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.


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