Back from the APLIUT conference


Not exactly my namesakes – but close enough… And they sell books! Small wonder I liked the place 😉

I will probably continue to dream in three languages for a few days to come, until all the echoes from the language conference in France have subsided and my brain finishes processing all the new impressions… The slightly babel-istic/babel-ish (is that a word?) state of my brain notwithstanding, I think attending the APLIUT conference in Montpellier was a really good idea. On the one hand because I think that my (at least listening) skills in French have improved – yes, I understood much more than last year in Nantes! Small talk and following some of the workshops was still difficult, though. Yes, interestingly enough, I found the plenary lectures easier to follow than the coffee break conversations. Which has probably a lot to do with the fact that a lecture is delivered at slightly slower pace and normally doesn’t use a lot of colloquial speech… But of course my main reason to go there was not for improving my French (which was a nice side effect) but to talk about drama in language teaching, especially in teaching business English and to my great surprise more people wanted to hear my talk than would fit in the room. Therefore, I was asked if I could give the talk again – they said they were sorry that they’d had to turn away a number of people the first time and there was no other presenter in the room afterwards, so… of course I was happy to oblige. Also, I have never had so many people come to me after a talk and say that they enjoyed it… Maybe it is just conference ettiquette in France to do this? Or maybe I could really give them something that was useful for them. Some questions I have taken with me, which I will think about, such as: Can you do drama activities also with large groups, say 30 or 40 students? Can you do such activities and projects even if you don’t have any experience with theatre? Can you assess your students’ language competence in a drama project/activity? Are there cooperations possible between learner groups/projects in different countries? I’d say yes to all questions and hopefully some future activities/research/projects will result from them. For now, however, I probably need to let everything settle for a bit and see if I can draw some inspiration from this definitely positive experience.

Alice project – week 3: job interviews “Sure Thing”-style


“Ding!” – Please start over again! Maybe you shouldn’t have slapped the interviewer on the back?

Have you ever been in a job interview, said something stupid and wished you could start all over again? Do you know David Ives’ brilliant short play “Sure Thing”? Do you know what the first two sentences have to do with each other? In week 3 we improvised some job interviews à la “Sure Thing”!

For those who don’t know Ives’ play: “Sure Thing” tells the story of Bill and Betty, who meet in a café and get acquainted – but not without complications… For whenever one of them says something embarrasing/uninteresting/inappropriate etc. a bell rings in the background and they have to start over again (from the point that went wrong). It’s not that  easy to describe but really hilarious! So on our third meeting we talked a little about job interviews (any experiences? what have you heard or read?). Then came the theatrical part: in small groups the participants prepared a (funny) job interview simulation where, whenever something goes wrong, a bell rings and the interview is reset. As inspiration we then used  a list of job interview questions –  you can find the link in “The Dogme Diaries”  and it’s really a comprehensive list: 100 questions! We had some nice results. One group concentrated more on textual clues like: “What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?” “I can make great coffee!” (bell rings).  Another group concentrated more on the non-verbal aspects: Candidate enters. Two people at a desk look up, look at each other, confused, clearly not expecting this person. Candidate mumbles something like “Sorry, wrong room,” and hurries out. Bell rings. At a further advanced stage their candidate actually managed to enter the room and then by way of greeting slapped the interviewers on the back, as if they were old friends – which of course earned him a bell-chime as well.
The focus with this task was on looking for inspiration for a scene in our yet-to-be-written “Alice”-play but I think this could also be a fun way of practising job interviews, showing “do’s” and the “dont’s” :-)

Week 2 – “more action”

