Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Indian Higher Ed: My Students

I haven't written much about my class. I've written cute anecdotes about my students, but haven't yet written about my class.

It's a good class. The students are animated, and eager to learn, and have plenty of raw talent.

Their knowledge of theatre is pretty limited; a student studying theatre in the U.S. would have had high school and possibly community theatre experience, but for many of these students, my performance will be the first one they have ever done.

We're doing an adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest. (Yes, we were going to do Alice; but it got changed, shortly before I left.)

The performance is in Telugu entirely, and is being developed improvisatorily. That is, the students and I discuss the events that take place in a particular scene, and then they create the scene onstage in the Telugu vernacular. There's no verse, no "Shakespearean poetry," nothing like that. As one of the visiting faculty commented, "even Shakespeare stole the story of Tempest from another poem; now you are stealing his story and presenting the Andhra version."

The students are very adept at "making something out of nothing," and much more capable of transforming strips of cloth, piece of wood, etc. into myriad and surprising objects than their American peers. I didn't have to teach them how to do that.

I'm not having to teach them much about improvisation, either. If I give a typical "impro-game" scenario (e.g. "a group of people waiting for a bus in the rain"), they will instantly turn it into a playable story. There's a Telugu folk game I watched them play, in which one person starts telling a story and then the narrative is passed around from person to person, which is almost identical to a game played on Whose Line is it Anyway? And they've been playing these kinds of storytelling games all their lives.

I am having to teach them about objective and tactic, about physicality and presence, about blocking and facing and all of those "technical" things. But they're very eager to learn.

What also interests me is the parts of the Tempest story to which my students are drawn. I'll explain: last week, while we were still learning the story (and learning it by rote), I divided the class into small groups and asked each group to act out the story for the rest of the class.

Every group focused their storytelling on two elements: first, that it was Prospero's addiction to magic (and neglect of his kingdom) that caused all of these problems in the first place; and second, the love story between Ferdinand and Miranda. They gave only cursory notice to the "Antonio and Sebastian try to kill Alonso" subplot, and ignored the rude mechanicals entirely. In their retranslation it is a play about a flawed father and two kids who fall in love.

The other interesting question my class put forward was "why does Prospero forgive everyone at the end?" They argued that Antonio should have been punished for attempted murder, and Stephano and Trinculo should have been punished for drunkenness and disobedience. I explained that this play was written near the end of Shakespeare's career, during his "philosophical phase," and that perhaps Shakespeare wanted to set forth a model of peace.

They didn't buy it. "Is there a book I can read that explains it better?" one asked. (I've loaned him my Critical Companion, and will be curious to hear his response to it.)

Anyway, that's where we are, and we're starting to put the play together. More news when I have news to share.


Daniel said...

I never read the Tempest--but you make it sound so good--maybe I'll get to it!

**puts it on his list of books to read which is already longer than he is tall**

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

No big surprise...the Indian kids think it's not complete without good old REVENGE!!!

Makes sense in a way, since justice goes so often unserved in India.

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