Staging English language plays, a creative education method

Update: June, 06/2018 - 09:00
Students of the HCM City Open University’s Faculty of Foreign Languages stage plays based on classic American and English novels at Drama Theatre in HCM City’s District 1. — VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY — The students of HCM City Open University’s foreign languages courses on June 2 translated a classic English novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, into a play and staged it at the Drama Theatre in HCM City’s District 1.

Everyone was delighted by the production’s quality as the amateur actors acted in a language that was not their mother tongue.

The play was the third in a programme called THEATRE IN EDUCATION: English and American Literature Classes’ Performances this year. The final performance is an adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, which will be staged at the Drama Theatre on June 9.

The programme began in 2016, and has been attracting more and more student performers, building a diverse audience of students and expats, along with adding more volunteer native English speakers to advise the performers.

One of these advisers is an American teacher at ILA English Centre in HCM City, Ilse Zoerb, who is helping adapt and stage My Sister’s Keeper.

She said: “The untrained actor is oftentimes just as interesting and watchable as trained actors.” Mostly, she is really excited about the performances because the students juggle all of the elements of the production so well. For her, the students are very brave since it is difficult to stand on stage and share a story, especially [taking on] the added challenge of speaking in another language, it is really admirable.

Theatre in Education, Ilse insists, is a truly holistic and hands-on method that tests so many skills sets that go beyond formal education and cannot really be learnt or tested with pen and paper. Students are building language skills, personal skills, and interpersonal skills. They are learning how to be themselves and also how to be together, essential elements in being human.

Lê Đình Bạch Mai, a Vietnamese-English expat volunteer said: “It is great to see this medium being used to help English language majors consolidate what they have learned in the classroom about pronunciation, expression, intonation, etc.”

This former volunteer affirms communicating in a foreign language is not just about memorising grammar and vocabulary: understanding the context in which a language is spoken and the cultures and histories of the people who speak it is also important.

And Theatre in Education, according to her, gives students a chance to do this because in delivering dialogues and telling a story effectively, they first need an understanding of the cultural and historical factors that influence their characters.

Trịnh Kim Hiền, a third-year student of the Faculty of Foreign Languages who acted in one of the plays, agreed with Lê Đình Bạch Mai that it is just a lot of fun and a great bonding experience for the cast. It helped her get a deeper understanding of the novel she read and is also a way to inspire young people to love plays and theatre.

Lê Quang Trực, the lecturer who initiated Theatre in Education, and Dương Đoàn Hoàng Trúc, the lecturer who is in charge of the language in the plays, said they wanted their students to be able to stage plays in places like Broadway in New York, the US, one day.

As an extension of the Theater in Education program, after each performance, audience members are invited to write loving words and sign in books provided by the sponsors (Phú Quốc Land Travel, Đại Dương Education, Centennial College, Upper Madison College, International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), University of St. Thomas, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Maynooth University, Douglas College and Fanshawe College) for donating to Thiên Ân Shelter in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, Thạnh An Secondary School in Thạnh An island commune in HCM City’s Cần Giờ District, and Nhị Xuân Drug Addiction Treatment Centre in the city’s Hóc Môn District.