The school year is already more than halfway over! Craaaaaaaaaaazy. To mark the end of term two, we had a Culture Night at school. Each class performed an English presentation and a Tongan presentation. Even though I technically probably should have been helping all of the classes with their English items, that would have been nearly impossible. So instead I helped Class 1 and was entirely responsible for Class 6.
At our last similar event, my principal had chosen two short dramas from school journals for Class 6 to put on. Although Class 6 did a decent job with them, it was hard because the plays contained a lot of humour that only a native English speaker would get. For example, one play was entitled “I’m So Hungry, I Could Eat a Horse!” Since that is an English expression (and Tongans actually do eat horse on occasion), my students didn’t really get it. Despite my best efforts to explain the meanings of the lines and plays as a whole to them, my students were more focused on memorizing their lines than actually knowing what they meant. As a result, they had a really hard time learning their lines and practicing was more like drilling them than having fun rehearsing a play.
Since I was put in charge this time, I took a different approach. We had recently read and studied the story of Cinderella in class, and then I let my students watch it. We had also read a traditional Tongan fable in English and turned it into a drama. So I presented them with three options- Cinderalla, the Tongan fable (‘Aho’eitu, about the first King of Tonga), or writing their own drama as a class. We voted and they chose Cinderella. I wrote it, making sure there was a part for each student and that it was simple enough for them to memorize. My students told me it was too long. So I made it shorter. We practiced for the week leading up to the culture night. The kindy teacher kindly helped me by giving students stage instructions and being a bit more critical than me (as I was afraid of discouraging my students), but doing so in a way that made the students laugh and enjoy themselves. It was amazing what a difference this approach made. Instead of barely knowing their lines only hours before the performance, all of the students memorized their lines within a day and a half. They were genuinely excited to be performing Cinderella for their family and friends.
On the night of, all of the girls brought beautiful dresses from home. The boys wore button-up shirts and tupenus (the skirt-like piece of clothing worn by men in Tonga), and the boy who was playing the prince even wore a full suit- tie and all. They had made crowns in class, which of course most of them didn’t end up wearing, but we had them! The students were nervous, and the boy playing the prince tried to run away. But they were also excited. I was as well.
I am proud to say that my students performed their parts flawlessly. They missed one tiny part because someone went on too early, but I didn’t even notice (I only found out after when one of the girls who was in the skipped scene expressed her displeasure to me). There were whistles and cheers as the girls walked on in their gorgeous dresses. Everyone was loud, spoke clearly, and did exactly as they had practiced. The audience laughed at all the right parts and my students were smiling broadly at the end of their performance. I really can’t even describe it. Maybe it sounds ridiculous- after all, it was only a 10 minute version of Cinderella by a bunch of 10 and 11 year old kids. But I was so incredibly proud of every single one of them. They did so well. When the night was over, every teacher commented on how well Class 6 had performed. All the students had done well, but Class 6 had really owned that night. They were not simply recited memorized lines which held no meaning to them- they were actually acting! In their second language! I can take no credit for this- my students did it all themselves. They chose the drama and they ran with it- they basically came up with all the staging based on what they had seen in the movie and what their lines were. Their brought their scripts home and practiced. Many of them can still recite their lines now, 2 months later. They were absolutely kickass. My only regret is that my camera had recently been stolen so I have no photos of them performing Cinderella. But I promised them they can do other plays after their exam in October, so hopefully I will get some pictures then! I know they’ll do just as well, as long as they are allowed to take ownership of their projects.