Thursday, March 05, 2009

Theatre Dojo and McNuggets

The Theatre Dojo project in Los Angeles had two principal aims: to help actors find spiritual resources for use in their work and their life, and to offer non-performers some tools, using theatre work, for navigating their lives with some clarity and wisdom.

The business failed, but the project is not dead.

Yesterday, I told you the story of Latreasa Goodman and a mistake she made dealing with a McDonald's restaurant. The headline screams that she called 911 because McDonald's was out of nuggets, yet that isn't true. She called 911 because, in her view, she had been robbed and she didn't know what else to do. Because of her lack of cultural skills, she was cited for misuse of the 911 system. Her story is made to be a viral email, as people from a different social class than Ms. Goodman point at this "stupid person" and laugh their heads off. It is amusing, what she did, but as an actor I look at her perspective, her level of education and street smarts, and her decision made perfect sense from where she was. It was, however, an error with consequences, and that is why I have a hard time laughing at her.

So I drew up a lesson plan around it and used it with my 5th and 4th grade theatre classes today.

As a theatre teacher in a school district with a high level of poverty, I am concerned more with using theatre to teach them useful social and cultural skills than getting them into "show business." We'll do a play this spring, but that hasn't been my main focus. I make them read, speak, tell stories, use expressive movement to explore ideas and feelings, and try to get them talking about all of these things.

First, I presented them with a role play based on Ms. Goodman's situation. You order the McNuggets, they take your money and tell you they are out of them. How do you get your money back? I paired them up and gave them a couple of minutes to play the situation. As they presented their role play, I wrote on the board the procedural steps that they knew:

  • Ask politely for the refund

  • Ask to speak with the boss (manager)

  • Call the company and complain

  • Walk away and don't go back there

  • Use force (the boys really enjoyed playing that scenario!)

After we did that, I presented them with the news story you read on this blog. Made them read it out loud for practice. (At my school more than 50% of the students are English-language learners.) I then asked them if they thought this woman was stupid. Some said yes.

Then I highlighted this quote from the story:

Goodman told WPBF News 25 that she didn't "have a right to jump across the counter and snatch" the money, so she chose to handle it another way.

"She only knew two procedural steps," I said. "This is a 27-year old woman in poverty. Now look at this list of steps you showed in your role-play." (That's the list of steps up above.)

These children are 10, 11, 12 years old, and they knew more than twice as many strategies for getting that refund than the 27-year old woman. I asked them to think about that for a minute.

Then we talked about different uses of language in different situations. "Gimme my money!!" is perfectly all right when your little brother snatches your money at home. At a store, we use a more formal language style. I asked them to translate some stuff back and forth.

We talked about procedural steps and language styles, and the final step of the lesson is role-playing a situation where they explain to Ms. Goodman what her error was and what else she could have done.

That reminds me of Theatre Dojo. Using role play for learning the hidden teachings of human society. I could never be the kind of theatre teacher who has the kids perform "Li'l Abner" or similar crap. I want them to have options when they aren't in school anymore, and what we all need to understand better is that human civilization is an intensely theatrical conceit. To survive and navigate it, we have to master a range of skillsets that allow us to switch roles instantly throughout the day and across our lives, sometimes with the ingenuity and endurance of a kabuki master.

The photo above was taken at a Theatre Dojo workshop in Hollywood in 2007.


Kelly said...

I experienced quite a range of emotions when I first read your McNugget post yesterday. The way the headline read my first thought was "irresponsible woman" for abusing the 911 system. Then, learning what really happened I started looking at all of it differently.

It confirms my opinion of the media and how they twist things and shape our opinions with their wording of headlines and reports. It also shows how big corporations lose sight of the people they serve by enforcing rigid policies. Yes, they might have made an exception if the woman had gone through the right channels, but unfortunately she didn't know that.

I think it's great that you used this as a learning opportunities for your students, Algernon. I would have enjoyed having a teacher like you.

Algernon said...

Kelly, when I was a teenager I was interviewed by the Providence Journal. They were doing an article on the small press, and during those years I published an underground rag that was popular. When the article came out, I could not believe it - I was misquoted, and some accurate quotes were placed next to the reporter's own commentary so that it seemed I was saying things I would never have said.

It was a lesson. And you're right about this story, I think - they played the headline up as a "stupid person" story when, in fact, it's a story about the need for good education, and the lack of access some of us have to information and resources.

Unknown said...

fantastic and right on. All the world is a stage, indeed, and some are wandering out in the spotlight wearing red shirts ( if I may mix my references)

Ji Hyang said...

brilliant. we're running some groups (counseling) in the Boston schools this month, exactly these kinds of skills.