Monday, July 7, 2014

So Much Life Happening At Once

That was some semester, let me tell you. It was the most stressful and most rewarding few months of my life. It was packed with activity and a new adventure every day! I turned twenty-one, joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (a men's music fraternity), starred in two fantastic plays (Bob: A Life in Five Acts and The Importance of Being Earnest) with amazing people, made a husky sum of new friends, learned to teach writing, became a staff member for the 2014 UDMB (University of Delaware [Fightin' Blue Hen] Marching Band), and coordinated the proposal for the upcoming Short Attention Span Theatre XI (SAST XI), for which I have written a one act play, as well as learned what it means to party responsibly with friends (and party often) while living a full and rewarding personal, social, and academic life.

Holy crap.

So here's what's coming up! I mentioned SAST XI and the play I've written for it. It'll be performed the weekend of October 18th on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I will not be in my play, but I am directing it. It's titled "Extra Pulp" and it was written after my brother and I marathoned a bunch of Quentin Tarantino movies in February.

I also managed to take on the role of Production Manager for the whole shebang, and I'm proud to say our organization has a lot of talent. We have six one act plays lined up for the festival so far, and if you are interested in writing/directing/proposing a play, you have until the first day of classes to submit!

Get excited, because the plays so far are:

"Nobody Famous" (written by D.M. Larson, directed by Zach Rogers)
"Extra Pulp" (written and directed by John Young)
"Hills Like White Elephants" (written by Ernest Hemingway, adapted by Catherine Hallman)
"The Great American Family Camping Trip" (written by Kirsten Haden, directed by Catherine Marchbank)
"Moments" (written by Bruce Kane, directed by Melissa Volpone)
"You Forgot, Remember?" (written and directed by Blair Schuman)

Out of the six plays we have lined up, three are written by E-52 members, UD undergrads!

Monday, March 17, 2014

ENGL 372: Oleanna

The film stars William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt.
David Mamet's Oleanna was definitely a work that got the class talking. A two person drama written by someone who allegedly inspired Quentin Tarantino's style of dialogue with his trademark "Mamet-speak," Oleanna's characters are constantly overlapping each other's speech, repeating themselves, and chewing up certain words to spin whatever meanings they may have with clever wordplay, all while almost never seeming to spit out a complete thought. Here's a sample of dialogue:

CAROL: No, no, no, I'm doing what I'm told. It's difficult for me. It's difficult ...
JOHN: ... but ...
CAROL: I don't ... lots of the language ...
JOHN: ... please ...
CAROL: The language, the "things" that you say ...
JOHN: I'm sorry. No. I don't think that that's true.
CAROL. It is true. I ...
JOHN: I think ...
CAROL: It is true.
JOHN: ... I ...
CAROL: Why would I ...?

The ellipses are not read as pauses, but the vast majority of the time as moments where one speaker is cut off by the other. John is a professor of education at a university who is happily married with a child, about to buy a house, and up for tenure. He is hypocritical, egotistical, and often a jerk to Carol, hardly letting her get a word in edgewise and sometimes grabbing her shoulders to calm her down, but in the first act it seems that he really wants to help her. Carol is a student who is struggling in John's class. In the first act she is asking for advice on a paper, but she and John are so busy cutting each other off and getting offended that nothing gets done. She is defensive, shy, and very anxious. At the end of the first act, she even claims that she is guilty of something. Something she needs to tell John right away but is very afraid to. Then the phone rings. It seems to ring whenever John and Carol are about to have some sort of actual connection, whenever they are about to reach any kind of understanding.

The second act provides a completely different reading of the first act, begging for it to be re-examined and reinterpreted. Sometime later, Carol has brought up a rape charge against John. She seems far more articulate and confident than she was in the first act, and she keeps mentioning that it's not just her, but her "Group" and the entire student body that want John's tenure denied. The wording of the complaint takes John's words and actions from the first act out of context and puts them in the wrong order, and John makes even more mistakes, grabbing Carol's shoulders again at one point to keep her from leaving the room so they can talk more about it.

The third act is explosive.

Oleanna is definitely a ride and it provokes very strong reactions from the audience. Sometimes people cheer at the end. Sometimes they shake their heads disappointment or disgust. Sometimes they write angry Tumblr posts about it. The point is, Oleanna sparks discussion and can be interpreted a thousand different ways by actors, directors, and the audience.

The film, directed by Mamet himself, can be found on YouTube.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bob: A Life in Five Acts

Clockwise: Matthew Dec, Anthony Alessia, Eileen O'Connor, Emily Kinslow, John Young

E-52 Student Theatre presents...

Bob: A Life in Five Acts
By Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
"Have you done anything great with your life?"

This information and more at E-52's website!

