On working with actors

Last week as part of the video study group I participate in Carla presented a video that featured some student generated stories.  The particular clip we saw was very well done and featured a mix between Carla’s expressive narration and some top-rate acting.

While watching I was extremely impressed with what Carla was doing with her actors, and want to share a couple of my notes along those lines of what I saw her doing.

  • Carla really came across more as a master of ceremonies than a teacher during this.  She had great voice expressions that tipped off the appropriate emotions and it was easy for her actors to follow her lead.
  • Carla circled well in asking various things (decorate the room for the birthday party or the dog?) The class off camera followed along very well.
  • Carla consciously used Jody’s idea of a “Special Chair” to great effect.   She had a nice high stool with a back that she plopped her main actor in before they got going.  As long as that actor sat in the chair, she co-negotiated the scene with Carla.  Carla allowed her to pick people who would work with her in the skit and interviewed the actor in character to set the stage for the actions.  As a result, the feeling wasn’t “Gee I got called up, now what should I do” (which I often get) but rather served as a nice warm up for the action that drew focus toward the character.

A lot of our conversation rotated around unpacking what Carla did to get such superb acting, and really it came down to Carla being very clear with expectations and really making it a negotiated interactive process with the actors.  In the course of our conversation we talked about various alternatives to actors, particularly with visuals.

In cases where actors aren’t working or not very practical (as with one teacher who teaches over iTV and has students at multiple sites) we talked about bringing in drawings and visuals to fill the void.  In such cases, having document cameras to show student drawings or live drawings in real time turn out to be huge life savers.  Afterwards I remembered somebody on Ben’s blog talking about having some posable action figures in his room that he let students draw backgrounds for; he used those action figures basically as his actors and got great student attention as a result.

One particular idea that Carla had that we’re going to investigate further is working together to create a group wiki on possible PQA for common phrases.  If several people work together on building a ready-access library of ways to really personalize and make meaning for basic words, that all-important step will get that much easier.

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