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      Wow this was great! Loved it.

      I’m going to post it here so it’s easier to read for other people. I think all who are interested in Alpha would find something interesting about your essay. I think you did a great job of ‘academically’ covering what we do. I certainly learned a few things myself (re: what we do unconsciously)

      Thank you :)

      Assignment 1: Observation, reflection and analysis 
 Caitlyn Burt

      ‘Alpha Shows’ is an organisation which strives to provide high impact musicals mainly to primary schools and community groups. The musicals performed are based on fairytale stories featuring adaptations of modern songs and theatrical effects such as lighting and smoke machines. Each show provides character role models within the play and includes a ‘closed-eye’ segment, during which the children reflect on their personal circumstances and opinions. Alpha aims to expose children to theatrical performances while simultaneously implementing various techniques to educate the audience. The method of communicating important content is carefully predetermined, so as to teach the desired messages to the children as well as possible. These messages are communicated both blatantly through the actor’s lines and subtly through the their actions. Alpha engages in communicative practices both verbally and non-verbally, incorporating the use of dialogue and questioning throughout the performances.

      Interaction is a vital aspect of Alpha’s shows. Utilising Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:49-50, 351., Bernstein, Penner, Clarke-Stewart and Roy, 2006:470), the shows incorporate cooperative dialogue between the actors and the audience. Through allowing a bidirectional line of communication children are constantly involved and feel as though they are contributing to the show. Believing that “the more students are cognitively engaged in an activity, the more they are likely to learn” (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:433), Alpha encourages children to yell, ‘boo’, give directions, answer questions as well as sometimes be physically involved in the show. Near the beginning of the performance an element of Vygotsky’s scaffolding takes place (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:49-54) as the characters and teachers prompt the children towards expected contributions. Students are aware of Vygotsky’s process as they observe older, more knowledgeable people for cues on how to socially interact (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:51). As the show progresses this prompting reduces due to the students developing an understanding of what is required. During the interview with script writer and managing director, Ben Jackson, he stated that motion brings forth emotion. Alpha incorporates active participation in a desire to heighten the arousal levels of the audience (a physical and psychological reaction which causes the audience to be alert and attentive. Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:387).

      For the duration of the play, actors gradually deliver messages concerning subjects such as self esteem, the ramifications of beliefs and treating others nicely. At the beginning of the show, actors do not attempt to directly educate the audience, as the play is initially focussed on building relationships with the children. Throughout the interview Ben stressed the necessity of building character repour, this being vital to the acceptance of the ‘closed eye’ section later on. Characters need to be likable and appear trustworthy to the audience. However, this must be achieved in a much shorter time than the relationship developed between teachers and students in a class room. Though students will increase in their engagement, academic learning, social and emotional wellbeing when they feel they are in a positive, supportive environment (Blum and Libbey 2004, cited in Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:437) so this is an important process. In order to fast-track this relationship building and secure the favour of the children watching, the early script includes a number of ‘toilet humour’ jokes and other similarly aimed gags. These are designed to make the kids feel secure with the characters, as actors are aligning themselves ‘at the children’s level’.

      Once these relationships have been formed, different kinds of dialogue are used to convey the desired messages. Literal dialogue is used to directly present scripted lines and lessons, and the audience is requested to chant certain lines after the characters, for example, “All I need is within me now”. Utilising dialogue with the past, the children make links to ‘real world’ situations as well as their prior knowledge. By modifying modern songs that are familiar to the children, the students engage in a greater reception of lyrical analysis and involvement. Through basing the production on a well-known fairytale (such as Beauty and the Beast), children have already formed pre-conceived ideas about the characters and story line. Therefore through linking this previous knowledge to the featured show, the audience is better able to examine the modifications made to the play, causing the lessons provided to be highlighted.

