For many weeks Ned and Richard were playing pirates together. The day Richard said, quite politely, ‘Walk the plank, Ned’, things changed. Ned stamped his foot, got red in the face, and stormed off to the cubby house, shouting. ‘I’m the captain, Richard!’.
Ned refused to be in Richard’s story – the one where Richard was the captain. I had been watching this drama unfolding, aware that Ned always assumed the role of captain, and that Richard was getting a bit sick of being the pirate who always ended up in the shark-infested water.
I couldn’t help them work it out that day. I tried to help them find other ways to tell their stories.
‘You could paint or draw a picture about your pirate story.’
‘I can’t paint a pirate.’
‘You could each tell me the story that you’re thinking about, and I could write it down, and we could act it out at mat time.’
Richard was the first one to tell me a story.
‘There’s only Ned and Richard. There’s only two people. It’s about Ned and Richard. Ned and Richard fight with the swords and I’m the goodie and Ned is the baddie. There was a sea and I pushed him into the sea and I made him walk the plank.’
At mat time, Richard asked Ned to be the pirate who walked the plank. Ned shook his head, ‘No’, so Richard chose someone else. Ned wasn’t ready to take on that role – not in dramatic storyplay, and not as a character in Richard’s story. He as watched another child acted his part – a baddie being pushed into the sea.
A few days later Ned passed by when I was writing Felix’s story about dragons and princesses.
‘I know what you’re doing,’ said Ned. ‘A play.’
‘Would you like to do a play?’ I asked him.
He nodded ‘Yes’. He told me a story, but it was not about pirates. He took his cue from Felix.
‘Once… (He starts again) A long time ago there was a king and a queen and a princess. There’s a prince who lives in another castle. There’s a dragon in a cave.
‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘What did the dragon do?’
The dragon blew fire on it.
We didn’t have time to act out Ned’s play at mat time (running out of time happens quite a lot in a storytelling/storyacting playroom). The next day he said to me,
‘I think I’ll have to do a drawing, ‘cause when I don’t do a drawing you don’t do my play.’ Ned had noticed that many of the children drew or painted pictures to go with their stories – to set the scene. That’s good. he’s pushing himself to try something new, something he doesn’t really want to do, so that he can achieve what he really wants. At the time I didn’t think these actual words, but instinctively responded, ‘Okay, go and get a piece of paper.’
This was the first time I had seen Ned draw. He sat down at the drawing table, a pen in hand, and a blank sheet of paper in front of him. He held his head in his hand and said, ‘This is going to be hard, hard, hard.’
He tentatively drew some disconnected horizontal lines on the paper. He sighed. This didn’t look like any of the pirate ships he had seen in the story books, information books, or on television, and at the movies.
‘Think about what a pirate ship has,’ I said. ‘A top, and a bottom, and two ends. Join these two lines. Start here.’
He drew the two vertical lines. They didn’t join up perfectly. Ned shook his head and said,
‘I made a mistake’
‘That’s okay. What about some water?’
Ned drew a blue zig-zag line at the bottom of the page.
‘I need a shark,’ said Ned.
He drew a small round circle.
‘It doesn’t look like a shark,’
‘Does it have a tail?’
He drew a tail about six inches away from the head.
‘What’s that?’ asked Richard, who had come over to see what Ned was doing.
‘A tail of course,’ said Ned.
‘Join the tail to the head,’ I said, and he drew a line between the two.
‘You need a fin’ said Richard.
‘This will be hard,’ said Ned as he drew two lines in the centre of the body, one above and then one below. He gave a little smile.
‘What about portholes on the ship?’ I said.
He drew the round circles.
‘This is like a airplane,’ he said.
‘Ships have these too.’
I brought the pirate book over to the drawing table. We looked at some pictures of pirate ships and talked about the portholes and the holes for the cannons. Ned recognised the book.
‘I’ve got this at home,’ he said.
He leafed through the book until he found a picture of a pirate trussed up in chains and irons and hanging from a cross beam out over the water.
‘Look at that,’ he said.
Then: ‘It’s got to have people.’
He drew the people (pirates) in the ship.
Now we could start telling/writing the story, and Ned’s first pirate story poured out.
‘It’s about a tugboat – it’s about a big tugboat – there’s a ship there – all the men get eaten by sharks – they fight all the pirates on the big pirate ships – some of the pirates get shooted by pirates – and the captain gets shooted by the cannon and gets lots and lots and lots of blood – and more blood – lots and lots lots and lots,lots and lots lots and lots lots and lots lots and lots lots and lots lots and lots lots and lots and lots of blood -Richard’s the captain of the pirate ship and I’m the captain of the tugboat.’
I was having trouble making sense of Ned’s story. I asked a couple of questions
‘Do tug boat people fight?’
‘The little tugboat pulls alongside the pirate ship?’
‘Yes. They climbed up on to the pirate ship?’
And I hoped it would all become clear at mat time when we acted the story.
Ned came out to the front of the group with me. I started to read the story, as I usually do before we act it out. But something was wrong. This wasn’t the story he really wanted to tell he really wanted to tell. There should have been islands, and treasure, and captures, and escapes.
I couldn’t follow his change of plans. I put wrong actors in wrong roles. I sent the wrong group of pirates to the island, and misinterpreted which captain got killed and which was the hero. The players acted out their roles enthusiastically, and most of the audience sat back while Ned and I tried to work things out.
In the end we ran out of time and I decided to bring the play to an end. I told Ned that we would work on it together another day. He sat down, crossed his arms, scowled, and pulled his hat down over his red face. He went home unhappy and cross, and I wished that it had worked out better.
We were both disappointed this time, but together we had discovered a new way to share his ideas.
…to be continued