Amateur Theatricals

Scenes near campus

It’s Friday, and not a moment too soon. I’ve been sick all week, and missed a day of teaching on Tuesday. Today I’m finally feeling halfway human, albeit still with a scratchy throat.

Frankly, I’m mystified. I don’t know if my teaching is effective, or if my stint here is just an amateur theatrical. Today I FELT theatrical, gesticulating wildly and exaggerating my consonant sounds for our choral reading of “Silly Sally swiftly shooed seven silly sheep.” I said, “OK, today we’re going to be really SILLY!” Blank stares. They didn’t think it was silly, just stupid. Still, I bravely soldiered on.

The next exercise was to let them listen to Moby’s “We Are All Made of Stars,” and then to teach them the lyrics. Several students have begged me to teach them American pop songs, so I thought they might like this one. At least it’s not the Back Street Boys. I talked about voice modulation, chanting, and whispering, and we practiced using our voices for different effects. At least I thought it was interesting.

I asked, “OK, did you like that song?”
Silence.
“What kinds of music do you like to listen to?”
More silence.
“What do you think We Are All Made of Stars Means?”
Here, at least, I got some discussion. One student though it meant that we’re all isolated, even though we shine individually, another thought that all of us shine our light brightly everywhere.
“Do you think the song is optimistic or pessimistic?”
Puzzled looks.
In my most silent class, one student finally ventured, “I think the song reflects the American Puritanical view that, no matter how we try, we can never change our fate or affect our lives’ outcome very much.” Say what??? Where the young woman picked THAT one up I’ll never know. Now it was my turn to have a puzzled look.

Chinese students will not volunteer feedback. They will not offer you any clue whether your classes are effective or not. I did, however, manage to corner one of the better students, and he admitted that my lessons were sometimes too easy. Fair enough. I can change that. Playing the Moby song, though, did teach me some cultural differences. I think that the song is optimistic and hopeful about changing the world; most of the Chinese students had a darker view, that you cannot change fate, and that no matter what our plans are, we can’t really control the outcome of our lives. East vs. West: Let things occur naturally vs. Control over your Environment. Chinese submission to authority and to the good of the group vs. Western individualism and dominance. Very interesting.

Somehow or other, I let the information slip out that I knew a little about ballroom dancing (OK, I took one ballroom dance class in college in the 70s, big deal). A group of students in my final class instantly appointed me as their choreographer for the ballroom scene in their presentation of “Cinderella.” They’re presenting it a week from tomorrow as their entry in the Summer School drama contest. I had visions of Busby Berkeley, even as I wondered whether I even remembered any ballroom steps.

I met the cast at 2:30 in a classroom building, and I actually managed to teach Cinderella and the Prince the waltz step in ¾ time. I worked in a couple of pirouettes, and taught them how to open the number with a bow and a curtsey. They picked up on the steps amazingly fast, and didn’t even step on each others’ feet very often. It’s a cute script – the whole story has been condensed to three pages of vignettes.

Now I have to work on finding them music. They had more questions for me, such as what to wear. “Do you have costumes?” I asked. “Costumes, what are those?” I can’t even IMAGINE a Cinderella without at least a ball gown and a couple of crowns. Not to mention a pumpkin (I said not to mention that). We compromised on suits or long pants for the men, and one crown for the prince. God knows what Cinderella will do for a gown, but I guess that’s up to the fairy godmother. I also helped them solve a couple of theatrical effects, suggesting that they hold up pictures representing animal characters that they didn’t have enough actors to play, and saying the animals’ lines from offstage.

After my theatrical coaching, I had my Chinese lesson with Sue, I went for a walk, had dinner, and now I’m home for the evening. I need to lick my professional wounds and soothe my self-doubts after my teaching experiences this week. I’ve been very hard on myself. Boo-hoo.

It’s all in the playing, as they say.

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