by Natalie Goodnow, Artistic Associate
For the past month, Teaching Artist Keri Boyd and I have been on a bit of a hiatus from our normal gig, performing Courage in Action in elementary schools, and have now been performing Alternative Solutions for middle school students at Mendez Middle School, Ojeda Middle School, and AISD’s Alternative Learning Center. In Alternative Solutions, we explore conflict and conflict resolution through theatre games and scenework, meeting two fictional characters – “Kim” and “Julie,” both middle school students – who are undergoing a conflict themselves.
My favorite moments in the program have been on Day Three of the four-day residency, when the students are “in-role” as counselors giving advice to Julie and then to Kim. I love interacting with the students as “Kim,” and hearing their advice as to what I ought to do resolve my conflict with my best friend. In that moment, the students and I essentially switch roles. I become the youth; they’re the adults. I’m the one with questions and problems; they’re the ones with knowledge, with wisdom, who know the answers.
The students get a kick out of telling me to put my hood down (my “costume” is a gray hoodie), to follow the dress code, and to watch my attitude; and I get a kick out of testing them, seeing how much they’ll let me “get away with” in their counselors’ office. That’s the fun part.
The exciting part, though, is to see students who have been quiet, or only minimally cooperative at other moments in class, suddenly spring to life once they’re “in-role.” What’s even more exciting is to discover that the students really do have knowledge and wisdom; they know the answers.
I’ll always remember Diana, utterly silent the rest of the day, holding her hand to her heart telling Keri/her character,
“Julie, why are you so upset. We are here to help you. This is a healing place. You just need to talk to your friend, tell her how you feel. Be patient. Listen to her. Pat her on the back. She’s your best friend. It will be ok, Julie.”
Not once did we tell this student what to say, or how to say it! This is just one more example of the power of TAP’s pedagogy. Young people really don’t need us to give them answers to their problems. They just need a safe, creative space in which to discover these answers for themselves.