Because it’s report writing time and it’s Friday!
One of the posts that seems to get a lot of views here on the blog is the one on suggestions for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. I taught it again this year and I made a few alterations to my program and tried a few new things. You might like to use these in your class.
1. Focus on Being a Director
I’ve posted previously about how I spent several lessons scaffolding how to write a Director’s Concept. I wanted the students focus to look at the play as directors rather than as students. I spent a lot more time than I have in the past building a strong understanding of the concepts behind the Theatre of the Absurd in order to more effectively work through into the practical aspects.
2. Workshops that Provoke Insight
I went on some PD last year that suggested a pedagogy of teaching that involved a different structure to drama lessons so as to ensure experiential learning could be more easily transferred to the written essay. It suggested this idea of workshops that centered around key questions that required the students to have insights based on their practical experience as well as an ability to reflect on these. I structured mine over four lessons and found that they worked really well in being able to better convey these concepts to students. Here is a link to a PDF version of what I gave my students in a booklet: Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd I also gave the students a Workshop Reflection Template to fill in on each of the workshops. The one in the link above is for Workshop 1. I would use the same template for the other three but replace the question as per the Workshop Series worksheet.
3. Devising an Original Absurdist Piece
I revised the assessment task and had the students form pairs. They had two tasks. The first was to write a Director’s Concept for their original Absurdist piece, which was the second part. The piece was to be created using dialogue from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. It could be used in any order and from any section as long as the sentences were as per the scripted play. The piece also had to demonstrate an understanding of the aspects looked at in the workshops. Some of the pieces that the students came up with were highly engaging.
I’m really pleased with how I taught this unit and think I really delved into the students higher order thinking and insight. I really enjoyed teaching it.
What strategies do you use with your class to teach The Theatre of the Absurd?
The other week I posted a writing scaffold for writing a Director’s Concept. I mentioned that I had learnt a lot more about this area from having completed a Directing for the Stage course at NIDA. I wanted to share with you some of the photos of my concept that I had to pitch to the class for the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
It was a tricky play to come up with a concept for because there is the element of fate and whether or not everything that happened in the play was determined by it or not. We needed to each decide what our view was on that. With the added pressure of working full time there was little time to give the piece much thought. So it forced me to trust my gut.
I went with the idea of using ice throughout the set (we had an unlimited budget). I was working from the idea that we needed tangible verbs to explain our concept. I looked at what ice symbolised and how I could link it to the concept. I then had to build a set model. It was interesting to see how people interpreted my idea because what I was thinking in my head is not what people saw! Suffice to say, my tutor made some “edits” to the concept and what I ended up with was the last picture. A white box. Representing a block of ice that melts as the show progresses.
The lesson I took from devising my own concept was to move away from using symbol and instead find a metaphor. The tension that would be created through the use of the block of ice would be far more engaging than what I had originally which was rather dream like and fantastical.
One of the popular pages on the blog seems to be the Suggestions for Monologues page. Once you’ve picked a monologue it is a good idea when developing an Individual Performance either for the HSC or for some other class assessment, that an actor, as part of the rehearsal process should write a role analysis.
A role analysis is something that is prepared by an actor to give them a greater understanding of their character within the context of the whole play and within particular scenes. It’s like a road map of the character’s life and requires you to draw on your own to make it believable and convincing. The actor utilises their dialogue and interactions to help form a picture of their character which they can then use to physicalise the character and make offers.
In answering the following questions an actor should be able to do the above effectively. Aspects of a character that are not clear from the dialogue and interactions in the play can be made up by the actor as part of their own interpretation.
- What was your parent’s upbringing like?
- Do you have any siblings?
- What sort of education did you receive?
- What is your health like?
- When have the significant major relationships in your life begun?
- What do you enjoy doing (music, food etc)?
- What do you consider your idiosyncracies to be?
- How old are you?
- What is your height/weight?
- What clothing do you wear?
- What are your grooming habits?
- If you had to compare yourself to an animal, what would it be and why?
- What success have you had in your life?
- How did these affect how you turned out?
- What failures have you had in your life?
- How did these affect how you turned out?
In Your Scene:
- What time is it?
- What aspects of time affect your action?
- Where are you? Describe your surroundings.
- What actions result from your relationship to this place?
- What are the significant objects relating to your surroundings?
- What actions do you complete that relate to these objects?
- What activities are you up to the moment the scene begins?
- What is happening in the scene (explore the tension here)?
- What is your relationship to the other characters in the scene?
- What is your relationship to the other characters mentioned in the scene?
- What has led to these feelings?
- What do you like/dislike about them?
- In what ways do you need the person in the scene?
- In what ways are you vulnerable to the other person in the scene?
- What is your super-objective (what do I wish for, need, dream about)?
- What is it you need at the beginning of the scene?
- What will you try to do to get what you want?
- What will happen if you don’t get what you need?
- What or who is in my way?
- What do I do to get what I want?
- What can I draw upon from my own life to help create the characters wants, actions and emotional life? Describe.
This would make a great lesson activity when doing some scene work or work on monologues.