      In the ‘closed eye’ segment, Luminare, the candle stick, emphasises to the Beast the importance of self-belief. Luminare encourages the Beast to think empowering thoughts about himself so that they may come into fruition. As the Beast cannot produce anything the audience are asked to help. While assisting the Beast in his beliefs they are invited to consider their own. Through this social process, the characters and children “interact and negotiate…to create an understanding or to solve a problem.” (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:66) Being involved in a task which relates directly to real life and their own experiences, the children become more engaged in what is happening (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:433) This direct link to personal experiences embraces both the process of inner dialogue and dialogue with the past.

      Inner dialogue is encouraged throughout this section as the children are specifically asked to critique their own thinking. The audience is invited to contribute new positive, empowering statements that they believe about themselves, and in doing so, a dialogue of ideas is introduced. Acknowledging that “learning involves multi-directional transactions between and among teachers and students” (Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:437), the Beast and Luminare proceed to incorporate what ever ideas the children provide. They combine the children’s contributions into the development of the story.

      Tailoring a script encompassing many socio-economic, cultural, gender, and age groups is a difficult task and communication of other means must also be provided. Woolfolk and Margetts, (2007:439) claim that “we communicate in many ways. Our actions, movements, voice tone, facial expressions and many other nonverbal behaviours send messages to our students.” This notion is magnified in relation to teaching in theatre.

      The energy and pace of the show is quite fast with a lot of stimuli occurring simultaneously. In reference to this fact, Ben remarked that students are able to “pick up on cues of physiology and tonality and don’t need to hear every word.”

      Directing lines at various people or groups is a technique adopted by the actors to target specific age groups. This is done to constantly involve and hold the attention of all the viewers, as well as to specifically address the common languages held by student groups. Scooter the dog, for example, would play with the young children at the front while Gaston (the villain) taunted the grade six students at the back. The inclusion of direct and specific contact increases the degree of receptiveness in each class learning community. The younger children were comforted in the scary scenes and the older children felt a maturity in having their own jokes. A small number of teachers were singled out and popular movie/television references were scattered throughout the script. Through these techniques the audience were constantly focussed causing them to grasp a greater understanding of the concepts being presented. With the communication differing greatly to a classroom, the environment and presentation style greatly reduces the formality of the lesson. By incorporating loud music and smoke machines etc, the environment invokes the children’s participation.

      The use of both divergent (no definite answer) and convergent (with a definite answer, Woolfolk and Margetts, 2007:476) questions is frequently incorporated in the show. Closed questions are mainly applied to situations involving definite answers such as √¢‚Ǩ≈ìWhich way did she go?√¢‚Ǩ¬ù These questions, often used when confirming an event, are strategically placed throughout the play to involve the kids and allow them to absorb the previous proceedings. This category of question is not difficult for the children to answer, and hence the purpose is to reinforce both the story√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s content and the involvement of the audience. 

      Open ended questions take place throughout the √¢‚ǨÀúclosed-eye√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ scene, where children are encouraged to share answers which apply to themselves. These divergent questions are asked in order to assist the children in applying the lesson to their personal experiences. 
After the show has concluded, the actors return to the stage and answer questions asked by the students. Various questions are asked by the children and a reinforcement of the key values is revised.

      Though a ‘leaning episode’ was not directly applicable during this placement, a common observation of learning was significant. After the show, when students were asked if they had learnt anything from they show, the response was generally no. However, when questioned about what kinds of beliefs and thoughts they should have, the children gave answers such as ‘positive’, ‘nice’ and ‘good’ thoughts, demonstrating that subtly, the message had indeed been learnt.

      In conclusion, the differing teaching approach adopted by Alpha effectively communicated their desired message, though it varied greatly to the traditional classroom methods. Building that initial relationship with the kids and encouraging them to constantly interact with the performers engaged the audience and made the experience more enjoyable. Due to the environmental and time constraints, the script and performances were tailored to best suit the situation. Using varying forms of questioning, dialogue and communication techniques, Alpha subtly interacted with the children and caused them to learn and simultaneously be entertained.


      Bernstein, D., Penner, L., Clarke-Stewart, A., and Roy, E. (2006) Psychology (7th ed.) Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

      Woolfolk, A., and Margetts, K. (2007) Educational Psychology. Pearson Education Australia, N.S.W.


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