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The "Baltimore Fresh Stories Project" was a response to an article written by Pippa Stein titled, “The Olifantsvlei Fresh Stories Project.”  The members of my play theory course--those who had been assigned to present on this article--where particularly interested, in the words of one group member, in exploring “the effects of a multi-modal approach to narrative construction.”  Otherwise put, the group was particularly eager to learn how the members of the class might take up, and subtly alter or even radically transform, “using a limited amount of resources,” a piece of writing that each participant in the course would be asked to produce prior to attending the presentation session.  To this end, two days before the October 26th presentation session, members of English 320, a play theory course, were each given a name tag that contained a different social identity (i.e., bride, movie star, police person, cat, prisoner, chef, religious figure, farmer, groom, nurse, rock star, super model).  Members of the class were then asked to wear them nametags to the next session and to bring with them as well a piece of writing containing “five to ten sentences about the identity that appeared on their nametag.”  

On the day of the presentation, the group members got to the classroom early and placed throughout the room 6-8 plastic bags containing various kinds of materials that might prove useful for constructing dolls (3-D replicas) based on the social identities their classmates had been given.  For the most part, the bags contained “disposable” material, stuff that the presenters found, had on hand, or had purchased at the dollar store:  empty water/soda bottles, coffee filters, yarn, bottle caps, buttons, ribbon, shower curtain rings, wire, hair ties, felt, pipe cleaners, empty coffee cans, sponges, beads, empty cardboard toilet paper/paper towel rolls and so on.  On the front table in the room, the presenters had assembled materials that were intended to be shared by members of the class—scissors, glue sticks, markers, etc.  

As members of the class entered the room, group members collected the written texts people had prepared for the session.  The class was then given approximately ten minutes to look through the garbage bags placed throughout the room, grabbing whatever materials they thought might prove most useful or fitting for creating a three-dimensional replica of the social identity each member of the class had been given.  At the end of the ten minutes we were cued to begin constructing our 3-D models.  While we had not been given the option to collaborate with other members of the class while creating our written texts, we were given permission to collaborate with others while constructing our 3-D models.  So, for instance, if we wanted to create a context where a police person was interacting with a farmer or a prisoner, we could do so.  For my part, for instance, I chose to work with a student who had the cat identity.  As we constructed our dolls, we began imagining context where her doll might interact with my character (a movie star).  We debated, for instance, whether or not the movie star and her cat would resemble each other, if they would dress alike, who would be the more dominant figure in the relationship and so on.  

Before the session ended, we were asked to compose another written text, again, five to ten sentence about the objects we had just created.  At the end of the class session, the presenters collected the dolls and the texts we created in class curious to learn how, if at all, their classmates’ ways of thinking and writing about their assigned identities had been altered as a result of creating the 3-D models.   Impressed by the efforts of their classmates (i.e., the dolls came out far better than anyone expected), and amazed by how different the first and second writings were, the group members posted to blackboard the second batch of writings. One member of the group had been taking photos throughout the session, and posted these to facebook, creating a special group there called “the english 320 fresh stories’:  adventure in multi-modality.”

In the following clip, two members of the presenting group are arranging the dolls on the window ledge in a large, empty room on campus that had been booked for a presentation (one based on Gunther Kress' "My Gawd, I Made it Like Australia") in another of my courses. The students associated with the "fresh stories project," knowing that the Kress presentation would involve, among other things, having members of this other class work together to construct a rocket ship, a fort, race cars, and a puppet show, hoped that the dolls might be taken up and used again in this context.

doll

click image to see some of the dolls created during the "fresh stories" presentation