Finding Meaning through Drama
As teachers leading the charge, we prepare by laying out a clear path with a known destination for a selected reading. I set out in this comfortable way as I stepped into sonnets with my students. It is so easy to fall into the declarations of love from Shakespeare, Browning, Spenser, Petrarch. I love reading about love in all its forms, but I wanted to mix it up showing another side of it all—a side that wasn’t just a pretty face. I found just that in “Fruit Don’t Fall Far” by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. I knew immediately what this sonnet wasn’t; the real challenge was figuring out what it was.
So, I read and reread but struggled to settle on a meaning. I tried reading the piece with frustration, anxiety, sadness, determination. No matter how many times I reviewed it, I still wasn’t sure how to read it; maybe tat was more important than having a set interpretation? I have a theatrical group this year that enjoys taking parts in plays and reenacting scenes. So, with the combination of not being able to adopt an interpretation and a dramatic group of students, we took advantage of the opportunity and plunged into a different type of analysis.
I began class by admitting that I didn’t know where we were going with this poemТ but hoped we could figure it out together. I gave a cold, emotionless read of the poem to the class. We didn’t discuss, question, or respond in any way; we just broke into groups with our individual thoughts.
Before class, I wrote as many feasible emotions that could be read into the poem on large note cards. In groups, students drew one emotion from the stack of cards, keeping their selection unknown to the other groups. They first read the poem again and broke out the words and punctuation marks that could be emphasized to most effectively express that emotion. They knew they would present their version to the whole class, so body language, volume, emphasis, and pacing became considerations, too. What would they stress? Why? How? No part of the original poem could be changed. They could only use what the poet provided. Next, they chose a performer and coached this person to deliver what they envisioned, keeping notes regarding their decisions on the note card provided.
Without announcing their intentions prior to their dramatic reading, the students performed bravely and imaginatively. As the audience, we commented on their choices and guessed the emotion motivating what we saw. The results were amazing, illustrating just how much power they had as readers and performers to bring an interpretation and deeper understanding to a poet’s work.
The destination was unclear when I selected this poem. I struggled to define Freytag-Loringhoven’s sonnet when I first read it; I found it impossible to do so after seeing each of their interpretations. Not knowing and digging through the possibilities was so much more powerful (and fun) than any predetermined meaning.Т