Saturday, June 27, 2009

Week the Third, part two

Hello all,

Josiah here. I’m giving Mark a break from writing all the blog updates. I’m currently listening to Boxer by the National, a band I somewhat wrote off at first but I’m starting to warm up to. Speaking of warming up, Mark and I just got back from a vigorous run in the 109 degree heat. I’m just getting back to the point where I feel up to physical exertion. A little advice to those of you who may find yourself in a third world country sometime in the near future: if you’re more than a seven hour drive from coastline or some other fish-worthy body of water, steer clear of eating the fish. The combination of incredible heat and food poisoning is not exactly pleasant.

The students' first taste of fight choreography... and the hand of the master

As I think back on the strides we made in class in the past few days I am very pleased. The students have gotten to a point where they are writing and performing their own works. It didn’t exactly come easily. The first couple of days Mark had the students working on short plays; they made real progress, coming up with some excellent stories. On Wednesday we got them up on their feet and started improv-ing through them and on Thursday we saw a story that really got me excited. It was about this kingdom of fools where everything is opposite. It was truly a complicated and interesting story. I was blown away. But to my dismay after the story was finished one of the other students revealed to me that this was a story that the children had read in class a couple of years earlier. It was one in a slew of several roadblocks we’ve hit along the road that ends in a final performance.

The notorious family of thieves

Finally on Friday we meet with the intention of getting some real original work written. We divided the class into two groups with an assignment to come up with CROW and conflict for a story. For those who are not familiar with the CROW system I’ll explain. CROW is an acronym that stands for Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where. CROW is essentially the anatomy of the story. Then we have the students come up with a conflict or an obstacle that gets in the way of what the characters want to achieve. They come up with some really good stories: one about a family of thieves and the other about a school bully. We only had time to improv through the thieves story, but it went smashingly. We will get to the next story on Monday and also write some new ones. All and all it was a very productive week.

I hope this update finds everyone happy and healthy.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Week the Third, part one

Hello to all -

I'd like to begin this week's post by commemorating the life of famed sarod player, Ali Akbar Khan, who passed away on June 18 in San Francisco due to a prolonged kidney ailment. Born in modern day Bangladesh, Khan grew up in the north Indian region of Madhya Pradesh and his compositions heavily reflect the Hindustan tradition. Often addressed with the title of Ustad, or master, Khan is widely credited (along with sitarist Ravi Shankar) with popularizing Indian classical music in western culture. In addition to his many film scores and mesmerizing performance at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 (at which he appeared alongside Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and George Harrison), Khan gained international renown for his eponymous Colleges of Music established in Calcutta, San Rafael, CA, and Besel, Switzerland.
He will be deeply missed but his legacy will be felt for generations to come. Ali Akbar Khan was eighty-seven years old.

Now on to the classwork...

Monday greeted me with a new--though not entirely unexpected--challenge; due to what we believe to be an undercooked fish curry, Josiah fell into a bout with severe indigestion and some other stuff too gross to describe here (I'll let you imagine). This afforded me the somewhat daunting task of instructing our budding actor/writers on my own. Up to this point I had relied on Josiah's previous experience with several of our current students to help build my working relationship with the class. Now... I've taught American drama students on my own before, but I knew that this group of rambunctious, punctuality-impaired teenagers would be a different beast altogether.

Things started off pretty well. Most of the class was on time (to my amazement). We rollicked through warm-ups, vocal exercises and theatre games but I'll be honest; once I actually started teaching I felt like I was free-falling without a parachute. I can guarantee you this: never has the phrase "Does that make sense?" been used so many times to fall on so many blank stares. Once I split them up into writing groups with an assignment in mind, I was able to breathe easy.

For about two point five seconds.

