Once we’d completed ArtGirl and thought we might actually have a “thing” in Living Graphic Novel, we took on a project with the support of two regional arts organizations in May 2010. And this one really showed us the potential for LGN as an outreach and education tool utilizing the creative arts.
Through a grant from the Tippecanoe Arts Federation Artist in Residence program, funded by JP Morgan Chase, we were able to present “The Mysterious Murky Water and the Poacher Problem,” a Living Graphic Novel created by students in Mrs. Shari Cottingham’s 3rd grade class at Tipton Community School, Tipton, Indiana. The presenters were once again Steven Koehler of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette and Craig Martin of Purdue University Galleries, and we were joined for the first time by Morgan Reitmeyer of Words on the Go.
Mrs. Cottingham’s students had each studied a species of endangered animal throughout the 2009-2010 school year, which provided the impetus for this story. These kids knew their animals backwards and forwards and in all detail. And the teacher’s request was that we somehow create a story that would involve all 19 endangered animals! A daunting task – or so we thought.
In the span of five classroom visits (7.5 hours total), with the assistance of the Living Graphic Novel team, the class imagined a story involving each of their 19 endangered animals, wrote and storyboarded the narrative, painted set backdrops, costumed, staged and photographed “frames” from their story. These images were later developed in Photoshop into a graphic novel-style presentation, complete with narrative boxes and text balloons by Morgan.
The project began with separate groups working with each of the presenters on interactive theatre games to watch, listen and imagine stories in a group, word games to assemble random “Creative Corpse” story lines*, and creative imagining of a world with these 19 endangered animals, where the challenges of survival would bring them together for a common purpose. (*this being our first foray with elementary students, we noted a particular proclivity among 3rd graders towards “unicorns” and “poop.” Just sayin’.)
Later the students rotated between costuming each of their characters with materials from Civic Theatre’s supplies, storyboarding the script so we could visualize the progression of scenes and know what we had to photograph, and painting large backdrops for our sets. The kids were great collaborators and got the work done quickly, with a lot of silliness, laughs and learning filling the session!
Eventually came the big shoot – and with it the magic of theatrical storytelling. Each student took great pride in getting costumed and helping prepare the sets. And each took acting prompts very well, allowing Steve to pull emotional responses for the purposes of the story. Key was the lighting, which transformed the school’s fluoresced community room into darkened and dramatic ocean and jungle settings.
After Morgan assembled the visual story, with some Photoshop magic thrown in, Steve and I were able to return to Tipton as triumphant heroes and present to the class the story they wrote and starred in. To finish it off, a Tipton printer made copies for each of the students, the LGN team, and the school library.
The complete Living Graphic Novel “The Mysterious Murky Water and the Poacher Problem” is available here!