Joost Swaenepoel - From Book to play! Motivating and educating learners by acting

Ana Kodric's picture

One of the most inspiring sessions I have been to! The presenter being so enthusiastic and energetic!

He presented the idea of transferring a book read by his students, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, into a play perfomed by themselves. No actors! No directors! No cameramen! Well, at least not professional ones ;)


It starts from an English young adolescent novel (or extracts), creating a script, teaching acting techniques, getting on a real stage and, most of all, motivating students! A brilliant idea, but it can be a bumpy road to follow.. his experiences, findings, rules and advice were presented all supported by video extracts from the actual play performed by his students.


What to do and how to do it:

1. Choose a good story

2. Do a questionnaire searching for actors, singers, musicians, dancers, technicians, visuals, handymen and tinkerers (you never know who is a hidden talent among your students)

3. structure - this is the teacher´s work because you need to say what to do (set the number of acts and scenes)

4. write the script - narrating scenes are easy, basically a copa paste of the original, but action scenes can be created together with the students, include their ideas, make them write it

5. casting - choose the roles by language skill

6. rehearsing - rehears separate groups

7. songs - add music if there are talented singers in the class

8. poetry

9. supporting material


The whole class is involved; it is done from September until February; rehearsals are sometimes during the afternoons; they meet at lunch hours and everyone gets to do something - if it is a small role someone is playing he/she has to "compensate" by doing something else like writing abot the play on Facebook, writing notes, prompters, being promoters, being stage handymen etc.


The most important rules that mus be followed are:

1. RESPECT YOUR COLLEAGUES or you are out! Don˙t laugh at students acting during rehearsal and know your lines!

2. WARMING UP - practice their volume (standing in a circle and saying lines out loud), their emotion (in the same circle, do the lines, but adding emotion) and practice movement (imagine chairs in the classroom are horses, how would you sit on them? or a cake?)

3. OPTIMISM IS A MORAL DUTY! At the end of every rehearsal make them say one word of evaluation, but the word must be positive :) so to end it with a smile..

4. WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING. There is alot of stress at the end so you need strong people to support each other, encourage each other to keep it going!


I have been doing something simmilar in my class these years and I can say that the process really does look like this, having encountered the same problems and joys of staging a play! :)