by – Amparo Garcia-Crow
I teach in two departments: Drama and Creative Writing. Where the two areas meet (in the way that I teach both courses) is in the introduction of “the Heroes Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell in his book, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”
As a participant this year in the Globalizing Curriculum Faculty Learning Community, I have expanded my approach to ‘core’ assignments by introducing students to two additional sources: The International Bill of Rights and the documentary entitled “A Force More Powerful” both of which provide a backdrop and approach to social activism. When used as an analytical story outline for character development in the appreciation of plays (in my “Introduction to Drama” arts appreciation course) and in the art of writing them (in my “Intro to Playwriting” class), these sources provide not only inspiration but historical context for the creation of Aristotle’s dramatic elements which include: plot, character, theme, language, spectacle and music. How then did my students respond to the challenge of taking “true stories” and taking into consideration Norman Mailer’s definition: “the purpose of fiction is to make non-fiction believable” especially during a climate of “fake news”? What challenges exist when they take on the role of storytellers in collaborative teams of 5 or 6 students per group and their task is to dramatically tell the true story of the African American students in 1963 who trained in non-violence to challenge businesses in the South that were resisting the end of segregation depicted in the documentary A FORCE MORE POWERFUL—especially if they (the storytellers)themselves are not black? Does the ‘race’ of the writer matter when telling a story, why or why not?
The “hero’s journey” is a mono-myth and according to Campbell transcends cultural differences. It is an outline that defines a person’s birthright to encounter their calling regardless of race, age and gender. In that sense, it supports the International Bill of Rights but how does the storyteller begin to personalize the story to make it an effective means to either educate or entertain an audience as Aristotle defines the ‘purpose’ of Drama as an art?
This semester (Spring 2018), I taught the Introduction to Drama class. And in order to take on the globalizing challenge with my curriculum, I had to become the curious “student” of globalizing myself by undergoing a Renaissance of awareness and appreciation which deepened my continuing experimentation for how to best engage students to empower themselves to embody the Bill of Rights on their own and especially in their chosen fields of study. Because the “Introduction to Drama” class is a requirement for students seeking a degree, it gave me a broad palette to play with since every kind of field of major is represented in the class roster. None of the students are studying Drama as their chosen field and it is for that reason especially that globalizing ideas became more relevant and more dynamic both in discussions, collaborations and projects.
The project I focused to “globalize” was their research project that the Drama Department requires every instructor to assign. The project is designed to teach students to take on technology by creating a visual report, in this case, of a play that significantly has impacted theatre history by also presenting an oral report, thereby practicing “vocal” presentation in front of the whole class. They also have to write a formal paper to support their ten minute, tech savvy offering so I chose this project as the one they needed to adopt an article from the International Bill of Rights as their “theme” for. For their research, I asked them to consider the antagonistic force for the time period represented that was challenging equality (war, famine, religion etc.) and to also know the playwright’s biographical information to notice how ‘privilege’ informs ‘who’ is telling the story. These added requirements globalized the issues significantly since it is often difficult to separate the writer from the story, no matter how fictional the story ultimately becomes. It was very illuminating to the presenter and the class to notice how the ‘storyteller’ is impacted by their social and economic status and how that affects their personal take of a global issue.
The word “slave” which has Greek roots, became the equivalent word for the “working” slave this semester—the he or she who has to spend their time working for others in whatever form, whether they were reporting on OEDIPUS REX or the most contemporary play on the assigned list entitled DISGRACED about Islamphobia in America post 911.
I am very grateful for how the International Bill of Rights informs the hero’s journey and by choosing historical non-violent stories in the documentary “A FORCE MORE POWERFUL” to kick off these ideas. The film, which is mostly archival footage of world wide, non-violent movements, inspired the ‘globalizing’ intent and goal for deepening the curriculum. I found this offering was successful this Spring in creating dynamic discussion and in helping t o inspire great storytelling that the students themselves could collaborate on. Students, by collaborating in small groups, developed friendships that they otherwise may not have discovered in a straightforward lecture. By becoming the presenters, they actively participated in embodying the right “constitutional liberties” declared in Articles 18-21, (in real time and practice) and did so “with spiritual, public, and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word, and peaceful association of the individual” when they both collaborated in groups and then became individual “experts” of their assigned play.
I look forward to creating writing prompts for the fall class of INTRODUCTION TO PLAYWRITING where the writing students will be asked to use these same sources as the means to embodying (in dramatic situations/plays)—Aristotle’s dramatic elements: plot, character, language, theme, spectacle and music. Because I use the newspaper headline as an exercise in creating “logline” stories—it will be the next opportunity for me to inspire “globalizing” (and current) concerns as the potential subjects for their plays. Judging from the way the INTRODUCTION TO DRAMA students responded with enthusiasm, I anticipate some great possibilities for timely stories from the writers as well!