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This study guide was written by Karen Gilodo, Amber Ebert and Ramona Gilmour-Darling.
THE STUDY GUIDE
I discovered the books of Roald Dahl through my best friend in elementary school. She was reading The Witches and I was intrigued by the cover. The simple drawing of a smiling witch with long fingers surrounded by a bunch of bald little old ladies was like an invitation for me to pick up the book and dive into the story. From that beginning, I was hooked on Roald Dahl. I read as many of his books as I could from my local library. The outlandishness of his stories gave me permission to despise the villains, care deeply about the good guys and contained just enough silliness to be unable to guess what happens next. Full of adventure, magic and extraordinary circumstances, Dahl’s writing sparked something in my imagination that changed the way that I looked at the world.
Written in 1961, James and the Giant Peach tells the story of James Henry Trotter, his horrible aunts, and how some magic, a peach tree and a collection of large, quirky insects can change your life. In this adventure story, James learns about how a family can be built from the people in your life that support you. James’ relationship with the strange insects living in the peach allows him to learn that sometimes the best friendships arise from the most unexpected encounters. Although told in a humorous way, it is also a story of unimaginable hardship and loss. The death of his parents and experiencing the depth of the cruelty of his aunts prompts James to develop an identity apart from the adults in his world. His adventure on the peach with the insects –who become a family of his choosing- changes him and helps him to become more equipped to navigate this sometimes strange and crazy world.
In this study guide, you will find discussion questions that prompt students to consider how young people navigate a world that is largely controlled by the adults around them. How will they question authority? How does a young person assert themselves? What does it take for children to stand up for themselves? You will also find exercises that push students to think creatively and use their imaginations to tell stories. Encourage them to be as outlandish and adventurous as they can! It is our hope that this production and this guide are a starting point for students to evaluate and question their sense of fairness, justice and help them to figure out who they are as individuals.
- The Arts (Drama, Music)
- Social Studies(Focus on Interrelationships)
- Kindness & Caring
- Building Family
- Deconstructing Stereotypes
- Power & Agency
ABOUT PASEK AND PAUL
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the Tony-nominated songwriters of the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, The Musical, which opened in November 2012 and enjoyed a critically acclaimed, record-breaking run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. In addition to the Best Original Score Written for the Theatre nomination, A Christmas Story, The Musical also received Tony nominations for Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical. The holiday musical was named one of the Top 10 Plays and Musicals of 2012 by TIME magazine, shared recognition as the Best Musical of 2012 in USA TODAY, and received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Musical and an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding New Broadway Musical. Pasek and Paul’s score for A Christmas Story, The Musical also received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music.
Pasek and Paul are also the composers of the off-Broadway musical Dogfight, which premiered in July 2012 at Second Stage Theatre. The show received a nomination from the Drama League for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Musical, was the winner of the Lucille Lortel Outstanding Musical Award and received Outer Critics Circle nominations for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score. As television songwriters, their original songs were featured on season two of NBC’s Smash and rose to the top 25 on the iTunes Pop Charts. The duo made their debut as songwriters with their widely acclaimed musical Edges. Other theatrical works include Duck for President and If You Give a Pig a Pancake.
Their musical work for TV can be seen on Sesame Street and Johnny and the Sprites (a Disney television series). Performances of their songs have been featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The View, Good Morning America, CBS’ Sunday Morning, VH1’s Big Morning Buzz, The Rosie Show, Fox & Friends and more. Pasek and Paul are the recipients of the 2011 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2011 Sundance Institute Fellowship, the 2011 ASCAP Foundation’s Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, the 2011 ASCAP Songwriters Fellowship Award and a 2007-2008 fellowship from The Dramatists Guild. They are the youngest recipients of the Jonathan Larson Grant (2007) in the foundation’s history. They have participated in ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project and were named one of The Dramatist magazine’s “50 to Watch” in contemporary theatre.
They are currently at work on an original musical with playwright Steven Levenson and director Michael Greif and a new musical for Disney Theatricals with playwright Rick Elice. Benj and Justin are proud graduates of the University of Michigan. http://pasekandpaul.com/about/
- Define fairness.
- Why are there so many stories about children without parents?
- Should adults always be in charge of and make decisions for young people?
- What can a child do if they feel an adult is being unfair?
- In stories there are often heroes and villains. What are their functions?
- Is it ever ok to break the rules?
- Roald Dahl once said, “If my books can help children become readers, then I feel I have accomplished something important”. What do you think he meant by this?
Warm-up: Ordinary & Extraordinary Day
This activity provides an opportunity for students to be both storytellers and performers. This warm-up will encourage creative thinking, improvisation, and experimentation with gesture and movement.
- A space in which to move
- Have students get into pairs. Ask students to think about what they did that morning, or what they normally do on an ordinary morning (e.g ‘I woke up, got out of bed, brushed my teeth, ate some breakfast…’, etc.).
- Explain that in their pairs, one student will be telling the story of their ordinary morning and the other student will act out the story using mime and gesture. It is the storyteller’s job to speak in clear, short sentences. It is the job of the performer to act out as much of the story as possible, and only the story being told. To do this, they need to listen closely and wait for the next piece of information from the storyteller.
- Give the storytellers two minutes to tell their stories. Have students switch roles so each student has a turn as storyteller and performer.
- Next, have students think about what could happen on an extraordinary morning (i.e. ‘I woke up, got out of bed and found a tiger in my room…, etc.) Working in the same pairs, repeat the steps above but this time students are telling a story of an extraordinary morning.
- Leave some time for pairs to tell and perform one of their extraordinary stories to the whole group.
- As the storyteller, was it easier to tell the ordinary or extraordinary story?
