CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 3 . . . . October 1, 2004
This collection of six Canadian plays suitable for students in the middle grades is an excellent resource. The plays allow students to explore language and discuss issues important to their age group. The plays also have a basis in classic literature and history that will educate the readers and give them greater understanding of enduring themes. The six plays, which cover a broad range of settings, from the past to the future, from the spirit world to the here and now, offer teachers a wide selection to suit the needs of a classroom.
"Girl Who Loved Her Horses" is a memory play by Drew Hayden Taylor, known as Canada's first aboriginal playwright for young people. The protagonist is a quiet girl, Danielle, whose family life is difficult. She finds release in painting large drawings of horses that are running free. The relationships between all the children change as they age through the play. Danielle's fate is unknown, but the discovery of one of her drawings gives the other characters strength to deal with their own issues. This play can be used to discuss the situation of native people in Canada and how to deal with disadvantaged circumstances in general.
"Beo's Bedroom" is based on the ancient poem "Beowolf" about a Danish warrior who defeats giants. Using the structure of the classic poem, this play is set on the planet Bedroom, with a country named Bed, where Beo fights her battles to overcome her fear of the dark. This play is well suited to younger middle years students because of the music that is used to liven the play and advance the story.
"Mella, Mella," which combines acting, dance, music, voice-over and shadow puppets, gives students the opportunity to experiment with several types of performance art. It is based on the oral storytelling tradition of Africa and discusses the conflict between accepted traditions and new ideas. Although it is an old story, it has immediate relevance to the conflict that young adults experience personally and in society as they grow.
"Crusader of the World" will interest many young people who want to make the world a better place. Shelley is a well-meaning teenager who sets out to educate and "save" the people in a poorer country. She discovers that people in underdeveloped countries have their own ideas about what is the best for them. The play chronicles Shelley's growth and development as she returns to Canada in a positive frame of mind to report on her experiences.
As Celtic folk tales provide the inspiration for "The Elfin Knight," the fairy world is represented as well as the real world. The setting is Cape Breton in 1830, where many Scottish immigrants settled and maintained their Celtic culture. The climax is an action-packed sword fight. The play uses music, singing, dancing, magic and puppets as well. The adaptation of the Celtic language ("you contamawcious hempy!") will challenge student actors and provide lots of fun and opportunities to discuss meaning.
The final play is "Cyberteen in Love," a rather ominous play set in a horrible future where life is tightly controlled. The characters try to survive and develop relationships in their bleak and inhumane world. Just as everything else is skewed, so is their language ("The synthtrode had slipped into my brainflesh hitchless."), but the audience can extract meaning from the context. The language also suits the science fiction setting and the alienated characters. Developed by Matthew Decter for older students, this play will make teens think about truth, the future of the world, the role of the state, and many more issues.
Editors Shirley Barrie and Emil Sher bring a host of literary and playwrighting credentials to this work. They have done an admirable job of selecting plays that provide teachers many ways to use different methods of performance art. Students who are looking for the best way to express themselves can find their voice in any number of ways. Costume and set directions are included. The introductions to the book and each play helpfully explain the sources of the stories and relate the plays to one another. Each of these plays has been workshopped and performed.
Drama brings out the best in adolescents who are seeking a creative way to express their hopes, their frustrations, their questions about life and relationships. Using drama in the classroom creates excitement and a camaraderie that is unbeatable as well as many 'teachable moments' that are unforgettable. Prepare to Embark is a perfect title for this collection of plays that will intrigue and educate - a good combination for those ready to embark on life.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.