Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Asian Shadow Puppetry

A few friends of mine tease me about my affinity for shadow puppetry. It probably stems from my short stint working at Open Eye Figure Theatre in Minneapolis, and the imagination of Michael Sommers and my other friends who performed there. But ever since I started my own career as a Drama teacher, I have found time in the year to incorporate teaching shadow puppetry. I have seen kindergarteners all the way to high school students design, develop and execute some very imaginative stories through the use of simple items like an old box, a flash light and cut out silhouettes.

At the end of the year, we as teachers scrounge for last minute lesson plans and projects that will fill up the remaining time of the school year sufficiently to keep students interested, but busy and calm! I got my 7th grade students started last week on the shadow puppetry project, but before I did, I showed them two examples of other cultures that have strong traditions of shadow puppetry in their storytelling.

Indian Shadow Puppetry
Chinese Shadow Puppetry

I then asked the students, "Why does this matter? What would be lost if no one preserved these stories and continued to performed shadow puppetry in other countries?" and of course, one of my snarkier 7th graders replied, 'it wouldn't matter.It's just for fun." And I let that sit for a few seconds until finally, and fortunately, one of my less snarky students replied, "because it is a big part of their culture!"  We then went on to have a short, but meaningful discussion about the craft and skill of performance that has been passed down through generations, how live performance strengthens us as sociable and courageous humans, and how the stories that were told before our smartphones need a way to be continued to be shared to help cultures survive and thrive. The outcome of making these connections, I believe, was a greater appreciation and understanding of why THEATER matters, and what the loss of performance would cost us as humanity.

I point out this lesson plan with 1 1/2 instructional days left of the year as evidence of theater being relevant in an international studies school. This argument has been a point of contention since I started my job this year, but an argument I have been hell-bent on proving is important! At a school that values language and the celebration and recognition of global perspectives, to leave out the arts would be to leave out an integral part of what those global cultures are made up of. Art is a universal language, therefore by providing it at this school for international studies, we are offering yet another language, which students may master and use to express themselves and communicate their ideas about the world they live in.

Luckily for me, throughout a series of stressful weeks and months with positions on the line and programs in contention, I made this argument this year at my school strong, and loud and clear. It has also helped led me to a greater mission of continuing to prove theater and drama's validity in not only all schools as an important piece of child development and learning, but specifically in a school with an international studies focus and mission.

So here's to a summer full of more investigation into teaching global theater, which will most definitely be inclusive of shadow puppetry, much to my friends' amusement.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teaching Improv Refresher

Was needing some more inspiration to teach improv to 7th graders today and I came across this awesome list from Second City.

Additionally, this great TED Talk:

As a sort of Second City alum, I love his 7 rules of Improv that he also connects to life! 

1. Play
2. Let Yourself Fail
3. Listen
4. Say Yes
5. Say And
6. Play the Game
7. Relax and Have Fun

Finally, and I always share this with my kids, this quote from Stephen Colbert: 

“Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.”
- Stephen Colbert in a commencement address 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Antigone Project

Next week I am beginning my thesis project with my students. We are going to read and study Sophocles' "Antigone" and then create our own adaptation of the play, highlighting our own themes and ideas about the underdog, about civil war, about courage and justice.

I came across the National Theatre's 2012 version and a bunch of awesome videos teaching about the play. These videos really sell a brilliant adaptation that I am really attracted to as a teacher, director, actor.

I want to know what else is out there though. I am afraid a lot of times as a teacher that what we show or speak to our students about is very biased based on our own taste and preferences. What other adaptations or sources for teaching "Antigone" do you know about out there in the drama world?

I will keep you posted on the blog about our progress, as well as another exciting project coming up with students in Kosovo.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Some inspiration on a snowy day

Sorry it's been so long! The whole teaching drama and being a graduate student for teaching drama caught up with me!

Lots has happened though. But sticking with the present, I came across this inspiring article today about a youth theatre in Chicago. Wishing I had the guts/resources/inspiration to make something like this happen. This is the type of theater I'd like to do with youth. How do I start?

I also took my high school students to see "black odyssey" the Denver Center for Performing Arts to kick off my semester-long project tying into Greek tragedy and adaptations to relevant themes and events. Here's a little snippet of an interview with the playwright, Marcus Gardley, who wrote a really brilliant and inspiring piece based off of Homer's Odyssey intertwined with an African American soldier returning home from the war in Afghanistan, suffering from PTSD.

Stay tuned to our progress on the "Antigone Project."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Huff Post Article Interview: Using Theater and Technology to Prevent Bullying

While in New York City this summer, my boyfriend and I spent time with his good friend who works for social media at SmartSign, a company in Brooklyn.We were talking about the use of technology in schools today, and how teachers must stay relevant in order to reach their students, and got to further talking about cyber-bullying and the efforts teachers can take to prevent it in schools. SmartSign ( created an anti-bullying and digital responsibility campaign, #TakeNoBullies ( He asked to interview me for an article he was working on, as he writes as a ghostwriter for a blogger on HuffPost - and today it was posted!

Check it out- Huffington Post Article and thanks @thebigmikemiles, for your help promoting my blog and teacher website!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Physical Theater on Broadway: "Peter and the Starcatcher"

My parents were in town this weekend for the long, Labor Day vacation, and I took them to the Denver Center for Performing Arts to see, "Peter and the Starcatcher." Maybe I missed the boat, but this was fantastic! I may be a bit biased, because I have a deep passion around the story of Peter Pan (wrote a 30+ page dramaturgical protocol on in last year for grad school) but it wasn't just the story that engaged me. The actors were on stage the entire time, doubling up the characters that they played with different items of the set, props, they used minimal other items to create the set as well, but truly using their bodies to transform and create the world of the play. I have never seen a "big name" Broadway touring show be so inventive, and physical with their acting.

I am beginning a week of movement and voice with my students tomorrow, and I am going to show them some of this little clip to give them a great example of improvisationally-based physical theater. It is refreshing to see that the Broadway venues are appreciating work that doesn't come to town with huge, elaborate sets and costumes, but returns back to the basic and most powerful tool of the actor, which in my opinion is the body. I am going to challenge my students to create with their bodies environments that live and change. Hopefully they grasp this concept, because I can't wait to see what they come up with!