When teaching, I often feel caught between my love of the creative process and the desire for a polished end product. Both are important, but limited time frames to work with students is always challenging. I generally only have 45 minutes to an hour once or twice a week to work with a group of students.
On the one hand, my proclivity is to invest more heavily in the creative process by allowing plenty of time for students to explore their art form unencumbered. On the other hand, I personally feel there is a need for an end-product, which requires focus on performance technique, polishing, and other important tasks. Particularly with the performing arts, I believe if students are not getting a chance to actually “perform” in front of an audience (big or small) they are not really learning the art form fully. Is it fair to cut out the “performance” element in favor of process? I lean towards no. Recently, I was fortunate enough to experience a fantastic solution to the product vs. process problem.
The collaborative performing arts activity I experienced was developed by Christy Robinson, Director of Enrichment at The Children’s School in Atlanta, GA. I am currently working as a choreographer at The Children’s School and we were in the midst of working on the musical There’s a Monster in My Closet.
Production paused over winter break and, when we returned„ instead of rehearsing for the musical in the typical fashion, Christy devised a refresher/warm-up had the students work collaboratively and write a musical scene about what they did during their time away from school.
Once a group came up with a concept related to their winter break activities and wrote their scene, they began writing original lyrics to a tune they already knew from There’s a Monster in My Closet. Then they came up with choreography and performed all of their musical scenes for the entire group. Examples of the finished product include a Game Show concept where the students invented two teams “The Vacations” and “The Staycations,” which is how they incorporated everyone’s winter break into one story. Another group created a physical theater piece where the students acted out all the different winter breaks by physically becoming the presents under the tree, the television set, and the snowman.
All of the adult teachers were in charge of a station that the children rotated through. For example, I was in charge of the choreography station, Talal and Jerrell, the drama teachers, were in charge of the scene station, Chief and Carina were in charge of music and lyrics, and Christy polished the final product. After each group performed their musical scene, the students had an opportunity to ask questions or share critiques.
I couldn’t believe it! It was a process that addressed everything! The students developed the concept of the scene, wrote the scene, wrote the lyrics and came up with choreography. With our help, they were able to develop a final polished product. Not only did they have a blast doing this, but their technical skills improved as well. The students were projecting their voices more onstage, they were physically inhabiting a character at a more advanced level and as a whole making stronger theatrical choices. Even after we returned to rehearsing the actual musical I noticed that these new skills, which emerged over just a few days, had definitely transferred to the larger project.
The whole process took just two sessions to complete from start to finish. I learned so much from getting to be a part of this collaborative activity and it inspired me to examine my own “process to product” philosophies and structures. I realized that if the artistic experience is structured correctly, there should be enough time to include everything. Unfortunately, I often work alone so collaboration with other teachers is often impossible. However, I did realize I could still utilize a modified version of the “rotating station” idea and I implemented it in several of my classes.
For example, for my dance class, I set up four cones marking the different stations, and each station had different sets of objects to explore. One had top hats, one had hula hoops, one had scarves, and one had rhythm sticks. Each station became its own different “world” for students to investigate using movement and props. Then we made a performance based on students’ movement discoveries at each station. The experience at The Children’s School reminded me that not only does the quality of the process matter, but the structure of the artistic experience itself also bears heavily on the outcome of the final product.