"Based on the Mistake"
[Monday, June 1, 2015]
Professor Burr sank into
his chair with a deep sigh.
"How did it go?" Everett asked.
"I convinced several colleges
to provide free tuition along
with guaranteed enrollment
to former inmates with points
and grades above a certain level,
as a reward for good behavior,"
Professor Burr said. "Finally."
"What convinced them?"
"The most recent tally
shows that our program
has cut recidivism in half
by raising the chance of
gainful employment after
release," said Professor Burr.
"I'm happy to hear your plans
are going well," Everett said.
"Yours aren't? said Professor Burr.
"We're supporting writers of color,
and encouraging inmates to develop
their own creative hobbies both for
personal expression and for broadening
representation," said Everett. "I was
just noodling around some old ideas.
"They got shot down every time
I proposed them, though."
"Warden Lincoln isn't like
Warden Daley, so let's hear
them," said Professor Burr.
"I want to start a Drama Club,"
Everett blurted then.
"That's quite a project,"
said Professor Burr.
"What brings this on?"
"Some of our students need
a more physical outlet for
the Liberal Arts," said Everett.
"Not everyone is happy with
just reading and writing."
"It would be a big challenge
in terms of safety and such,"
Professor Burr pointed out.
"I know," said Everett. "We
would need a new set of rules --
the earlier clubs all use variations
on the same basic parameters."
"Come on, let's go talk with
the warden," said Professor Burr.
"I'll back your drama project."
So they walked the office,
where Warden Lincoln
smiled to see them.
"Good morning, folks,"
he said. "What can I
do for you today?"
"Well, I just talked
some colleges into
free enrollment and
for our better students,"
said Professor Burr.
Warden Lincoln said.
"You've done great things
with your college classes."
"That's what brings me here,"
said Everett. "I want to start
a Drama Club for the inmates."
"O...kay," Warden Lincoln said slowly.
"Explain to me how you'll address
the various safety issues."
"I don't have that all planned
yet," Everett said. "Mainly I want
to make the club available to people
in the privileged or standard wings."
"Privileged at will, and standard with
approval," the warden suggested.
"What about the private wing?"
"They couldn't come to meetings
because we'll use diverse props,"
Everett said. "So they couldn't
join the Drama Club itself, but
maybe something related."
"Hmm," said Warden Lincoln.
"Do you have anything that could
be practiced in private? Exercises
or online lessons, that sort of thing?"
"Sure," said Everett. "There are
articles about various acting methods,
performance exercises, and so on.
If nothing else they could study
classic plays for inspiration."
"Theatrical exercises help with
emotional recognition and regulation,"
said Professor Burr. "Another option is
oratory -- memorizing and reciting texts
is great practice for learning a part."
"Then make a bundle of materials
for men who declare an interest,"
said Warden Lincoln. "I'll approve
some point values for doing the work,
and that will help them earn their way up
to the standard wing and the Drama Club."
"I can do that," Everett said. "I'll send
you a copy along with the rest of
my outlines for the project."
"Great," said Warden Lincoln.
"What will you need in the way
of budget and supplies for this?"
"Ideally, I'd like a starting library
of ten to twelve books along with
theatrical magazines," Everett said.
"Which magazines?" said Warden Lincoln.
"All the World's a Stage, at minimum,"
said Everett. "I'd also like The Three Rings,
Blacklight, The Hispaniola, Laugh It Up,
The Rostrum, and Phantom Power."
"That's reasonable," said Warden Lincoln.
"What else will you need for the club
besides the reading material?"
"Basic props, things that we can
mix and match to portray a lot of
different characters," said Everett.
"Try looking in the clothing bank,"
said Warden Lincoln. "Get hats, coats,
sport shirts -- any kind of company shirt,
we see lots of polos and T-shirts with logos.
Take stuff that's too weird for most people
to want and it won't cause any problems."
"Like Dr. G's sweaters," said Everett.
"Except those," the warden said wryly.
