A Close Shave
at the Ekka

This wonderfully macabre and exciting story
was created in class room workshops at
the Fortitude Valley State Primary School in Brisbane, Australia during July, 1996.

The Group Improvisation Method is one I've developed over the last few years. It has a number of advantages. The most important being that it provides a structure for a class size group of students to make contributions to creating a story and to create that story in one workshop. Depending on the group of students, their knowledge of the narrative structure and their experience of working together this can be quite quick.

To work with the technique successfully one needs to be able to improvise, elaborate, select good story possibilities from students' suggestions, and, most importantly, say 'Yes' as often as possible to students' ideas of what should happen in the story. Taping and transcribing the suggestions and story as it unfolds provides a good record for transcription. The following is transcribed from the tape done at Fortitude Valley.

My warmup for the process included telling some stories that I had created with students from other schools and one that we had created at Fortitude Valley. I then reviewed what the class understood about stories and story structure. I presented the Character, Setting, Problem, Resolution structure as a useful format to use for story creation.

We talked about the settings we had chosen for the previous stories they had created and some options for this one. I was looking for a setting that related to the school and as many students' experience as possible. My storyteller's ear is always listening for good story possibilities as well. We chose the Ekka.

I asked for three volunteers to provide a time setting and a story beginning. Here are the suggestions.

I picked the second one and then elaborated a little.

Last year at the Ekka we got lost in the show bag stand. There was lots of decorations of castles and other things from the outside of the show bags. There were thousands of people - big people, short people, thin people, fat people.

I asked the class,'What would it be like being in that crowd? What would be an interesting metaphor?' I gave an example and took suggestions around the circle. Their suggestions were:-

It was like

We discussed the different ideas and then chose one. I took the story further, elaborating a little and taking suggestions (eg. descriptions and names of the characters) as I went.

It was like being in a garbage compactor with millions of people pouring in the by the second. I was stuck in between two fat people and I could hardly breathe. Me and my friend were heading towards the 'Greatest Show bag On Earth' stand. It felt like so hot and sticky and we could hardly breathe.

Teresa had blonde hair and blue eyes and on her left shoulder she had a big birth mark in the shape of a boot and because of that birthmark her nickname was Doc. Nick had short hair, skinny, green eyes, he wore glasses and he had a long nose.

Now Teresa made her way through the crowd and got her show bag before Nick. She told Nick that she would wait for him against the pillar next to the Samboy Stand. Nick managed to get his bag but when he got to where Teresa was supposed to be waiting for him she wasn't there. He looked around the crowded pavilion but couldn't see Teresa anywhere. He started to feel a bit worried. "She was standing there before, I saw her. Teresa would've told me if she was going to go somewhere else". He started to freak out. "What's happened to her. Is she OK?" Then he looked down and on the floor right where Teresa had been standing he saw -

They suggested:-
an earing, a bracelet, a ring, her birthmark cut out, a show bag, her glasses, the bracelet that he gave her, on a sticking out nail was a piece of torn black material the same colour as her track pants, her shoe, her watch, a pool of blood, her necklace, a note saying 'Meet me at the fastest roller coaster at noon', a cup, some pieces of hair.

I asked their teacher to pick one and he chose - 'some pieces of hair'.

some pieces of blonde hair. Nick said, "Oh No! That looks like Teresa's." He bent down and picked it up and on the end of the hair was something red. "Oh no. What's happened to her?"

Nick started looking. In one hand he still carried the Greatest Show bag on Earth but in the other he was carrying the stands of bloodstained hair. All the time he was crying out, "Teresa, Teresa!"

He pushed his way through the crowd all the way around the Show Bag Pavilion getting more and more frantic all the time. He walked out of the big double doors out onto the Gregory Tce footpath thinking, "Oh. Which way am I'm going to go - down towards the machinery stands and the Dog Pavilion or back around under the railway line towards Side Show Alley?"

Just then he saw someone -

They suggested:

I usually listen for which of the suggestions I think will give least sterotyped storyline and put them together as I continue improvising. Students wont think much about character or setting development so I try to reach some balance between this and keeping the action going.

