HSC Drama: Exploring the Elements of Production in Ruby Moon

I’ve written a series of posts over the last few weeks focusing on teaching strategies for the Australian text Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron. It was recently removed from the HSC Prescriptions for 2015-2017 but many of you may decide to teach it in Year 10 or 11 so hopefully you will still find this information useful. All the work is located on the Lesson Ideas page.

Today’s post will focus on the last of three workshops, exploring the elements of production.

Workshop 3 – The Elements of Production

The Elements of Production are the technical and visual elements used to manipulate the elements of drama in order to effectively tell a play’s story. Things like, lighting, sound, costume, projections, music etc.

In working through the following activities it is important to remember the three themes (Australia’s Identity, Suburban Paranoia, Fear of Child Abduction) and to continually bring any observation and understanding back to these and how they are shown on stage.

Previously I have discussed how I angle the student’s thinking so that they are looking at drama from the perspective of the director. Ultimately, each student will write a Director’s Concept as to how they would visualise the play looking if they were to direct it. These exercises assist with their understanding of this.

I break my class up into small groups and then have each group report back to the other groups on what they have learned. Each group has to listen carefully because they will need to use the information in their written reflection.

1. Lighting

This is a really simple activity which all comes down to the questions you ask.

Make a list of all the lighting effects required in the play and scene by scene.

If you have lighting equipment, try to replicate some of these effects in the performance space. Discuss what effect is achieved in terms of mood and atmosphere. How do they link to the issues and concerns? How long will each one need to be continued for the two actors to make the scene change?

How could you interpret the lines of dialogue and action about night using lighting? What is the thematic and metaphoric importance of this discovery? How could the solitary spotlight (streetlamp) be interpreted?

2. Sound

Make a list of all the sound effects. Assemble those that can’t be made by voices (YouTube is great for this). Make the sound effects for each scene. Discuss what effect is achieved in terms of mood, atmosphere and tension. How long will each one need to be continued for the two actors to make the scene change?

In Sydney Theatre Company’s production, different door knocks were used for each character. How else could we show entering into a new place? What effect does this have for an audience?

When working on the epilogue and scenes in previous workshops I try to incorporate the sound effects when the class is acting extracts out to help enhance dramatic meaning.

3. Set

In pairs, list all the unsafe images referred to in one scene. Read these out to the class. Select three unsafe images to bring to life. Consider how you might use sound, movement, the performance space and/or interactions with the audience to create a particular environment or atmosphere.

Look at a picture of a set model box from a recent production. What is being communicated through the design and theatrical choices?

Draw a picture of the perfect/fairytale cul de sac. Photocopy the drawing and distort the image to create a fractured fairytale using various shapes, colours, lines and/or textures to create a creepy, nightmarish landscape.

Make a mannequin of Ruby out of a variety of materials. Discuss what effect the models have on your set.

Each character looks out a window. Do they look into the window or is it a prop? What is the significance of this both literally and metaphorically? What is in the dark? Why are all the character’s directed to look out? What does this communicate about the fears, desires & needs of each character? Where is the audience in relation to this?

4. Costume

Draw illustrations of the neighbours based on the playwrights descriptions. Consider the props used in the previous workshop on Character and Transitions. Use examples from other productions as a guide. Consider the practicality and the time needed between changes when designing.

5. Director’s Concept and Reflection

Have each student in the class write a Director’s Concept for the play that they would then present to the actors and creative team they would be working with if they were directing the production. Once they have completed this they should write a reflection using the template in response to the following question:

How do the elements of production help to create meaning, if any, for the audience?

NB: These exercises have been selected and adapted from various sources, in particular the Sydney Theatre Company’s, Andrew Upton directed Ruby Moon Teacher’s Kit. This does not seem to be available online anymore. The one available on their website at the moment is from their more recent production.

Photo Credit: Georgie Pauwels via Compfight cc

5 Quick Stage Lighting Teaching Ideas

In teaching the Elements of Production I have shared with you some of the ways I have introduced the topic and also taught Costume and Set Design. I thought I would also share with you some of the things I do when teaching lighting.

