Pre-Show Preparation, Questions for Discussion, and Activities
Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions, and activities to prepare your students, as well as to engage their imaginations and creativity, before they experience The Mad 7 in performance.
- One Part Quest and Another Part Riddle. Yehuda Hyman, playwright and solo performer of The Mad 7, describes his play’s central character, Elliott Green, as “so lost that he doesn’t know how lost he is.” Regarding Elliott’s dramatic journey, Hyman offers, “…this is a story about guides or mentors who come and lead this person to an understanding of himself, and his place in the universe, and the relationship of who he is, in this world and the other world.”
With these brief descriptions, Hyman not only captures the essence of the story at the center of The Mad 7, but also invokes two of the great pervasive plots in Western drama and literature: The Quest and The Riddle. One part quest (that is, involving the main character’s search for a person, place or thing which is either tangible or intangible) and another part riddle (that is, involving the main character’s search for clues to find the hidden meaning of something that is deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous), The Mad 7 dramatically depicts Elliott’s mysterious, mystical, and existential search to find himself and to figure out what is missing in his life.
Plots in Common
- Ask your students if they can think of any books or plays from previous study, personal reading, or theater-going that feature either a quest or a riddle plot. If students cannot think of any titles off the top of their heads, ask them to conduct a little research for homework to identify at least two books or plays they have read or seen which feature quest or riddle plots. Have them write brief synopses of each story/play, considering the following details:
- character traits of the protagonist
- nature of the object or person for which the protagonist searches
- obstacles that stand in the protagonist’s way
- what the protagonist learns along the journey
- how the plot is resolved (i.e., does the protagonist find that which s/he has been seeking), and
- what, if anything. the protagonist discovers about herself or himself
- The next time class meets, ask your students to present one of the stories they researched to their classmates and to share its details. After every student has presented his or her own book or play, ask the class as a group to brainstorm a list of common characteristics (based upon the categories above) for each type of plot.
- Ask your students to reflect upon:
- A moment in their lives when either they or a friend or family member was “so lost that [they didn’t] know how lost [they were].”
- A situation in their or someone else’s life in which a guide or mentor led them or someone they knew to a better understanding of themselves and “their place in the universe.”
- Give students an opportunity to freely write about one of these experiences for ten minutes. If appropriate, students may volunteer their compositions to be read aloud to the class and discussed.
|Have your students teach one another about their individual or group topics via oral and illustrated (i.e., posters or PowerPoint) reports. Following the presentations, ask your students to reflect upon their research process and discoveries.|
- On Mystical Stories of Beggars, Gardens and Birds. Yehuda Hyman’s The Mad 7 is imaginatively based upon “The Seven Beggars,” a mystical and allegorical story told by the renowned Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the year 1810. At an early age, Nachman devoted himself to a spiritual existence of religious study, prayer, reflection, meditation and fasting, and he quickly became an influential rabbi (“teacher”) and tzaddik (a righteous person of outstanding holiness and piety) who attracted many followers. As a teacher and spiritual guide he taught religious and moral lessons via many modes of discourse, including seemingly simple fairytale-like stories filled with vivid imagery and multi-layered meanings. The purpose of these stories, according to the wise Rabbi as reported by his closest disciple, scribe and publisher, was “to arouse people from their spiritual slumber.” Printed in both Hebrew and Yiddish, the tzaddik’s wisdom was made available to all, including women (who at the time received no formal religious education) and the unlearned. Nearly two hundred years later, Rabbi Nachman’s stories continue to inspire and are studied by both Jews and non-Jews.
Have your students read a simple translation or adaptation of “The Seven Beggars” (adapted versions are available online at http://www.xs4all.nl/~rcassuto/beggars.html or at http://www.shuvubonim.org/storysb.html ). You might divide your students up into groups and assign portions of the tale; it is divided into six sections (i.e., “days” or “beggars”). Then:
- Ask your students to discuss the characters, stories, and themes of Rabbi Nachman’s tale. Ask them to consider what lesson, ideal, or value the story of each beggar attempts to teach or instill.
- Give your students the opportunity to explore the visual imagery of “The Seven Beggars” through the medium of collage. In collage, an artistic composition is created by affixing cutout images and text, material/fabric, and other small objects to paper. Ask your students to create a collage based upon one of the beggars’ tales.
- They will need an 8½” x 11” sheet of paper (either colored paper or paper that can be painted), magazines with visual images/photographs, scissors, additional colored paper for cutouts, colored pencils or paint for a background, and glue.
- They should think about how they might use color, images and text to symbolize the characters, setting or mood of the story.
- Educators might also opt for their students to create electronic collages by utilizing PowerPoint technology (or any art or photo software accessible) and images gleaned from the Internet.
- Students should be given time to show their finished collages to the class and to explain how the objects and images in their collages express and symbolize their chosen tale from “The Seven Beggars."