The Curtain Folds

on Tuesday, 6 April 2010
For the past few lessons, I've been trying my best to bring out the actors and actresses in my students. To me, the inclusion of a drama component in our literature syllabus is by far the most interesting addition in our English subject. Better late than never I always say...

Here is what I've been doing and what I would suggest if you have students similar to mine. Their competency ranges from very weak to fairly average. They are a mixture of very passive and fairly active students. The only thing that they all have in common is the love of watching someone else screw up when doing their dramatisation.

You cannot expect them to read the dialogue, understand the dialogue, memorise it within a week, and then come up to the front and start hitting it off like Douglas Lim or Afdlin Shauki (I just love my local references). If experience has taught me well, I know that even good students will find it problematic to come up with a satisfactory performance within a few periods.

Which means, you have to stretch your drama preparation, dialogue comprehension, expressions and action training, and audibility training, into different lessons.

I felt that probably it wouldn't take too long to train students about audibility or dialogue comprehension but I was wrong (when will I stop assuming things?). You have to take your time with the students and make sure the whole drama performance is organised as though you were directing a Broadway show. Seriously...

... Broadway.

You'll have your own set of divas, the self-appointed directors, the underdogs, the creative writers and many other personalities that will either make your drama colourful or a total wreck. Even at this point, management is essential. No, no - it's all about class management.

Another thing to take note is time. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of giving my students time to prepare. Preparation is key. Planning is what that makes weak students more confident and gives them the courage to step forward to scream like a damsel in distress. The weaker your students, the more time you have to let them practice their lines and come up to the front for rehearsals. Remember, giving your students time to prepare and practice in class also means that you might look as if you're doing nothing as they are practicing in their groups.

NO! NO! NO! You might not be giving them anything but you are on the constant lookout about their progress, group dynamics, and to quickly step in if you feel that they are starting to lose direction and focus. Seriously, the more I give them freedom to practice their lines and rehearse, the more I have to step in to guide them and give them pointers to suit each individual performance.

It is time consuming and it could prove very frustrating when students do not generate the right results that you expect even after you've given them your supposed sufficient time. Once again, experience has taught me that time is relative when students of weaker competency are preparing. Their expressions are not as effective, their lines are not as well-read, and their entire dramatisation seems to be a wreck most of the time. You have to constantly provide your own comments and feedback even if it means taking up a lot of time... a lot of time.

One thing good about this whole preparation step is that the syllabus itself has already helped you. If you would want to give them a drama script before this year, you'd have to prepare it yourself. Not only would you have to prepare, modify, and distribute it to each student, you'd most probably give up after realising your dialogue isn't simple enough. The scripts now are already provided. ALL the students have it and it is compulsory to follow the script. This simplifies the preparation of the script and is extremely important in the teacher's perspective.

Weaker students find this very engaging and a well prepared script in the literature component is really an easy thing because they do not have to come up with their own lines and worry about grammatical errors. All they have to do is to remember the lines, what they mean, and give it their best to win the SMK version of a Grammy. I've witnessed very weak students finding this process very easy because they have the book with them at all times and can choose to memorise it repeatedly as though memorising algebra formulas to get the lines right. Hey, whatever works for each individual, I suppose.

As a result, I see good and encouraging practice of the English language in the classroom. Naturally, when they are memorising the lines, they are memorising the syntax of the language. Not only that, when forced to dialogue it out, everything about the spoken aspect of learning English comes to play. This might seem like a very simplistic memorise but don't comprehend and superficial way of learning to many people. You'll get skeptics trying to belittle this effort by saying:

"They're just saying it because it's their line... they don't even know what they are saying in the first place..."

... true.

Hey, before this, they weren't even trying to practice saying these lines.

1-0 to the students.


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