The biggest constraint I have is that I don’t have any sort of lighting rig set up in my classroom. The same goes with my sound set up. In liaising with the music department I could arrange to have all the sound equipment set up. Likewise for the lighting rig that we use at Presentation Night. I do find, however, having these constraints forces you to be creative and still conveys the intended message of the lesson without having to go through lengthy set-ups and organisation. A few simple resources are needed and away you go.

Some things you might like to try in your classroom are:

1. What’s the Purpose?

Discuss with your students what they think the purpose of stage lighting is. There are generally speaking, four main purposes:

  • To help the audience see the actors clearly;
  • To concentrate attention on a particular part of the stage (focus);
  • To create a particular atmosphere (incorporate colour, lighting direction);
  • To create special effects (e.g. strobe, UV, gobos).

I break down some of the technical words here, like “gobo,” “strobe,” “specials,” “hanging plot,” “rig” etc. More often than not, students know what they are they just don’t know the technical term for it.

2. The Importance of Colour

I spend time looking at the symbolic meaning behind the use of certain colours. I ask the students to consider what mood or effect is created on stage when these colours are used. You may like to show clips to assist the students understanding of this. I have found, that teaching this in the senior school, many students have been learning about the meaning of colour in their visual literacy units in English when in junior school so their background knowledge is more often than not, more than substantial on this.

3. Experiment with Lighting Direction

One day I was rummaging through our resource room when I found a light on a tripod stand. I think it was meant to be used for photography classes. Suffice to say, I now use it for Drama lessons ;-) It works well because it is light and portable. If you don’t have something like this, torches (flashlights) are also an excellent way to explain the effect of lighting direction and its effect on meaning. Choose a student to be your actor and have them stand in the centre of the space. Make sure your light has a reasonable extension cord attached to it and move around the room to show lighting the actor and its effect on meaning from:

  • Above;
  • Below;
  • Behind;
  • Front;
  • Side;
  • Upstage/Downstage Angle.

If you have more than one light/torch also try lighting the actor from:

  • High angle, side backlight, front;
  • Two high, front lights.

I also bring in coloured cellophane as a cheaper alternative to actual lighting gels to show the effects of lighting from these angles and the effect using particular colours has on the scene with considerations made in terms of colours, angles and parts of the stage to be lit.

Lighting is a real artform in itself. I tend to shy away from a lot of the technical and rigging aspects because I feel that fundamentally the students only need a conceptual understanding with which to support their directorial concept. It can become confusing for both teacher and student if you start to delve into types of lights, how to rig, colour combinations on the face etc. It’s good that you as the teacher have an understanding of that but it is not always necessary to share that with your students. If one of your student’s is doing Lighting for the Individual Project in the HSC, that is a little different however and some more in depth knowledge will be needed.

4. Light a Scene

Select a script excerpt, read through it as a class and ask the students to pair up and design the lighting for the scene. They should consider the parts of the stage to be lit, the colours to be used, the angles and the intended atmosphere and mood. They should also consider how their choices reflect the intention of the scene.

5. Cue and Call

In continuing the exercise above, students can fill out a lighting cue sheet and have one of their pair call the cues, whilst the other operates the lights. Get other members of the class to act out the scene on stage. I often break down the cue sheet into parts beforehand  and use it as my scaffold to get the students to understand the purpose of the cue sheet so that they can very carefully and clearly fill it in.

Resources:

I use the Lighting Cue Template in Matthew Clausen’s book Centre Stage.

This Lighting Guide has some good pictures of what the different lighting angles should look like. It looks like it could be printable.

This page is good for explaining the importance of colour.

And finally, this YouTube clip is quite good at explaining the process a lighting designer goes through in order to work out what lighting is needed.

Do you have any good strategies for teaching lighting? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: DanBrady via Compfight cc

Writing a Director’s Concept

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.

Numeracy in Drama

I thought I’d post a couple of quick ideas to get you thinking about how you could used numeracy in the Drama classroom. We’re all supposed to be teaching it in some way or another and it often gets missed under the pile of everything else that needs to be done. I have found that these ideas can seemlessly be incorporated into a lesson. Just like vegies hidden in the bolognaise, the kids won’t have a clue that they’re even doing maths.

