Lesson Plan: ACTivating Emotions with Orpheum Theatre Group
By Taylor St. John
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, those of us who work at the intersection of theatre and education have been forced to grapple with how to provide meaningful programming that speaks to the current moment we are living through. Even before the pandemic, youth mental health issues were on the rise. In Permission to Feel, Dr. Marc Brackett presents research findings from 2019 indicating that “one in five American children is experiencing a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, and over half of seventeen-year-olds report having either experienced trauma directly…or witnessed it at least once as a child.” While the pandemic has continued to disrupt daily life and create vast uncertainties, it has also illuminated the need to equip young people with the tools to process complex emotions through social and emotional learning.
In the fall of 2020, I designed a curriculum entitled ACTivating Emotions which was facilitated in classrooms virtually throughout the Mid-South. The workshops used image theatre to teach students how to name, express, and regulate their emotions while simultaneously building their toolkits as actors. These workshops created a creative and engaging space where students could meaningfully reflect on how the ongoing trauma of the pandemic was affecting them. While many educators are fearful of openly addressing the messy terrain of their students’ emotions, the Covid-era has made it perilous to maintain that stance.
Although emotion has always been a foundation of learning (it is connected to everything from memories to critical thinking and decision making), the pandemic has demonstrated how essential it is for educators to include social and emotional learning objectives in their lesson planning. Educators need to equip our young people (and ourselves) with additional tools to cope and express themselves during this time of uncertainty, confusion, and loss. I invite you to embrace the messiness of our current moment and hope this lesson plan provides you with a platform to begin having these essential conversations in your classroom.
Taylor St. John is a theatre maker and educator and serves as the Director of Education and Engagement at the Orpheum Theatre Group in Memphis, TN. At the Orpheum, he directs the Teaching Artist Training Program where he collaborates and coaches Mid-South artists to educate and engage with youth and communities. As a teaching artist, he has developed and led programs for the nationally recognized Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, the award-winning Barrington Stage Company, and, most recently, with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He holds an MFA in Directing from the University of Memphis and degrees in Theatre and Education from Indiana University.
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