Exercises for Teachers

Essay Workshop  

Below is an outline of a short Creative Session run for teachers, artists and pupils commissionedby Bright Space in Birmingham as part of a two day training program. The intention was to spreada lot of ideas around and leave teachers to draw on those which they felt might be useful in theclassroom.

Warm Up

In a circle someone is ‘it’ they call someone’s name as they walk towards them across the circleand take their place. The person whose name as been called enters the circle and repeats the process. Stay alert so as not to be bumped into.

The same excercise but with eye contact replacing name calling. Multiple exchanges start so eveyone has to be very clear and focused with their eye contact and alert to people walking towards them.

An advanced version of this exercise is introduced with a point added to the journey across the circle. The person pointed at walks around the outside of the circle giving someone a gentle push in the back in order to step into their place in the circle. Those pushed in the back cross the circle to take an empty space.

The group of thirty was split with an eye to a mix of occupations but without concern for people’s interests or skills into groups of equal numbers. Each was given a slip of paper with instructions printed on it and any equipment they required. After between thirty and fourty minutes all groups came together to share their instructions and what they had created from those instuctions.

Exercise 1: Photographs.

Take these achitect’s model people and the digital camera out of this room. Look at Birmingham Rep from the miniature perspective of these people so the whole building turns into a land of adventure and extraordinary scale. Carefully place the figures in dramatic settings and photograph them there (remove the figures once they have been photographed).

We first used this exercise, a method for helping people look at the world around them in an new way with St. Alban’s School in 2006.

Here are the shots this group took.

Exercise 2: Drama.

Move out into the corridor. Act out a strange disaster movie in which the building has been turned 90 degrees, so the floor is now a vertical wall. Move to the right end of the corridor then fashion your ‘escape’ through the lift by climbing up the fixtures and fittings.

Here we generate material by just changing one rule about the staging. It’s fun to change the rules by which the world operate and see what the consquences are. Often we like to leave the audience to catch up with the rule changes in their own time.

Exercise 3: Phrase Book Language.

Using only language found in these phrasebooks, create a dramatic scene in which two people declare their love to each other. There is no ‘falling in love’ section of the phrase books so you will have to some how communicate this idea using other phrases.

This excercise was one of the two key formal constraints through which we made our show Be Proud of Me. The excercise can proved difficult at first but rewards persistance. Again we enjoy audience’s catching up with what is really going on. It is easy to make the results comic, the great thing is if you can make them strange and scary as well. You can thing of other scenarios and script them using the same constraint.

Exercise 4: Car Dance.

Choreograph a short dance in which your bodies are a moving landscape over which this model car is driven. One person should drive the car with the other two providing the road. Obviously as the car travelst hese roles can change. Check how the car moves from one body to another. As inspiration you may think of the actions that donate a journey through key stages in life. Play this music whilst you improvise Andreas Vollenweider’s Stella.

This touching device was one used in workshops with some young people in our lead up tomaking Home of the Wriggler but we didn’t use it in the show. Done correctly there is a great tenderness to this exercise and an interesting ambiguous relationship between the fictional travellers in the car and the people who provide the terrain over which they drive.

Exercise 5: Drawing Plans.

One member of the group, with their back to the others, should describe their journey to work using only words and without referring to street names. The remaining two team members should, without referring to each other, draw a map of this journey from the description. They should not ask questions during the description. When the task is completed compare the plans with each other and reality.

Discuss how this task could be altered to make it more challenging, interesting or accurate and try this version out on each other. One possibility may be to allow questioning from the cartographers during the description.

Exercise 6: New Reflexology.

Take off one shoe each and draw around the foot that is revealed. Now create a new poetic reflexology map for the current times. Give different areas of the foot names and identify what characteristics they relate to.

When you have completed this do the same with your hands in a new fortune telling map.

Exercise 7: Building.

Find a table, sit one of your number at that table blindfolded. Place the cassette boxes in front of them.A second member of the group should sit at some distance directly to that person’s left of right with the third member directly in front to you have perpendicular views on the table. The blindfolded person should build a simple structure agreed upon by the two non-blindfolded group members. The blindfolded person should only move as instructed by the observers, essentially acting as a machine with no capacityfor problem solving for example the instruction ‘pick up the cassette case’ should not be acted upon, but the instructions ‘open your fingers, lower your hand, close your fingers,raise your hand’ should achieve that action.

We developed this exercise whilst devising our show Ocean of Storms but never found it a place in the show. It is however a great challenge for communication skills and physical control. A larger version of the exercise is to have multiple teams trying to navigate blindfolded ‘astronauts’ arounda school hall littered with chairs and tables.

I barely touched on how these exercises could be used in school or what they demand of students. You,after all, are the professionals in this department.

James Yarker 17th June, 2009.