Musings about life, happiness, theater, and more.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Incorporating Videos

When I first began teaching, I knew I wanted to show Whose Line Is It Anyway to my intro classes as an example of quality improvisation. I used to think just showing the video was enough. That students would see the humor and understand what these professionals did that made it work so well. This year, I've realized that kids can totally check out while watching something and not analyze unless you ask them too. Not only that, before the video I need to tell them what they are looking for and then after the video discuss what we all saw. I've also changed when in the quarter we watch WLIIA. This has made a huge difference for the students. The show is no longer something funny that they feel wastes time, but it is a hugely enjoyable learning tool. What I wanted it to be all along, but wasn't clear on how to do.
Today, after we watched the episode, we had this incredible discussion where the students were telling me in academic theater vocabulary what they thought of the actors. Then we started a new improvisation game called "Freeze Tag Improv" that has never gone better. I need to remember to introduce it in this way in the future.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Next to Normal

Recently, the hubby and I saw the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Next to Normal. I don't want to give away the plot, but this is a very heavy musical. To say it is about a dysfunctional family is quite the understatement. Some topics of the play are mental disorders, family, and drugs. They ask the very deep and provocative question Which is worse - the treatment or the disease?
Alice Ripley, who played the mom, must have been sick because her singing voice was very unpleasant - loud, scratchy, and almost hungover sounding. She won the Tony for this role, so I'm assuming something was dreadfully wrong with her throat that night. There were times I couldn't even understand her. Wow. I just looked her up on Youtube, and her voice is amazing. Here is a clip from their performance at the 2009 Tony Awards:

What I find fascinating is everything I see calls this an "up-lifting" show. That's the opposite of what I would say! It was so depressing and heavy that even now weeks later, I feel emotionally moved by it.
I really loved the daughter and the son in the cast we saw. This was one of my favorite songs in the show:

Not much else to say because I truly don't want to give the plot away, but they must do something right if it's still weighing on my mind.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Teaching drama is challenging because creating a safe environment is even more important than in a core classroom. My 7th grade class did not start out feeling like a team. In fact, it was so bad I had to stop class multiple times for discussions about respect. Discussions that were productive, but definitely not fun.
Now, the class is one of the best I've ever had. The students are far more supportive of one another than any class I've had. They are genuine, funny, and kind.
It's so wonderful when the hard work and long discussions payoff. The results are a class we all look forward to each day. And hopefully, new solid friendships are being formed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Today I passed out scenes in my advanced drama class. I took into consideration what students told me they wanted to work on this semester when choosing their scenes and partners. Of course, some still complained! Like the girl who told me she wanted to work on memorizing a lot of lines complained that her scene "was too long!" What?! Why would she say that's what she wanted to work on, if then she actually didn't? Do students think teachers have them fill out getting to know you sheets for fun? Of course, I adjust and modify my class to make it work for them.
Most students were thrilled with their scenes and already looking into strong character choices. I was impressed with how one girl was reading between the lines on day one and already discovering what was truth about her character and what was false. Tomorrow we are going to start working on character study with a graphic organizer I found online and then changed to fit my students better. They seem excited to dig in and get to work!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tough Talk 2

We had a super productive rehearsal today. Things went really well. The student I had a tough talk with last week did an amazing job. I told her so on the way out, and her smile stretched across her entire face. Her reaction? "Oh good!" I'm so glad I remembered to say something about her great job today...I almost missed that wonderful moment for both of us!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Arts Funding

This is a great video about arts funding from The California Alliance for Arts Education.

Walking Unit

This is a unit I created to help students develop character. One thing middle schoolers forget, is that they don't only need to think about how their character speaks, but also how the character moves.
The students have a full week (including a weekend) to find an interesting walk. They have to see the person in person and can't know him/her at all. That means even someone on campus wouldn't work because the kids will know something about the person. During the week, we do some strange walks in class (walk like you just won the lottery, walk like you saw your dog get hit by a car, etc. Then we transition to walk with your nose leading. Who would walk like this? How does it feel? Take on a character who would walk like this, etc.) for about ten minutes a day.
On the day everyone has their walk, we spend most of class writing about the character they are developing. I have them create everything possible about this person. Where they live, their hobbies, their friends/family, what they do for a living, age, etc. For the last ten minutes of class, they walk around the classroom and get about a minute to interact with someone. They must have a conversation as their character, and they need to change their voices! They get about 8 conversations by the end of the period and they love this part of it.
The next day, I have their character sheets and put a quick rubric on the top (character, walk, voice). We talk about what I'm looking for and why. They are graded on how well they know their character and their consistency with the walk/voice. They get on stage one at a time and walk the entire time. Basically, they pace as their character. The student introduces him/herself as the character and then takes 5-7 questions from the class.
This week we are starting the next portion of this Unit. The students will randomly be called onto the stage to do a partner improv. I'll call on 2 kids to get on stage and remind us of their character. Then, I'll ask the class for a location, relationship, and conflict. It should be a lot of fun! I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Patty Verse

My friend Patty Jean has the most amazing blog called Life in the Patty Verse. She supports all of her friends and their endeavors, as well as connects the Los Angeles artist world. Her writing style is enjoyable and her Twitterings always leave me waiting for more. She is dear to all who are lucky enough to know her, and I highly recommend following her Patty Verses.

