Possums and Lamingtons!
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When Teaching Artist Felipe Galindo suggested I incorporate something from Australia, my home country, into my lesson presentation at PS 316 Elijah Stroud, the picture book Possum Magic immediately came to mind.
Possum Magic is about Grandma Poss and her granddaughter Hush. Grandma Poss uses her best bush magic to make Hush invisible and keep her safe from all the beasts of the Aussie bush. But when Hush decides she’d like to see herself again, Grandma Poss can’t remember the magic spell. She does remember, however, that the spell includes human food. So Grandma Poss and Hush travel all over Australia tasting different regional specialties – Anzac biscuits, pumpkin scones, Vegemite sandwiches – until Hush is visible again.
Framing my lesson around this work of art allowed me to incorporate an integral part of my own artistic practise and a great passion of mine – food. I’m a theatre maker with my own experimental theatre company Rat King Theatre and all of our work incorporates telling stories through food as well as words and bodies.
We began the class with the Community-Word Project opening ritual of the Maori chant “The Breath of Life” and then talked about how close Australia is to New Zealand and how far away it is from New York City. Before we read Possum Magic, I led a mindfulness and visualizing exercise in which students’ focused on their breath, then they felt their toes without moving them and then they tasted their favourite foods with their imaginations. The students enjoyed the story and had lots of questions. After we had finished reading, we imagined what the different unfamiliar foods tasted like. Maybe a Vegemite sandwich tastes like flowers, a lamington tastes like lemons and pavlova tastes like tiger teas.
Now it was time to see what the food really tastes like. I gave each student a mini-Vegemite sandwich and a mini-lamington. We continued with another mindfulness exercise – touching the food, smelling the food, then eating it slowly with our eyes closed. We talked about the new tastes and how they differed and compared to the students' own favorite foods.
We didn't get to the pavlovas or the last part of my lesson plan. At times the class was a real struggle – students weren't always engaged or listening. Initially I was disappointed in the fact that the lesson hadn't gone exactly to plan. But on reflection I realized how much of a success it was exactly for that reason. The lesson had taken the students into unfamiliar territory and that can never go completely to plan. They thought it was silly to try and feel their toes without moving them. Some of them found the food delicious, some of them found it weird, some both. I hope that they reflect on and return to that weirdness and silliness and that they learn to think like artists.
-Krystalla Pearce, Theatre Artist, 2016 TATIP Graduate
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