Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching DADA Performance Art

One of the units in the NSW Year 11 Drama syllabus is called Theatrical Traditions and Performance Styles. I stumbled upon DADA when researching new and different styles to teach my student’s. There was something really wacky and totally left of centre that I liked about it. So I decided to create a mini unit as an introduction to theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I think DADA works well as an introductory unit for a number of reasons:

  1. It is simple for new and unfamiliar students of drama and
  2. It encourages random, spontaneous creativity and ideas because there is no right or wrong.

The thing I tend to find with most of my student’s, whether they have taken drama since Year 9 or coming fresh to the subject after not having done it in the junior school, is that the student’s ideas of what drama actually is and what it actually involves is very different to the reality of having to stand in front of an audience and perform. Somehow, they all seem to miss this rather important concept.

Thus, my daily challenge as a drama teacher is to try to make the classroom environment comfortable enough for the student’s so that they attempt a performance.

The difficulty with senior drama is that there is little time to indulge fears and boost confidences. You’ve got to be prepared to get up and perform no matter what. The difference in quality is often determined by whether or not a student took Drama in the junior school or whether they are in fact new to the whole subject. There tends to be a great divide in the classroom initially because of this. However, I think DADA fixes all of that.

Below is a list of strategies that I have used to teach my student’s about DADA. I think it links in well with the Theatre of the Absurd which is what I teach after this unit because it frees them of any fears they may have and helps to set a context that can be developed further through the Theatre of the Absurd. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Fruit Salad: This exercise can be used as a practical/experiential starting point to Dada.Give each student a small square of paper. Ask the student’s to think of their favourite fruit. They are not to tell anyone what their chosen fruit is. Ask the student’s to write down five words that they would use to describe their fruit. Have the students share their five words, one student at a time. Ask the student’s to then think of one movement or action that they can repeat over and over again whilst saying their words. With the teacher as facilitator, experiment with performing the sequence individually and then integrating different pairs together. At the conclusion of the exercise discuss what the student’s observed. If you get responses like “random”, “messy”, “weird”, “it didn’t make sense” then you’re on the right track.
  • Learn about DADAists: This can be used as a theoretical introduction to Dada. There is a fantastic site called the International Dada Archive created by the University of Iowa. I use the Online Bibliography link as a starting point to get student’s exploring what some of the Dadaists created. A lot of it is art and manifesto type stuff but you can use that as a starting point for discussion. It’s also good to get them to research the leaders of the movement. People like Hugo Ball, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara.
  • Get the student’s to watch some clips: I find this part of the mini-unit very important. Drama is visual so student’s need to see what these performances looked like. From there you can dissect them looking at things like the dramatic form, theatrical techniques and conventions used and elements of production used. Here a couple I’ve been using directly from YouTube:

Karawane – Dada Sound Poetry

Gadji Beri Bimba – Dada Sound Poetry

The ABC of Dada – A great three part video with a lot of background info, pictures and sound examples.

  • Do a voice workshop: A lot of the Dada performance work was nonsense, sound poetry. This part of the mini-unit is an excellent place to bring in some technique workshops looking at the role of voice and breath control, warming up the voice and face muscles and using that to manipulate and experiment with sound creating soundscapes, different moods and atmospheres using rhythm etc.
  • Create a mini-performance with costumes and all: What was unique about Dada was the way they produced their costumes. A lot of them used masks and cardboard for costumes. They looked childlike. I get my student’s to split into small groups and create their costumes using cardboard. They then can either manipulate their fruit salad sound poem, one of the ones they created during the voice workshop or something completely new. I give them a lesson to create their costume and a lesson to discuss and improvise and playbuild their performance. In the third lesson they perform for the class and feedback is given on each of the groups.

The mini-unit in its entirety should take no more than 3-4 75 minute periods.

Each of these exercises ties in really nicely with the elements of drama so before and after each exercise use the discussion time as a place to reflect on how these were all used.

Did you find this article helpful? Please leave your comments below.

Image Credits:

The Discreet Charm of The Bourgoiesie, DerrickT, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Lesson Lovenotes: The Theatre of the Absurd, Teaching Suggestions and Resources « Drama Teacher's Network

  2. This mini-unit is fantastic! I will be teaching Dada in a weeks worth of workshops to my yr 9 and 10 drama class and having not previously taught it before, these exercises and ideas are so helpful!

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