"The guys have been setting them aside
for use as concrete apologies whenever
someone acts up and inconveniences him."
"A trip to a thrift store and a dollar store
should cover the rest," said Professor Burr.
"Get a briefcase, a purse, blankets, toys --
ask about equipment that doesn't work."
"Also check the shop room and the art room
to see if anyone wants to make props for
the Drama Club," said Warden Lincoln.
"We can offer points for that, since helping
others is prosocial, and it could even provide
job-relevant references for some crafters."
"Oh, I didn't even think of that," said Everett.
"Making props should save a lot of money."
"Speaking of money, have you made
a budget yet?" said Warden Lincoln.
"Not in detail," said Everett. "I can
probably get started with $300 or so."
He didn't want to push his luck too far.
"I'll give you $500," said Warden Lincoln.
"Buy your basics with that. Try them out
and see what you're really missing. I'll
try to scare up some more cash so you
can catch the post-Halloween sales."
Everett's jaw dropped. Warden Daley
had usually cut proposed budgets by
at least half, if they weren't for security,
and he never offered extra money.
"Why drama in particular, though?"
Warden Lincoln wondered. "It seems
an odd choice for a prison program."
"Drama is based on the Mistake,"
said Everett. "You think someone is
your friend when he is really your enemy,
that this person is a chambermaid when
it is a young nobleman in disguise, or
that if you do this then such and such
a result will follow when in fact it
results in something very different."
"Well said," Warden Lincoln approved.
"Now how will you make that relevant
to the audience we have here?"
"It's relevant to all of them, because
it's the story of their lives," Everett said.
"All good drama has two movements:
first the making of the mistake, then
the discovery that it was a mistake.
Our students' lives are divided between
crime and prison, then the aftermath.
Drama is what they make of themselves."
"Descent into the Nether World, and then
the ascent from it," Professor Burr added.
"Ah," said Warden Lincoln. "Quite so.
All right, Everett, you're in charge
of our new Drama Department."
That threw Everett so far off
balance that Professor Burr
had to lead him out of the office.
"How did I end up in charge?"
Everett wondered, stunned by
the sudden development.
will do that," said Professor Burr.
* * *
"Drama is based on the Mistake. I think someone is my friend when he really is my enemy, that I am free to marry a woman when in fact she is my mother, that this person is a chambermaid when it is a young nobleman in disguise, that this well-dressed young man is rich when he is really a penniless adventurer, or that if I do this such and such a result will follow when in fact it results in something very different. All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake, then the discovery that it was a mistake."
-- W. H. Auden
Racism leads to a serious lack of diversity in adult and children's literature. Barriers against black and Latino writers, all the more so for intersectional writers. Similar issues in theatre hinder women and other disadvantaged groups. Learn how to encourage black students and Latino students. Support writers of color so they can get published. By subscribing to magazines by and for a variety of ethnic groups, Everett not only makes it easier for writers to make a living but also shows his students that people like them can create plays.
Drama is an important part of expressing culture. In addition to offering educational benefits, it also teaches life skills. It has a deep history that goes back farther than we actually have records.
Drama clubs appear everywhere from small towns to prisons. Joining a drama club offers many advantages. You can learn how to act and memorize lines, or explore roles other than acting. If there isn't already a club, you could start one. Begin with activities sorted by topic and some useful books. Every drama club needs dress-up props and other supplies, along with a way to store them. Think about your props budget and technical production resources. Browse an outline of a complete theatre course, a handbook and other resources for new drama teachers. This toolkit includes lesson plans, videos, and other materials. In Terramagne-America, most theatrical supply companies also offer a box of assorted props, makeup kits, and so forth.
Oratory spans a variety of skills. Learn now to teach oratory, memorize a speech, and improve your speaking skills. Read a handbook of oratory. Explore some speeches from America and around the world. Here are a bunch of other things for memory practice.