Long Weekends

We have tomorrow off, of course, for Presidents Day. There are some districts that have the whole week off - they call it Ski Week. Is it wrong that instead of feeling grateful for my long weekend, I want a whole week off too? I think it is. I need to change this attitude of mine and buckle down and get to business. In the next two days I have some grading to do and still need to choreograph two numbers for the musical. Why is it so hard to get work done on a long weekend? Seems like we should just take the time for pampering and fun, rather than use the time for work. Somehow, regular weekends don't give me that same feeling.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flash Mobs

Improv Everywhere is the best! They do all sorts of different things to cause scenes in major cities. To the right I have a video bar of the ImprovEverywhere Youtube channel. I think they are pure genius. Maybe you've seen this:

Each semester my students plan what we call their final, which is based on the Improv Everywhere idea. The kids create what they want to do and then we surprise the school at lunch in the quad. It has been a huge success and even made drama more popular of an elective at our school. The students have frozen, done a flash mob dance, had a dance off, done a soap opera, and more. I don't know what they will do this semester because we haven't begun talking about it yet, but I can't wait.
Here's our other favorite:


This is a delightful four day weekend! I feel like I should be motivated to work and get some stuff checked off the to do list. Instead, I find myself curled up on the sofa enjoying an America's Next Top Model marathon on Bravo! This is not the way to get my work done! But, it is a lovely way to enjoy a rainy Saturday morning.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tough Talks

As a drama teacher, I feel like I have many opportunities to have interactions with students that they will never forget. This is not a responsibility I take lightly, and sometimes it is not something I enjoy.
On Wednesday, I called a very talented student into my classroom to discuss her attitude during rehearsal. She is a bright kid who tends to have a negative demeanor. The musical we are doing is very upbeat and happy, but throughout rehearsals she always looks sullen and sometimes even angry. This means that I feel like I can't give her any major parts or even just a special moment in the show. When we had our conversation, I knew it would be difficult, but I had no idea she would cry! Luckily, her reaction was, "I had no idea. Now that I do, I can change it." I hope she does because after this talk I'd really like to give her a little more in the show.
When I was 12, a director yelled at me because I wouldn't stop fidgeting on stage when I was supposed to be still. I've never forgotten that moment. I know this was different because I had a private conversation with my student, but I still think this was one of those difficult moments that will stick with her forever.
Have you had any conversations with a teacher (or director) that have really stuck with you?

Inspiring Kid


Rehearsal for the school play is three times a week after school. It's just me and about 30 students working as hard as we can to put on the cutest show ever. My goal is that all the students have a good time and try their best. This past week we finished blocking all of Act One (it's a two act show)! It's interesting to me that middle schoolers are old enough to be creative and have so many awesome ideas, yet they need me to tell them every move to make on stage. They'll even ask the most basic questions about their character and I can see the frustration on their faces when I tell them, "It's your character! These are decisions you get to make while developing who your character is."
My first year, I didn't know that I would need to tell them every cross to make. I thought they would feel when to move. They would sense that in life they would walk away at that point, or that they'd been in one place too long. I thought I could say "Your group of 6 needs to clump downstage left." They don't know how to clump or make stage pictures! Now, I work on stage pictures in class with this activity I got from a great book by James Thomas Bailey.  Even still, many students in the school play do not take drama as an elective during the day, so they don't know about stage picture.
This year, I am writing every single move they make in my script before rehearsal. Then I tell them to do what their gut says. If their gut says nothing, then we go with my notes. If their gut says something, but it doesn't work, we go with my notes. It's a much better system and I think the kids feel much more comfortable working this way.
Next week we start Act Two which means this weekend there will be a lot of prepping for rehearsal. I also need to begin choreography. My goal is get two songs completed this week - two of the big group numbers - the opening and the finale. Let's hope it all goes well.
Directing is fascinating. I used to think I hated it, but really, I didn't know what I was doing. Now that I'm getting the hang of it, it's not so bad after all!

Getting Tenure

This is my third year teaching in a truly wonderful district at a school that is an absolute perfect fit. My supervisor tells me that next year should be my tenure year. It's frustrating because another teacher who started at the same time as me and has the same credential as me was moved to the tenure track this year. When I asked questions at the district office as to why she was moved and I wasn't, I was told someone made a mistake. That's fine, but the security of tenure sure would be nice. Not only that, but I am constantly taking on more roles at school. I am on the RTI team, I do literacy, I've added some lunch time activities, and am even a presenter at our staff meetings. These are all things I want to do, so don't want to sound like I'm complaining. The problem is that I'm the only teacher being asked to jump through these extra hoops to receive tenure. I'm noticing other teachers get permanent status and they only teach. My supervisor has decided that I need to be a leader at my school, that I need to do all sorts of extra-curricular activities, and even be a leader in terms of drama teachers in the district! This feels overwhelming and strange. I would think my focus right now should be on being the very best drama teacher I can be, so that when I do get tenure they know they've made the right decision. Am I looking at this all wrong?


This is not my first attempt at a blog. I decided to start a new one for many reasons. For one, I want to be able to be open and honest about my experiences in theater, as a teacher, and as a wife. It doesn't need to be followed by my school's community. I'll be creating a website for that!
Twitter really sparked my interest in creating a blog. There is such a strong community of arts educators and I feel like their blogs and sites are so helpful to me. Perhaps my experiences can benefit them too! Twitter is great, but sometimes I feel limited when trying to fit my thoughts into 140 characters. Here, I can write much more openly about what is going on.
I welcome comments. Feedback is a useful tool in life.
Welcome to Elle Bizzle's D-rama Blog! I hope you enjoy it!