Just four lessons short of the school concert, I found myself today with a new student in the senior class. Interesting challenge, given the close performance date, lack of “crowd” scenes he could easily join and the fact that everyone has an individual part.

Today, though, his role was easily allocated – “theatre critic”.

This lesson, I had brought some costumes with me. There’s nothing like a costume to help you slough off your regular skin and get into character – as long as the costume is “right”. Are there sensory issues to consider? Perhaps the student is a girl, playing a girl, but doesn’t want to wear a dress. Or a girl playing a boy but she doesn’t want a “mannish” outfit. If students don’t feel comfortable in their costumes, it completely defeats the purpose. Luckily, I got it right, and the students who went without were clamouring to have theirs next week.

Speaking of defeating the purpose, I realised that I had to make some fundamental changes to the staging. To make things easier for my students, I had minimised the amount of moving required. For example, in Scene 1, the Recruits sit in a row in a public hall, with the Groupie Girls (ditzy celebrity chasers) behind them. Scene 2 has the Recruits sitting in the same positions, but at bootcamp. In Scene 3, the Recruits are still at bootcamp, in the same position, but the Groupie Girls are back in, opposite them. Two other students (Explorers) are on stage for all Scenes 1 and 2, but only have a few lines in each.

This staging meant few position changes but also meant a lot of sitting around. As the critic pointed out ,most of the students looked bored. Yep, they weren’t really acting their parts.

The “acting” part of staging a play is challenging for kids who find being imaginative doesn’t come naturally. Playing “pretend” came easily to me when I was younger. Our dress-up basket was in constant demand. Imaginative play – or even more structured role playing – is a lot harder for children who often take a very black and white view of the world, or who are using all their brain space on waiting for their cues and getting out their lines. I mean, really – why am I pushing them to act as well? It’s a big ask.

The thing is, sometimes in life we need to play a form of “pretend”. (This needs a PhD to explore- not a paragraph!) It often forms part of the little courtesies that help grease the wheels of social interaction. Understanding that context can – and sometimes should – modulate our communication helps develop and hone our social skills. This is something that special needs kids often need more help with. Likewise, it is important that our children understand that others might not always be completely candid in interactions. Things are not always what they seem – there is usually a subtext to the context.img

For now, though, I’ll try to alter some of the entrances and exits, and perhaps keep the students on stage for shorter spells. Hopefully this will lessen any worry they might have about acting, as well as managing being on stage, listening for their entries and remembering their lines – which takes an enormous amount of concentration, if you think about it.

Next week is November. The concert countdown begins…