Angela’s Kitchen by Paul Capsis, Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell
I love how I came across this play. The other night I went to see One Man, Two Guvnors at Sydney Theatre. They have a small performing arts bookshop in the foyer: GleeBooks. I’ve been to that theatre many times and not really looked in the bookshop. This time, my sister, who came along with me, wanted to have a look so I went on in. I think I avoid it because I know there are going to be a million and one books I just want to read but won’t have the money to buy.
I was having a browse and got to the play section. I’m always on the lookout now for plays with decent sized monologues in them that could be used for performance. I recognised Angela’s Kitchen because it had only recently been staged at Griffin Theatre about a year or so ago. So I started to have a flick through it and was thrilled to find, it is a one person show!
The Director, Julian Meyrick calls it an “autobiographical” play. It has a simple narrative weaved together using moments and stories drawn from actor Paul Capsis’s life. Despite its lack of tension it does capture an image of a generation of people migrating to Australia. Paul Capsis is Maltese and performs as several family members but namely his grandmother Angela throughout the play. There are phrases of Maltese spattered throughout and the possibilities for staging and characterisation are present. The role of Paul could be interchangeable with a female. Also, it’s a great springboard for other student’s to think about their own families and lives and create their own autobiographical piece for the HSC or otherwise.
I’ve taught the Theatre of the Absurd and I’ve blogged suggestions on some teaching strategies for a unit of work before. I have Year 11 again this year (the first time since 2011) and I really wanted to work on refining my teaching and learning program. I reflect on my programs each and every year and in the time since I last taught Year 11 I have come to a greater understanding of what is key in getting student’s to succeed in the HSC.
In particular, I have stopped calling my student’s “students” and I have started calling them “directors.” I refer to everything they do in class as their “directorial choices”.
This is something that I needed to shift in my own head before I could do the same with my student’s.
Teachers are leaders in the classroom, just as a Director is on a production. In this vein, I needed to stop thinking of myself as a teacher who was teaching content but rather as a Director, teaching other director’s how to create their own original works.
This, for me, has been a significant moment in my development as a drama teacher. In wanting to ensure I was teaching the appropriate content to my student’s I lost sight of the need to remember that Drama and theatre is a creative, fluid process that needs a lot of discussion and thought. The pressures of the syllabus and the term time frame makes this difficult. In shifting my thinking in this way I have felt a renewed energy towards my teaching that encapsulates more of my passion and appreciation for theatre as an artform.
Much of this came about through my undertaking of a Directing for the Stage course at NIDA. An eight week program, it worked through two elements of direction: preparing a vision or concept and working with actors. I was most interested in the preparing of a concept or vision as that is something that my students are required to do as part of their HSC.
My students had been writing these concepts and visions but I don’t think they had quite the amount of depth that they needed to give the student’s a clear and focused direction with which to work on their project. I wanted to structure and refine the development of the student’s thinking so they would be better able to run meaningful rehearsals and communicate articulately with the audience about their piece.
In the HSC the Director’s Concept or Rationale is 300 words and explains the intention of the work. In structuring my student’s writing I was able to structure my student’s thinking. Well, that’s how I approached it anyway. So the scaffold below is for writing a rationale/concept. This lesson took about two 75 minute periods. I wedged it between finishing my mini unit on DADA and placed it just before starting on the Theatre of the Absurd.
The reason for this was because I wanted something tangible with which they could write their practice concept and then use that to help them develop their concept for their Absurdist assessment task.
1. Evoke a Moment from the Piece to Create a Sense of Atmosphere
This is written in a similar fashion to the opening of a theatre review or a descriptive paragraph in a narrative. It visually communicates a moment from the piece. I got my student’s to focus on the opening of their DADA Performances.
2. Form an opinion about the intention of theatre as influenced by your particular theatrical style. Write a statement expressing that.
I asked my student’s: What is it about DADA that has influenced theatre? Why is theatre the way it is because of DADA?
3. Summarise the theatrical style that you have been influenced by. What are the key aspects of that style that you have focused on in your piece?
This could be pulled from a worksheet or textbook you have given your students on the topic you have been studying. In my case I gave them notes about what DADA is, what Theatre of the Absurd is all about (think existentialism) and, for some of them, had them regurgitate exactly what was written in the notes. The stronger student’s will be able to identify which aspect of that philosophy they are wanting to focus on. Maybe even why as well.
4. Discuss how the style influenced your concept.
I encouraged the use of “I” and “we” here. This is where the students start to think about their own thinking process. They are making connections between what they know about the style and they are starting to apply it to their own performance piece. What inital discussions and ideas were had by the students? Why is this of interest to them?
5. Outline the structure of your piece. What happens? What is the key theme, dramatic question that you wish to explore? Why is this piece relevant to your audience now? What do you want your audience to think, feel, do?
These are such key questions when devising any sort of drama. Stronger students should be able to clearly articulate their dramatic question in no more than one or two sentences. A good way to see if this has been achieved is to see if an audience member can articulate another groups concept in their own words. If they too can do it in no more than one or two sentences, the performance has clearly communicated to its audience.
