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Sequence of Activities
Warm-Up (One Word Story): 5 minutes
Seat everyone in a circle.
Ask students to tell a collaborative story, one word at a time, with each player providing one word in a sentence. The facilitator should end sentences occasionally by saying “period,” “question mark,” or “exclamation point.”
Introduction: 10 minutes
Briefly introduce the following four performance fundamentals:
Performance Fundamentals Exercise I (Breath Support): 10 minutes
Have students go through the following physical motions:
Performance Fundamentals Exercise II (Circle Listening and Emphasis): 25 minutes
Show students a written version of a very familiar line (“To be or not to be, that is the question” works well). Ask students: how do you think this line “should” be said? Solicit responses from volunteers.
Then admit that this is a trick question. Preparation for performance does involve careful reading, and some choices will be made in advance—but if we try to predetermine or “memorize” the delivery of a line, the performance will not always be convincing. This is where the concept of spontaneity comes into play. Tell students that the following exercises will help them to listen to the text as they speak it, so that they’re open to making discoveries about the text in the moment of performance.
Performance Fundamentals Exercise III (Turning Points and Specificity): 15 minutes
Briefly introduce the idea of specificity in performance (that is, the idea that text can be effectively communicated when the speaker performs a close reading for the audience, highlighting individual words and turning points in the text of the poem).
Closing (Ritual Out/Shut Up): 10 minutes
Quickly sum up the main ideas students will take with them today:
Ask students how they feel about performance. Are they nervous? Excited? Bored?
“Ritual out” of the performance workshop by playing a game called “Shut Up,” in which performers articulate (and push back against) any fears they carry into their upcoming performances. Go around the circle of students. Each student will turn to the next person in the circle and articulate a fear or worry (this may directly concern the performance, or not, as the student prefers). The person next to her in the circle repeats the worry. The first student says, “Shut up.” Continue around the circle until everyone has articulated a worry, had it repeated, and said “Shut up.”
Close by thanking students for their time and attention and wish them luck in their upcoming performances.
 This exercise usually has humorous results. Icebreakers are particularly helpful in a performance workshop, where less-experienced participants may feel nervous initially. This exercise also helps the facilitator to introduce the concepts of acceptance and spontaneity.
 This definition of acceptance, a foundational concept of improv theater, is adapted from a definition given on improvencyclopedia.org. “Accepting.” 2002-2007, improvencyclopedia.org. Web. 20 June 2012.
 Adapted from a listening/repetition exercise originated by renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner.
 Note: a demonstration of two performances of a short text (one “general,” one “specific”) can be useful here. I often use Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani’s translation of the Izumi Shikibu poem “Although the wind…” for this purpose, reciting it once “hopefully,” and then reciting it again with attention to the turning points that I hear as I speak the poem.
 As time permits, students might also practice communicating the turning points in their chosen texts by reading in small groups.
 I first encountered this idea in a workshop titled “Performance in the Classroom” run by storytellers from Chicago’s 2nd Story and instructors from the creative writing program at Columbia College Chicago.
 This activity comes from a workshop at The University of Arizona Poetry Center (“And Then a Plank in Reason Broke: Poetry, Uncertainty, and the Creative Process”) facilitated by poet and Poetry Center Summer Resident Genine Lentine.
 This exercise can be cathartic.