Writing and Producing a Student Driven Story
Cecil Mack, Technology Integration Teacher, International School of Dongguan, China
The challenge for drama teachers, especially ones surrounded by a driven and student-centered culture, is to know when to take a step back as a director and simply let the kids amaze you with their ingenuity. Like any school with a new theater space, the students at the International School of Dongguan were excited to start their first big production. After many introductory units on drama classics, stage movements, lighting, costuming, and after experiencing the rehearsal process on smaller productions, December arrived; we needed to select the script for our spring production.
After a semester of reading a variety of scripts, students were used to creative freedom in delivering content. So, it should not have been a surprise when they asked if they could have the creative freedom to write their own script. I considered the possibilities. And I thought, “why not?”
Step 1—Creating their original script.
Before we went on winter holiday, the students decided that Chinese Mythology was their topic of choice. Chinese Mythology is already built into the structure of the school: the International School of Dongguan has house leagues based on mythological creatures. These house leagues—the Bixi, Phoenix, Pixiu, Dragon, and our school mascot the Qilin—were created for field days, creative challenges, assemblies and implementing school wide initiatives.
As the students developed characters, settings, costumes, lighting and special effects to produce the play, the script was written by Grades 7 to 10. Each revision, they altered the script to improve the pace, focus, themes and plot. Technical support from the teaching staff helped the students’ ambitions, while Mandarin teachers checked the translation and accuracy of the Chinese content. An after-school activity was created, just to allow for production time and rehearsals.
Step 2— Finding their format and audience.
The students developed a story and read it for test audiences ranging from elementary students to adult staff. They all enjoyed the plot, characters, and how it captured the message of TEAMWORK.
As the students realized that their target audience was not high school students, but elementary students, they decided that the show should be narrated by a younger cast. To do this, Grades 4 and 5 students auditioned to represent each of the main characters of the mythological storyline. This created scheduling difficulties around our show dates, which were only a few months away. After many students researched options, they decided that the theatrical play would be turned into a video production, creating a movie screening instead of dramatic stage play. And so the video production began immediately.
Step 3— Student talent from page to screen.
The student technical staff quickly transformed from a theatrical stage crew to a video production team. Lighting and costuming were easily transferred, but set designs had to change to digital sets, stage managers to assistant directors, and stagehands to production assistants, all in a few weeks.
This required some support from ISD Information Technology Department, such as our Editor/Camera Tommy Kerrigan and Elizabeth Baker as our onscreen Teacher. With our first screening approaching, students would watch edits and solve technical issues concerning green screens, continuity, audio, and the plot. Slowly, the production we entitled “House Legends” came together.
It was a truly collaborative production, formed from the hardwork of students, teachers, and staff at the International School of Dongguan.
This labor of love is now available online as a twenty minute video. In postproduction reflections, student stated they felt immense ownership for the project, that having people watch their multi-grade, studentdriven production was an unbelievable experience.
As a teacher, I hope other educators who appreciate the classics will continue to instill the same independence into student-created productions. Throughout the production process from paper to screen, “House of Legends” brought classroom, staff, and students’ talents together in unforgettable ways. This was our first theater production; we are looking forward to many more exciting events in the coming year.
Watch House Legends!
Published in ISS NewsLinks: Volume XXXII Number 1