New Victory Arts Break: Devising Stories

When choosing which moments from Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster to perform using hand-drawn paper puppets, the artists of Manual Cinema were able to take inspiration from Mo Willems’ picture book illustrations! This week, we’ll practice devising and performing stories inspired by different source material, one page-turning moment at a time.

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New Victory Arts Break: Devising Stories

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Sketching Stories

Every picture tells a story—and so does every series of pictures! Our brains are constantly connecting the dots between images and imagining the stories in between. The artists behind comic books (and comic strips!) rely on their readers’ imaginations to fill in the gaps between their illustrations. Let’s join New Victory Teaching Artist Alberto Denis as he breaks down a story into moments and sketches an original comic strip!

Materials: Paper and pencil

Step One: Draw a series of boxes on your paper—four is a good number to start with! In comics, these boxes are called panels. You could also print out the template below

Grid of four blank rectangular panels

…or take inspiration from some more complex panel layouts, originally designed by legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby:

Example panel layouts from three to nine in different sizes and configurations

Step Two: Think of the story that you’d like your comic to tell and break it up into as many moments as you have panels. A simple story is the best place to start, like a nursery rhyme, a song, or your favorite scene from a book or movie.

If you’re stumped, you could use Alberto’s story of the runaway meatball, inspired by the song “On Top of Spaghetti.” Here are the lyrics:

On top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed!
It rolled off the table
And onto the floor.
And then my poor meatball
Rolled right out the door!

Step Three: After picking four key moments from the story, draw them in your panels! Keep in mind that each image should help the reader piece together what is going on, one moment at a time.

Four panel moments from "On Top of Spaghetti": The sneeze, the fall, the floor, the door

Step Four: Show your comic to someone! Can they understand the story? What do they imagine is happening in between the panels?

Could you have told your story in fewer panels? How much more of the story could you tell with more panels?

BONUS: Break your story into lots and lots of short moments and create a flipbook! Follow along with Ryan as he uses a light box (you can also use a window) to create a simple flipbook animation on Ryan’s World.

Embodying Stories
We started by putting stories on paper. Now we’ll put them in our bodies! In this activity, we’ll choose moments of a story to bring to life through tableau, the theatrical technique of freezing in place.

Step One: Think of a story! We’re going to continue with “On Top of Spaghetti,” but you can choose any story you’d like.

Step Two: Pick one moment from your story. Act out this moment and freeze in place, choosing a pose that you think best captures the moment you’re trying to represent. This pose is the first part of your tableau!

Step Three: Now find ways to make this tableau really come to life! Add props that help tell the story, invite friends or family members to join you as other characters and find a perfect setting. New 42 Youth Corps members Fernando and Sorien used some forced perspective to create their tableau, with Sorien as the tiny meatball!

Meatball Sneeze TableauI lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed!

Step Four: Gather an audience and see if they can guess which moment from the story you’re trying to tell. Then invite them to help you create a tableau of a different moment from the story!

BONUS: Could your story have a sequel? Create a tableau for a moment that might happen after the story ends.

Meatball Picnic Tableau

What happened to our meatball after the end of the song? She rolled up on a friend’s picnic!

To learn more about how to create a convincing tableau, join Kimberly in a tableau freeze game from Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Stories in Things

Every object has a story behind it, but have you ever imagined what objects might get up to when we’re not around? Let’s take inspiration from a household object and imagine a story starring it.

Step One: Wherever you are, stop! Look around. With a friend or family member, pick an object that you see—a pencil, a vase, a pair of sunglasses. It can be anything nearby!

Step Two: Work together to make up a story about the object one sentence at a time. To get started, try introducing your object and summing up its day.

This (object)‘s name is  .
  is having a   day.

Step Three: Continue adding one sentence at a time, alternating players, to tell your story until you feel like it’s complete. There are no wrong ways to imagine your story! Daisy, Melissa and Katherine from the New 42 Youth Corps worked together to tell the story of Zack, the hapless houseplant.

Have fun imagining stories for other invented characters with New Victory Teaching Artist Ana Cantorán Viramontes in our Character Creation Arts Break!

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.