  • I learnt this one from one of my fabulous prac student’s: when forming groups tell everyone to imagine they are a 5 cent coin. Have the student’s walk around the room and then call out different amounts. The “coins” have to join with other “coins” to make the correct amount. If any of them can’t make a group they are the “change.”
  • When preparing for a performance evening get the student’s to create a map of the theatre with the chairs in their appropriate arrangement. Ensure they number the rows correctly and that the rows correspond with the ticket. Have student’s calculate how much they will make if every seat is sold. Have student’s calculate how many seats they need to sell to break even.
  • Count rhythms and beats in some dialogue or when doing script work or soundscapes in improvisation.  Vary the pace of the rhythms and beats and look at the effect on dramatic meaning.
  • This last one is my favourite. When teaching the elements of production to Year 11, I like to do a little activity called Hey, Mr Producer. The student’s form groups and imagine they are running a theatre company.  They are producing the musical “Chicago” (you can choose whatever play/musical you like). Allocate them a set amount of money. I give them a fictional $1 million. Provide them with a spreadsheet that lays out all the areas in which they would need to cover their costs, for example royalties, costume, set, promotion, food and beverage, lighting/sound equipment, actors fees, staff etc. Be specific about how much light and sound equipment is needed as well as how many hours you need the actors to work and for how many days. Provide the student’s with a list of websites that give information on prices for all the various areas. Even encourage them to email or call some of the shops for quotes. Have them decide on the best possible price and report back to the class on how much they spent on their version of the show.

I’m looking for more numeracy strategies. Have you got anything to share? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Pi Day (to the 69th digit)! / Mykl Roventine / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Costume and Set Design Teaching Ideas

This is my second post in my elements of production series. Today I’d like to look at some ideas to get student’s looking at the process of set and costume design in a theatre production.

In my previous post we explored the idea that the main jobs of the creative production crew is to interpret a script so that it reflects the playwright’s intentions as well as the director’s creative vision. Primarily, the creative aspects intention is to capture and enhance the mood and atmosphere of the play. It’s important to instill in student’s that reading and understanding the play is a necessity as well as being able to effectively describe and analyse the character’s and their motivations.

Design is not the last part of a production process. It is not an afterthought. It should be integrated into the pre-production process with as much importance as any of the other areas in the production.

I theme my entire elements of production unit around musicals a) because I love them and b) they are really good at highlighting the elements of design and the way characters and ideas are exaggerated and brought to life.

THE 7 ELEMENTS OF DESIGN

In preparing student’s to look at the areas of costume and set design they first need to understand the seven basic principles used in design. I like to use the following anagram:

  • Drama (Direction)
  • Students (Shape)
  • Like (Line)
  • To (Tone)
  • Create (Colour)
  • Silly (Space)
  • Theatre (Texture)

To get student’s thinking about these have a selection of images that focus on or combine of number of the design principles. Discuss the effect of the image in capturing a sense of mood and atmosphere. Artworks or photographs would be great here.

COSTUME

There are a couple of fun “mini activities” that I like to do before knuckling down and really interpreting a script.

1. Toilet Paper Costumes – Have you ever been to a Kitchen Tea? One of those hideous pre-wedding rituals designed to make women squeal over kitchen appliances? If the answer is yes, then you’ve probably played the game where you’ve had to dress a guest in a wedding dress that is made out of toilet paper. I don’t get my student’s to make wedding dresses but I do get them to use the toilet paper to design and dress up a student as a priest, soldier, nurse, anything you like really. Without realising it the student’s are thinking about all the design principles as well as accessories, shoes, maybe even make-up. Give student’s a time limit too to keep the pressure on.

2. Crime Scene Cut Outs – Remember when you were a kid and you and your siblings would be given sidewalk chalk and you all lay down in your drive-ways and traced around your entire body as though you were marking a dead corpse at a crime scene? Try something similar with your students using large rolls of butcher’s paper. Each student gets a large piece of butcher’s paper, they pair up and one person traces the other and vice versa. You can then either have student’s use textas, crayons, paint (if you’re game) create a costume representation of their partner thinking about clothing, shoes, accessories, hair and make-up. Stick them up on the classroom wall as a celebration of their designs.

