Northcross Intermediate School’s ‘Stuff n Nonsense’ performance group, which has been performing for other schools for the past seven years, embarked on its most recent road trip from May 28-29. Over the two days it visited four schools – Te Hihi, Greenmeadows Intermediate, Maeroa Intermediate and Berkley Intermediate. Drama teacher Mark Jensen reports.
The idea of the Stuff n Nonsense presentation is to create depth and mirror our own depths in the play. We want to create a relationship between surface and depth through drama, poetry, mask work, music, simple props and dance.
All 40 cast members are on stage throughout the hour-long show, presenting a variety of strange characters with queer dilemmas and our audience quickly realise they are required to think and be challenged, as well as laugh.
The members of the ensemble understand what’s involved in visiting other schools and the different expectations and physical challenges, such as adapting our show to the various stagings. We perform for our own school audience, but the real challenge lies in taking our work beyond the security of Northcross and into other schools.
Students we visit are very interested in seeing how performance can be used to convey a message, to entertain, and most importantly, how it can create a focus for a large group of students.
The rehearsal process takes place over one term, with weeks out because of camp and various interruptions. The cast of 12 year-olds workshop with text and explore ideas and movement, so there is a gradual journey from surface to depth. This way, they begin to see they will have engagement with form. It will enable them to express something about their own experiences – feelings, memories, hopes for the future, jokes, trivia, flamboyance, opinions.
The cast work hard to express bodily and facial gestures. An important tool in their training has been the mask. What the mask does is fix the face so attention is drawn to the body, which can then become a more graphically communicating instrument.
In mask work the cast flock like fish, in a common pool. This is a metaphor of how the group binds together, and throws into focus images and themes and attitudes that are collectively important to the group.
From the outset, I remind the students of SCARF which is our group motto. It stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness;
The group have a fascinating approach towards their Shakespeare component. This year, the chosen piece is The Merchant of Venice and the 40-strong cast use shared roles and chorus work to explore the text and the sounds of words. The sound of a speech may sometimes be made to express far more than it would be dramatically right for the sense to convey. In poetic drama far more is involved and contrasts between characters is gained by the manoeuvring as much of the sound as of the sense.
Stuff n Nonsense seeks to highlight sound effects, having fun and throwing in a modern-day advertisement for a money-lending outfit, and contrasting the modern habit of omission in our reading.
There is a strong commitment to working physically and movement is largely developed through instinct and playfulness, improvising until things begin to feel right. The cast then begin to ask for meaning and question the content – the emotional energy released by the effort involved contributes to understanding, even if this happens at an affective rather than a cognitive level.
Individuals have a choice whether they subject the created material to analysis or leave it to function as a kind of group dreaming.
The selection of “strange” or “quirky” music, also serves to accentuate voice and language and helps to trigger emotional response.
I believe when teachers show students how to set goals and show them what success on these goals looks like, there is increased attention and motivation to succeed. At Northcross, all our teachers are motivated, and have strategies to get the best out of students. I aim to provide these students with a great experience, and I don’t know of any schools that offer their students this type of experience in the performing arts.