Posts Tagged act-aloud plays
That you’re visiting my blog tells me you’re most likely already a fan of reader’s theater, so I needn’t tell you how reader’s theater makes literature class that much more compelling, or how drama is referenced 47 times in the Common Core, or how nearly all my plays are first “vetted” by the editors of Scholastic classroom magazines where they’re published long before hitting TeachersPayTeachers. Instead, let me tell you how my Read Aloud Plays could just as easily be called “Act Aloud Plays.” My evidence? Well, every so often I stumble upon a classroom webpage featuring a videocast of a school play or musical that turns out to be mine. And because most publishers charge a pound of flesh, a fatted cow, and a hefty fee for performance rights, I frequently get emails from polite teachers verifying that such rights are indeed included in the original purchase price (they are). I also get requests to adapt my stories or include them in performances outside the school setting. For example, last year a community theater in Carolina included my adaption of A Christmas Carol in its holiday dinner theater, and the Tshwane Children’s Theatre in Irene, South Africa, performed my Peter Rabbit play in rural African schools. Pretty cool.
I think the popularity of these plays stems from the fact that they’re written to be acted out, not merely read aloud. When I create a play for Scholastic, I imagine students performing it on stage. How will the kids move across the floor? How simple can the set be? What must the characters say and do to help the audience grasp what’s going on? Is the setting consistent throughout the scene? How can I minimize the presence of the narrator? Such questions help build plays teachers can use on the actual stage.
Says Officer Lockstock, the narrator in the Broadway musical Urinetown, “nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.” Save for the occasional soliloquy, narration is rare in 3-act shows, yet it’s often necessary in classroom plays. It quickly provides the background information required to reduce a complex story to a 15 or 20 minute performance. Still, as I craft scripts, I ‘m constantly looking for ways to minimize the exposition or find creative ways to deliver it. In my Jackie Robinson play, for example, the narration is delivered by the hot dog and peanut vendors. They set-up Jackie’s story while simultaneously hawking ballpark franks and Cracker Jacks. It’s as if they themselves are characters speaking to a grandstand full of spectators.
Though my latest TpT release utilizes narrators, it was most certainly designed with the stage in mind. The Newsies first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Scholastic’s Scope magazine. It tells the story of the New York newsboy strike of 1899 through the eyes of a 12-year-old Polish immigrant. Aniela Kozlowski goes to work selling newspapers just as the strike unfolds (no pun intended, just questionable blogging). Ani’s character is based upon one of my own students who shares with me a Polish heritage, so I was particularly thrilled to watch her play the role late this past school year. Historically-accurate, rich with dialect, and embedded with great pictures from famed photographer Lewis Hine, The Newsies is unquestionably one of my best plays to date. Not only is it a play about actual kids showing the grit, determination, and unity necessary to overcome some pretty extreme challenges, it’s also a nice reminder that battles had to be fought to establish some degree of balance between the interests of big business and the common laborer, that unionism has played a significant role in establishing the American Dream.
You can preview or purchase The Newsies at TeachersPayTeachers. I encourage you to pair it with Stolen Childhoods, my play from the same era about Lewis Hine’s crusade to end child labor. Or, take The Newsies to a whole other level and make it a musical. I did this very thing with a Br’er Rabbit script this past year. Though initially rather daunting, something magical happened once the kids started singing (and eventually dancing) to Zippity Doo Dah and Sinatra’s High Hopes. Br’er Rabbit ended up being the highlight of our school year. By incorporating songs from the 1890s, The Newsies will be a smash hit, too. You’ll find Ta-ra-ra Boom de-ay, The Sidewalks of New York, A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, In the Good Ol’ Summer Time, and My Wild Irish Rose all on Youtube and/or Amazon. I can see places in the script for all of them.
Of course, there are dozens of other “act aloud plays” on my webpage and TpT site. Any one of them might be just what you need to get your students up and active on stage—to bring a little extra magic to your language arts class.
“Johnny” has a big personality. Though it sometimes gets him in trouble, it translates well to the stage. While playing Polythemus in my play, Cyclops: The Monster in the Cave, he takes a swig of an imaginary potion, vomits, staggers pathetically, and then falls to the ground. It mesmerizes the crowd. The play’s a hit.
But there’s more behind the play’s success than just Johnny’s big personality. Because I’m both a teacher and a playwright, I write my plays while imagining my students acting them out. As a result, they’re not just read-aloud plays, they’re act-aloud plays. Like many of you, I’ve run across plays that are clogged with excessive narration (“too much exposition,” as the say on Broadway) or made confusing by multiple settings within the same scene. Know that I endeavor to create plays that avoid these traits. While narration is necessary given the format prescribed by my publishers, I try to keep it to a minimum, or I find creative ways to deliver it. For example, the character of James in The Birthmark is simultaneously telling his story to the audience while talking to the other characters in the play. The Snakecharmers in Rikki Tikki Tavi, are designed to be mystical figures (I imagine them with flute in hand). And Adult Tyree from Freedom for the First Time retains all the local color (and southern dialect) of her childhood counterpart, the central figure of the story. Another reason my plays are created with the stage in mind is because I believe that the repetition of practicing for an actual performance is what builds reading fluency and drives student buy-in. Kids love performing, and they’ll read and re-read their scripts over and over again if it leads up to a performance. Try asking a kid to read a story out of the Houghton-Mifflin text thirty times. See where that gets you.
Using read aloud plays simply as good reading material is just fine, but their greatest value, especially for kids like Johnny, is as act-aloud plays. And speaking of fund plays to act out, I’ve just posted three new ones. All three were published in Scholastic’s Scope magazine last school year.
The Birthmark is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic short story about imperfection. It pits science against nature and includes a wonderful “mad scientist” scene, complete with an Igor-esque lab assistant. Cyclops, from Homer’s Odyssey, will excite all your students who’ve gotten into the Percy Jackson books. It mixes the original Greek mythology with some kid-friendly humor that will have your students giggling. Mine sure did. Finally, The Secret Soldier tells the true story of Deborah Samson, who disguised herself as a man and joined Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. It’ll be a great addition to your Early American unit. Help your “Johnny” find success with act-aloud plays. Visit readaloudplays.com or my store at TeachersPayTeachers to preview or purchase dozens of compelling plays.