Creative Drama activities have as their goal the participation and the experiences of the students. We do not look to develop a performance piece of any kind, but rather seek to enhance the children’s confidence, imagination and empathy by allowing them the freedom to take on roles in play that they may otherwise have no experience with. We may do this by inviting the children to act out a favorite story or nursery rhyme. We might play music or read poetry and welcome the children to move through the sounds they hear, and then express physically and vocally to us what they found in their experience.
If there is a conflict in the class, creative drama is tool we can use towards a resolution. Whether we are directly approaching the issue at hand and speaking to the children openly about the problem we want to solve, or we feel it is better to be more subtle in our exploration of the conflict with them, the improvisational experiences inspired by the situation will hopefully bring about new understanding in the young minds and hearts we are trying to reach.
In addition, with the relaxation of the need to prepare for performance, children participating in creative drama are treated to a more comfortable experience altogether. A child who prefers to sit on the sidelines and watch maybe allowed to do so until such time as their comfort level with the activity increases. Also, children who excel in this type of activity can find leadership experiences here in an atmosphere that, by its very nature, is non-threatening for everybody. We may begin the activity with one goal in mind, and then following the excited inspirations of our students can let the activity play out in an entirely different way, not only learning more about the children and their imaginations in the process, but enjoying the all too rare occasion to relax our hold on the moment at hand a little, and just “see what happens.”
Creative Drama experiences provide many opportunities for enjoyable, relaxed play centered around the needs and strengths of the children involved. Without attention to a performance piece as the goal, children are more likely to let themselves go, to open up, and to build up their toolbox of collaborative skills. What better way to encourage creativity and fun while at the same time leading our students toward a better understanding of themselves, and of the people around them, and of the world we all live in.
In my work with our youngest students, I have found that story adaptation provides the perfect opportunity for primary students to develop confidence and pride in their work while allowing the nurturing environment necessary for these young ones to flourish.
We begin our project with a beloved story, and using a beautifully illustrated edition adds to the delight int heir eyes when I bring out the book for the first time. Janelle Cannon’s Stellaluna – about a little fruit bat who becomes separated from her dear mama and ends up plopping into a nest of silly, talkative baby birds where she learns to eat – gulp – bugs and sleep at night in order to be accepted by the mama bird – has to be my absolute first choice. Before we start, I remind them to listen to the story and try to imagine how we can go about acting it out. What sounds happen in the story that we can make together? Is the wind blowing? Is there a rain storm? What do you think the costumes will be like? The little faces are almost always wide eyed with attention as I open the book and begin to read.
The first time I read the book, I almost aways go right through without stopping, allowing the children to become lost in the experience without interruption. Then I will almost always go back to the beginning and read more slowly, stopping as I go along to ask questions and listen for comments and ideas for how we might “stage” our little presentation. Then comes time to choose the role each child will play.
Ahem. The part choosing can be quite traumatic for the little group! Once in a great while there have been classes where the heavens smile on us and the children’s choices for roles work out perfectly. More often than not, this is not the case and I have 11 plaintiff faces pleading to play the part of Stellaluna. We have solved this problem over the years with the age-old method of picking names out of a hat. It is amazing how well ritualized fairness goes over with most 5 to 7-year-olds!
With casting completed, we begin the process of staging our little show. This may take several class periods as we start and stop a lot. I try to always leave enough time at the end of a session that we can go back and do what we have worked on that day again.
This goes a long way toward setting the blocking in the minds of the little actors, who may not see this part of the story again for a few days. I focus on the storytelling and do not become overly concerned with acting technique, though I am always reinforcing the need to “turn toward us,” ”louder please,” ” don’t fuss with your costume,” and the one I am sure I am known for throughout the land, ” hands out of your pockets, please.” It is very hard to create a convincing portrayal of a fruit bat with your hands in your pockets!
When the big day comes and we are blessed with too many parent and friend spectators than will ever fit into our classroom comfortably, and even if the littlest one in the class refuses to go on and has to have her mommy shadow her onstage, I am always touched to see the pride and exhilaration on the faces of the little actors. They may not remember what they are supposed to say, or where they are supposed to walk – indeed in this venue I am happy to cue them and even stop the action to remind them where they are supposed to be standing – but they have learned much about collaboration, about listening and about concentration. And, perhaps most sweetly of all, they have learned that they can tell a story with their faces and their bodies and their voices, and that the people who love them think that is so important that they will miss work, cart along wiggly toddler siblings and summon the neighbors to come and sit in child size chairs for a half an hour, just to see them do it.