, and individual lesson plans. The best part, I think – I think this is the cool factor – is our community resources. We have a Facebook group so that you can ask every question you have, share your struggles, find out that you are not alone in anything that you’re going through and we also offer professional learning community events on a monthly basis with a panel talking about everything from classroom management to theatre history to assessment.
You can find out more by visiting DramaTeacherAcademy.com or you can find the link in the show notes at Theatrefolk.com/episode200.
200 episodes – I love that.
Finally, where can you find this podcast? Go to Theatrefolk.com/podcast and there you’ll see we’re on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, and more. That’s Theatrefolk.com/podcast.
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.