There is always a bit of fluctuation at the start of the course but so far it wasn’t too bad – 2 new students and 3 missing but of those 2 will probably return, so only 1 is unaccounted for. I asked their expectations for this time and there were some who said they hoped for some more “action” and group-work, which was exactly what I had in mind for this meeting. So we played a warm-up game of ‘instant tableaux’ and then returned to voice for a bit. First task was sentence in a circle, so same sentence but everyone tries to express a different emotion with their voice, then the tried-and-tested context-open dialogues in pairs. Which worked quite well – one group did as many as 3 variations and I think they realised how, by varying the vocal qualities you can create totally different associations for the same dialogue (e.g. 2 people trying to get rid of a corpse / a couple arguing about who has to carry the shopping). Next I wanted to introduce the scenes I’m planning for our acting workshop, so 2 people each could pick a text and their task was to read it aloud to themselves. What they didn’t know yet was the second part of the task 😉  because after they were through with reading they had to get together with a second group and exchange summaries of their scenes. Group A then had to perform group B’s scene and vice versa. Which worked surprisingly well for some while some had trouble remembering – but those last were the groups who got a Shakespeare scene summary…. I didn’t have much time left to work on the Alice-part of the project but I’m planning to concentrate more on that next week.

Alice in Business Land, week 1

We started off the new Business English Theatre Project last Wednesday. Despite competition from a musical audition on campus at the same time, nine people came to the meeting and I hope they will come back next week!
After introductions, I talked a bit about plans for the semester and showed clips from last year’s shows, we did a dramatic reading of a passage from the original Alice in Wonderland (Alice meeting the Caterpillar) which actually contained a lot of “stage directions”, such as “said Alice shyly / decisively / in a melancholy voice, etc.” and so I tried to make them read the dialogue according to those. Finally, we did a bit of brainstorming for Alice in Business Land.


results of brainstorming

Since I  was looking for a virtual brainstorming platform that would be easy to operate, I later transferred our results to a virtual corkboard and sent them the link, hoping that they would add more ideas. So far only one student has done it, but, well, it’s a start!
The idea of the corkboard (, which I came across via twitter, is great – no log-in required, just send your students the link to “your” corkboard and they can use it! Here’s the catch, however: the boards are only available for 7 days, after that you can register and get a 30 day free trial, after that they cost 5$ a month…  So I will probably switch to something else – maybe an etherpad.

Say it with Cheshire Cats…

alice flyer Kopie

Since the colleagues at our International Office are preparing for the arrival of new exchange students and will be handing out welcome packages next week and it can’t hurt to catch the new students’ attention early, I created a quick flyer for next semester’s project. I wonder if that will catch their attention? Or even make them sign up for the project? I hope att least they’ll notice that we have theatre on campus…

The literary magpie

Okay, so as I feared, once office work started again, my progress in writing is not as fast as I would wish. I did manage to write down one scene but no more so far. The two versions of the scene which I scribbled down within 2 afternoons, by the way, might not be very good, they might even be quite bad, but my purpose is to sketch my play-writing journey here and not to show finished pieces. So – it is what it is… for now.

Sometimes it works for me to say – okay, you have an afternoon, now write. And I actually write down a scene or an entire short-play (it worked for “Perfect Fit” for instance, this was, as far as I remember, written last December afternoon in one go). But this only works if I have a good idea of its shape already in my head. It might also work if I am more or less closely adapting an existing piece of writing – for Macbiz or Other People’s Money, some scenes were created by me having the original in front of me (on screen) and me going through it bit by bit, “translating” it to my own setting, cutting or adding bits of story, or characters. It also works if I have a relatively closely defined formal frame – for example for the journalist/John Lennon scene my idea was that “John’s” part had to consist entirely of Beatles’ lyrics quotes – so there was one side of the conversation already, the rest came relatively easily… Similarly, in the pirate play or the finance rap, I had collected certain phrases I wanted to use and had to construct the play around it.

