09 October 2008

North Pocono High: Day 4

This has been an incredibly physical day for us. I'd say it stands close to our rehearsal process for Legal Snarls for sheer continual physical work. (Though not even close to Silent Lives, for which we each became demi-gods of falling down, and from great heights.) In Shakespeare we worked on character archetypes, in P.E. we moved ahead into actual acrobalance instruction, which we continued into the acting class. Most exhausting, really, was the second gym class, for which we have somewhere from sixty to seventy students, the same class we had third period Monday. I could use a good, soothing cup of tea with lemon and honey. Fortunately, my only obligation tonight is dinner with Friend John Beck. I'll be sore in the morning, but not for lack of rest and placid recreation.

It was a fitful night of sleep for me, I confess. We were tackling a lot of new stuff today, and I suppose I was still riding out my left-over anxiety from yesterday's interruption. Heather and I allowed ourselves a slow internal warm-up in the process of getting coffee, getting there and getting into a constructive mental space. By the time our first class started filtering in, though, we had found ourselves again, and the class went great. Our sponsor there, Geri Featherby, happened to be there to observe, and wasn't disappointed by the physical characterizations we managed to coax out of that room full of teenagers. It's a lot of fun to explain to high schoolers that, yes, it's perfectly valid to try different things, to add their own interpretations to an ongoing cultural conversation. As we explained to them commedia tropes like the dottoring Dottore, full of hot air, and the greedy Pantalone's money-pouch placement (directly over his codpiece), they saw how free they were to interpret a character. Eventually we had a sort of runway demonstration of their contemporary takes on the archetypes. It was very funny, very original, very gratifying.

The P. E. classes were ones we had a lot of uncertainty about. How can we teach safe acrobalance to so many? You may recall that Friend Patrick and I had a similar class size at the KC/ACTF of 2007, but that was all college-age theatre enthusiasts. Here were we dealing not only with a mixed group of high-school ages, but ones who had neither heard of our work, nor had any immediate context for what we relatively strange persons were about to subject them. In acrobalance, there are inescapable challenges regarding trust. It seemed we had unintentionally set a similar challenge for ourselves and our students simply in proposing to teach them this skill. It went . . . great. Really. It did! My voice may be a little gravelly (read: extra sexy) for a week or more, but the students were attentive and interested and -- and this is really the best part -- daring. We just taught them an angel, the most core move of the style of acrobalance I learned, but that's plenty scary enough. And everyone had a go for at least one turn of basing, flying or spotting (potentially the most important position). Some tried more than one role. We had them in groups of four, created by first having them make a pair and then match themselves to another pair, which I strongly recommend. It saved time, and got people interacting as members of a team more immediately.

As I said above, the day ended with still more acro! This time with our theatre kids. We taught them a thigh stand (just to mix it up a bit), and I was reminded of how effective this work can be with ensemble-building. There are all different types in this class, and I suspect all different motivations for being there. In working on thigh stand, we did it all together, one pair at a time, with everyone else spotting in a tight circle. It was a great feeling. The pair was insulated by their peers, and in this way we managed to get some people to participate who might otherwise have quickly bowed out. I would have preferred that everyone try either flying or basing (a couple opted only to spot) but we had a majority anyway, and some tried both positions. At the end, there was a very good feeling of accomplishment in the class, which is something we've been struggling for most of the week with them.

Rest. Meatloaf (the food; not the music). Tiger Balm (TM). Tomorrow we close the show.

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