Performance Dates:

Friday, March 7 - 7:30 P.M.
Saturday, March 8 - 7:30 P.M.
Sunday, March 9 - 2:00 P.M.

Thursday, March 13 - 7:30 P.M.
Friday, March 14 - 7:30 P.M.
Saturday, March 15 - 7:30 P.M.


Bacchus Theater  (Perkins Student Center)
Academy Street, Newark DE 19711

Ticket Prices:

$3 for Students
$5 for Public

We accept FLEX!

Bob: A Life in Five Acts is a sidesplitting comedy that tells the story of Bob (Matthew Dec) from the moment of his birth to old age. There are only five actors, who are Bob himself and the four Chorus Members (Eileen O'Connor, Anthony Alessia, Emily Kinslow, and John Young). Bob's goal in life is to become a great man, one who will be remembered and recognized forever. The Chorus Members play every other character in Bob's life, meaning each one plays around eight or nine different characters. See Bob's journey across America, one filled with love, luck, hardship, and hope, as well as a fair share of loss. Journey with Bob as he meets some promiscuous waitresses, the greatest animal trainer of all time, a one-armed roulette dealer, and many more colorful characters! The play made its world premiere in March of 2011, so you've never seen anything like it!

Monday, February 17, 2014

ENGL 372: Buried Child

Dodge is buried in corn husks by Tilden. Image from The New York Times

(I apologize in advance if it seems like my thoughts are unfinished or not as tightly worded. I've had an awesome but very long weekend and I'd like to keep this brief!)

This semester, I begin my Studies in Drama class, a look into modern American theatre. I'm going to write short posts about these plays in order to keep track of what I've read and a few of the things we've talked about in class. First on our reading list is Sam Shepard's Buried Child. This play is wacko. It's something I imagine must be absolutely haunting to see live. It's a character-driven story taking place in the old farmhouse of Dodge and Halie, a place where symbolism is oozing from the wooden floorboards. Power shifts occur every time someone walks in or out of the living room where the play takes place. Several characters are "buried" by props like a rabbit fur coat and the vegetables that oldest son Tilden brings in from the yard. The first act sets the foundation with a realistic, comical, homey setting featuring the back-and-forth bickering of Dodge and Halie. From there, things start getting really weird really fast and I really enjoyed reading it. It can be read in an afternoon, and I recommend it.

I'm finding more and more that I love reading magic realism. It's funny, because Mrs. Healey told me back in high school that she thought I would. I hope someday I'll be that insightful with my students.

In class, we've briefly discussed old farmer Dodge as being decrepit and withering, someone who has lost his virility. He is sexually inactive, sickly, and constantly consuming whiskey that he keeps hidden under the sofa that he is confined to. We also see him on stage for the entirety of the play. His wife, Halie, is pretty much the opposite. She spends the majority of the play offstage, either upstairs in her room or out of the house. Dodge teases her and implies that she is and used to be promiscuous, which is later implied to be true when she goes out drinking with the local preacher. She is also an authoritative voice in the house, and it's interesting to watch the power shift in the room between characters when her strong, motherly, and opinionated self comes and goes.

Tilden has clearly been traumatized by something, and his ritualistic actions of picking corn and root vegetables out back that shouldn't be there and bringing them in show a desire to dig up the past and share it. Whenever he brings something in, he needs everyone to do something with them. He offers them to the other characters. He buries Dodge in corn husks and gives the carrots to Shelly so that she can cut them with him.

I think Shelly herself can be seen as a vehicle for the audience to interact with the characters. She's an outsider to this family, just as we are. In her short time at the house, she too can tell that there is a secret being covered up, and she wants to know what it is. If you look at it this way, the play can get even weirder, because then some lines, like when Dodge basically says "Who do you think you are to try and dredge up our secret?"could be seen as an eerie question being posed to you personally.

Bradley, the professor suggested, is a sort of "castration figure," a character filled with symbolism relating to it. He is an amputee, and he cuts Dodge's hair with shears whenever Dodge falls asleep. He's an interesting character in that he is an overbearing, ominous, uncomfortable character to be around most of the time, but when Halie is in the room, he seems to regress. He spends a whole page at one point whining like a child because Halie took a blanket from him.

Vince. Yipes. With the play's bizarre and disturbing conclusion, I'm not sure what to think about Vince. It just poses so many heavy questions, and I am going to need more time to process how he fits into it all. It should be an exciting concluding discussion in tomorrow's class.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Media Representations of Teachers: Admiral Slaughter

Admiral Slaughter is one of the more down-to-earth teachers on Community.

