Hi all - thought this might interest you!
Taiwanese students from Grades 1-4 have created a sparkling new English theatre production - The Crystal Ball - in just under two weeks! The play concerns the misfortunes of a young princess, who accidentally breaks her two evil witch aunties’ crystal ball - and pays a terrible price. Cursed by the witches, her mother and father missing, she is alone and haunted by ghosts of the past, until one day a visitor comes to her castle…
This is all part of the Play-writing Summer Camp, one of several Drammar (Drama + Grammar = 戲說文法) Courses run throughout the year by Oxford English Masters Ltd., courses that marry English grammar teaching with theatre skills and performance. Under the instruction of Directors Matthew Townend from Oxford University, and Taiwan’s own Jimmy Liu, the all-female cast have conceived, written, work-shopped, advertised and helped organise the final show. Matt already works with Benson Yeh (葉丙成) in experimental education, and Drammar courses are now being taught at Wesley Girls School, TES (Taipei European School) and at Xuexue Institute’s newly-announced Culture and Creative School. These courses are a way to break away from the textbook driven math-like analysis of grammar which results in students that know, but cannot use English, and move into a more natural gamified way to learn language that follows native speaker methodologies of listening to, using and experimenting with speech patterns to achieve a goal. “Drammar develops confidence when speaking English”, says Jimmy Liu, “it’s important that students don’t think too much when they produce English - it has to come out without thought. Moving while speaking does that. And non-verbal body language - gestures - are just as important too.” There is the ring of truth to this. After-all, there are those that believe Trump beat Clinton due to his superior body-language.
For Matt, who is an established playwright with several plays and musicals under his belt (including the award-winning ‘Plague the Musical!’), it was really important that the ideas came from the students. “Creativity and problem-solving are the two most important skills for the future - the skills that AI and robots will find the hardest to emulate. I hope that Taiwanese students can really develop their creativity, and become great writers. I want to see Taiwanese movies and popular culture enjoying the same kind of success that South Korea has recently.” As part of his writing courses, Matt developed his own 5 Act Writing Method he calls the Pentagrammactic Writing System to help students create the kind of great stories Hollywood, Broadway, and the West-End are known for, “it’s really my life’s work. Everyone knows a good story when they see one - but can we write them? That’s hard, and many believe it’s just luck or natural talent. No-one told me at school how to write really great stories - but I always believed there was a science to it. It’s psychology after all. So I’ve been searching since I was 10 years old for the perfect story structure. Twenty years later - I think I have finally found it.”
But did the students really write the script for themselves? Matt is honest about this, “when we do this course with older students, yes they can do the whole thing by themselves. For this Summer Camp, the students were very young and writing for them is slow - it’s the hardest and last English skill to develop after all. So we focused on them creating the story, and then the actual script was written out by us all together with the students having input throughout the writing process. Not every word is theirs, but the ideas, characters and the story - yep, that’s all them. It was up to me to make sure that we could make what they wanted a reality. It’s really their story.”
Audiences will get to judge for themselves whether Matt’s coaching can indeed help young students develop great stories. The play ‘Crystal Ball’ will premiere on Saturday 6th August at 7.30pm at 台北市中山區長安東路一段55號4樓 for one performance only. It’s an original children’s fairy-tale written by students for students, and is a family show that should appeal to the Frozen-loving crowd and those with a love of Star Wars and other fables alike! Tickets are free, and you can register online by attending on the Facebook Event Page 水晶球戲說文法成果展. The Taipei Fringe Festival is kicking off soon after on 8.20.2017 so there will be plenty of chances to sample more of Taiwan’s creativity in the week’s ahead!