This article was originally posted to blogspot on July 28, 2017
A young girl stands on a tiny platform under a spotlight and tearfully tells her classmates about the night that she held hands with her siblings in the bathroom of their home in Syria while the Russians bombed their street. A fourteen year old boy admits a vulnerability hiding under his swagger. A sometimes combative teen with a lot of talent recounts the sensation of her father's car flipping in an accident that took his life on the way to the birth of her sister. Two girls who previously had little interaction connect over similar stories about drug-addicted parents and coming to live with their grandmothers.
There are days when my classroom is pretty factual and practical. We learn to make scaled set drawings. We study the differences between Greek and Roman theater. We memorize lines by rote. And then there are the days when my class gets pretty emotional and almost therapeutic. We journal. We build box forts. We reveal something about ourselves like we did that day when we presented personal monologues.
Every student comes with a story, and that if you really want to see a miracle, give them the opportunity to tell that story.
Last year, wanting to do a little writing in my Theater I class, I introduced a personal monologue writing assignment. I gave students a prompt sheet with seven prompts and little other guidance. When these sheets were completed and turned-in, I replied to at least one prompt on every paper with a comment or question for further exploration. When I gave them back, I then announced what we were going to be doing for the next few weeks. But I didn't see the real magic I had sparked until performance day.
For the next few weeks, students wrote and revised personal monologues. I saw them; I read them; but static on the page I didn't realize how much impact the project that having on some of my students. All along the way I gave students the chance to back out if their topic was too difficult to talk about. Some students told charming stories of bones broken, backsides whooped, and candy stolen.
Katharsis was a term put forth famously by Aristotle in his incomplete treatise, Poetics. A Katharsis is a purgation of emotions, and it was seen by the Ancient Greeks as an essential part of the theater. Some of my students didn't need to spill their guts on stage. But for a few extremely brave kids, this day that one student fondly dubbed "Cry-Fest 2017" was exactly what they needed, whether they were bearing their soul on stage or simply receiving it from the audience.
So what am I proposing? Why are you reading this? This was one of the best days of my teaching career, and I hope to bottle lightning and recreate it for years to come. I'm inviting you, as a teacher, to remember that every student comes with a story, and that if you really want to see a miracle, give them the opportunity to tell that story. Just make sure you wear waterproof mascara.
Get the project here:
Amy is a drama teacher with an M.Ed. in Secondary Education, ELA, teaching in the suburbs of Birmingham, AL.