Admiral Slaughter's Class (Community 1x19)

Community, one of my favorite television shows, has a large cast of eccentric, crazy, and just plain unqualified teachers, so Admiral Slaughter really stands out in the show's representations of educators. The show is interesting in that it sort of defines the roles of teachers implicitly through parody, satire and deliberately bad examples of them. Slaughter is almost the complete opposite of the other teachers in this show, which makes him in a way representative of the show's philosophy on what a good teacher should be. In a group of characters that is rich with parody and wild antics, he is the real deal. He begins his week-long course by explicitly stating his objectives, the standard he is holding his students to, what kind of work the students can expect, and his grading policy. From the moment he steps into his classroom (the boat in the middle of Greendale Community College's parking lot), he assumes the secure and confident role and identity of "teacher," focused on the students, the content of the course and project-based collaborative learning.

When he introduces himself, he is at a lower elevation than the other characters, and they are looking down at him, but they are separated. The students are on one side of the boat, and he is on the other as he gives them information. This is reminiscent of a lecture hall's structure, with elevated rows of students and the teacher down at the bottom where everyone can see. This decision from the director makes his role as a teacher visually obvious. For the rest of the course, he stands behind the captain's position on the boat, his arms either crossed or holding his clipboard. This too is a product of good directing that helps in the representation of Admiral Slaughter as a teacher. He stands there because he is guiding the students in project-based learning. They have their instructions and are co-constructing and applying knowledge together on the boat as he watches and gives new instructions and information when needed. During dialogue sequences, his body can be seen in the background. This is a deliberate decision, showing that while all of the action is in his students' hands at the moment, he is always there to keep them on task and track their progress. When the boat is triumphantly sailing across the parking lot to rescue Pierce, Slaughter can be clearly seen standing above and watching with his arms still crossed, a solid and imposing form. The majority of his teaching (such what each part of the boat is, among other things), is done off-screen, so how well he handles that portion of teaching is implicit in his students' work and actions. They perform well, using all kinds of relevant vocabulary. They also seem to know their roles on the boat very well.

When his students have decided to start applying their knowledge with this unplanned rescue project, he doesn't bark at them or stop them. He's giving his students choice and allowing them to apply their knowledge in a creative way that reflects who they are as people. This is evident in Shirley's statement that "the sea may be cruel, but I am not," and he rewards this behavior. Admiral Slaughter praises Shirley a lot. He does this through spoken compliments and head nodding. While I think he should be praising the other students more often (he does make a big point of saying that all of their efforts together are what matter), this praise is another positive thing to see from a teacher on this show, and Shirley becomes more confident as a captain as a result. Her promotion to admiral at the end of the episode is unnecessary in the context of the class, but Slaughter knows she has earned the extra praise and his respect.

I don't think he is the best representation of the teachers at Greendale Community College, but I do think he is one of the best representations of a good teacher on the show. He achieves his objectives through explicit instruction, his assessments seem fair in the context of the course, and he creates a classroom culture geared towards learning together through project-based learning. He praises students for their good work and he lets them know when things go wrong or when they are in danger of failing without humiliating them. There are a lot explicit representations of teaching styles I do not agree with on a realistic level in Community, but I do agree with this representation of the teacher's role. The focus is on the students, but he is leading and giving them just what they need when they need it while giving them respect.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Marching Band: Classroom of Tomorrow

Not pictured: The other 22 people in pirate garb legally considered adults.
(Pictures taken by friends, posted on Facebook.)

I thought about writing about this most recent Band Day, since it was some of the most fun I've had at a football game in a long time, but UDMB director Heidi I. Sarver has already written a great piece about it.

I spent that game with one of my families, the University of Delaware's Fightin' Blue Hen Marching Band (UDMB). With all the music, friendship, and general silliness that can be involved with band, like the alto sax section's annual celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it can be easy to forget that it's a college class. The football field is a classroom ahead of its time. More classrooms should strive to run like a marching band. I think my professors agree, though they may not realize it. In my time as an English Education major, my professors have told me to build relationships with my students, get them to co-construct knowledge together, and stay on task while providing an open environment offering flexibility, openness, creativity, and positive learning.

The future of education, members of my Literacy and Technology class. Scared yet? Because we are. Don't tell anyone.

*Starred Thought: Expand your circle.

I often tell people that joining the marching band is like gaining 300 free friends. If you've got the guts, you can say hi to pretty much anyone walking around on campus with one of the grey instrument cases marked with an "MB" and they will talk to you and have a nice conversation until you have to go in different directions. The UDMB is a big family, and we work well together. Members become fast friends with the others in their sections especially. My section in particular, the alto saxophones, has an annual barbeque and a plethora of other events held outside of band. I know people in every section, and it's a great network to have even outside of band.

