The Myth of Persephone
Teacher: Kim Snider
Teacher: Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Ready, one, two, three, go. Five, four, three, two one, five, four, three, two, one ……three, two, one, three, two, one, two, one, one, one ….
Teacher: So you guys remember that last class right at the end of class I introduced to you just the beginning of the story The Myth of Persephone. In a moment I’m going to ask these guys to create a tableaux for you of the final, that final moment of the story that we started talking about last class. But I’m wondering if anyone could tell us briefly what you found out about that story. So, Maria?
Student: Well Persephone was out with her friends picking flowers and her mom was watching her and her dad, Zeus, was also watching her and then she picked this flower, I think it was the narcissus flower, and then all of a sudden Hades burst up from the ground.
Teacher: Do you guys remember who Hades is? OK, Janice?
Student: Hades is Zeus’s brother
Teacher: He’s Zeus’s brother, and does he have a title? Who is he, what’s his role?
Student: The Lord of the Underworld
Teacher: The Lord of the Underworld. That’s right.
The lesson that you saw today is from a unit we do called The Myth of Persephone and we describe it sort of as a story, drama or what’s often called a processed drama. So prior to this class the students were introduced to a few details of the myth and basically we dramatized the moment where this key event happens, which is the kidnapping of this girl Persephone. They don’t know the rest of the story or how it ends or why this has happened, they’re just given those details and then from that they have to invent or infer why the characters might be behaving the way they are.
Teacher: So this big event has happened, this sort of critical event that Persephone, this young girl whose parents are both gods, Zeus and Demeter, they’re both gods, she’s out picking flowers and then she picks this flower and the ground opens up and out comes Hades, Lord of the Underworld, who grabs her and puts her in his chariot. So let’s see the tableaux. So why don’t I count you guys down; so three, two, one and freeze. OK, so this is the picture. So take a look at the picture and tell me who do you see in this tableaux. So, Nora?
Student: There’s Zeus, Demeter, Hades and Persephone
Teacher: Who do you think Janice might be? Right here. Take a look at her body language; can you tell me who you think she might be, Andy?
Student: I think she’s one of Persephone’s friends ….
Teacher: Why do you say she’s one of Persephone’s friends?
Student: Because she’s pretty shocked that Hades has taken her away
One of the things that we started out with is tableaux, so a frozen picture that tells the story. So we use that to show some of those key moments, like the moment of the kidnapping.
Teacher: Remember we’ve been talking a lot about tableaux and the different things that make up a good tableaux. What have these folks used in creating their tableaux? Raven?
Student: They’ve used levels, which is really good because levels create more depth also. So if they also use upstage and downstage, which makes it way more interesting for the audience to look at, especially because it’s not a moving scene.
Teacher: Yes. Anything else that you noticed that you think makes it an effective tableaux or even a suggestion you would make?
Student: They used lots of emotion
Teacher: What are they using to show you the emotion in the tableaux?
Student: Their body language
Teacher: Body language. Facial expression would you say?
Student: Not tons of it
Teacher: So let’s have them …
Tableaux work is usually one of the first dramatic conventions we work with. It’s usually the one they’re most familiar with coming in from Grade 8, Grade 7 and 8. So we would talk a little bit about how you tell us story clearly because obviously in tableaux you can’t talk so you have to be able to convey a lot about the story just through body language and facial expression.
Teacher: What I’m going to do now is I’m going to thought track them. So I’m going to tap you guys on the shoulder and when I tap you if you could reveal one thing you think your character might be thinking and feeling at this moment in time. It could be a single word, it could be a whole sentence.
There is thought tracking which is basically used to reveal a character’s inner thoughts.
Student: Basically it’s getting a character’s inner thoughts with a queue, like tapping, and when Ms. Kim taps the characters they said something that we didn’t ….we couldn’t find out by just looking at the tableaux.
Student: I have you now
Student: [screams] ….my baby!
Teacher: Who is this? Zeus, OK.
Student: My brother came through with our plan
Student: Oh god, get him off me!
Teacher: OK thank you guys. I’m going to ask you to relax but stay up there. Yes, good job.
Student: One thing that’s much different about drama from most other classes is there’s tons of work to do in class and it’s definitely more energizing because you actually get to get up and do things and there’s also as you may have noticed no desks so we mostly just sit in a circle and listen to the teacher and then we go out and do whatever we need to do in the classroom – and basically have a fun time.
Student: It’s more about letting …having the basis of the rules there and then you building off of that, and that’s why every single actor in our drama class you’ll see them go up and even if we were all playing the same character it would never be the same because everyone is different and you’re allowed to be different in drama class.
Teacher: Can someone just briefly tell us what does it mean when you hot seat a character, what does that mean? Courtney?
Student: It’s when you pose questions to the actors who are in role as their character. So they answer in role.
Teacher: So this is your opportunity to maybe find out a little bit more about these characters and some of the things that you’re wondering about. So what would you like to ask? You can pose a question to anyone sitting here and they’ll answer your question.
Student: My question is for Zeus. Would you say that you and Demeter’s breakup was pretty clean cut or was there still some lingering feelings going on there?
Student: Well you know I would say it was difficult as all breakups were but me being my wonderful self, I can move on. I’m not sure how Demeter is feeling but ….
Student: I think he made it harder than it needed to be. Obviously he didn’t want to be with me so he could have just made it like that, he didn’t have to just be all ….
