Excerpted from At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater by Elizabeth Swados. Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Swados. Published in June 2006 by Faber and Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
I've written this book to share some of the techniques and exercises I've used for more than twenty-five years with young actors. The typical age range for my work spans from twelve to the early twenties, and I usually put all the ages together so that everyone learns from one another. Most often, I concentrate on young people in middle and high school. While I create shows independently of schools, I wrote this book with the intention of assisting teachers in creating theater with their students. After a year of workshops, my company of young people creates a custom-made piece for our ensemble. In the same way, a teacher and class may create an original piece after working together for all or part of the school year. And just as my young company performs in front of peers at public and private schools and community centers as well as juvenile and psychiatric facilities, groups of students could perform before fellow students. Therefore you will note that I often write about a series of exercises that have been put together to help create a show. But please be aware that the exercises I've chosen can and do serve several other categories of theatrical experience as well:
1. To make a show outside of school
2. To make a show in school
3. To train young actors in a community or drama school environment
4. To train young actors in a classroom or after-school environment
5. To use one or two exercises in a limited class time
The exercises themselves have been grouped in several categories. You should find your own way of using these categories. If you have students working with you over a long period of time and intend to create something with them, you can use the order suggested by this book. Or you can improvise from it. If you want to make a show but have only three weeks, you can decide what you need from this book and extract it accordingly. If you simply want to teach in the classroom, you can use the exercises randomly as they suit the class. Each exercise is aimed toward a specific part of the theater student's development and works very well in tandem with other exercises and theater games. I advise you to adhere strictly to only one rule: make the time that you work separate, individual, and sacred. If there is one resounding note in my work, it is that young people should know that the theater can be theirs and that they can find a new language that can define the future of the art and its audience, and provide a personal, exciting way to express themselves. An unusual mode of expression for theater is like nothing else.
A final note: I tend to mention musical theater more than plays because my inclination is toward work with music. You don't have to be a musician or singer to do theater. On the other hand don't rule out any art or area of research when dreaming about your participation. Let your talents roam free. There are too many specialists in the world of theater, too many categories and methods and rules. You will find your place and your own voice. But for now try everything.