Marvels amongst the kauri Part 2

The students stood around talking to each other quite at ease. Though they knew much was to be asked of them, they were relaxed, clearly looking forward to what was to come. Unexpected challenges would be posed, for instance, what Leontes ‘saw’ in sounds? but I knew from having seen them before, the unexpected would simply be received as if the expected and they would just relax into their imaginations and feelings.

Drama creates contexts for students to be intellectually and affectively challenged in a way they would find bewildering in other circumstances and is marvellously efficient in setting up those contexts. The students knew that as long as they were sincere, Chris would not be judgemental and the students modelled themselves on him.

Before Chris moved to The Marvels, he used some other sources for drama.

He read to the students Leaving One Foot Island by Graeme Lay. 

Tuaine didn’t want to leave her beloved island in the Cook Islands but wanted to pass exams and do well for her family. Inspired by Anne Frank, Tuaine begins to write a diary about her new life.

What range of emotions and thoughts might Tuaine have had?

Thought tapping was used.

Each student set him- or herself into a moral sculpture to demonstrate one of those emotions or thoughts and held it. Chris went around and tapped a student on the shoulder and that emotion or thought was explained by the student who then went out of role, and Chris moved to another.

In making moral sculptures, Chris reminded the students to consider a variety of body bases: sitting, kneeling, lying, standing.

A story was told and pictures shown about a mother and child in the 19th century being evicted from a house in a country village. 

A reflection circle was formed to get students talking about their ideas.

‘Having somewhere to live is important.’

‘It was just business but should it be?’

‘It happens today.’

‘I wonder what happened to them.’

‘Yes – where did they go?’

‘Did they end up happy?’

‘They might have gone into the country.’

‘Didn’t they have poorhouses in those days?’

A split scene was set up. This is when a group on left stage performs their version of the story while the group on right stage freezes. After that the right stage group performs theirs while the left stage freezes, and so on.

Chris reminded the students that performers communicate in the way they stand and move, use their faces, make gestures, what they say, and how they say it.

Groups of students practised the experience of the family, and the other groups practised the owner in his actions and reasoning. Then the alternate groups were paired for the split scene performances.

It was carried off with admirable concentration.

Once again drama had woven its magic.


The students and Chris return to the story of The Marvels.

  • Billy has buried his brother and wrote an epitaph for him: ‘Here lies my brother Marcus, an Angel.

What epitaph might you write for Marcus, the Angel?

The students wrote their ideas on a wooden black-painted column.

I will always remember you as the angel of my heart.

My saviour, my fallen angel.

May you rise above the stars and become the brightest of them all.

Let the heavens gain the purest heart.

What if those epitaphs roamed and spoke to each other?

A rather different idea but the students were not put off stride, effortlessly moving into role and exchanging justifications and explanations.

  • What do Angels do?

The students provided some ideas: they soar, glide, swoop, and fall.

What functions do they carry out? protect, comfort, guide, warn.

Chris pointed out they sometimes carry things, for instance, scriptures, swords, ointments, people, and treasure.

Make an angel sculpture.

  • The picture shows Leontes picking up an object from the basket (Chris called it a pendant), turning it over and reading the inscription.

Why do you think the pendant was put in the basket?

Who do you think put it in?

What might be inscribed?

What are the functions of a pendant?

In the context of the Marvels’ story, what might it mean?

In role as the author, write an inscription for the other side.

I asked Jake what he was thinking of doing, ‘I’m thinking of writing a warning.’

I watched him.

He was relaxed and reflective.

In the course of the drama, the students were going face many challenges but, like Jake, they remained calm and at ease.

Chris had posed a problem in the context of story in which the students were deeply affectively involved. The creative tension grew from that.

The students shared their inscriptions.

What inscriptions you heard do you think really got to the heart of the matter?

The students discussed this in small groups then as a class.

As Chris encouraged them to be, the students were direct in their views, but they listened politely to other points of view, thought critically, negotiated, and compromised.

