I am on the bus back from Penn State University on a beautiful autumn day with 40 of enthusiastic, intelligent, and sensitive drama students. We had the absolute pleasure and awesome privilege of seeing the NYC-based American Place Theatre production of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. I read the book (and Hosseini's stunning second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns) and found myself captivated, transported, and moved. The heart-wrenching story of two boys from different social classes being raised in the same home in Afghanistan is haunting. When I saw that PSU was sponsoring a student matinee of the show, I signed my students up immediately.
(Not kidding...pretty sure my request went in last June.)
I purposely did not tell my students too much about the book because I did not want to create any preconceptions for them. Aside from explaining the sport of kite racing and the term "kite runner," I decided to let them experience the rest for themselves.
The American Place Theatre Literature to Life series features one actor, Sorab Wadia, who expertly assumed the roles of many characters, portraying the villain and hero with equal grace and effectiveness. Prior to the show's start, a teacher who works with the troupe (hello? this is totally a job for me!) talked with the students, asking them to think about when it might be acceptable to lie (if ever) and to think about their childhood relationships.
After the truly entrancing performance which had me in tears no fewer than three times, the teacher and the actor came out to talk to the students again about what they saw. As the discussion went on, it became clear to me that some of my younger students (I brought about 25 freshman) did not understand that Hassan, the 12-year-old servant boy, was not just beaten up by the bullies in the alley: he was raped by three older boys. Amir, the 12-year-old boy in the upper class whom Hassan serves, remains frozen as Hassan is brutally victimized and does not intervene, hence creating the main conflict of the novel. Some of my students were dismissing Amir as "selfish," but just as in real life, his character is much more complex. He's not just "selfish" -- yes, he's preserving himself to a certain extent, but it's so much more. Amir is also a victim of social constructs and miscommunication and conflicting cultural messages he receives from those around him. Once the students understood the vicious nature of the crime, the story became even more powerful to them.
After the discussion ended, I approached the teacher and the actor, to thank them for providing such an amazing opportunity for me and my students. The kids quickly followed my lead and before I knew it, Mr. Wadia gave us 15 minutes of his time, answering questions about character development and acting.
He shared with us that his memorization technique is to start from the end, not the beginning. He was a classical concert pianist and his teacher made him memorize the last movements of his larger works first. Why? Because the end of the piece becomes imprinted as a comfortable place to head instead of starting at the beginning and knowing the first movement really well, then progressing into a lesser-known portion of the piece. As a result, he finds himself gaining in confidence on stage. This piece of advice resonated with a lot of my students.
In addition, he said that the text is key. He said that memorization is only the starting point. Too often students think memorization is the end, but it's really the beginning. Only when the words are part of you can you truly create on stage. He said that it's fundamental to not only know WHAT to say, but WHY you are saying it. He said, "If you don't know why your character is saying what he is saying, then it is better to not say anything at all." Wow. I love it when my students hear some of the same things I have been trying to teach from the mouths of professionals. For one, it validates that I am on the right track, directing wise. For two, it reinforces the concept to my students.
To top it all off, after the show and discussion, a couple of former MAHS students, now PSU students met us and took us to the campus Union Building to have lunch, where the atmosphere was hyped up for Homecoming. We even took a quick walk to the Creamery.
To be sure, this was one of the best field trip experiences I have had. We were exposed to high-quality acting, had the chance to talk individually with a professional actor, and we bonded as a group for our first real event of the year. It's a great day to be Mrs. Connor!