- As the performer, was it easier to perform the ordinary or extraordinary story?
- As the storyteller, what did it feel like to watch your story being performed for you?
- What defines an extraordinary day?
Culminating Exercise: Adventure stories
This exercise encourages students to use their imaginations to create a larger than life adventure story.
- Space in which to move
- Adventure Story Slips
- Divide students into groups of five or six.
- Have a volunteer from each group choose one slip from each of the following categories: Title, Characters, Conflict, Place.
- Give groups about 15 minutes to brainstorm and create their adventure.
- Once students have a clear idea of what their story will be, ask them to write a script for a narrator who will tell the story.
- Ask students to identify five main action points of their story and turn each action point into a tableau.
tableau. A group of silent, motionless figures used to represent a scene, theme, or abstract idea (e.g., peace, joy), or an important moment in a narrative. Tableaux may be presented as stand-alone images to communicate one specific message or may be used to achieve particular effects in a longer drama work. Important features of a tableau include character, space, gesture, facial expression, and level. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/
- Once students have practiced their tableaux and rehearsed performing them along with the narrator’s script, have them perform their story for the rest of the class.
- Have students design a book cover or poster for their adventure story. Send in a copy to YPT!
- What do students imagine will happen with James and his new family?
- Roald Dahl has been criticized for his portrayal of adults in his stories. What did students think of Spiker and Sponge?
- What does James learn about family?
- How does James find his confidence?
- How does the music help to tell this story?
Warm-up: Storyline Tableau
Through this exercise students will learn about the dramatic technique of tableau and how it can be used to tell a story by highlighting key moments in the action.
- A space in which to move
- 6 tableau title cards
- While sitting in a large circle ask students to think back on seeing James and the Giant Peach. Take turns allowing various students to recount short sections of the story from beginning to end (How did it begin? Then what happened? etc...). Note: Make sure students mention the six key points that are on the tableau title cards.
- Show students the six tableau title cards and have them discuss what happens in each title. Explain that these titles capture important moments in the story.
- Divide students into six groups and assign one tableau title card to each group.
- Give students three to five minutes to create a tableau together that tells the story of their tableau title card. Encourage students to think about using different levels, to try different gestures or positions and to use facial expression in the tableau.
- Have students practice quickly and silently creating their frozen tableau.
- Have each group (from tableau one to six, in chronological order) present their tableau to the rest of the class. Tell students to shout out the title of the tableau and count to three to get into position and freeze in place.
- What did it feel like to be a part of the tableau?
- How did you create the poses in each tableau?
- What are some other ways that we can use tableau to help tell a story? (Hint: looking at character relationships, journey of various characters, breakdown of individual scenes.)
Culminating Exercise – Where are they now?
In this exercise, students will experiment with different modes of media to imagine where James and the insects are a year after the play ends.
- Space in which to move
- Media flash cards
- Divide students into groups of 4-6.
- Give students some time to brainstorm what they think might happen after the end of the play. How will James and the insects support themselves? What will their next big adventure be?
- Ask a volunteer from each group to come and retrieve one media flashcard entitled with one of the following: James and the Giant Peach: The After-show, Movie Trailer, News Interview, Reality TV commercial, Talk show.
- Give students 10-15 minutes to brainstorm about different types of media and their formats and how they will create their scenes. Ask them to think about how a news reporter speaks, what a movie trailer looks and sounds like etc.
- When students have a clear idea of the story they want to tell about James and the insects, have them create a one-two minute scene in the format of the flashcard they were given. Ask them to think about music that might accompany their scene and props they might want to make (e.g. a microphone).
- Give students time to develop their scene. This exercise could be completed in one period or take several days depending on how polished the final pieces are expected to be.
REVIEWING A PLAY
Jon Kaplan’s Introduction to Student Reviewers
Theatre is, for me, an art form that tells me something about myself or gets me thinking about the world in which I live.
Whether going to the theatre as a reviewer or simply an audience member, I think that watching a play is an emotional experience and not just an intellectual one. I always let a show wash over me, letting it touch my feelings, and only later, after the show, do I try to analyze those feelings.
That’s when I start to think about some of the basic questions you ask when you’re writing a review – what did I see (story, characters, themes); how did I respond to what I saw; what parts of the production (script, performances, direction, design and possibly other elements) made me feel and think what I did; why was I supposed to respond in that fashion?
When you go to the theatre to review, take a few notes during a show if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t spend your time writing the review during the show; you’ll miss what’s happening onstage.
Writing a review doesn’t mean providing a plot summary. That’s only part of the job; you have to discuss your reaction to what you saw and try to explore some of the reasons for that reaction.
I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a totally objective piece of criticism. We are all individuals, bringing our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs to a production. In some fashion, every one of us sitting in the theatre is a critic, no matter whether we’re writing a review or not; we all react to and form judgments about what we see on the stage.
When I go to a production, I always keep in mind that the people involved in putting it on have worked long and hard – weeks, months, sometimes years – getting it onto the stage. Even if I have problems with the result, it’s important to respect the efforts that went into the show.
Jon Kaplan is senior theatre writer at NOW Magazine, where he’s worked for the past 34 years.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
Toronto Public Library Recommendations
The Toronto Public Library has created supplemental reading lists to help our audience connect with and explore more deeply the themes found within each of our 2014/15 season productions. Click on the titles below to link to the Toronto Public Library website. Happy reading!
Roald Dahl. New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984
Ian Flemming. London, Puffin Books, 2001.
Cressida Cowell. Hodder Children’s Books, 2003.
Sarah L. Thomson, paintings by Bob Gonslaves. New York, Scholastic, 1995.
New York, Viking 2001.