Leontes put the pendant to his ear and heard voices.

What do you think he heard?

In effect, the task served to get students to reflect on the story as a whole.

While Leontes clutched the pendant, unable to sleep, he saw ‘saw’ voices and sounds.

In pairs the students discuss what voices and sounds he might have ‘seen’.

The students called out various ideas: a girl crying for help; a storm; a theatre being built; the flapping of Angel wings; someone speaking Shakespeare.

What if those voices spoke to each other?

The students roamed as voices, speaking to other voices.

The students are shown pictures from happenings in the past: the play, the ship, the falling Angel, the drawing of the Angel on the dome, the baby in the basket, hands stretched out.

Half the class lay on the floor, eyes half closed, the other half as Angels roamed around those figures, quietly whispering to them.

Now Leontes and the Angels are flying.

The students are deeply in role.

Their hands stretched to each other, now the hands are separating, they are falling.

As Angel and Leontes flew together, what conversation might they have shared?

Create a series of six paired sculptures – based on the separation of hands – ten seconds apart, that depict the separation and descent of the Angel and Leontes.

Chris appointed a director to say ‘open eyes/shut eyes’ to viewers to create a filmic effect

  • A student raised the matter of Icarus and the similarity to the images of the Angel, the spreading wings, and the fall.

Chris decided to make use of this as an improvised activity.

Children added to the story.

Chris briefly recounted it.

What is the essence or message of the story?

A reflection circle discussed it.

Do you think Brian Selznick intended any similarity?

What are the differences and similarities?

The students made a moral sculpture physically expressing that essence or message, and when tapped on the shoulder explained themselves – then came out of role.

I could see how the coming in and out of role enhanced the drama – allowing the students to prepare to go back into role with sustained purpose; also, providing a reminder of the importance of imagining themselves into sincerity of role.

  • The students see the picture of Leontes writing a letter; it says: ‘I need to find my place in the world … I hope one day to find where I belong too.’

Rather than leave ‘the story in flames’ what if we were able to speak to the characters to find out what may have happened next?

Alexander and Leontes are put into a combined hot seat to answer questions.

Chris jogged Alexander and Leontes whenever, in their answers, they moved out of role.

  • The students are shown a picture of Leontes.

What do you see in his eyes?

‘Fear, he looks frightened as though he really doesn’t want to know.’

‘Hopeful but scared.’

‘No, desperation, he’s scared, but he’s got to do it, or he’ll never know himself.’

‘I think his eyes show he is hearing voices.’ Murmurs of agreement.

‘His eyes look as if he wants to escape – the life he’s leading, the search ahead – yes desperation, I think I like that one.’

‘Determined no matter what.’

‘He’s thinking of the past to see.’

‘He doesn’t want to look through the horror.’

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2 Responses to Marvels amongst the kauri Part 2

  1. Kelvin says:

    An Auckland teacher writes: Thank you again for showing the pivotal role drama plays in exploring the human condition and the essence of our humanity. It is anathema to those who believe that we are born to compete and only the fittest survive.

  2. Kelvin says:

    A Bay of Plenty friend writes:

    I loved reading that Kelvin. It took me back to the drama lessons I used to take – but nowhere I think with the deep level involvement of the students and the seemingly seamless transition from one idea to the next. However, I do recall asking teachers I worked with in North Carolina to work with me to recreate a situation that, at the end, left them emotionally drained (so one told me). It was based around my desire to ensure these teachers left with a clear idea of NZ and its different regions as a place of refuge in a possible nuclear war situation (think North Korea today – or Trumpery), and having to argue why their chosen region was the best one to emigrate to (Americans love competition). Every so often I put the squeeze on them, announcing a constant change of emigration rules (you are now only allowed to take one pet … you can now only take one suitcase with your favourite things …you have to choose one of you to leave behind etc.). When we are forced to put an assessment mark to these kinds of activities, to see how it fits the system, I could cry myself.

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