Being Present in the Classroom

Have you ever looked out at your class and realized that a large percentage of your class isn’t engaged?  The reality is that sometimes what we have to do in our curriculum isn’t always interesting to our students today.  No matter our bells and whistles, our acrobatics, our attempts to make it fun, students won’t be engaged unless they are present.  This is a lesson for us all.  We must be present and truthful in everything we do in life.  We must acknowledge the fact there are things beyond our control that don’t allow us, or our students, to always be present, but it is an idea, a skill, that we should discuss in our classrooms.  Below is a video clip of Patsy Rodenburg discussing her “why.”  Although this is about theater, it is relevant to us all, teachers and students alike.  I have shown this video clip and discussed the idea of being present in drama classes, English classes, and with my drama club.  The ending is powerful and will leave your students thinking.

The Monologue

For actors, especially student actors, the monologue is a staple exercise.  Monologues are used as an exercise so that student actors, and I suppose actors in general, can build character development skills.  Monologues are often used as audition pieces as well.

When I teach the introduction to drama classes that I have developed, I always incorporate a monologue unit into the class.  I have developed two introductory drama classes.  One focuses on performance and the other has a bit more of a focus on creating and writing.

Photo taken and manipulated by Donna Hilbrandt.

In the performance focused class, I always have students prepare a monologue from my exhaustive pile of resources.  I urge them to read several and play with several before they choose the one they will perform.  This exploration process is important, as it exposes my students to several monologues instead of just one or two.  I set aside class time for this process so that homework time management doesn’t interfere with the process.

In the class that focuses more on writing, I have students choose a topic to focus on and then they write their own monologue.  Students in this class are always required to take the performance class as a prerequisite, so they have been exposed to many examples of monologues when they are finally challenged to write one.  We discuss length and structure.  I have students spend time working with peers for feedback as well.


Photo taken and manipulated by Donna Hilbrandt.

I also share with students my own writing.  I think it is important as an educator to model for students whenever possible.  I have one of my monologues published on my Hubpages site.  I may move it here in  the future, but for now you can read it by clicking here.   It is titled “What a Day!”  It is a depiction of the day in the life of a high school student.  Feel free to use this monologue as a class exercise or for performance.  

Writing for the Stage – A Reflection

Dug out of my files, I am sharing a piece here that I wrote in a college theatre class many years ago.  The questions posed at the end of the first paragraph make a great prompt for writing in a drama or theater classroom.  Enjoy!

Art is created in many forms: painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, theatre, and much more.  It is the creative work produced from craft, skill, and imagination.  The art of theatre can be broken into parts.  Acting, directing, playwriting, scene design, choreography, costume design, etc. are different types of art that come together to create the art of theatre.  I was in a discussion recently where the suggestion was made that theatre would not exist without a script.  The question was then posed: why do playwrights write plays?  What makes these artists create?

A play reflects life.  Many plays teach a lesson or moral value to a society.  Some support a cause, whether it is political or social.  Playwrights expose human nature, sometimes to the extreme.  They explore the mysteries of life.  A playwright creates an art that leaves an audience asking who are we and what are we doing here?

The question still stands:  why do they write? I don’t think there is a concrete answer.  Maybe they have something personal to share. Maybe they feel that they have an obligation to society.  I think that they do.  The late African writer, Chinua Achebe once said, “storytellers create history.”  They do.  In fact they shape our perceptions of history.  That is a powerful platform.  However it is a platform they share with all writers.

So why do they write plays instead of novels or poetry? I believe that for some it stems from a love of theatre and the challenge of writing a play.  It is difficult to write anything well. It is difficult to write for the theatre.  In a novel, the writer has room to create characters and their stories in an endless number of pages.  A playwright is more confined.  A playwright writes for the stage.  In a novel, characters can travel to a number of places.  In a play, the scene is often set in only one or a few places.  A novel can present the background of a character in detail.  This is more difficult to do in a play, and often the details of the background come through the performance.  An actor has to interpret the character’s past using character analysis.  Although it is difficult to write anything well, writing for the stage presents a unique challenge.  My guess is that most playwrights live for that challenge.

It is a unique art, as playwrights eventually give up their creation, the script, to directors, actors, and technical artists.  These artists give life to the playwright’s art.  The script translates into ideas in motion.  We can never really know what inspires others to produce their art, but we certainly can appreciate their art.