By Gamal Chasten & Marieke Gaboury
We’ve had our best classes yet in the past month. We were talking through some of our favorite moments the other day – and kept touching on moments when the kids really took risks, stepped outside of themselves, and allowed some moment of transformation to take place. When they weren’t these excited-but-playing-it-cool kids in a classroom crowded with too much furniture and not enough play space – moments when we really saw their imaginations take over, and they experienced moments of total immersion in a character.
We have begun reading the Lorax by Dr. Seuss, which deals with the environmental destruction of fictitious Truffula Trees by the greedy Once-ler. This piece was chosen for the students to adapt because being from New Orleans, they could relate to the destruction of home and environment. Most are too young to remember actually going through the experience of Katrina, but they all remember last summer’s BP oil debacle. They were asked questions about what they remembered about the oil spill. Which marine life was affected? Was there a smell? Did they like crawfish and shrimp? Then we read through the Lorax and then talked about how this story is similar to what New Orleans and the Gulf Coast went through, and is still going through. In our next session, we started putting the story on its feet, with the kids acting out the story as it was narrated. They really got into depicting/ translating each aspect of the story – not just the defined characters like the Once-ler, but becoming the trees, swaying in the breeze. It was awesome.
Outside of the Lorax, we’ve continued to work with acting and story-telling exercises. A favorite exercise moment occurred during a session working with onomatopoetics. First, we went around the circle, and the kids were given obvious words to make onomatopoetic: Smash, clip-clop, etc. Then they worked their way into sentences, like “the girl fell faaaaar faaaaar faaaar down the well.” And there was this little boy with ADHD who really has a tough time focusing – he was given the sentence “And then the little bird fell fast asleep.” At first, he rushed through it and just said the words. But then we got in front of each other, kneeling on the floor, looking into each other’s faces. We took turns repeating it, until gradually, the words came out where the “little bird” was this tiny, vulnerable thing, and faaaaaaast asleep, was hushed, and soft, and gentle. It was a tiny moment, really – just a sentence. But he made it come alive, and that felt like a giant leap.