North Pocono High: Day 3

Today was, in many ways, unexpected. We ended up teaching two-and-a-half classes today, because just as we were ready to start the second period, the school went into a lock-down. I was confused by this; I'd never heard the term before. For those of you who haven't spent a lot of time around a high school in recent history, a lock-down is a sort of policy enacted in the interests of the students' safety in a time of crisis, or investigation. On notice, everyone goes into their respective classrooms and lock the doors. Well, one of these got timed for today in such a way that we missed out on teaching second-period Phys. Ed. class. To be fair, the announcement apparently informed people that they could continue teaching (it seemed it was simply for a drug check; they brought in drug-sniffing dogs), but they don't get all the announcements in the gymnasium and so we spent over an hour sitting, silent, instead. It's a good practice, given what can happen in a school these days. I was completely unaware of it prior to today.

Before all that, though, we had a great Shakespeare class in the auditorium. Our emphasis today was on the improvisation tenet, "When in doubt, breathe out," and we worked with the students on diaphragmatic breathing, enunciation and diction, and projection. I've been using horse stance to encourage the students to have a strong base for their breath, and they kind of hate it, but in a good, collective groan kind of way. It's working; they're really learning to relax the parts of their bodies they're not using, to ground themselves and deliver powerful voice from the diaphragm. After breathing drills and vocal warm-ups, we ran them through a diction drill, using:

"To sit in solemn silence
on a dull, dark dock,
in a pestilential prison
with a life-long lock,
awaiting the sensation
of a short, sharp shock
from a cheap and chippy chopper
on a big black block."

Then we practiced as a group throwing our voices to the back corner of the auditorium and delivering dialogue with power, before taking individuals up on stage with a line from their scene work and working them through clarity and intention in delivery. Heather and I would take turns coaching the student on stage and standing at the rear of the space, checking for clarity and projection. It was continued good work from this early group. Sadly, time got away from us again and we didn't get to everyone, but we made sure the rest of the class paid attention and practiced good audience habits. Hopefully some of what we do will stick, and they'll continue a practice. Tomorrow we plan to explore the use of character archetypes in Shakespeare (which I'm very much looking forward to), and we'll be back in the auditorium Friday to pull it all together.

Our one gym class was abbreviated to just barely a half an hour, so we kept the freshmen and sophomores in their street clothes and sped them through stretching and the most basic partner balances. Everyone was fairly hyperactive after the excitement/anxiety of the lock-down, but we managed to come together by the end of the half-period, and circle push-ups are always good for a bonding experience. We've ended every class thus far with this conditioning exercise. The way it works is that you have everyone in a circle (a rather large circle in our case) and put them in the "up" position of a push-up. When you tell them they only have to do one push-up, they relax a bit. When you tell them we're doing them one-at-a-time, and everyone must stay in the "up" position until we're through, they groan, but don't quite grasp just how hard they'll be working by the end. As it progresses, the energy builds, people moan and groan, but they're enduring together, so that by the end you can give them a choice: to keep it up, or join you in a set of ten or twenty push-ups more. Maybe this seems like torture to you, Gentle Reader? I can only say that, if you're there, you feel the camaraderie afterwards.

In our last class of the day, we revisited improvisation and set some new challenges for the students. We began with more team-building games -- group counting again, and blob tag. After a quick review of the improvisation principles, we set the students to two games: What Are You Doing? and Sit, Stand, Lie. In doing these, we asked them to remember to respond with a "Yes, and" attitude, and all that good stuff. WAYD is good for getting students to react impulsively, and rely on one another for their actions, and SSL reminds the participants that they need to pay close attention to one another if they hope to build a story together. The interesting thing about game play in this context is trying to keep the emphasis more on teamwork, less on competition. The games tend to teach themselves in this regard; they work better when people are working together. However, more inexperienced improvisers need encouragement to leave their safety zones, to trust their scene partners more and more . . . and still more. It was difficult to invite this observation in such a short time, but that's just the nature of a school day. If we get one thing across in our remaining days in this class, I'd like it to be a priority for fostering trust, for creating ensemble. Tomorrow we'll tackle this by way of acrobalance work. The physical can often be a quicker teacher than the conceptual.
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