SEP Theatre Writing & Theatre Course Journals– By Michaela Murphy

According to Daniel Pink, the author of the New York Times best-selling Drive, the 21st century, represents the triumph of our creative right brain skills over the more procedural thinking of our left brain.

SEP’s Theater Enrichment Course focuses on both creative performance and literary arts to develop skills that are characteristic of the brain’s right hemisphere: artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking. These skills have become first among equals in a whole range of business fields.

Students participate in hand-on exercises from basic scene writing to classic improvisation and are encouraged to evaluate their experience based on new discoveries, insights, and innovations. An emphasis is placed on the distinction between creative strategies that are best advanced through self-direction and those that yield positive outcomes when resolved as a collaborative group effort.

In addition to course-work, students experience a variety of performances—both live and online—and have opportunities to reflect on their experience both privately and with their peers.  The students also participate in exercises designed to emulate the themes, conflicts, and performance style to further enrich their understanding of the production.

The skills and insights gleaned through this enrichment course serve as a spring-board for transformational thinking and an academic life informed by the valuable creative abilities of empathy, storytelling, design, and an alignment of purpose.

Day One

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For our first class, the students were reminded of the impact that details had on the stories we worked on in the previous day’s writing workshop. To build on that experience, students were asked to fashion an imaginary object and to mime using that object while keeping their attention on the specific action of every movement.

We went around the circle with each student taking a turn while the rest of the group tried to guess what the object/action was.After each student went we discussed specific actions and how the quality of articulation made the object ‘appear.’

Next we went around the circle in pairs with one student ‘knowing’ what the object/action was while the partner had to act-as-if until it became apparent to them. As a group we discuss the knowing and not knowing and the moment when the object/action was revealed to the partner, the audience—sometimes one before the other.

The next exercise focused on storytelling—or telling a story as a group: one word-at-a-time.

One student began and we went around the circle several times as each student added a word to the narrative.

We paused to reflect on the experience and talked about how difficult it was to not have complete control of the story—how it was frustrating when one of the other participants did not take the story in the direction we were wanting the narrative to take.

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I suggested that we look at the rules of the game from a different perspective—what if we were to focus not only on where we individually wanted the story to go, but rather in making the story succeed: no matter what was said, or how off-base we judged another’s word choice—but to make the story stand-up?

We talked a bit about strategy and how if you are clinging to your own ‘great’ idea, it can be hard to remain open to other possibilities. One of the students pointed out that this would take team-work. We began the exercise again with immediate results—the most important being the shared success of a clever word choice ‘saving’ the story.

The students did exceptionally well with this exercise and were able to craft a compelling story one word-at-a-time, together.

The students were going to see a production of the Broadway play, Mary Poppins: so as a precursor, we discussed the merits of a live performance, and the various roles of the director, dance choreographer, actor, under-studies, swings, designers etc in bringing such a production to life. For our next class, we will further discuss their live-theater going experience.