He looked and he saw this old guy who had two show bags - one in each hand - and he was walking along the footpath down the Gregory Tce hill. Nick noticed that hanging over the top of one of the bags was hair - blonde hair, black hair, brown hair, hair with red on it. He thought, "Oh no!" and he went running down the footpath shouting out "Heh! Stop! Heh! You!" But as he got to the old man, the old man did something strange. He :-
The students suggested:

I said, "Let's pick between two options. Option one is he gets there and finds out that what he thought was a bag of hair turns out to be a bag of shampoo samples with pictures of different colour hair on them and he has to say 'Oh. Sorry.' and walk away. Option two is the scissors man." After some debate the class chose the scissors man. I continued improvising.

When Nick saw the door in the wall close he started to freak. He stood there and started to shake and scream and in no time there was a crowd around him including three police. They took Nick over to a bus seat and sat him down and said, "Are you OK? What's wrong? What's wrong?"

Nick kept saying, "The Scissor's Man! My best friend! The door in the brick wall!"

I asked, "Where's the story going to go from there?' Suggestions included:

The story continued:

The police are standing over him saying "What's wrong? What's wrong mate?" Nick looks up and instead of the faces of three police he's so frantic that he sees three old men and they've all got handfuls of hair. He shouts out, "Oh no! Get away from me.!Get away from me!"

The police are saying, "It's all right. It's all right." But Nick's still seeing things in his fear and he's shouting, "Get away from me! Get away from me!" Just then they all heard a sound, the sound of machinery opening the door in the brick wall and the sounds of bricks sliding and grating over each other. They look around and they see the door is open again and there in front of them is standing the old man. Nick jumps up, dived between the three police and jumped through the door. The door started to slide shut as the three police made a dive for it as well. Only one managed to dive through the gap in the closing door. The door slammed shut on the policeman's foot. He sings out to Nick, "Help me!" Nick bent down, undid the policeman's shoe lace and pulled his foot out of his boot.

I then asked the class to divide into groups of three or four, talk together and work out what happens next and how the story should end.

I gave them about 5 minutes and then got each group to 'tell' there suggestion to the class. It's a good idea to select the groups carefully so that no group is left feeling they can't think of anything.

We ended up with seven groups and seven different suggestions for the rest of the story. I then improvised an ending by amalgamating some of the ideas of the groups and taking suggestions as I went. I retold the whole story to the class putting together all the ideas as I remembered them and shaping the story a bit as I went. This is oral creativity not writing. The excerpts from the story still show the energy of the class with changes in tense, sentence constructions that belong to casual or urgent speech.

A written version was prepared by transcribing from the tape. I added some more details particularly at the start where I thought some explanation of the setting for non-Brisbane readers would be appropriate.

You can see that these oral creativity sessions provide lots of opportunities for extension into writing activities such as editing, redrafting, different versions, different genre etc in the classroom. The oral group sessions warm students up to creating their own stories.

At the illustration sessions we described the sort of illustrations that might work on a Web page and had a look at the way other stories on the Web had been illustrated. There's not a lot to choose from yet. I told the story again and then presented a warm up exercise in the form of the Close Up Game. In this we asked groups of four students to take four minutes to work out what they were going to draw, draw an outline and colour it in with felt pens. I gave it some interest and energy with a TV Game Show patter and some sound effects. The 'blood stained scissors' graphic is an example of one of the results of this process.

This was followed by the Great Art Auction where individual sections of the text were exhibited around the class. Students had to decide which page of the text they wanted to illustrate and then bid for their page with bids of exactly what they were going to put in the illustration. I acted as auctioneer and the teacher and visual artist acted as the Expert Panel. This both made the selection fun but also provided a structure that helped students think about what would work in the illustration. One draw back of the idea is that it took quite some time for each student to make a selection.

In the next session students did their illustrations with felt pens. The illustrations were then scanned and written into beautiful Web page designs by Marie Biggens. In this project Marie decided not to add to or 'improve' the student's illustrations. You see smudge marks, rubouts, wrinkles etc. There is a whole range of development of technique that reflects the mix of ages and personality in this composite class.

The Group Improvisation Method

Daryll Bellingham, Storyteller
P.O. Box 5300, West End, Q4101, Brisbane, Australia
Tel. 61 (0)7 3846 3135
Fax. 61 (0)7 3846 2056

Return to Top of this page.

Return to 'Storytelling in Australia' entry page.

Return to Fortitude Valley Electronic Publishing Project Index.

All contents copyright (C) 1996, Daryll Bellingham. All rights reserved.
Devised: November 4th, 1996
URL of this page: