Arkansas Schools Tour 2011 - The Poe Show

Erika: As we whiz across Arkansas in “the Raven,” through small and even smaller towns, winding our way around the Ozarks, passing  what I consider to be the most beautiful landscape in the country, I think to myself how lucky I am to have such a great job. I am a professional actor and teaching artist. I get to perform in a terrifically silly and cool play about Edgar Allan Poe and co-teach workshops after each show. I travel from community to community with own little community, my ensemble, my little show family—my pack of pals known as “The Poe Show.”

After each town, we inevitably use the commute to check in with each other the about the most recent shows and workshops.  We’re be brimming with observations, so the conversations are pretty exciting. None of us have done anything quite like this. We are all pretty far removed from the culture of high school, so we feel slightly scientific about the experience!

First of all, I am pretty certain that high school students are the toughest audiences to win over. No matter what town or region they come from, teenagers are an audience whose trust and respect you have to gain immediately, or they will eat you for lunch, right there in the cafetorium.

Teens are a tough crowd. I know this from substitute-teaching a high school drama class for two months. I learned from that experience that I had to give so much energy and attention to the quality of my lessons. There was no way I could “phone it in” because if I didn’t keep them engaged in an activity, exercise, or discussion, I would lose them to that sleepy state of apathy the darlings are famous for. So I had to be “on” all the time. I kept thinking to myself during that time that teaching is like acting in the way that you must always stay present and receptive to the information you are getting from the room. I’d come into the class working off a script, my prepared lesson, but I’d have to adjust how I was teaching based on their body language and level of enthusiasm. I’d have to make a quick assessment and shift gears in the moment if I didn’t want to lose them. I learned a lot from my temporary high school teaching gig.

Another truth I was reminded of by the Poe Show audiences—we have to love it if we want them to love it. And we LOVE this show. The script is hysterical, the boys are so cool and funny, and the show is SUPERFUN.  We make this offering of SUPERFUN, and if they laugh their faces off (which they do, I get to watch the audience from the stage), then they are certain to trust us enough to give us their attention. I can brag that all the school audiences were into it. And in the midst of all that SUPERFUN, we snuck in the stories and life of Edgar Allan Poe. By the time we got to the workshops, we saw very little reluctance to engage in the program that was designed to expand their understanding of Poe. As a matter of fact, that was a consistent trend with the workshops. The kids participated. They were free from the shackles of teen cynicism for this brief window of time, and they PLAYED! Because they played, they learned even more about Edgar Allan Poe! And I’d bet you cold hard cash that many of those kids were excited enough about Poe to seek him out on their own.

The Poe Show is designed to be a teaching tool, but it is just part of the learning experience. Since teachers in Arkansas don’t necessarily teach the same authors, prior to hitting the road, Morgan sent out study guides that the teachers could use to prepare the kids. We included all sorts of exercises, projects, and resources in the guide, dividing the lessons into pre-show and post-show activities.  Between the guide, the play, the workshops, I think we showed them a thing or two about Poe. The workshop gave us a chance to assess their understanding of Poe in their reinterpretations of his work through tableau, chilling when done well.  The students’ tableaus were awesome and demonstrated and their understanding of an Edgar Allan Poe poem. A Poe(m), if you will. And I usually got goose bumps watching!

So that was my job for the last few weeks. Yes, please, I’ll have more of that, thank you.