3. Select a Scene – Once kids are in the swing of thinking about costume design it is then that you can knuckle down and find a selection of scenes or stage directions from one or a variety of plays and get student’s to think about how they would design the costumes for those characters. I like to read scenes out because I think it gives away more clues as to character. I then give my student’s a template (here) and literally get them to pencil in the costume and colour it in.

4. Write About It – A writing activity that could be attached to this exercise is one where we get the student’s to explain which elements of design they have used and why. How does it link back to the character, the scene, the play as a whole?

Finally, here are some videos you might like to use in your classroom (all musical inspired of course!):

SET

Here are some ideas that I like to use in my classroom when teaching set:

1. Look through the Director’s Kaleidescope – Similar to the introductory exercise above about the elements of design, this time I find pictures of actual sets (just Google your favourite shows) and print them out onto large A4, A3 pieces of paper in colour. I break student’s into groups and together they go to a “set design station” which has one of the pictures, a sheet with the elements of drama on it and a sheet with the elements of design on it. Underneath the picture I leave a bit of space for the student’s to add their thoughts about mood, atmosphere, any other elements of drama or elements of design.

2. Looking from the Bird’s Eye – I then do another exercise similar to “Select a Scene” but instead of drawing the cosutmes we look at drawing the set from both a Bird’s Eye View as well as a front on view. You might also like to explore the variou stage spaces around your school and discuss how setting this same scene would be different depending on where it is being performed.

3. Dress the Set – If you have the resources and/or a bit of ingenuity and creativity use what is available to you to get you and your student’s to actually create a real life set. Present a scene for a guest audience. You might even like to incorporate your costume designs from the “Select a Scene” exercise here.

Finally here are some videos on set design that I think could be great for the classroom:

mannequins / Kris Sikes / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Elements of Production Teaching Suggestions

Over the next couple of posts I am going to look at the elements of production. The series will look at teaching:

  • The Elements, The Production Process, Roles and Responsibilities
  • Design – Set, Costume, Poster/Promotion
  • Design – Lighting and Sound
  • Direction
  • Theatre Criticism

I have just started this unit with my class and thought it would be a good idea to share my classroom experiences in real time rather than quite a while later as I have done with some of my other posts.

So here’s a suggestion for introducing the elements, the production process and roles and responsibilities to your students.

Purpose:

  • To establish the idea that theatre is not just about the actor’s but a whole team of people;
  • That it is a lengthy process requiring considerable planning with people from various areas of responsibility;
  • That the team’s primary role is to interpret a text and bring it to life on stage.

Remember: Try to re-inforce the idea that this is a “directing” course, not a theory course.

There’s No “I” in Team:

  • Form student’s into small groups.
  • Give each group a photograph.
  • Assign each group member with a role: director, actor, costume designer, set/props and any other role you like.
  • Allow each group 5 minutes to recreate a scene from the photograph but they must change it in some way to make it original.
  • Whilst groups are working out what they are doing, walk around and whisper “commands” into certain people’s ears, e.g. “Refuse to do anything,” “Let the actor do whatever he/she wants.”
  • Have each group present their photograph performance.
  • Afterwards ask groups to talk about how well or perhaps how well they did not work together and what they felt would have made the team work even better. The pressurised time situation is bound to bring out some interesting responses. You could also link in a discussion about the workplace and any similiarities or connections seen from the exercise.
  • Use this as a lead in to discuss the concept of a production team and the various roles in that team. Have handouts at the ready here with lists of responsibilities for each role.
  • Get student’s to complete a “heirarchy chart” of the various production roles that looks at the areas of responsibility and who is “in charge” of who.
  • Lead into a discussion about the three parts of the production process: pre-production (70%), production (10%) and post-production (30%). Yes, that does equal 110%. As well as, of course, how could we forget, Murphy’s Law and the need to be prepared for anything that may go wrong.

Paint By Number:

  • Create a workstation for each student with newspaper, paint brushes, water and a selection of colours (I use the primary colours).
  • Give each student 4 sheets of A3 paper. Have them number them 1-4 and put their name on the back of each.
  • Select four differing pieces of music. You could base these on the Laban movements. So, something soft, flowing and melancholic, something short, sharp and up-tempo, something constant and rhythmic, something brimming with tension.
  • As each piece of music plays, have the student’s paint what comes into their minds using the various colours, mixing colours, using shapes, line and pattern.
  • You can leave the exercise here at this point or as an extension to this exercise you could have the student’s write about what they created and which elements of drama they were drawing upon.
  • Finish the lesson by reinforcing that what the student’s did was to interpret and utilise their imaginations to create an original work that could then become a set or a costume design.

