Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Winning 2019 English Reader's Theater Championship

With our amazing script and excellent performance, this was without a doubt another great success in my English teaching career

For the first time since the Education Bureau held this competition ten years ago, we finally came in first place. Upon hearing the announcement, we were all over the moon, shouting and screaming. This feeling was hard to describe with words, but I knew I wanted to remember the ecstasy for a very long time. 

This glorious victory carries some significant meaning to me. First of all, ten years ago, when the competition was first held, we regrettably came in second. When it was our turn to coach for this year's, we always aimed for the championship. Of course, this was also the very first grand prize in the history in KMJH. Then, the story itself was well structured, with some twists and surprises, and of course, designed for vocal expressions to bring the characters alive. I especially took great pride when the judge said it was one of the very few perfect scripts that he was ever seen. Finally, my daughter took on the leading role as Aladdin, and together we spent so much time getting her performance better and better. It's great that the father and daughter can work towards the same goal and share the same passion. 

So, how exactly did we pull this off? Well, let's save the details for my future workshop presentations and boil them down to four major key elements:

1. Story Structure

I watched dozens of YouTube videos on this topic and finally absorbed the very core of a story structure. Then I proceeded to work on the script, with each scene having its own goal. For example, for the big revelation to work, Aladdin has to suffer the most but still ignores the price he has paid until Jasmine decided to give him a second chance but hung up on him. 

I felt like a great director when writing the screenplay for the RT competition. I already have vivid pictures of how each character should use his or her voice to illustrate their emotions perfectly.

2. Pronunciation and Intonation

We cannot emphasize this too much. It's the first impression your audience will have about the whole show. You can have all the fancy body language or conspicuous props you want, but they won't do any good to the delivery of the story when the students have poor skills in connected speech or rising and falling intonation, not to mention mispronunciation of some specific words. 

3. Vocal Expression

The whole idea is to bring the story alive. You may have perfect English pronunciation, but the audience can't relate to the story if you deliver it in an emotionless monotone. For example, when Aladdin was about to make his last wish, it was so sentimental because he already knew he would lose Genie immediately. You have to make the audience believe that Al was determined but also very sad to make this decision. 

4. Character Interaction

As the story builds up to a crucial moment, all characters must help the audience understand the hidden meaning behind it. During our countless rehearsals, I kept reminding the characters that it was a big no-no if you stood there, acting like the whole thing had nothing to do with you. Instead, we used body language, expressive expressions, chants, and so on to highlight the big moment. 

Of course, not everything will go well as planned. I had to get rid of some of the subplots because we only have six minutes to deliver the script. Some students couldn't live up to our expectations, and we had to put them on the bench, which was a hard decision to make. Well, when shit happens, and it will, you have to take a deep breath, calm yourself down, and figure out how to fix it. 

I can't make this happen all by myself. Alex and I make a great team. We both were driven and dedicated to the contest, so we got to solve all the problems quickly. Also, the director of the Academic Office and her staff have been very supportive of the logistical arrangements. 

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