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This section is also helpful in preparing students who will not be reading the play prior to seeing it performed.
Characterization through Movement
Actors begin to discover their characters in a number of different ways. One way is through exploring body posture, facial expressions, and gestures. As a class, begin to play with the different types of characters in Cyrano. Start by walking around the room, using the entire area without speaking with (or touching) anyone. Now begin to investigate different ways of walking:
- Pick up and slow down pace. If “1” is slow motion and “5” is running, start at a “3.” Slow down to a “2.” Speed up to a “4.” Back to “3.” Down to ”1,” etc.
- Explore the amount of space you take up when walking. Vary from ”1” to “5.” “1” is the least amount of space you can fill while ”5” is the most you can take up as you walk around the room.
- Alter your posture. Walk upright with your chest out. Hunch your shoulders. Strut with swagger. Shuffle your feet. Fold your arms. Swing your arms freely by your side.
- Change your status. Walk like you are a king or queen. Now become a servant of royalty. The President of the United States. A beggar on the street. School principal. A student called into the principal’s office. A celebrity. A fan wanting a celebrity’s autography. A popular student. A shy, new student.
- Lead with a different part of the body. Lead with the forehead. Now lead with the chest. The hips. One shoulder. An ear. The nose.
- Now, embody the larger-than-life characters found in Cyrano de Bergerac. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate! These include: soldiers, actors, noble men and women, military generals, military cadets, poets, nuns, monks, bakers, scholars, etc.
- Allow time to become the character and explore different physicality in your walk. Make bold choices. Take note of how movement influences character status and personality. Discuss with the class your predictions of what the play’s story, setting and its characters will be like based on the type of characters you explored.
- What kind of characters may move quickly? Slowly?
- When your size changed, did your speed change too?
- Would that character slouch or stand tall?
- What adjectives do you associate with that posture?
- How does your body movement change based on the status of a character?
- As you shift from one character to the next, what differences do you notice between characters? Without knowing much about the play yet, what kind of predictions do you have about the storyline, setting, or characters?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS SL1
French Pronunciation 101
The many French character names, locations, and expressions can add a stumbling block when reading or watching Cyrano de Bergerac. On the board, project this sheet of common words and names in the play.
Porte de Nesle
Assign a word to each of your students and ask them to listen to the pronunciation online, repeating the word quietly to themselves until they feel confident saying their word.
Stand in a circle. Choose one of the French words listed on the board. Go around the circle to make sure everyone pronounces their word correctly. Create a pattern of passing the words while tossing a ball at the same time. To set the pattern, one person begins by saying the French word they have chosen and toss the ball to someone else. That person then says his or her word while tossing the ball to someone new. Continue until each person in the circle has tossed the ball once and then the last person tosses it back to the person who began. Now, the pattern is set. Passing in a pattern promotes careful listening, team work, and equal participation. Continue passing the ball in the same pattern while speaking the words. Make sure to listen carefully, speak clearly, and make eye contact. Increase speed and maintain a steady rhythm four to five times around the circle—or until you’ve got the hang of French pronunciation! For an added challenge, throw in a second or even a third ball to keep everyone on their toes.
Teacher Tip: If at any point the activity breaks down or the group “messes up,” try this: ask everyone to raise their arms to the sky with a big, “Yay!” In this way you can support risk-taking and celebrate the notion that making mistakes is part of the learning process activity. This also helps to keep the energy of the activity moving forward. Instead of the class erupting into giggles and finger pointing when a mistake occurs, you now can quickly acknowledge the “mess up,” celebrate it, and be ready to jump right into a next attempt without missing a beat. This will take some practice for students, but once they get it, these hiccups will become simply part of the activity itself—and a great way to build community and spirit in the classroom at the same time!
- What sounds are the most different between French and English?
- Do you notice patterns of pronunciation?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS RL4, SL6, L3, L6
Exploring Big Ideas
Before you begin to read Cyrano de Bergerac, it’s helpful to think about some of the play’s central ideas as they may relate to your own life and personal experiences.
Part One: Voting with Your Feet
(To the teacher: Establish an imaginary “scale” in the classroom, with opposite sides of the room representing opposing viewpoints—yes/no or agree/disagree. You will read statements that explore textual themes, and students must find their place on the spectrum. See suggestions below. Ask volunteers to explain their different positions along the scale. If classroom space is limited, students can also point to either end of the scale from their seats).
- Listen to the statements and move along the imaginary scale to indicate if you agree or disagree. The scale is a spectrum to allow for you to show that it may not be an all or nothing decision for you.
- Volunteer to explain your position. Share personal experience, if you feel comfortable.
Here are some suggestions:
- I never exclude someone from a friend group just because her or she is different.
- Physical attraction is absolutely necessary when it comes to romantic relationships.
- I always choose friends based on inner beauty and don’t care at all what they look like on the outside.
- I always adopt a group’s social norms to make friends.
- Skin-deep love is bound to wear off over time.
- I always put loyalty to my friends above my own interests.
- I resist conformity at all costs when it comes to staying true to my values.
Part Two: Focused Free write
Choose one of the following questions to explore in a free write.
- How do you feel about inner beauty versus outer beauty? Have you ever chosen beauty over someone’s character, nature or intelligence when it comes to friends or relationships? What was the result? Can you imagine making a similar decision in the future? Discuss.
- What is the difference between infatuation and love? What do you value when it comes to love, whether it’s romantic or familial? Discuss.
- Have you ever experienced feelings of insecurity in making friends or being well-liked because you felt different from others in a group? How did your behavior change? Did you sacrifice staying true to yourself to fit in? Discuss.
Write all thoughts that come to your mind—don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation—until the teacher calls time. Underline any passage from your free write that grabs you, and then share with a small group.
- Are there other stories you are familiar with (from young adult novels, plays, songs, movies, etc.) that grapple with similar themes?
- How do personal experiences connect with the big ideas from the play?
CONSIDER COMMON CORE ANCHOR STANDARDS RL2, SL1, W10
—Julie Strassel, a student at DePaul University, edited and developed these activities as an intern with CST’s Education Department.