At this point I should note that we are not the only class going on at Good Samaritans School. Though it is technically summer holiday, there are some "extra classes" for the tenth-graders as well as remedial classes for eleventh-graders who need help passing their government-issued exams. So more often than not, Josiah and I are forced to contend with roaming amblers who do their best to provide ample distraction for our pupils, be it cell phones, cricket or just plain ol' gossip. (Hey at least they're not fighting each other, right?) Getting people onstage is no problem; keeping them focused on the task at hand with myriad tangents swirling around, is more often than not, a Herculean labor.

However, after sternly warning the curious and talkative tenth-graders "if you can't sit and watch quietly in the audience, you will have to leave," I found things ran a little smoother. Yeah. Those words came out of MY mouth. Weird. I am now officially a grown-up. Maybe I gained a modicum of respect for issuing this ultimatum. Maybe they made jokes about me and sniggered behind my back. Either way, my students seemed to buckle down to task after that.

All in all, things went pretty well on Monday and Tuesday even with Josiah's absence. They divided into three groups and I instructed them to write out the foundation for a story (CROW and a conflict) of their own invention. One group managed to brainstorm and scrawl out a synopsis very rapidly while the two others raised their hands and demanded my assistance. I could tell they were trying to envision a story as a whole rather than focusing on the basic elements of CROW; after suggesting several possibilities for the Where? element, I asked them "now what types of people would you see in this place?" They rattled off a laundry list of responses and for the next twenty minutes the room was abuzz with ideas flying back and forth in the small groups. The first group even wrote down prompts for a second story!

Your blogger in action

We ended class on Tuesday by sharing the summaries each group had written and began staging one of the stories: a parable about filial jealousy written by students named Sikander, Radha, and Harish. I was very impressed with their enthusiasm and creativity and did my best to record the session for Josiah's perusal. The tape didn't come out quite as slick as I had hoped, though the fact that I was simultaneously side-coaching and manning the tripod could have had something to do with that. I guess from time to time even the teachers learn a lesson or two, n'est-ce pas?

A healthy and happy Josiah Correll was back with us on Wednesday. The rest of the week was devoted to teaching them new improv games and continuing to stage their self-written stories; stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion in part two of Week the Third.

Right now, I'm wicked hungry and off to eat some vegetable utthapam and masala dosas. Yummmm! Thanks for reading.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Greetings friends!

Hope all you Dads out there got spoiled rotten this weekend. You absolutely deserve it!

I am happy to report that the kids have been up on their feet all week presenting self-produced versions of stories with which they are already familiar. From De Maupassant's "The Necklace" to the Good Samaritan story in the Bible, our students jumped in head-first acting out an array of talesOur goal this week is to crank the ol' creative gears and improv through some stories of their own invention. It has been astounding to observe their tremendous progress in such a short window of time.

We finally got the FireWire cable necessary to transfer video from my camcorder to the computer so you can look forward to some moving pictures here in the next day or so.

Also, folks have been asking me for updates on our leisure activities, i.e. food, entertainment, etc. Be on the lookout for a cuisine review here soon. Just know that Josiah and I have been eating adventurously, sometimes to our stomach's dismay. When in Rome, right?

We haven't ventured out of the city yet but several trips are planned for the upcoming weeks so we'll keep you posted.

All the best,

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Week One Recap

Welcome to class, ladies and gentlemen


Just got back from lunch after a walk in the 108 degree midday heat. After kicking off the Birks and cranking up some Radiohead (Hail To the Thief, for the curious) I decided that a sweltering Saturday afternoon would be a great time to update the world at large on the exploits of our exceedingly talented acting crew. It's been a while since we last connected; Josiah and I are proud to report...

The Good Samaritan Players are officially off and running!

One week of preliminary improv and playwriting classes under the belt and we're feelin' pretty good. We had an average of 10-12 students show up each day this week which is not too shabby considering the school is on holiday after what I am told was a very grueling period of government-mandated testing.

