Spoon River Exercise EXPLAINED – Part II: The Animal in All of Us

Spoon River Exercise EXPLAINED – Part II: The Animal in All of Us By Katherine Schreiber

nRead the first article in this series here.nnYou’ve picked and memorized the poem. You’ve chosen an emotion to underscore the last two lines. You’ve researched, written, and presented to the class your character’s biography. You’ve come up with a parallel dialogue to inject a more visceral subtext to the monologue you’ll be reciting in front of the class (choosing a specific person, real or imagined, to tell it to, with the intent of giving or getting something from this individual). Now what?nnIt’s time to take a trip to the zoo. Seriously.nnSchreiber has each Spoon River exercise participant spend a day studying an animal they feel best embodies their character’s personality.  Students observe the animal’s movement, shape, as well as its relation with and reaction to other animals or people within its environment. They then attempt to replicate the animal’s center of gravity (Does it move from its belly? From four legs? From two? Does it startle easily? How does it approach prey? How fast or slow is it?) as they assume their chosen character in class.nnSchreiber finds this lends an entirely new dimension to all Spoon River poem recitations. And it’s a great tool to keep in your back pocket when taking on future roles.nnNow it’s time to get up in front of the class and put it all together.nnMove from the animal’s center of gravity, keep in mind the parallel dialogue you’ve come up with to underscore the lines you’re spouting to achieve that chosen emotion, and deliver this poem to that imaginary or real person.nnCongratulations, you’ve just completed Schreiber’s version of the Spoon River exercise. So what was the point?nnSchreiber says this is one of the best ways to practice building a role — creating a character that’s real and believable from the minimal prompts one gets from words on a page. (Poems from Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology also happen to be rife with characters and conveniently suited for memorization and recitation without being too abstract.)nnThe Spoon River exercise also enables students “to process how to get to a result,” adds Schreiber —i.e.: the emotion you chose, “rather than just play it.”nnThe ultimate goal is to find parts of the character you’ve chosen inside of yourself. (To put interleave your own truths with the character’s). As well as to inject the most honest (read: believable) subtext into the lines you’re reciting in the interest of more naturally eliciting whatever emotion you’ve chosen to grace the final two lines.nnThe entirety of this work is certainly not easy. It takes a lot of effort. (Arguably, another function of the exercise is to show students just how much effort is required to truly take on a role.) But, as Schreiber reminds us, “good actors stand out from lazy actors by doing their fair share of research.”

Spoon River Exercise EXPLAINED (Part I)

 Spoon River Exercise EXPLAINED (Part I) by Katherine Schreiber

nAs an actor, you’re faced with the task of embodying someone else’s physicality, demeanor, voice, emotional range (and depth), fears, hopes, wishes, and dreams. (Amongst other elements that make up a character.) To accomplish this you’ll need to get comfy transitioning from your own skin to the skin of the person you’re attempted to portray. You’ll also need to make the role you’re playing feel as real and genuine to you as possible (so that the audience feels the same). And so you’ll need some means of honing your characterization skills. Here’s where the Spoon River exercise comes in.nnDeveloped from Sanford Mesiner’s original model, T. Schreiber’s very own Terry Schreiber (redundant much?) incorporates this exercise into his class with a bit of his own flair. Students select a poem to memorize from a collection of fictionalized epitaphs written by Edgar Lee Masters in TKYR. They choose one five basic emotions (love, anger, fear, joy, or sadness) to inject into the piece’s last two lines.  Then they do a fair bit of background work, creating a hypothetical life the speaker of the poem would have lead. (Warning: all epitaphs come from individuals who lived in the 19th century. So students are asked to leave modern day technology, twentieth century references, and modern customs aside.)nnSchreiber recommends the biography — which students ultimately present to the class —include where their characters’ ancestors originated from, where their characters’ parents met and did for a living (whether their characters’ mothers worked) whether the characters had brothers and sisters, how far they went in school, if they went to college, what they did for a living, whether they married, had children, died young or old, and what they died of.nnKeep in mind, however, that the whole biography “should be leading you to what you named as your emotion,” says Schreiber. “The goal is to create a psychological and emotional center for your poem. If you picked joy, don’t end on telling us that your wife and kids burned to death in a barn.” (That is, unless you didn’t like them much.)nnNext step: Create a parallel dialogue to complement the actual text of the poem. (And by that we mean subtext.) Either rewrite the poem in your words or substitute names and places the character mentions with names and places from your own life. Schreiber gives the example here of one student who, in the place of the character putting her life on hold to have kids, swapped in her experience of postponing an acting career to care for ailing grandparents.nnOnce students get their poems, bios, and subtexts down pat, they get the chance to present their chosen poem (with all its chosen emotion) to the class. And by “the class” Schreiber means “one person — real or imaginary — the student would like to tell the poem to.”  Schreiber has students decide whether they want to give or get something from this person. (“Get is often a stronger choice than give,” he notes.)nnThis is just the beginning, of course: Part one of the Spoon River exercise. (We like to explain it to you in digestible bites.)nnStay tuned for the second half of Terry’s signature exercise, slated for January 11th, 2013.

What is Psychodrama?

What is Psychodrama? By Katherine Schreiber

nPsychodrama: its name may sound horrific. But the process itself is far from it. Participants and practitioners agree, it heals. Psychodrama was created by Jacob L. Moreno — a psychiatrist from Bucharest known best for his contributions to group psychotherapy and sociometric research — in the late 1920’s. His goal? To help participants piece back together the parts of themselves they felt were broken by acting out whatever roles they assumed or encountered in their day-to-day lives.nnThe protagonist, his/her auxiliary egos (a fancy term for those who play significant others in a protagonist’s drama), the “director” (a psychodramatist who oversees the psychodrama session), and the audience (group members watching the drama) make up a typical psychodrama session. Sessions generally last about two hours and move through a group warm-up, a series of scenes the chosen protagonist acts out from his or her life, capped off by a reflective post-action group discussion.nnSeveral techniques are employed throughout a psychodrama session — most notably: role reversal (where a protagonist assumes the role of another person in his or her life while a fellow actor plays the protagonist), mirroring (where a protagonist acts out an experience and another actor then re-enacts what the protagonist has performed), and doubling (where a fellow actor serves as one of protagonist’s ‘auxiliary egos’ or the protagonist’s second self). Protagonists are also encouraged to speak in soliloquies to enhance their own, as well as the rest of the group’s, awareness about their behavior and feelings.nnPsychodrama should not be confused with drama therapy, the latter of which entails acting out fictional character’s situations rather than one’s own emotional and historical truths. (Think of psychodrama as a more personal and less metaphorical use of theater techniques to achieve psychological well-being.)nnIf you’re interested in trying it out, check out the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama or upstate NY’s Lifestage for more info! And if you’d like to know a bit more about the life of founder John L. Moreno, take a look at his wife’s memoir, To Dream Again.

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