Lesson Lovenotes: Playbuilding in the Drama Classroom

Playbuilding is the core topic across Stage 4,5 and 6 Drama in the NSW Syllabus. However, teaching playbuilding in your classroom whichever syllabus you follow is very worthwhile. Here I’ve provided some background information and a unit structure on playbuilding. I will endeavour to discuss the logbook, specific strategies for each stage of the process and ways of reflecting on performance. Look for these posts in the coming days.

So, what is it exactly?

Essentially, playbuilding is the creation of a short performance from virtually nothing. Playbuilt pieces can be as short or as long as you would like. I generally tend to stick to around the 8-12 minute mark. Usually plays can be generated from ideas, issues, events, pictures, songs, plays, poems. What they start out as and what they become is part of the playbuilding process and it is the idea of process that makes playbuilding such a valid part of the drama classroom.

Valid, how?

Student’s in the drama classroom need to learn that the creation of drama is a process. There is a starting point and there is an end point and how you get there is what making, performing and appreciating drama is all about. It is during this process that student’s improvise, learn about new ways to generate ideas, write and reflect on thoughts and ideas they have had or gathered, fight with each other and problem solve with each other all because they must produce a piece of performance.

So, where do I begin?

As a starting point choose a play, series of photographs, a song or poem. The teacher acts very much like a facilitator in these lessons. You want as much of the material to come from the student’s so you don’t want to be directing them and choreographing where they’re supposed to stand or how they’re supposed to move. It needs to come from them. Try and structure your unit around the following steps:

  • Select a Starting Point – as I mentioned above, these things can get you started but what you really need to have happen here is a lot of discussion, brainstorming and even some improvisation. It is the initial phase in which you are establishing group dynamics and a potential direction for the piece.
  • Research & Investigation – with an initial idea and direction for the piece take student’s to the library and get them to research and investigate and find fiction, non-fiction, websites, videos/DVDs/YouTube clips, music, poems, photos, artworks, ANYTHING that will trigger further ideas and empower them with more information so as to generate ideas and make creative decisions. Ensure they are keeping a logbook of all the things they do in each lesson. This is the proof that there was a process.
  • Finding the Spine – collate the information as a group and look to find the dramatic question that you are asking the audience. What do you want them to see, think, feel, talk about after they watch the performance? Other things to consider here include: who is your audience? From your initial improvisations and ideas which one stood out the most? Can you locate the action of the scene/s? Are there any specific or important characters? What is their role in the story? Can you create a timeline for the piece?
  • Working on Scenes – With a dramatic question in mind, this is the point in the process where most of the improvisation happens. It is important that you instill in the student’s that it is necessary to not just talk about ideas but to get up and experiement with those ideas. Actually, physically act them out. You know the saying, “it’s good in theory but in practice…” This couldn’t be truer in drama. A great process to follow when trying to decide which scenes to keep and which not to includes the “experiment, refine, discuss, select” process.
  • Putting It Together/Rehearsing – This is the part where student’s should start to experiment with dramatic structure, different forms and conventions, different performance practitioner’s ideas, using theatrical traditions  and theatre sports as a springboard, dramatic devices and transitions, costume, set, lighting, sound and music. There are a range of things you can consider here and I will discuss these in a later post.
  • Performance – Student’s perform the scene several times for a range of different audiences.
  • Evaluation – Student’s reflect on their performance both individually and as a group. I will discuss this in a later post.

Some Final Tips

  • I always get my student’s to sign a group performance contract before beginning rehearsals. It is a nice way for them to set up the dynamics and expectations of the group, to feel in control of their learning and it is a great tool for you when you need back up after Miss Sally Bowles hasn’t turned up to three rehearsals in a row🙂 Believe me, it happens. Diva storm-outs are a regular occurance at my school😉

Image Credits: past the point of love, (made it to #2 explore !) [10,00streamviews!] / ashley rose, / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

14 Comments

  1. Hi Karlo, Your blog is so helpful and full of great knowledge and experience!

    I am in my 4th year at uni and I have just started Drama method 1. I find I am struggling with the drama content as I did not choose the subject in the HSC. At the moment play building is being covered in the course. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a couple of questions I have, as I am trying to complete an assessment on play building, but its difficult as I have no experience in this subject matter and I feel I am swimming in the deep end!

    1. What are the advantages of incorporating aspects of various dramatic forms and styles in play building?

    2. How can the elements of drama be incorporated into play building?

    3. How can you scaffold experiences differently for beginners or experienced play builders?

    Thanks and kind regards

    Jess

  2. Thank you so much! It’s been a few years since I’ve taught Drama and your information was clear and comprehensive! It reminded me of the strategies I need to bring into the classroom for successful play building. I’m feeling much more confident now🙂

    • You’d want to look at games that are making the kids collaborate and thinking quickly on their feet. You could set them a simple performance task (say 1 minute) that uses every member of the group and is based off a piece of stimulus. You might expand on this by asking them to incorporate particular performance techniques as you teach them to the kids.

Thoughts?

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