For my Alice project, I guess I have a different setting – I have a literary text I want to adapt, which, however, I don’t want to adhere to too closely. I am still collecting ideas as to how to “translate” the situations the original Alice finds herself in to my modern business setting and I think they have a lot of potential – the endless tea party (an endless meeting?), the croquet game with strange rules (a new employee wondering about corporate culture?), the trial (crisis management?), all the talk about education and the characters reciting things they learned that should sound familiar but come out in a slightly (or even heavily) twisted way – e.g. the four branches of arithmetic (ambition, distraction, uglification and derision)… This is all great but I think I need some more time to see what exactly I can do with it. Right now, I am collecting bits and pieces of ideas everywhere, scribbling them in my notebook and later adding them to my mind-map. You might call this the magpie-phase, if you want. Partly this is a directed search for information and inspiration, but also it is just picking up shiny (read: potentially topic-related) things randomly, storing them in my nest (read: notebook/mind-map) and seeing if I can use them for the play. Also (if I’m lucky) remembering bits of information that at the time when I heard/read about them were not significant but I can now use creatively. My last haul (read creative phase) contained e.g. the following: words such as minutes, gravestones, change management, endurement (does this word even exist?), crying and placing borders. Moreover, the mental image of a giant stapler and somebody trapped inside its jaws. This latter bit surely came from the faintly remembered quote from a Dilbert comic that read something like “I’m going to staple myself to death”.  Yes, I know, that doesn’t sound like much – but I think it will all fall into place sooner or later. Hopefully, before the semester starts…

Update on Alice – scene 1 revised

As expected, scene 1 didn’t stay the way it was for long. There’s a new, expanded version (alice 1st scene_2) now, featuring a friend of Alice who gives hints as to what she should change to succeed. Not sure if this makes the scene better – it is certainly longer (4 and a bit, as opposed to 3 pages in the first version) and I think what happens is clearer that way but I know that longer is not always better. I’m sure this will change shape a few more times 😉

In chapter 1 of the original I like the image of the key on the glass table which becomes unreachable for Alice after her first shrinking – makes me think of the term ‘glass ceiling’. Maybe I can use this idea later? Now on to the next questions: Who (in modern office life) is the blue caterpillar? And what has happened before that makes Alice confess that she doesn’t quite know who she is anymore? Career counseling? Multitasking?

Freiburg, 18.-20.04.2012

SLI-Konferenz Mehrsprachigkeit

Offizieller Titel: INTERNATIONALE KONFERENZ: SPRACHENPOLITIK UND SPRACHLEHRE: “Mehrsprachigkeit in Gesellschaft, Arbeitswelt und Politik.
Neue Herausforderungen an die universitäre Lehre.” Erster Eindruck: ja, ziemlich international und durchaus auch mehrsprachig (wobei sich ein französischer Redner bei der abschließenden Podiumsdiskussion allerdings über die Dominanz des Englischen beklagte). Weitere Eindrücke: weil das Räumliche für den ersten Eindruck auch immer eine Rolle spielt: auffallend war hier der Kontrast zwischen riesiger ‘Wandelhalle’, wo der eine (?) Verlagssponsor (ist die Fremdsprachenausbildung an Hochschulen kein großer Markt oder hatten die einen Exklusivvertrag?) recht verloren aussah und den vergleichsweise winzigen Vortragsräumen. So war das Wechseln zwischen den Sektionen etwas mühsam, weil immer eine Masse Leute gleichzeitig aus einem Raum raus und rein wollte… Gut, dass die interkulturelle Sektion insgesamt interessant war, sodass ich meist in einem Raum bleiben konnte 😉 Mein Thema noch einmal: interkulturelle Aspekte im fremdsprachlichen Theaterprojekt. Hier gelernt: Ein Presenter mit eingebautem Timer ist eine gute Sache – ich habe meinen Vortrag im Zeitlimit beendet. Die Tatsache, dass die Panel-Leiterin mit Glöckchen (und Stoppuhr?) danebensaß, hat sicher auch geholfen. Und am wichtigsten: dass ich viel häufiger geprobt hatte als in Nürnberg. Scheint doch das Einzige zu sein, was hilft. Oder war’s die Vortragssprache? Englische Texte sollen ja angeblich ca. 1/3 kürzer sein als die jeweilige deutsche Entsprechung, vielleicht gilt das ja auch für Vorträge 😉 Nein, wenn dann lag’s bei mir wohl eher daran, dass ich im Englischen einfach weniger Neigung zur sprachlichen Ausschmückung habe. Von den Publikumskommentaren erinnere ich mich vor allem an die Frage nach der Überprüfung/Bewertung der interkulturellen Lerneffekte. Tja, verglichen damit ist die Messung der sprachlichen Lerneffekte (siehe dgff -Vortrag 2011) vermutlich noch die einfachere Frage. Zwar hatte ich die Studierenden vom SoSe 2011 auch nach interkulturellen Lerneffekten gefragt, aber mehr als die Feststellung „ja, ich glaube, ich habe interkulturelle Erfahrungen gemacht“, kam nicht dabei raus, da ich mich eben mehr auf die sprachlichen Lerneffekte konzentriert hatte. Und im zu Ende gehenden Semester habe ich es nicht wirklich thematisiert. Na dann nehmen wir diese Frage doch in die Pläne für 2013 auf…

