Monday, February 21, 2011

Kelly Hunter's Tempest Workshop

Recently Aspirations, the autism support group I work with here in Columbus, hosted Kelly Hunter to give a workshop on acting. Kelly Hunter is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and specializes in using theater to work with autistic children. (A later search revealed that she also guest starred in an episode of Doctor Who. I will leave it up to my readers to judge for themselves as to the relative importance of the two.)   

Ms. Hunter pulled off one of the most incredible teaching sessions I have ever seen. Beyond anything she can do for children, her performance was worth it simply as an exercise in teaching. She presented Shakespeare's The Tempest to a room full of parents and children and some were more interested than others. Not using the text of the play, she had everyone group up in a series of exercises to follow the various characters. For example there was an exercise with Miranda teaching Caliban to speak and Caliban becoming a little "too friendly" with Miranda. (In the play Caliban actually tries to rape Miranda in order to produce "little Calibans.") My Caliban was inspired by Gollum in Lord of the Rings. And then there was Ariel leading Ferdinand to Miranda and the two seeing each other with "new eyes." This is followed by Prospero's objection. My Prospero was based on Sean Connery.

Such a method of teaching avoids the trap of lecturing to people, of forcing them to simply memorize information and instead invites them into the process to take it on their own terms and make it their own. Furthermore this method plays to all three varieties of learning styles, auditory, visual and above all kinetic.

Inspired by this, I attempted to apply some of these ideas in my History 111 class the next day by asking students to group up and role play two different figures from different time periods that we had been discussing, Cicero and Giordano Bruno, and have them talk to each other. The students did not take well to this exercise and I was told that they much preferred being lectured at. Well you cannot win all your battles, but I am not going to give up on more theatrical history classes.    


1 comment:

Clarissa said...

It might help if you play act first, and in a very funny way to make them feel more relaxed and more eager to try play acting first.

By the nature of what I do, I have to use play acting in the classroom in almost every single class. It's a struggle at first because I need to put students in a playful mood by making an idiot out of myself first. Then they feel less intimidated.