A Dramatic Tale
In Fuller Theatre of Worcester State University students sit on stage and in the front row of seats waiting for their class to start. Dark maroon curtains hang off to the side of the stage and over the long windows on the sides of the theatre. Old fashion seats with blue and peach colored Victorian patterned fabric line the middle of the theatre in rows, making room for an audience of at least one hundred. The students have ten minutes, and in that time they will discuss not their homework assignment or the latest play they’ve seen, but about the blue rubber duck that is being passed between the students, arguing over who gets to hold it. The subject is Creative Dramatics, a term used to describe the use of theater and drama techniques to help educate beyond the scope of the arts, but for the next ten minutes all attention is on that rubber duck.
The professor, Lisa Kramer, sits off to the side of the stage, legs crisscrossed with her laptop. She blends in with her students on stage as they sit and mingle. Her fuchsia-tipped hair acts as its own type of defense in the world of serious and hard academics. And as the debate of who gets to hold the blue rubber duck goes on, the more the students call for her attention.
“Oh just give him the duck, you know how much Eric loves ducks,” Lisa says, though it’s not without a hint of laughter in her voice. With Lisa’s instructions Nathan, the owner of the duck, surrenders the blue piece of rubber and releases it to Eric who possesses it with an evil grin.
Ask anyone about Lisa Kramer’s classes and they’ll be sure to tell you it’s the “fun class,” but ask Lisa and she’ll tell you she likes to teach outside the box.
Lisa’s pupils gather to the front of the stage as the clock ticks past 10am. It’s not a typical class where students sit at their desks and wait for a lecture. Instead everyone, Lisa included, wander about the stage for chairs or props to sit at while two girls pull a white board up to the middle of the stage for their presentation. Today, all except for the two girls presenting, the college students and professor will pretend to be a second grade class learning about nutrition.
“This is a food pyramid,” the girl in the baseball cap says. The pyramid is drawn in a bright green on the white board, with the six food groups written in their proper positions. The goal for the two girl presenting is to demonstrate how to incorporate theater skills to help kids learn easier. Rather than just sitting through a lecture, creative dramatics uses hands on activates to help the kids learn.
The mock second graders walk to the white board one-by-one, writing the name of a food that fits into one of the groups in the pyramid. Everyone is a kid today, Lisa included, giggling at the food selections and making fun of Eric’s unusual hate for pears.
Once the presentation on nutrition is over the girls move onto fitness, splitting the class into two groups that will compete against each other to see who can complete the four exercises fastest: jumping jacks, frog jumps, push-ups, and lunges. Lisa doesn’t watch the students from the side, but joins in the fun, all while trumpets blare through the stage speakers for motivation. At the end of it all, with the exercise put to the side, all the students sit in their circle in the middle of the stage again, gathering around Lisa as she sits crisscrossed on the floor.
“The only thing I would change is the pyramid presentation. Have the students act out the food item instead of just saying it,” she says, turning to the two girls. She makes a motion as she sits on the floor, taking her right hand to her mouth and pretending to bite into an invisible apple. She laughs as she does this, as if to show how much more fun the presentation can be with just a bit more animation.
When it comes to college, Lisa teaches a bit of everything: freshman composition, first year studies, honor classes, and her favorite, drama classes. Lisa is a woman of all fields. Familiar with many forms of art, fore-most is writing—though all the arts start to blend together at some point. It’s about telling a story, and this goes for theatre as well. Whether on stage or on paper, Lisa—like any artist—seeks to tell us something. Her first novel P.O.W.ER is a Young Adult dystopian novel about a society in which woman are not allowed to read for fears of their power. For Lisa, it was a question of what if our knowledge—our powers so to speak—could take us further? In Lisa’s novel, that is exactly what men fear of their woman most. “I’m definitely a feminist. If I could go back and re-do my education I would do either sociology or woman’s studies.”
P.O.W.ER is a novel meant to encourage and enlighten woman everywhere to find their power and bring them to the surface. “It’s about using arts of any form for social justice,” and Lisa does this exact thing through her writing, but she wants to empower others to do it as well. One of the things Lisa is able to do when doing events or workshops as an author is to make each other see their power. In reality, this does not mean you can fly or have x-ray vision, it simply means you’re really good at something. Lisa’s power is to enlighten and share, and maybe someone else’s is to empathize or to run a mile in record time; whatever it is, it’s important to shed light onto your powers.
One way Lisa uses her powers is one of the classes she teaches at Worcester State University. In Theater for Young Adults college students work together to write a script for a play that will be put on by young students that attend May Street, an elementary school next to the WSU campus. The students from May Street that are taken to participate in the plays can range anywhere from second to fifth grade. Lisa’s college students first write the play then select the grades to participate in the play depending on the maturity of the piece. “We write a play geared to their abilities,” Lisa says. And for kids who may have some disabilities, the play brings out nothing but how much untapped potential they have.
Whether theatre or writing, in the end it comes down to telling stories. Some people try to separate the two and put them into different categories, but for Lisa it all begins to blend together. If you ask what came first, writing or theatre, there’s no real clear answer. She began to read and write first, but aren’t we all little actors when we’re young? Every child has the power to make a story, to create a world, and Lisa is one of very few to recognize how much theatre and writing intertwine. Both are the written word, but one is spoken out loud with a group, and the other is read privately.
Lisa herself no longer acts, but she is always happy to direct a play, whether it be for the students of Worcester State University, or for her Theatre for Young Adults class. And when it comes to writing, she isn’t afraid to admit that it’s hard. There is no way to get better at something except to push yourself to go farther every day. But if you ask her what her favorite part of writing is, she’ll tell you it’s when you get lost in it. “It’s very rare, but when you look back and five hours have past,” she explains. For Lisa, it comes down to surrendering yourself to the story.