Making it Up as I Go. Sort Of.

Several months ago I had the idea that I wanted to lead a theater workshop at the local Housing Authority. Two months ago I talked to the lady in charge of the Housing Authority Community Center in order to ask permission to do this and to plan it. One month ago I began putting on the workshop. One week ago I finished the workshop.
This workshop was my first experience leading a theatrical workshop by myself, and going into it I didn’t even know how many kids of what age I would be dealing with. As it turned out, the numbers fluctuated from day to day- some days I had as many as ten or eleven, some days I only had five. There was also a very large variance in ages, from five year olds to high school freshmen. This made it difficult to orient the activities of the workshop towards one end of the age spectrum or the other without making it too complicated or too simple for others in the workshop. Basically, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Although I spent time preparing beforehand, I had to make up a lot of stuff as I went along merely because I didn’t know what I was going in to.
Most of what we did in the workshop was improv. There are many different ways to do improv, but the basic idea behind it is that you are using your imagination to come up with a story or reaction on the spot without being scripted. Depending upon the people doing the improv, this can either go very well or very poorly. If kids will not get out of their comfort zones improv can be very, very boring.
The first day of the workshop I stood up in front of the class of about ten kids and started telling them a little about theater and what it was about, ending by telling them about improv, how you did it, and that we were going to try to do some. As I spoke, there was very little audience response. “Great,” I thought. “This probably isn’t really going to work.”
Nevertheless, I gave a couple examples of some improv exercises and then called the kids up to try some. It started off slow, with quite a bit of chaos and chatter getting in the way, but once it started it went all right. The more we did it the better it got, climaxing when one girl, for no apparent reason burst into hysterical laughter, unable to stop, doubled up on the floor giggling uncontrollably. After that the productivity of the workshop of the day was pretty much over.
As we had more workshops, I was actually impressed with the imaginations of some of the kids. Small, shy kids no more than eight or nine years old stepped out with wild, imaginative ideas during the improvs. Admittedly, it often involved guns, cutting off someone’s head or running people over with a truck if it was a little boy, but their imaginations were working in interesting and unique ways. Every day we did improv exercises the kids got more involved and more creative with their improvisation.
Originally the workshop was to last the whole month of July, but it was cut short by week and a half for several reasons. The tentative plan was for the kids in the workshops to choose a well-know story or fair tale they would like to perform, I would write a script for it, and on the last day of the workshop thy would perform it. It was not until after we had chosen a play, I had written a script, and we had cast the play that it was determined that we would not actually be able to perform it. So instead of practicing and performing the play we filled the last days of the workshop with more improv. Even though we didn’t get to perform our play, I still think that the workshop was a success; the kids learned a lot and had fun and so did I. They learned how to improv theater, I learned how to improv leading a theater workshop.


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