Students Problem-Solve, Create and Collaborate in Drama Class

July 31, 2009

Aug. 3, 2009 — Transforming a 2-D image into a 3-D production that retains the image's original message can be difficult, but the 13 students in a summer drama class on "Theatre Art: Image to Form" are up to the task.

Drama professor Gweneth West challenges them to collaborate and think creatively to best communicate their ideas in class. Assignments range from drawing to analyzing scripts – but all mimic some part of the translation process of dramatic image into theatrical form.

For one assignment, the students translated their emotional reactions to instrumental songs of their choice into abstract paintings.

Fourth-year religious studies major and drama minor Lisa Harbin responded to a fast-paced guitar piece, "Viking Man" by Rodrigo and Gabriela, a Mexican guitar duo.

"A lot of us had the same problem. We tried to transcribe the music instead of painting about our feelings," Harbin said. After initial paintings, the students met in small groups and as a class to give feedback. The students then revised their pieces, incorporating constructive criticism from West and their peers.

In the revision process, West urges students to problem solve and decide what works best.

"This is not a class that teaches answers," West said. "In fact, it expects the students to question their answers."

To understand the foundation of the theater artists' process of creation, the students read "The Dramatic Imagination" by Robert Edmond Jones and Peter Brook's "The Empty Space," which deal with set design and theater theory.

While the class is required for drama majors, West said about half of the students come from other areas of study.

"The problem-solving and collaboration skills emphasized in the class are useful for all majors, all walks of life," West said.

For their final projects, the students use many of the skills they have learned to analyze and respond to a play. Possible scripts include Harold Pinter's "The Dumb Waiter" and "A Slight Ache," as well as Sam Shepard's "Action" and "Cowboy Mouth." In groups, they paint their reactions to the play silently, instead communicating only with their eyes. Then, they collaborate and paint together before creating a sculpture. The project culminates in a deconstructed performance of the play.

West hopes students will leave the class with a new way of thinking – one that inspires creativity.

The class runs through Aug. 6. and is offered each fall and spring.

— By Laura Hoffman