Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rainbow Performances/Process-Based Learning Through Performance - Thor’s Victory

Playground politics certainly influence the way that children interact with each other once they’re back in the classroom, and as the boys in particular had had real trouble trying to establish fair rules of play, it was no surprise that two groups quickly formed to think about how to create a Thor performance.  The two boys who perpetually seemed at loggerheads with one another diverged to take on leadership of their respective groups…but interestingly enough, two boys who were relatively reticent during previous project work came to life when given a new mode of expression.  N.S. and R. came into their own with this new line of work – eagerly sharing their background knowledge on Thor and offering up rapid-fire creative ideas to help string their group’s collaborative story along.  Group #1 (W, R, J, N.S.) went straight to work, and a torrent of ideas and characters were discussed with great energy.

Meanwhile, Group #2 ( I, C, and G) discussed parallel plans on their own, with equal excitement but much more restraint.  This group in particular seemed to need some space to themselves, apart from the other boys, to process their ideas and think through narrative separately.  As the educator/"guide on the side," it was interesting to see the two groups hold fast to their independent projects, and yet observe that they both were closing in on the same creative narrative.  After generating ideas, the boys were tasked to use a sequence organizer to help storyboard their tales – first, drawing the story frame by frame, and then giving their dictation.  Later, we would analyze them to see what commonality we could find.

[above] C's storyboard:  The Story of A Rainbow:  1) Thor is in Asgard. He sees a present.  2) He says thank you to his father Odin.  3) He is making the rainbow with the special powers in his hammer.  It's the only way he can join the Avengers.  4) He's going across the rainbow to Earth to help people.  5) An ice giant was in the way and he fought him. It was trying to destroy the castle.  6) Asgard is safe.

[above] W's storyboard and storyboard picture:  Thor: Attack of the Ice [Giant]: 1) Thor is taking a walk in the snow.  2) He sees the ice giant.  3) He punches him and then he runs.  Then he punches him in the back of the head and he dies.  4) The rainbow god gives Thor the hammer.  It shines the rainbow into the hammer.  5/6) Whenever something bad happens, the rainbow comes out of the hammer and tells him what is going to happen.

Once the storyboards were shared within each group, almost all of the boys were ready to dive into making the props and costumes they thought that they would need. We held the children to the work of creating and refining their stories before proceeding on that front (much to their initial disappointment).  First, they would have to come to consensus on a plot and decide which character they might want to play.  Thankfully, this went well, without any resentment or disappointment.  It seemed as if, in formulating their individual stories, each child had already envisioned what character they themselves might  play.  

After taking both group's story dictations home to type up, the similarities between the two groups were striking.  It may not have been possible for them to see that they had similar ideas to start with - when they first divided into their groups, there were still hard feelings among several of them.  Allowing them to work separately gave them the space to come to their thinking on their own, without intervening politics and the attendant emotions.  Now it would be a challenge to see if they could listen to each other's versions of the Thor story and consider working together. Each group's collaborative story was read aloud to the boys.  They themselves quickly realized how similar the stories were.  We discussed what was similar and what was different:

Similarities:  The action takes place between Asgard (the world of Thor and the gods) and Midgard (Earth); someone gives Thor the hammer; there are ice giants who want Thor's hammer; a rainbow bridge between the worlds is created with the hammer; there is a fight, and Thor wins.

Differences:  The battle scenes were a little different; in one story, the hammer shoots rainbows, while in the other, the hammer actually talks to Thor.

Both groups were overly focused on the battle scene, so it was important to remind them that the story they were trying to tell should primarily reflect what they had been learning about rainbows, in our experiments and in thinking about the role the rainbow played in mythology.  In the end, they agreed to blend both of their stories together and work together on a play - and they agreed on a title, Thor's Victory.  It was incredibly rewarding to see them come to this of their own volition, and they became far more invested in the work of the group.  We could then take it to the next stage - developing character.  Democratically, the children asked for the roles they wanted, and if there was no disagreement, they got what they wanted.  In the two instances where there was some competition, it went to a vote...and thankfully, there were no hard feelings.  

Character sketches: 
C:  God Soldier

I:  God Soldier

W:  Thor
J:  Loki/Voice of the Rainbow
G: Ice Giant
R:  Ice Giant
N.S.:  Hammer Guy
With the whole class, we discussed the importance of using emotion and physicality to tell their respective stories -- that costumes, lines, and props cannot tell the story alone in performance pieces.  Everyone in the class was invited to think more deeply about how their character might express emotion, what dialogue would be important to incorporate to reflect their character's personality and motivation, and how they might use their bodies to inhabit the space of the stage.  

N's "Hammer Guy"
The many faces of G's ice giant

Above:  Early stages were very silly, especially when staging the fight scene between Thor and his god soldiers and the ice giants - J. interjects, telling them that they should remember it should primarily be a story about a rainbow, not just a battle 

Above:  J. is the voice of the rainbow - he decides to hide behind the door to the hallway as the children discuss what the rainbow will do in the play.

Above:  Trying to figure out the staging...
Once lines were settled upon, it was time to give them an initial read through, and then give each other feedback.  This was a process repeated many times until everyone felt satisfied with their work.  Later, when props were made and introduced, they again ran through their performance.

Below:  First line run through - it is hard to remember when to say your lines!

Below:  Running lines again in our actor's studio - soon they would present their performance to the class for a real run-through and solicit feedback from their peers.

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