Budgeting varies widely in the production of plays. A high school play often has a budget of $10,000 to $15,000, but sometimes it's only $1,000 to $5,000.
Mosaic Publications is a T-American publisher of materials for the performing arts with a multicultural focus. Many of their employees are people of color or racially mixed. They produce scripts for plays, screenplays, skits, and other theatre; song lyrics, sheet music, and music textbooks; dance history books, footprint guides, and other teaching materials; instructions and routines for miscellaneous performing arts such as circus skills, clowning, juggling, mock combat, puppetry, stage magic, stand-up comedy, storytelling, street performance, stunts, trick shots, twirling, and more. These feature topics and skills drawn from many different ethnic sources, with the intent of supporting diverse performers.
Mosaic releases a number of periodicals aimed at schools, local drama clubs, community centers, and other organizations that host regular activities. All the World's a Stage features skits and short plays with settings and characters from all over the world, along with articles about supporting skills such as makeup and lighting. It has a department for each continent plus Student Showcase and New Professionals, among others. Earthbeat offers vocal and instrumental music, especially for less common languages and musical instruments. Among their most popular departments are Now Hear This for world news in music and Strange Sounds which showcases rare instruments and where to learn more about them. Planet Dance includes not only sheet music, footprints, and instructions for new dances but also photoessays about ethnic dances, interviews with famous dancers and choreographers, and performable excerpts from currently touring dances. The Three Rings is a grab bag of circus skills and other miscellaneous acts. It has all kinds of tidbits about different skills, how to do them, and what tools you need. The Centerfold showcases a field with pictures, articles, interviews, and product reviews. This is among the most popular titles in Sankofa Clubs.
In addition to the multicultural offerings, Mosaic also puts out titles specializing in a certain ethnic group and/or performing art. Blacklight is a theatrical magazine of African and diaspora content. The Hispaniola is a magazine of Hispanic plays, skits, comedy, and songs that spans English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Jazz Hands is their jazz, blues, and soul music magazine. Knock Down Drag Out covers a whole range of theatrical activities popular in the QUILTBAG community, from drag queens to human pony shows. Laugh It Up spans stand-up comedy, comedic theatre, clowning, and other humorous arts. It includes jokes, techniques, routines, and other ideas. Behind the Humor is a psychology column and Can I Say That? explores issues of offense and acceptability in entertainment. Ruffles is a Latin dance magazine with sheet music, footprints, and instruction plus reviews of current performers. Talebearers is a storytelling magazine with articles about techniques, interviews with famous storytellers, and lots of new stories for people to learn and use. Several stories in each issue are written in dialect or a foreign language. WANDerland presents stage magic techniques and routines, interviews with famous magicians, and reviews of books and products. Its departments include Look Ma, No Hands! about disability-friendly magic and Alakazam Travel about magic traditions around the world.
Roll 'Em is a T-American publisher of scripts for plays, screenplays, and other performances. They specialize in scripts for performers who have various disabilities. In addition to individual playbooks, they also publish some periodicals. The Rostrum is a magazine about how to write, direct, and perform scripts that feature disabilties along with short plays and skits with disabled leads. Phantom Power is a newsletter about superpowers and superdisempowers that includes tips on how to portray them, acting with powers, and skits with soup themes. Because T-American drama clubs in public schools are legally required to be inclusive, such materials are quite popular for student plays. Community centers, church groups, theatre clubs, and many other social groups also like them. Many of the writers, editors, and sponsors of Roll 'Em also have disabilities, although it's not required.
It has to be okay to make mistakes, because everyone makes mistakes and that's how we learn. Create an environment that is resilient about mistakes. This encourages people to deal with them and learn from them instead of hiding them and making matters worse. Learn to flow around them. Practice managed risk and look for ways to make safe mistakes. There's even a game for learning this. In one of my online classes I assigned students to try a project at the edge of their current skill level, which pretty much guarantees something will go a bit pear-shaped. Remember, if you're not making any mistakes, you're not learning, you're coasting!