Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Acting and Getting Actors For Skits

When it comes to getting actors for skits, and getting good acting, some of us are kind of wondering why it's been such a struggle lately.  (Lately = the past 3-4 years or so.)

Maybe you aren't struggling with this, but I am and a lot of teachers I talk to are as well.  

We are dealing with a different generation of students in our classes nowadays; as I have blogged about before, they are less kinesthetic in class, more self-advocating, and very, very relationship oriented.  With you and with each other.  It's all about who "likes" or doesn't "like" them.  I believe that we've got to approach them from a relationship-oriented mindset or we won't get far in teaching them.

I've chosen to stop trying to change their basic psychological makeup and rather, to try to understand their reality and work within those parameters to teach Spanish as best I can.

I get student actors mostly by having students choose other students to be in the skit, not by asking for volunteers.  Kids hate volunteering to act nowadays because for this generation it is generally not cool to go up there on purpose and draw attention to yourself.  We need to understand that about this group of kids and just go with it.  If you notice, they will act (usually) if it’s not their choice; either you (the teacher) “makes” them act, or you are drawing names from a hat, or in the case of the Mad Lib scripts I've written for the second half of 3A, the actors were put in the skit by the class decision when no one knew exactly what they were going to have to do in the skit.

The other thing we need to understand about student actors with this generation of kids is that bad, unenthusiastic acting is cool; hamming it up is NOT cool.  If we try to force them to “ham it up,” they will resist even more; then they will refuse to act and you have no actors again, ever.  I personally do not “fire” actors (make them sit down and someone else step in) any more for this same reason.  Look, the whole point is to give the class a basic visual representation of the story and to have a fun, relaxed time doing it.  If that means your actors just sort of stand around lamely, only minimally following your stage directions, then that is what it means.  I have decided to roll with it and stop battling my kids.  As long as they do what I say and walk over there when I say walk over there, I keep telling the story.  We still laugh and enjoy ourselves immensely, and I find that I actually get more buy-in (and occasional hamming) by allowing “bad” acting than I do by nagging and scolding about their unenthusiastic, expressionless acting.  My actors will often get more in the moment since there’s no pressure, and then they WILL do the Dance of the Crazy Monkey for me when asked.

Secretly, your most unenthusiastic, unsmiling actors are actually enjoying the attention of being in the story; they just won't show it for a million dollars because that is not cool.  Know their secrets, Daniel-san.  Work with them.  Do not fight a battle you cannot win and lose your basic focus--which is providing comprehensible input in the target language in a low-anxiety situation.


  1. Interesting read! I usually have a few in every class who want to act. But in one class (the larger one) there seemed to be more "peer pressure." As a result, I found that puppets helped a little because then the kids didn't have to be themselves. Have you tried this yet? It might also crash and burn, but I'd be interested in how it goes for others!

  2. I haven't tried puppets, but I assume that what you mean is you have the kid come up and make the puppet act? That sounds hilarious, actually. I do sometimes make them "be" a stuffed animal or Chucky (I have a disgusting little Chucky doll that that they hate) and make it move, walk, attack, etc. And I'm all about facing the possible crash and burn. I'll try just about anything once. :-)


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