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As a teacher with 31 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the... Read more

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Creating Authentic Characters (Video)

Since day one, after looking in the mirror to answer the initial question, “What do I see?” we have been observing and analyzing character traits in ourselves and in the interesting characters we get to know through literature.

Our first mission was to clarify the difference between personality traits and emotions. We then began generating an ongoing list of traits that would eventually serve to help in creating authentic characters. As we thought about specific characteristics that would be bold and immediately identifiable on stage, students “acted out” those options they considered most interesting. From this improvisational experience, company members selected five dominant traits to represent five separate characters. After, they spent two weeks defending a host of positive and negative traits to accompany the dominant trait and build unique characters that would illuminate the theme and thesis, and establish compelling relationships. Determining character motivation, what drives a character to do the things he does, occurred through a series of improvisation sessions. Take a look.

Five characters - A through E. Personality trait and motivation (M) for each character.

Five characters – A through E. Personality trait and motivation (M) for each character.

 
 
In this video, students improvise to explore the combination of character traits in each character.

 
 
While improvising, Daylon wandered aimlessly around the room with his head down. No one noticed. A perfect Character C. Students then became the voice inside Character C’s head. It was a powerful moment.

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Mary Ruth McGinn

About Mary Ruth McGinn

As a teacher with 31 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the learning experiences and opportunities of students and their families. Eighteen years ago she had an experience that changed her life and altered her professional path in a profound way. She attended training sessions at The Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York City, spent nine intense days living the process of creating an original opera and learned how to replicate the experience with her students. She then began creating opera with her students and using the process of creating the opera as a vehicle to teach curriculum and life skills. The authentic purpose for learning coupled with the arts provided the perfect stage on which to construct a love for life-long learning. The profundity of the work, the transformation of the students and a desire to “bring to light” new ideas in education, inspired Mary Ruth to share this way of thinking and learning. In 2006 she was granted a Fulbright Scholarship, sponsored and funded by Teatro Real and Fundación SaludArte in Madrid, and a sabbatical from Montgomery County, to travel to Spain to develop and implement a similar program there. She lived there two years training teachers and working side by side with teachers and students in their classrooms. The reception of the project was overwhelming. Mary Ruth returns to Madrid every summer to train a new team of educators and artists in the process. In the summer of 2018, she joined forces with The Kennedy Center to offer the opera training for teachers in the Washington Metro area. She currently teaches third grade at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village, Maryland Read more of Mary Ruth's blog Learning for Real.

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