Life-Coaching Stage Left (Or, Toonspeak's SHINE)

In a building not entirely dissimilar to a US shipping container classroom, a group of teenagers maps out a familiar narrative: the character has a goal, there are obstacles preventing that character from reaching her goal, the character overcomes those obstacles and achieves her goal. However, while these students are creating a show about their character's goals, they're also working with a life-coach to discover ways of accomplishing their own goals.

Welcome to Toonspeak's SHINE program. SHINE teaches students artistic skills while also providing them with life-coaching. While any student who lives in Glasgow can apply to SHINE, the program tends to be geared towards students from low-income communities, frequently who have no previous theatrical experience. I first learned about Toonspeak from Scottish Youth Theatre (SYT), which provides Toonspeak students with full tuition scholarships for their courses. (SYT doesn't have a formal financial aid program and instead depends on partnerships with programs like Toonspeak to fulfill their diversity initiatives.) During the ten-week course, SHINE students receive life-coaching, which the SHINE program team describes as "a way of seeing yourself and what you want out of life . . . then figuring out what you need to do to get it." There are two facilitators in the studio at all times: a professional theatre-maker and a professional life-coach.

Toonspeak Plastic-Bag Dragon. Word.

During the first class, students wrote down five words that describe themselves on index cards. They then sorted those words into three categories: positive, negative, and "question mark." Afterwards, they created characters in small groups -- drawing their character's silhouette on poster paper and writing how their character would describe himself/herself inside the character and how others would describe him/her outside the character. This encouraged the students to think about other people that they might know (friends, family, teachers, etc.) and how their perception of that person could differ from who he/she actually is. In subsequent classes, students started thinking about their goals. The life-coach had them write out a bucket list of all of the things that they wanted to accomplish and experience; students created a 15-second commercial about their top bucket list item. This segued into them thinking about the characters that they'd previously created and what their goals might be. What might be standing in the way of them achieving those goals? How might they overcome those obstacles?

Students then worked in small groups to create a short five-scene play. In Scene 1, their character introduces his/her goal. In Scenes 2-4, he has to overcome different obstacles getting in his way. And in Scene 5, he either accomplishes his goal, or he doesn't. During the class that I attended, the students came up with the basic objective for each scene ("he tries to get his friend to help him break out of jail") and then improvised the scene. The theatre-maker side-coached and kept them on-track. When a joke had gone on for too long, he told them to move the scene forward; when the actors had nowhere left to go, he suggested that they end the scene. While the students did all of the creating themselves, this guidance (where to stop, how to move on, etc.) was invaluable. By the end of the class, one of the groups had an incredibly solid short play -- especially for students with little formal theatrical training. They were even able to draw a strong performance out of a student who seemed especially reluctant to be there, just by focusing on where his particular personality might fit into the narrative and letting him create a character from there. It was a good reminder that, unlike with scripted drama, there's room for everyone in devised theatre.

Check out more of the SHINE program below. I'm interested in seeing if this model can be duplicated in the US, especially for students who have dropped out of the education system and are struggling to identify or achieve their goals.

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