Ours is the only class going on at this point and attendance was more or less voluntary as the buses were not running to the slums this week. Despite not having all 20 students who initially expressed interest, we were still able to make significant strides. The kids learned some classic tongue twisters and warm-up games like Zip-Zap-Zop, Bitty Bitty Bop, and Big Booty (re-named Big Fruity for cultural sensitivity's sake) before progressing into more challenging exercises.

Thursday's game of Big Fruity

Friday's Final Three in a blistering round of Zip-Zap-Zop (L to R: Asim, Sikender, Harish)

The story-building exercises, derived from Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theatre, are designed to encourage commitment to action and physicality, team play, observation and listening to your partner. Using a variety of 2 to 5 person exercises, we introduced to them the concept of CROW (Character/Relationship/Objective/Where) as the basis for improvised scenes. So far the kids have retained this acronym masterfully in class discussions; next week we'll put it on its feet.

Two shots from the surprisingly difficult game "What Are You Doing?"

Noushad and Palak

Gajanand and Mumtah

We have been slowly integrating homework into the class. On Friday the students brought in favorite fictional stories as well as anecdotes from their own life in which they identified the elements of CROW and the conflicts that stood in the way of achieving their objective. The stories we heard were outstanding: from learning to cook, family disputes, and dealing with temptation, the students who participated really took the assignment to heart and amazed Josiah and I with their attention to detail. We hope to have video of these responses up on the site soon.

Audience responding to a particularly entertaining "Bus Stop" scene

The students made a great deal of progress this week and I even learned a few Hindi phrases. Our hope is that, no matter what the numbers turn out to be, we will have consistent and punctual attendance from a core group of 12-15 students so we are not constantly repeating concepts. The goal by the end of the session is to have the students writing and performing their own work through improvisation and collaboration. We have some amazing talent and enthusiasm in this class. Every second spent in their midst is a blessing; I can't wait to see what next week has in store!

Please keep Josiah, myself, and the children in your thoughts and prayers.

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Please visit and consider supporting the school by sponsoring a student or by making a tax-deductible contribution to our mission.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009


Namaste from Jasola Vihar!

I am currently listening to Blur's eponymous album while pulling an insomniac special tonight as my body has yet to adjust to a new sleep schedule. I figured now would be a good time to let everyone know that Josiah and I are alive and well in our little corner of Delhi. Though the high hovered around 108 degrees today, don't worry. We have not melted. Yet.

A little background... After spending two fantastic weeks on the farm in Kentucky, we arrived safely on Tuesday night at Indira Gandhi International Airport and spent the last couple days meeting with the school's founder and director, Dr. Ananthi Jebasingh, in preparation for our classes, which start on Monday, June 8.

Today we met with our students for the first time. They are the absolute cream of the rising 11th Form at Good Samaritan School. I believe the official count today was 13 boys and 2 girls, a few of which had studied with Josiah back in '06. These are tentative numbers right now as the school is on holiday; we anticipate a few more will add to our crew.

As you can tell, the males are out in force. Please pray for more females to help balance out the testosterone. Come on Ladies!

From the moment Josiah and I started a pickup game of touch football (American style!) I knew these kids would be an absolute joy to instruct and perform alongside. It was especially heartening to see our pair of females pick up the basics of the game right off the bat and mix it up with the boys. I wish you all could have watched as a small, bespectacled girl named Parminda threw perfect spiral after perfect spiral to her classmates. Astonishing.

I promise pictures of the school and our flat will accompany my musings on the next post.

For now I want to share some items of consumption on our journey:

Finished Reading: The Skriker - Caryl Churchill, The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
Started Reading: Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow, In a Pit With A Lion on a Snowy Day - Mark Batterson
Watching: Carnivale (season 1) and Entourage (season 4)
Hope to Watch: Star Trek

Okay, the Lakers are up by 6, the Cubs game is delayed and the ol' stomach is growling. Which means it's time for a well-deserved round of mango nectar and nutella toast... Have a blessed Friday and we'll talk atcha soon!!!