April 15th, 1999 was a banner day for young Francophiles in Southeastern Wisconsin. On that day Mount Mary College hosted Variétés françaises, a series of 22 acts created and performed in French by students from 15 area middle and high schools. The dramatic offerings ranged from classical theatre to juggling and dance and were well received by the audience of over 700 young speakers of French, for whom the morning's entertainment was an official field trip.
Variétés françaises was the inspiration and second major project of SWAAF (Southeast Wisconsin Academic Alliance in French), a collaborative organization of French teachers of all levels, k-16, that works closely with the Alliance Française of Milwaukee. The group viewed this "French Performance Day'' as a terrific growth opportunity for student participants. Members felt that such an event would provide occasion and inspiration for creativity, a "real'' reason for striving to perfect expression in French, a chance to boost personal confidence in using a foreign language, and even a Francophone/ Francophile audience to respond enthusiastically! It was a spectacle that was meant to be.
The footwork and logistics necessary to generate such a production do require time and attention, but they are relatively self-evident and manageable. Here are the major practical tasks you will need to tend to:
1. Call for acts from interested teachers and their classes. Ask for
reconfirmation, with information on type of act, number of student performers,
number of attendees.
2. Establish an E-mail list of all participating teachers for easy communication.
3. Reserve a theatre or auditorium appropriate for performance needs and arrange for a support stage crew.
4. Assess technological needs for each act. It is ESSENTIAL to have numerous
microphones, especially the clip-on or hand-held type.
5. Arrange for videotaping and distribution of the tapes.
6. Sequence acts appropriately and create a program for duplication.
7. Organize seating arrangement in the theater for easy access to the stage by the performers.
8. Secure a Master/Mistress of Ceremonies and, if possible,
9. Have a dress rehearsal! (We did not, but the event was a success anyway).
Once these pieces are in place, you can be sure that the kids will take it from there!
One last piece of advice: Start Small! Organize a performance event that involves just a few neighboring schools. This will simplify logistics and allow for closer collaboration among teachers and students.
In the sections that follow, some teachers who participated in "French Performance Day" describe their successful performance activity. These were presented at a workshop we organized at the 1999 WAFLT meeting. Larry Kuiper, who specializes in sociolinguistics and pedagogy (and who was Master of Ceremonies or Variétés françaises), begins by considering the benefits of performance for second language acquisition.
Toni Wulff and Gabrielle Verdier