The MetaMOOphosis - A New Design for Learning

Through the use of theatrical techniques and the power of the written word, in a real time interaction over the internet, students will create and perform a play derived from a classic novel. In doing so, many of the requirements under the subheadings of theory, creation and analyses will be fulfilled (The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 and 10: The Arts, 1999).

The MetaMOOphosis is an interactive site located on the internet. It is a text based multi person environment. Similar to chat rooms but complete with objects (food, musical instruments, chairs, couches, tables) that can be 'used'. Students participate in the creation of a multi-room theatrical performance. Using costumes and props, built-in texts and improvisation, seven performers (and unlimited audience) can create, archive and even recreate in a real life theatrical setting, the story of the young man who wakes one morning to find himself transformed into an insect.

The installation brings into focus an event which impacts on family, friends and ultimately, society. Participants are engaged in an exploration of family relationships, alienation, and society's values through theatrical techniques. Kafka's innovative writing style supplies a neutral ground from which observations and analysis can take place. This project presents a new technique to be used in the teaching of literature, theatre and communications.

Virtual environments are frequented by young game players, students who want to 'chat' and by educators and students meeting in virtual classrooms. It is important to present innovative ways to use the internet so that students can perceive it's potential as an outlet for their imaginations. Techniques explored by artists pave the way for a broader vision of what this relatively new medium has to offer. Listed below is a sample project. It can be as big as an interschool project or as small as groups of three or four.

The project requires multiple connections to the internet through a network or individual dial up. Most high schools have this capacity. If not, this should not be insurmountable given the current saturation level of the market.
Collaborative assistance and participation by faculty members in scheduling AND in the maintenance of the project is encouraged.

The piece can be used as a pilot for classmates (or teachers) to pass on to upcoming students without my presence. It is a permanent installation and should continue to be used once my involvement has ended.

Sample Project (10 half days or any combination of full and half days.)

Half Day 1

-An introduction to Franz Kafka. The students are presented with a turn of the century writer known for his distinct and innovative style. A presentation on the meaning of metaphor, the role of psychology in literature and theatre, and magic realism will lead to a discussion of the adaption of a story to theatre (or film or internet). Included will be a discussion on the merits and pitfalls of translating one art form to another. Kafka desired that the 'insect' never actually be shown. He wanted each audience member to imagine the grotesque bug for him or herself. Following the discussion the class will engage in a verbal improvisation using phrases written down and picked from a hat. These phrases will include fragments of the Metamorphosis.

Although it is not essential that the the Metamorphosis be read, a group reading (aloud) or a reading before the course begins is ideal. This can occur over the first half of the course.

Half Day 2

- Improvisational techniques will be covered. I will ask the students to focus on the characters in the novel and their development over the course of it. To orient the students toward the computer interface, literary exercises involving 'describing' emotional states and reactions will follow. For example one student will write to another, "You enter a room and see a man choking." soliciting a response in the second person narrative. So John would answer, "John runs up to the choking man and, while shouting for a doctor, shakes the man vigorously". Responses must be phrased as emotive actions ie; "John cries" or "Sara jumps up and down screaming". This exercise will later be used in online, text based interactive improvisation, hand in hand with dialogue and declarative monologue.

Half Day 3

- A discussion of computers in our lives involving entertainment, communication, art as well as the impact of the internet on social interaction. The session ends with a handout of printed material and a discussion on the 3 commands needed to participate at the MOO (Multi Object Oriented multi user domain) The commands are:

1. Type "say"to say something.

example: typing "say hello" results in John says "Hello"

2. Type a colon plus texts in :to emote.

example: typing " : climbs the walls and drools" results in Gregor climbs the walls and drools. or : hugs his mother results in Gregor hugs his mother.

3. Using verbs like "pick up, give, or throw , sit (on chair). example - Take Mother (costume) from closet.

Half Day 4

- We telnet to the site but use a generic virtual classroom to practice using the commands. We will try some of the exercises developed in the first sessions. Students will be asked to form groups if there are not enough computers and internet links to go around.

Half Day 5

- The first performances take place depending on how many groups of eight students wish to operate the computers. There will be discussion and critiques and trading of roles between the shows. Roles and characters can be traded off during the performances as well. All performances in all rooms (there are six rooms in the house as well as an upstairs hallway and a front yard) will be captured to text files. All schools must supply at least 2 internet connections or at least two non interrupted phone lines. The standard is a network off a single connection. Text based worlds maintain speed even in a multi user session. Steps can be taken to recruit sponsors to supply internet time.

Half Day 6

-Second performances. If the half days are not consecutive (5 full days in a row), the possiblility of doing this performance with another school's participation is likely.

Half Day 7

- Hard copies of the performances will be printed and distributed to each student. A discussion of the chronological record of movement between rooms and the use of multi room and alternative theatre in such productions as Tamara ensues. An informal reading of the texts from each room take place throughout this session. Students are not neccessarily going to know who played which character. This will also provide subject matter for discussions on anonymity, social responsibility, freedom of speech and censorship.

Half Day 8

- Using adjoining rooms, a hallway and multiple doorways, a real life version of the play will be performed (scripts in hand and the insect, invisible).
Perhaps people can be selected to 'speak for' the insect. Or perhaps the insect would be shrouded in cloth. Grete, the insect's sister could throw a towel over him to protect him from violent outbreaks by incensed onlookers. These are the sort of problems which will open discussions that bridge the boundaries between the realizations of art in different media.

Half Day 9

- We begin to wrap up. A simple overview of MOO programming shows how the site was built and prefaces a discussion on what can be done to improve it. The novel will be referenced and segments will be read aloud. This brings the group back to The Metamorphosis as a literary work of strength and longevity.

Half Day 10

- Talks on the affect of technology and communications on Art will end the 5 day session. The lasting value of classic works of literature will be stressed. Also reviewed will be the innovations that can bring those works new meaning.

Special Note: If the schedule permits, staggered half days in more than one school at a time facilitate interschool performances.

You can see a short capture of a moo session that takes you to the kafka site here


Read the final preview of the MetaMOOphosis! An international theatre performance.

Finally, once at the Kafka site, choose the OPEN MOOtcan button NOT the guest user and LOGIN buttons.
Then, once at the MOO, follow directions for login and type "@go Samsa" (without the quote marks ) to get to the site.

Click here to get to the Kafka Environment

Rick Sacks, Toronto .....
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