One of the reasons why we do The Myth of Persephone is because the myth itself has a lot of metaphors and connections to modern day. So some of the issues of modern day, like children growing up and moving away from their parents, leaving home, overprotectiveness, kidnapping – those kinds of things. So it allows them to make connections. Even though it’s an old story they can often connect to it and will talk about their own relationship with their parents or things like that. So they can draw a lot of meaning out of the story.
Teacher: Persephone, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your relationship with your mother; is it close, is it too close?
Student: Well I mean I love her, she’s a great mom but sometimes she can be incredibly overprotective and the way she’s always watching over me, it’s like she’s everywhere when I’m trying to do something. She’s just everywhere following me wherever I go.
Teacher: Do you feel like you wish that maybe you were a little bit more independent?
Student: Yeah, I wish I could just have fun by myself sometimes, just me and my gal pals, without my mom being there 24/7
Teacher: Why might Zeus and his brother have some kind of plan that involves kidnapping his own daughter. It’s kind of a twisted thing to do, but why do you think they might be planning this?
Student: I was going to say that maybe he thought he couldn’t care for her and that he wanted his brother, even though he’s evil, he thought that he might be able to care for her better than he could.
Teacher: That’s interesting. Maria?
Student: Possibly he thinks that Demeter is holding onto Persephone too tightly. Maybe he thinks she has already grown up and should move out of the house.
Teacher: Is there anything in this story that you’ve learned so far that would make you think Demeter is an overprotective mom? What is she doing? Sean?
Student: Demeter is totally stalking her.
Teacher: Why do you say she’s stalking her?
Student: Because she’s following her and she knows what’s going on….
Teacher: She’s watching her daughter pick flowers. She seems to be …like she’s close at hand, she’s watching her. So maybe she feels very protective of her.
Probably the biggest thing that you would see today in the lesson is that they have to make inferences. So there’s lots of questions of why might this person have done this; how might they be feeling at this moment in time. What do you think is going to happen next or what might this person do next. Because I teach English too I often find making inferences is one of the most challenging things for students to do, but in a story drama like this they’re making guess and sometimes the guesses that they make are quite sophisticated and quite telling.
Teacher: I’m going to ask you to find a partner in a minute and then what I’m going to do is I’m going to assign you a scenario. So you’re either going to be Demeter and Zeus or you’re going to be Persephone and Hades and I’m going to ask you to improvise a short scene of what you think might have happened in the moments after this particular event of the kidnapping. So what was it like when Hades and Persephone arrived in the underworld for the first time? What might that conversation look like, or what might the conversation look like between Demeter and Zeus after their daughter has been snatched from them in this way?
Students: [acting out roles]
Student: I think drama does affect other parts of your life because for example if you’re in drama and you’re creating a scene or anything and you can get sometimes let’s say in an argument with another member of your group about what you want to do and what’s the best idea. Well that always happens in real life, like you’re always going to disagree with people and drama teaches you to sometimes just step back and let the other person’s idea win. Like it’s not always about it has to be your idea.
Student: If you don’t accept other people’s ideas nobody is going to want to work with you. You’re not going to think of everything that other people are going to think about. So 100% of the time if you accept other people’s ideas the tableaux or scene will be 10 times better than it just being based off of what your look on the situation was.
Student: When something goes wrong you always come to me.
Student: Well you were standing right there
Student: Just because I was watching doesn’t mean I …
Student: …. I was just picking flowers and poof …..
Student: In drama you learn concentration to stay on task, which you need a lot for other subjects. Like when you have a test you need to know how to stay on task and study for it.
Student: I’m a very talkative person so I learned that in order to get a clearer view on what the task is listening helps way more than kind of going off in my own little world.
Teacher: Choose one of those four characters that we saw up on the stage, and I’m going to ask you to write in role as that character, just really briefly, about what they’re thinking and feeling at this particular moment. This girl has been kidnapped, we don’t really know what’s happening or what’s going to happen next, but just how that person thinks and feels.
Teacher: If you want to reference something that came up in that conversation that you had with your partner like the way you feel about what they said to you, or a question that you have, feel free to put that in your writing in role as well.
Often they will get a writing in role assignment and then they can put it in whatever form they want. So for example if it’s their diary entry, or some of them will modernize it, like it’s a text message from Zeus to his wife, or something like that. They have a lot of fun with it.
Student: I get to be original, like you have to come up with something interesting, like some people do text messages between their characters and Facebook and stuff.
They enjoy inventing things out of their own imagination as opposed to being given something to do, but we do spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year talking about what drama is and the kind of class it is and what makes it different from other classes, and that it’s a place where you can feel free to take risks and to be yourself and that there isn’t judgment.
Teacher: So I want you to imagine that this whole event, this kidnapping, that it happened let’s say in the morning, it happened around 10 o’clock. So we’re going to pick up a couple hours later, we’re going to start at 12 noon and basically what we’re going to do is you’re going to imagine what the rest of that day might have looked like for that particular character. 1 p.m.
Students: [acting out role]
Teacher: 2 p.m.
Students: [acting out role]
A lot of what they created today comes from them, it doesn’t come from the story, it’s from their own imagination and their own feelings and their own emotions, and I think when their voices feel valued that to them is fun because there’s that sense again of play and imagination.
Teacher: 6 p.m.
Students: [acting out role]
Student: In drama you can just kind of be yourself more
Student: When they’re learning like this they get to be more hands-on and learn how to do things their way of learning.
Student: We get homework, we still have assignments and stuff but it allows you to bring more of who you are to the class
And I think that that is one of the reasons why they often really enjoy drama and buy into it, is that they feel like their imaginations and their own thoughts are honored in their classroom. So I think that’s why they do find it enjoyable.