6. How have you attempted to use the elements to convey your message?
Here there should be specific reference made to the elements of drama and why they have been used. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss all of them (because they should all be there) but I do think students should be able to address three to four clearly. If they can’t, they haven’t given their concept enough thought.
The stronger students will write too much and the weaker students will struggle to write much at all, particularly when explaining the use of elements and even even when discussing the intenion of theatre, style and influence on concept. In a follow up lesson, it would be good to look at editing the piece down to fit the intended 300 words.
What do you do to teach Directorial Concept? Share your ideas in the comments.
I was skimming through my Twitter feed over the weekend and realised a rather important individual’s birthday was coming up this week. I did a bit of a Google search and found out that some pretty big celebrating happens in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the lead up to Shakespeare’s birthday. You can check it out here. I thought I’d share some cool clips I use to teach MacBeth (my favourite) but I thought I’d also ask: how do you incorporate Shakespeare into your drama classroom? What have been some memorable moments? Happy Birthday Will.
You might also like to check out:
BBC’s Shakespeare’s Animated Tales (MacBeth)
Video SparkNotes (MacBeth)
March 27th was World Theatre Day. I only discovered that there was a World Theatre Day in January. I was randomly surfing the net and I came across it. I don’t really remember what exactly I was searching to find it.
I decided that I wanted to do something to celebrate it with my classes. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew that I wanted to video something. The kids talking about Drama or some such thing. I was stuck for ideas and randomly tweeted “World Theatre Day. March 27th. Anyone want to collaborate?” I pinged a few people: @MoAsh245 @lsmdrama @edtech4theatre. Nick (@edtech4theatre) had the idea of getting our kids to record the famous monologue “All the World’s a Stage” from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. People were keen on the idea and we got our kids together and recorded it. Nick has done a great job editing it and putting it together.
My kids were so excited to be involved. They feel famous and so excited to have virtually connected with students from around the world. They learnt their section of the monologue in a matter of minutes and were able to record it really quickly with very few hiccups. I’m really proud of how it turned out and it’s been so great to finally collaborate on a project with some of my PLN colleagues. I’d been wanting to do this for awhile. Check out our kids in action below and here’s to our next project!
I’ve always been a bit hot and cold when it comes to podcasts. Sometimes I’m all for them and other times I’m not. I think this is because there are so many out there and you can’t be sure on the quality and I guess, in the past, some have let me down. There are so many, on every conceivable topic so it’s hard to narrow down exactly what it is you are looking for. I feel overwhelmed every time I hit the i-Tunes store!
I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the Edreach Network’s TheatreCast program with @edtech4theatre and @msfilas. It was a fantastic professional development opportunity. I finally got my act together and got a webcam and headset so that I could use Google+ Hangouts properly. It was also really nice to finally connect in real time (if still virtual) with some of the contacts I’ve made through my Twitter PLN. In listening to their podcast, I could hear the passion and the struggles that these teachers from the other side of the world were feeling just like me. It was nice to be able to share conversation with them even though we are thousands of miles away. I now subscribe to the podcast and enjoy listening to it in my car on the way to work.
In recording this podcast, it really prompted me to find out what other podcasts are out there that could be useful in our classrooms and you know what? It was tricky. Particularly finding ones about theatre and theatre education that were of repute and quality. So to fill out my list I’ve had to think laterally(??) about how some of my favourite, quality podcasts could be used in the classroom. As they say though, where there is a will there is a way, so if you find something that works, go for it!
1. National Theatre
These podcasts, seriously, are probably the best out there for drama teachers. They are resources you can actually use with your students. They have collections on acting, voice, costume, playwriting, theatrical styles and their various productions that they’ve put on over the years. From such a credible, respectable theatre, I’ll say it again, these podcasts are an invaluable resource. Search for “National Theatre” at the i-Tunes store.
You’ve seen the videos, well now you can get the audio as well. There are talks on everything and The Arts is not forgotten. I’ve mentioned some of the clips before in a previous post. These could be used as stimulus, extension work or discussion. Or maybe just a little inspiration for your commute to and from work perhaps? Search for “Ted Talks Audio” in the i-Tunes library.
3. This American Life
I love these podcasts because of the topics that they talk about. It promotes discussion and thought. I really think you could use some of these as stimulus for playbuilding and devising. Search for “This American Life” in the i-Tunes library.
4. Edreach – TheatreCast
Edreach is a database full of podcasts, videos and posts from all areas of education. It provides passionate and outspoken innovators in education an outlet with which to express their highly innovative ideas for education. It’s great to know drama, theatre and the Arts is being covered by Danielle and Nick. Search for “Edreach” or “TheatreCast” in the i-Tunes library. You can check out the You-Tube link to the podcast I was involved in below:
Are there any podcasts that you swear by? Share them in the comments.
I recently completed a course in Directing for the Stage. One week we looked at the role of the stage space in performance and the suggested meanings of various positioning of actors and their entrances on the stage. This is just a theory but one I found interesting. It doesn’t discount the traditional nine-quadrant stage space (upstage, centre stage, downstage, stage left, centre, stage right) but adds another layer to this and one that would be interesting to consider when watching or directing scenes. I attempted to explain this in my first screencast. I hope you find it useful.