Here are some photos of what my student’s did during their lesson this week.

Image Credit: karlao, Paint by Number Activity, 2011.

10 Textbooks No Drama Teacher Should Be Without

I was having a moment the other day. One of those out of body experiences where you watch the chaos around you in the classroom and think to yourself, “How crazy is this?”, “Is this for real?” and “What the hell is little Johnny doing?”, “What the hell am I doing?” I have them occasionally and it just reminds me how incredible teachers are. We seem to battle on through amidst the seeming chaos.

I guess those experiences also remind me how far I’ve come in my five years of teaching. That ability to watch what is happening in front of me and laugh and know that it’s not the end of the world and if I had to tell new, beginning teacher’s what to expect and how to react, reacting the way I did the other day (watching everything happen in slow motion and as though it’s something out of a B Grade movie), is perfectly healthy and necessary at times.

I would also tell my beginning Drama teacher’s: don’t ever be stuck for resources. Utilise your school library and make sure it stocks not only the best plays and resource material for student’s but also resource material for yourself. Make friends with your librarian :)

Utilise every possible Professional Development day you can. Work towards some goals. Be realistic about those goals and know that it’s not possible to achieve everything you want to in your first year and that in every school you work at for your entire career the goals and expectations you have will be different because every school is different. Perhaps in your first year your goal will be about managing behaviour. The following year it might be how you teach a particular theatrical style or play. By having a goal to work towards it will make it easier to choose a course to take for Professional Development.

Over the years I have made sure my library is up to date with all the play scripts that are on the prescribed text list and added a few extra text books just for extra reference for myself and the student’s. I like walking into the library and going over to the theatre section a lot. It inspires me. I don’t even have to open any of the books. It just telepathically fills me with ideas. It’s funny like that.

Here are my ten text books that I cannot live without:

1. Acting in Person and In Style Australia by Carol Wimmer – I use this book a lot when I am teaching monologues, duologues, acting skills (voice workshops). It is also brilliant for teaching a range of performance styles.

2. Dramawise by Brad Haseman – The bible full of exercises for explicitly teaching the elements of drama. I highly recommend this book as a starting point for beginning teachers.

3. You’re On by Rob Galbraith – Another fantastic text with exercises to teach students about performance elements as well as the roles of people behind the scenes. 

4. Living Drama by Bruce Burton – This is actually part of a three part series (Making Drama and Creating Drama are his titles for lower secondary drama students) and is best used with senior students. It looks at aspects of drama in a slightly more sophisticated way which is applicable to senior students and their essays.

5. Navigating Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – A great text for students in Year 9-10 Drama. Some of the particularly helpful sections include the playbuiding chapter and the commedia dell arte chapter.

6. Navigating Senior Drama by Richard Baines and Mike O’Brien – I like this senior text because of its focus on the NSW Drama Syllabus. It has focus chapters on Australian Drama and Theatre which forms part of the theory component of the course as well as a section specifically devoted to some of the Studies in Drama and Theatre topics (Brecht, Greek Theatre and American Drama). It also has good chapters on the Group and Individual Performance units.

7. Centre Stage by Matthew Clausen -  Great teaching suggestions plus some really great templates for teaching the elements of production including costume design and lighting and sound plotting.

8. Lighting and Sound by Neil Fraser – everything you need to know about lighting and sound in a simple easy to understand way. Absolute gold.

9. Stage Design and Props by Michael Holt – As above. An absolute gem of a book if you want to learn about set design and making.

10. Costume and Make-Up by Michael Holt Ditto as above.

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before Improvisation: A Guide by Lyn Pierse. Absolutely excellent for anything Theatre Sports or improvisation related. Oh, oh, oh and if you’re teaching Publicity and Program Design try Stage Management and Theatre Administration by Pauline Menear and Terry Hawkins.

Have you got a text book that you swear by? Share it with us in the comments.

Image Credits: T’aiuto io, tassomanAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)