An experiment: writing log for “Alice in Business Land”

Sometimes people ask how long it took me to write a play. This is usually hard for me to say because I normally write with interruptions. But… since I am about to write something for the summer semester I thought I could start a small experiment here and record my writing progress. Maybe I will also link to my manuscript. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up this writing-log when things get more hectic again but it might be worth a try.

So, project idea for next semester: an adaption of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, working title: “Alice in Business Land”, i.e., a play about a young graduate (or student on an internship) who is bewildered by the strange characters and practices she encounters during her first day(s) at work. I had been toying with the idea for some weeks and started collecting ideas in earnest over Christmas, working on a mindmap with ideas for themes, scenes, characters, staging, etc.I wrote a first, ROUGH draft for the first scene (alice 1st scene) today on applications = fitting through the door. The idea being that while in the original Alice changes size after eating/drinking and tries to reach a size that will allow her to pass through the mysterious door to the beautiful garden in my version she will be trying to make herself fit the companies’ expectations – by either exaggerating or understating her abilities. Let’s see how it goes from here…

Nürnberg, E&M-Tagung 30./31.03.2012

Nürnberg: Nach der familiären Atmosphäre in Bochum hatte ich bei der E&M-Tagung eher Eindruck allgemeiner Hektik und leichter Unübersichtlichkeit (“wo war jetzt noch mal  Vortragsraum XYZ?”), was aber vielleicht auch einfach an mir und meiner Zeiteinteilung lag. Am meisten in Erinnerung bleiben wird mir vermutlich ein Workshop für frühes Englischlernen in dem das Publikum wirklich sehr aktiv eingebunden wurde, Lieder singen musste, im Raum herumlaufen musste und so weiter. In dem Sinne bewahrheitet sich das oft strapazierte chinesische Sprichwort dann doch mal wieder, wobei es bei mir vielleicht eher heißen müsste: lass es mich tun und ich werde mich erinnern 😉

Mein Vortrag (dieses Mal zur Frage, ob man berufsorientierte Inhalte mit Theatermethoden vermitteln kann) lag direkt am ersten Kongresstag und war etwas durchwachsen. Nach wenigen Minuten verließen bereits mehrere Zuhörer den Raum – lag’s an meinem Vortragsstil, hatten sie sich im Raum geirrt, oder war das Thema einfach nicht das, was sie sich versprochen hatten? Meiner Nervosität half das natürlich weniger… Zusätzlich erschwerende Umstände waren, dass ich kurzfristig umdisponierte und den Vortrag entgegen meiner Planung mehr oder weniger frei hielt und dass – mangels Sektionsleiter, der woanders einen Vortrag hatte – ich selbst auf die Uhr schauen musste. Also alles ein wenig chaotisch – die verbliebenen Zuhörer gaben mir aber durch ihre interessierten Fragen bzw. positiven Kommentare dann doch den Eindruck nicht völligen Unsinn erzählt zu haben. Und diese Leute waren nicht der Meinung, dass Theater nur in AGs gehört, nein, sie setzen Dramamethoden (Rollenspiel wurde erwähnt) auch im Unterricht ein. Netterweise sah ich hier auch die Lehrerausbilderin aus Kassel wieder, die ich 2011 bei der dgff-Tagung getroffen hatte – leider habe ich wieder vergessen, sie nach ihrem Namen zu fragen. Vielleicht bei der nächsten Tagung… Lessons learned: So vorbereitet sein, dass man den Vortrag frei halten kann, so oft proben, bis man die Zeit (einigermaßen) einhalten kann und Menschen auf Tagungen nach ihren Namen fragen!