Overview: This is a work in progress - see progress here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iha0iTIE2zb7QBbdr_tR8nrbjYGm1wnrQ9rWDwwG5-k/edit?usp=sharing
“You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people.”
That was the headline for an article I came across the other day:
As a theatre-maker for 15 years, and now a teacher and administrator at an independent school in NYC, it’s heartbreaking to learn that this young person believes that great storytelling can’t include them. This got me thinking about how schools choose their drama programming - and their programming in general - which led me to this recent NPR post:
The most popular plays being produced in schools across the country are all written by white men, most of whom are dead. If we continue to tell the same stories to our students, from the same sort of playwrights, how can we possibly expect to teach our students about empathy/different perspectives? This is not to knock any of the titles on this list - they are all stage-worthy - but it seems to me as if drama departments aren’t asking themselves the important question: why does my school community need to see this particular play at this particular moment?
Introducing kids to the components of great storytelling: want, conflict, and change
All great stories in their essence are driven by these three components. When we teach kids about storytelling, we are also teaching them about what it means to be a human being. When kids start to tell stories using this structure, they start to think about the lenses that different people view the world.
Want: all good characters, like all real human beings, are complex. We all want something. These wants are the motivation behind our human behaviors.
Conflict: conflict is generated when a character runs into an obstacle that is keeping them from getting what they want. Will they find a way around that obstacle, or will it prove to be too much for them to tackle? Will another character help them to achieve their goal, or will they continue to put obstacles in their way? No matter what, watching characters struggle with this makes for compelling storytelling.It is also this struggle that is the essence of being human, and to teach kids to tell stories, we teach them to make sense of their own lives.
Change: How does your character adjust their perspective based on the outcome of their confrontation with the obstacle? Did they get what they wanted? Were they denied? Both are compelling.
How your character responds to the conflict will also tell you something about their motivations.
Framing the imaginative world for the students and having them generate the specifics of that world
Prototype - drafting process, iterative (write, rewrite, read aloud, rewrite some more, receive feedback)
Production - which starts a whole other iterative cycle - actors. Allow student to be the expert. Actors try to interpret the script and ask kids about motivations behind characters actions. Empowers kids because they’re in charge, adults have to defer to them, so they need to know the why.
Potential For Impact: (Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?) This is about transfer. Because playwriting and storytelling becomes a powerful tool in problem solving. After using the language of want, conflict, change in drama class and English class, kids suddenly start asking questions in other classes and in their lives.
Whether you as a playwright decide to have your characters achieve their wants, or have those dreams deferred, your characters, after grappling with that struggle, are changed by their interaction with the obstacle. With that new knowledge, they now see the world differently - even if all the struggle did was to confirm a suspicion they already held, their not getting their want this time has reinforced their position/increased their conviction. The characters that compel us to keep watching always shift in some way!
Value Prop/Pitch: (How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal? Etc)
How’d I get this idea off the ground?
Communicate and share resources FREELY.
How you can get started:
Go see a 52nd street show if you’re in NY http://www.52project.org/
Greylock Project in Williamstown, MA
Edgewood Project in New Haven, CT
Virginia Avenue Project in Los Angeles, CA
Materials to get this idea off the ground: