Managing the unexpected Drama class

The last few months I have been working as a freelance artists teaching in all types of places all over the world. On my travels I have encountered some rather unexpected circumstances, ones where I had been told one thing in advance, but encountered another. The other day I was recounting some of these events to a friend and she said “You must write this down, people will want to know how you did it!”. So, this blog will explain how I dealt with the unexpected. I thought this would be helpful for you, and for your students when they start to run workshops or devise with others, as it outlines some key skills about leadership and collaboration.

To follow is one of my recent experiences. The next blog will look at a completely different challenge.

The class of 96 students 

When working in a school recently I was told I would be running an afternoon session of 2.5 hours with Grade 5. In advance I asked how many there would be (about 40) and how much Drama experience they had had (none), so that I could go in prepared for this long session. I congratulate the school on making the decision to expose these students to such a lengthy session for their first Drama experience, and set about planning how I could make it as rewarding and productive as possible for all. When the moment arrived to teach the class I moved into the huge hall, where the class would take place, and started to set up the projector (thought I would show them some Greek theatre stuff at some point to tie in with use of space and chorus work) and make sure I had the necessary handouts (a simplified section of ‘Prometheus Bound’). The students then started to arrive, and kept coming. As the students entered the class teachers made a rapid exit, leaving me with 96 students and a couple of teachers sitting on their laptops at the back of the room.

After being introduced I threw my lesson plan out of the window and had to think very quickly with nearly a hundred eager, nervous, confused and bemused faces staring at me. It was now time to draw on all my experience and training as a Primary teacher, HS teacher, teacher trainer and English Language teacher. This is what I did:

  1. Did some practical work to get them used to following commands – both visual and auditory
  2. Did some practical work to see how quickly they could get into groups and then also to see how they worked together
  3. Did further exercises to judge their listening skills – to me and each other
  4. During all these exercises I looked out for the following students: the leaders, the ones that were clearly following the instructions and understood, the wild cards that would need taming, and the ones that were clearly not getting it yet or were shy.
  5. I then proceeded to run the first half of the session being very teacher centred, with short exercises to build skills and group work
  6. I put the students into groups where each one had a leader, and a mixture of the students I identified earlier
  7. I gave simple tasks that focused on movement, stillness, some collaboration, sequencing, listening and some simple speaking
  8. We shared strong work and I asked for volunteers to share each stage of the process
  9. I gave them several short breaks so that I could gather the group together as one to give new instructions. This allowed for group focus and a feeling of community.
  10. When sharing their final work (a short presentation using entrances, exits, stillness, character, group movement and audience awareness) I only gave positive feedback and strongly praised all work that met the requirements. Students also gave feedback on the things that they found effective in other groups about working together.

It was a shame that the teachers were not there to see the process unfold, as I am sure that very few of them will ever get the opportunity to teach such a large class. For me if was a lovely challenge that I was more than willing to rise too, and, in a way, I was glad that I did not know in advance there were going to be so many. Sometimes thinking on your feet (if you have the skills, ideas and experience to draw on) can be best.

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