The school year – whatever form it takes for you or your students – is in full swing by now. You’re all probably still navigating what “Zoom etiquette” looks and feels like for your classrooms; still figuring out which learning activities will translate fairly easily to an online format and which will require significant reconfiguration; still generally getting your bearings. What can be especially tricky for theatre teachers right now is how to “virtualize” all those games you once relied on to break the ice, build ensemble, or convey foundational elements of staging. Obviously some exercises will never translate because they require too much physical contact (I’m looking at you, “Human Knot”), and will have to remain shelved until we can gather again without our current restraints. Others, however, are completely doable if you embrace the confines of the “Zoom box” rather than fight them.
One concept that I would always teach my theatre students in the first few weeks of the semester is how to portray and stage status. Kids are so attuned to social status by the time they get into our classrooms, and yet they might never have thought explicitly about it or interrogated its purpose on stage or in their lives. Helping them unpack the verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate high and low status is invaluable for their understanding of…basically everything. A theatre practitioner who knew this and could break it down incredibly well was Augusto Boal, a Brazilian activist, theatre maker, and founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed. The Road Ready Resource this month is a sheet of basic status games adapted from his book Games for Actors and Non-Actors. The games as written have not yet been adapted for virtual exploration, but here is a short list of easy strategies to try:
- Teach students how to pin a video. This comes in handy when you want to do partner exercises because it allows students to focus on just one other person’s face.
- Help students observe themselves within the camera frame to get a sense of their virtual-spatial reality. Have them get up and explore the points of “entry” into the frame and how their proximity to the camera can affect its “staging.”
- Use gallery view while working through concepts like Viewpoints – yes, Viewpoints! Tempo, duration, gesture, shape, architecture, kinesthetic response, and spatial relationships can all be explored through Zoom. Though relatively isolated at home, students can still cultivate an awareness of each other and respond to one another’s cues.
- Conversely, spotlighting one video at a time can help direct focus. This is particularly effective for solo performances or when a student is leading an activity.
As with all exercises from Boal’s body of work, these games are meant to generate discourse and, eventually, social change. Use them not only as a way to explore theatricality with your students over Zoom, but also to engender deep conversations about the nature of status and power that they can apply to their non-Zoom lives. I cannot think of anything more urgent or necessary than that.