Our Workshops

A brief glimpse at some of our workshops from this semester:

WEEK 1: RETHINKING ASSUMPTIONS

Taught by: Lauren

We listened to “The Reunion” from the Snap Judgment podcast

We often end up assuming a lot about another person—what they’re thinking, feeling, or what their lives are like. Our project: to make a 2-page spread for the zine about how assumptions differ from someone’s real story.

First page is a world cloud of assumptions people make about you…. facing page reveals something about yourself others might not know.

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WEEK 2: ALBUM COVERS

Taught by: Hannah and Lia

We started by listening to some songs by Nina Simone and John Lee Hooker, and discussed how songwriting is a form of storytelling. Musicians construct stories about themselves through their songs, their images, and their public personas.

Our project was to create an album cover for a favorite musician, thinking about it like the cover to a book–a visual representation of the story, or stories, inside.

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WEEK 3: SECOND CHANCES

Taught by: Mareika and Will

We listened to a story from The Moth called My Sister’s Keeper, in which the storyteller’s sister is given a pretty remarkable second chance to stay in the U.S. (both sisters are from Somalia), even after getting into some serious trouble. We spent some time discussing as a class the idea of second chances–if we had ever been given a second chance, what we would do if we were given a second chance.

The project was a writing and illustration piece for the zine, which would illustrate the answer to the question: If I were given a second chance….

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WEEK 4: THE MANDALA PROJECT

Taught by: Steph and Phillip

We watched a video of Buddhist monks creating a beautiful and intricate mandala out of sand. Just as soon as the piece was completed, the sand was swept away. Observing such a time-intensive process–that culminates in the artwork’s destruction–was a thought-provoking entry point into a discussion about meditation and mindfulness. We talked about the flow of time, being present in the moment, and how different cultures use patterns to both calm the mind and represent a person’s experience of the moment.

Steph and Phillip created a large (3×3′) mandala pattern, and cut it up into squares for each participant to color and add detail to. The boys were urged to think about symbols or colors that represented themselves and their lives, to create their own personalized patterns.

At the end of class, each square, having been numbered according to its place in the overall mandala pattern, was laid face-down on the floor and taped together. Then, we turned the whole thing over for an amazing reveal: a collaborative mandala!

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WEEK 5: IDENTITY MASKS

Taught by: Solita and Sarah

We started by listening to a humorous but provocative story from Snap Judgment, in which a boyfriend assumes a false personality because he thinks it will win him favor with his girlfriend’s father–only to realize he had made a huge mistake about the man and would have been far, far better off representing himself authentically.

The group then discussed masks–the masks we wear in life, the times when we think we need to act or look a certain way, even when it betrays our true selves.

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Our art challenge was to create masks that, instead of hiding our true identities, attempted to reveal some aspects of our authentic selves. Using drawing, symbols, writing, and patterns, the boys decorated masks that would convey to the world what made them unique.

WEEK 6: DREAM COLLAGES (or: “I dreamed of a dream within a dream… was I dreaming?”)

Taught by: Stephanie B. and Dylan

Our workshop started with some festive energy (it was the day before Halloween, after all): Stephanie and Dylan led the group through a “What’s your favorite dance move?” ice breaker. Amongst the demos: the electric slide, a breakdancing handstand, and tap dancing.

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They introduced the day’s theme and project with a reading of two poems about dreams by Abdul Wahab Al-Bayati. We talked about how dreams are a kind of free-form narrative that pull together seemingly unrelated objects, memories, and images from our real lives into a surreal story. The creative challenge was to represent a dream–either one you’ve had, or a dream-like narrative you can imagine–through collage. The PNCA students had pre-cut piles of magazine images, everything from pictures of juicy hamburgers to striking portraiture, so the boys could dive right into assembling them into their own narratives. At the end of the workshop, we shared the imaginative stories behind the collages and had fun “interpreting” each others’ dreams.

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WEEK 7: TIME POEMS

Taught by: Eric and Will

The plan was to watch a video clip of the poet-musician Marlon Carey recite a poem about time, but–in a moment of inevitable technical difficulty–the video did not play and Eric and Will boldly stepped up to read their own time-based poetry straight out of the shoot.

From there, the group had a thoughtful discussion about time; how much power timing has over our lives–how we perceive time so differently in different circumstances–what time means or feels like to the boys now that they are incarcerated.

These thoughts and feelings were then channelled into poems–some rhyming, some entirely free-form–written on simple half-sheets of notebook paper. The group shared their poetry at the end of class.

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WEEK 8: FAIRY TALES

Taught by: the whole class (improvised)

Our planned workshop was postponed last-minute due to the student teachers’ flu… so our challenge as a class was to come up with a workshop on command! We spent our lunch together discussing how we might create a simple yet effective workshop that really focused on storytelling–our theme of the semester. Many ideas were thrown about, but we ultimately decided upon fairy tales–such a simple, recognizable format for storytelling that most kids grow up with, yet a powerful method to convey ideas like morals and values.

We chose a fairy tale that was unknown to most of the students, in the hopes that it would be a new story to the boys (it was!), yet still contained the familiar whimsy and adventure of a recognizable fairy tale. The story was The Valiant Little Tailor; we decided to read it aloud to the boys up until just before the climax, and then ask them to write their own ending.

After a discussion with the boys about fairy tales–ones they are familiar with, what they can identify about their structure, why such stories are so popular and timeless–Mareika read The Valiant Little Tailor aloud to the group until the boys were unleashed to finish the story however they wanted to. Their versions were impressively creative and we thoroughly enjoyed reading them aloud to each other before finally hearing the original ending.

WEEK 9: TOTEM POLES

Taught by: Steph and Phillip

Steph and Phillip, themselves Native Americans, were incredible and informative teachers of a workshop about totem poles. As a personally significant subject matter, they shared some amazing insights about totems with the class–details about the traditions surrounding them, their production, and the tribes that make them–that were fascinating to PNCA students and DEL boys alike.

They asked the group to think about how animals are used to represent humans or human characteristics in popular culture, and why that might be. Why do we use animals to tell human stories, such as the Chinook tribe’s thunderbird origin story that Steph read aloud? Then the boys were challenged to think of three animals that could represent aspects of their identity, and to depict those animals in a drawn totem pole of their own. Each table had some images of Native American stylized animals to inspire their drawings.

They boys’ totems included an incredible variety of animals, from bears to wolves to naked mole rats.

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