Thursday, November 30, 2017

Process v.s. Product while in Residence

I truly hate doing short residencies that are meant to end up in a performance.

This is not the case if I am brought in to work with a group of kids who are already planning to present something. In a general classroom setting with a myriad of different kinds of kids...I don't enjoy it.

For a small number of kids, being on stage will be one of the most amazing things in the world, and perhaps they will get bitten by the performance bug, and someday they will be on Access Hollywood talking about that artist that came to their rural elementary school and opened their world...

Then there are the children who will freak out about it...

These are the children who will hate the performance with a red hot hatred. These are the children who are so shy they can barely open their mouths in front of their peers, and this forced performance will absolutely confirm every fear they've ever had about being on stage.

This is the person you encounter on line in the grocery store who will tell you that they were forced to get up in front of everyone, and that was the moment when they realized they had no talent and would never, ever, ever want to be on stage again.

The bulk of the children will fall in the middle of the spectrum.

As a born ham, I never had trouble speaking to anyone anywhere. I didn't really get shy kids when I was younger. I didn't grow up in a family with any, and most of my friends were anything but. That doesn't mean I didn't know some...I just didn't get them.

I took them at their word that they were scared to speak, but I didn't get it.
I remember well parents who found their shy kids embarrassing, and they attempted to force them to get over it.

This idea that if you just showed shy people that they had nothing to fear they would come out of their shy shells and be like everyone else is a myth that got picked up somewhere, and it is often used to scar shy children. 

Some grow out of being shy, and others never do. That is just how it is.

Recently, I met sixty-one absolutely marvelous third graders. We played story games, language games, and did a short skit at the end of the week.

In small groups, these kids did really well. When we did tableau work, and they had to stand before their peers, but  didn't have to say anything, they were fabulous. Then, we had our first speaking work.

Despite having ample time to practice their little skits that lasted only about thirty seconds, I had an entire class where none of the four groups could get all the way through the skit. Once they were standing in front of their peers, they just stared at them and went silent. The lines they were able to recall as long as they were in small group slipped away, and they couldn't even remember what they were supposed to do.

In the other classes, we had a variety of outcomes.

One little boy couldn't manage anything but giggling. He was a guard without any lines at all, and he giggled all the way through the five line skit they created.

One group had five kids, and only two of them were willing to say anything.

We had people who, while they were working with their group, couldn't seem to find their way, but when they were standing up in front of the group, they turned into forceful performers, and took everyone by surprise...including themselves.

Several other kids absolutely bloomed and had amazing characters that every single person in class enjoyed. We laughed and loved their wild characters, but they were the exception to the rule.

I bring all of this up because when we originally conceived this residency, I explained that what I was going for was working on communication and interpersonal skills. The district was excited about that. I explained how I would be doing that, and they were very excited. Then, they added an extra two days and asked if the kids could do a performance.

They didn't bother to tell me they wanted one until I showed up and got the schedule.

On our first day together, Monday, I did performances for the whole school.

After the show, the director realized I was not anxious to have the kids do a performance. He asked why, and I explained that if we were going to do a performance, then we would need to work all week doing that, but I only had each class 4 times for 45 minutes a day.

That would mean that in four 45 minute sessions I would have to get over sixty kids ready to stand in front of their peers and possibly the parents or other members of the school to do some storytelling.

I explained that we might be able to produce some semblance of storytelling, but we would not be able to focus on the slow, deliberate work of learning some of the basic skills that could be carried over into other areas of their lives. I also suggested we could do an exhibition where we showed the other kids and their parents what we had been doing all week.

In the end, we agreed to focus on small group and communication skills, and not sweat the "performance".

I have done some storytelling residencies that culminated in performance, but those usually require multiple hours each day with the same group of kids, or more than just a few contacts, and we go through a very particular process to reach our goal. It is much more geared to working for an audience, not small groups to learning how to better communicate with peers. That could be a side effect of the work, but it is not the main thrust.

All of the kids in those intensives are successful, and I work hard to bring each kid to a place where they feel comfortable. Any kid who doesn't think they can do it, I work with...however, I don't force kids onto the stage.

I will always choose process over performance if I can, because learning the process is like teaching the kid to fish. If they understand the process, they can apply it to many different circumstances, including getting up on stage someday if they wish.

We all progress from stage to stage at our own pace. Forcing square pegs into round holes is never a good fit.

Some people adore the performance aspect, and couldn't imagine not having a presentation.

As an artist teacher, stay true to what you do, articulate it as well as you can, and help your charges succeed...wherever they are.

Happy Teaching and Telling!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Time Management In An Olio: Tips For Not Being A Clock Hog

Pro Tip!

If you are part of an olio, and you are told you have seven minutes...DON'T TELL FOR MORE THAN SEVEN MINUTES!

That is easy enough to say, but it is not always easy to do, you say? Well, have no fear, here is a blog post to help.

When people organize events, they want them to run as smoothly as possible. They don't want to be too off time. If you run ten or fifteen minutes (heaven's above) beyond the time you are supposed to use, then you crunch everyone else, and you stress out the organizers.

I am not the only one who starts rethinking their stories as they realize someone in the line-up has just decided time be damned and is going on and on and on.

So, how can you make sure that you are not committing this truly abominable sin? Here are some suggestions.

1) Do not tell a story that requires a great deal of ad lib. 

As soon as you start adding to the tale, if you get lots of audience response, it might be hard for you to move through the story. I have seen any number of tellers who get lost in their own work, and blow right through their time. In fact, if you have some kind of really hard deadline like ten minutes or less, don't ad lib at all unless your story is only four or five minutes long, or you have an amazing interior timekeeper and can get back on track.

2) Know your story VERY well.

If you are in an olio where you need to keep time so everyone gets their allotted time, Do Not choose this moment to tell a tale you have never told before, and aren't sure how long it will last. Want to make sure you blow right through your time?...wing it. Having a great idea of how long the story will take is your best ally in not infuriating your fellow performers.

3) If you know the story normally takes thirty minutes...don't try to tell it in seven!

Unless you have successfully managed to tell this story in the allotted time, don't break it out and see whether or not it works when there are five other people counting on you to give them their space to perform.

4) Be honest with yourself about your inner timekeeper.

Your inner timekeeper gives you a heads up about when you are getting close to time. My inner timekeeper is really good with stories I know well and have told hundreds of times, but it is less good when I am working with an unfamiliar story. In that situation, I set a timer. There is no shame in setting an alarm to make sure you don't tell a twenty minute story when you are only supposed to tell a twelve minute one.

5) if you think you might need an external time keeper...arrange for a signal with someone in the audience.

You can always ask someone to give you a sign when you have two minutes left. This is usually enough time to wrap up whatever you are doing and come to a conclusion of some kind.

Don't get a reputation for blowing through your time. It will follow you.

Good luck out there as we come into the cold part of the year.

Happy Being A Considerate Teller!