Classics, Open Mics, Tea Parties, and Reader's Theater
January 17, 2013: The literature workshop in its first week concerned itself with developing our plan going forward. I asked everyone to complete a survey to determine individual interests and literary tastes. Then we had a group discussion: did we want to read one book together and discuss it? What kind of book? Would we like to try reader’s theater? Would we like to share favorite passages and poems every week? Would we like to run our workshop like a literary club from the 18th or 19th century? I mentioned the local example of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s salon and the Pickwick Club in Little Women.
We determined that we would like to read one “classic” together, share favorite passages and poems in a regular “open mic” period each week, try reader’s theater, and each pick a work of historical fiction to read and share through costume and food. One participant also had the idea that each member of the workshop take on the name of a literary character. We did not immediately think of things to do with that new identity, but almost everyone immediately had an idea of the character they would choose. Our workshop members now include Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia, Jo from Little Women, Jane Eyre, Galadriel and Shelob from The Lord of the Rings, Smaug from The Hobbit, Mattie from Fever 1793, and Hermione from Harry Potter.
We ended our first session with two games: an adaptation of “Birds, Beasts, Fishes, and Flowers” that uses book titles and “Adverbs,” a hilarious game in which one team thinks of an adverb and the other team asks the first team to do something “in the manner of” the adverb, say, make breakfast in the manner of the adverb. The second team then tries to guess the adverb.
We opened our second workshop with the “open mic” and heard excerpts from or short reviews of Slated by Teri Terry, Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Diary, Virginia 1609 from the My America series, The Totally Made-Up Civil War Diary of America by Claudia Mills (with musical accompaniment), The Twin’s Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, Gas, Food, and Lodging by John Baeder, and Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner. One participant shared Sonnets 27 and 28 by Shakespeare.
During the open mic, I shared the titles and book jacket blurbs of a few books that I had come across while researching classics: King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Tears of the Salamander by Peter Dickinson, and The Man in the Ceiling by Jules Feiffer.
Then I shared the titles and descriptions of the six books I narrowed down for the “classic” book vote: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. The vote was taken, and the Jules Verne classic was selected.
Discussion switched to my proposal that we have a tea party in which everyone attends as the character they selected the previous week. This idea was well received, and we agreed to plan for this.
I introduced two reader’s theater scripts-- one excerpt from The Hobbit and one excerpt from The BFG by Roald Dahl, and explained how reader’s theater is different from acting out a play. With reader’s theater, one does not use props or memorize lines. The idea is to bring the text to life through a dramatic reading of it. We divided into two groups and read through the scripts once before we performed them for each other. Then we traded scripts and will perform them again next week.
Literature workshop is off to an enthusiastic and festive start! I am looking forward to all the books, poems, and ideas that we will share.