A classroom should have its own culture that builds relationships between students that can hold outside of the classroom and into the future. Knowing a lot of people can get a student a lot of opportunities in life. I often tell a story about how the manager of an IHOP that was opening in my area wouldn't even give me an application because I was under 18 at the time, but practically hired another guy my age on the spot because the manager played football with the guy's dad in high school. I only really found out about the opportunity to grab the job I have now because I knew someone.

A small part of my network from St. Mark's High's Marching Band, which I started building six years ago.

*Starred Thought: Be a great teacher. Have skill.

We're told in my classes that we need students to build on each other's knowledge and construct new knowledge together. We're all teachers, or will be at some point in our lifetimes in some form or another, and it's important that students know how to teach and present information clearly. One great example is from a middle school I did fieldwork in, where small groups were assigned different positions as "reporters," who had to attack a text from different angles. One group summarized plot, one drew a picture of the setting, one talked about characters and the ways they spoke, and so on and so forth. These groups then had to present to the rest of the class. Giving students opportunities like this develops public speaking and team skills needed in the workplace while also achieving a goal together through their own hard work.

In marching band, we have a whole set of field staff made up from band members. These members are trained in leading their sections and teaching them things that they need to know. This could include anything from reinforcing marching basics to full-blown student-run music rehearsals for individual sections in which the band director does not even have to be present. This also further builds a network of support for the band members (the students) because we know who can help us with what and all three-hundred-and-something of us don't have to bring every little question directly to Sarv (the teacher) herself, who is only one person. She gives the skills to the staff, who give the skills to the members, who become staff themselves who give skills to the members. It's a constant cycle of content reinforcement that keeps us all at and above the standard expected of us, and it's all led by a teacher. We all achieve goals together through our own hard work: the pre-game and half-time shows.

*Starred Thought: Inspire musicians to do well.

If a teacher has created a positive learning environment that engages students and makes them care about what they're doing in the classroom, students will want to push themselves and apply their knowledge. Specifically in the context of my teaching of English, I need to encourage creativity, emotive reading, and open discussion, while still guiding it. This way students will stay on task while saying what they think needs to be said and sharing their skills and opinions with their classmates in a way that provides real feedback with a real audience. In band, for instance, our drill section leaders tend to be open to ideas for visuals. If a member has a good idea that fits well somewhere, it can be added, though it may require permission. For example, in high school, I was in a group that was in a form shaped like a circle. One of us had the idea to make the circle rotate. Our band director and drum majors asked us to try it, and it worked, so we were told to keep it in. We ended up trying other things with it. Some of them worked, and some of them didn't, but we were given the flexibility to try them, to push ourselves. The audience gathered at the football games liked the rotating circle too, and it was encouraging, positive feedback. In UDMB, Sarv gives credit where credit is due, will level with us when we aren't up to our usual standard, and she isn't afraid to push us harder because she knows we can do even better than before. And then better. And better.

I now volunteer to work as staff at the St. Mark's High School Spartan Marching Band's summer band camp. Helping me inspires me to be a better band member so that I can help them to be better band members. It's a feedback loop fueling a desire to push myself and others and apply what I've learned.

Building relationships and giving students responsibility also naturally help to make a positive learning environment and classroom culture.

*Starred Thought: You have no control of anyone.

Ah yes, the ultimate secret of leadership. Speaking of giving students responsibility and classroom culture, one big issue we've talked about in my education classes has been attendance issues. Many people are striving to improve schools in ways that will make students want to show up, but others are baffled about how to solve this problem. I think it could be a symptom of a classroom not doing enough of the things I've been talking about in this post. A lot of what I've said is very student-centric, and this is because students are the centers of learning. Teachers are guides, but students decide for themselves that they want to learn. That's why I think it's important to give students a feeling of responsibility.

Responsibility goes side-by-side with independence and self-efficacy, something most high school and college students really want and something most teachers want their students to have.

It's made very apparent to me as a student and member of the marching band that if I am not at rehearsal or the games, there is a hole in the show. The classroom is not complete without me. I don't even think about the grade, I think about the work that needs to be done, the goal that needs to be accomplished. The forms, the show, and the learning will be objectively worse if I am not a part of them. If I don't know my music, I can easily throw off the person playing next to me. Everyone is aware that we affect each others' rehearsals and performance, and so we all feel a sense of responsibility and most importantly, importance.

That's what it's all about. Students feeling that their own learning and the learning of their peers is important, and genuinely caring about it. When you have pride in your band or class and in yourself, you are in the optimal positive learning environment. It makes me forget that I'm in a class. It makes me care about learning and about the people way before I think about getting the grade, and it's all run pretty smoothly.

I swear I've learned as much about the art of teaching in band as I've learned in my classes.
I have high hopes that I will be a better teacher because of it.