Earlier this year I taught Greek Theatre for the first time in my career.
As part of my transition into my new school, I took to teaching the scope and sequence that I inherited from the previous teachers at the school. Greek Theatre hadn’t suited the students at my previous school so I was quite looking forward to giving this a go.
I only ended up having about ten lessons with the students before we needed to move on to Medieval Theatre and Melodrama but I felt it was just enough time to give them a sense of what theatre was like in ancient times and how influential it has been on modern theatre.
Here is a very simple teaching and learning sequence that you might like to use if you are teaching the unit for the first time or have limited time in which to complete the unit.
Introduction to Greek Theatre
I structured the lessons in two parts so that we did some theory first, for example reading/writing notes or watching clips before then getting up and having a go of the different aspects of the style experientially.
I put together a handout that had information about the following:
- Its Origins – i.e.The Festival of Dionysus
- The Performance Space – i.e. The Amphitheatre
- Types of Greek Theatre – i.e. Tragedy, Comedy & Satyr
- The Playwright’s – i.e. Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes
Some of the consolidation activities I did to ensure the students understood what they had learnt included:
- Labelling a diagram of an amphitheatre
- Completing a cloze passage with a word bank for support
- Simple comprehension questions
- Showing some videos from the National Theatre Discover’s YouTube channel
Acting and Movement in Greek Theatre
This was the most experientially dense part of our mini unit. Our experiential activities focused on two particular things:
- The role of the chorus
- The voice and movement skills needed by the actors when performing outside and with a mask
Again, the visual resources through the National Theatre’s YouTube channel were invaluable. I showed a number of clips so as to give the students an idea of the effect of the chorus and what it looked like in performance.
I then used a selection of chorus verses from Antigone to work on in class.
Before beginning the experiential activities, we looked at The Theban Plays by Sophocles so as to understand the context of where the play Antigone fit into the whole story.
The aim of the experiential activities was to work up to performing the chorus excerpt from the play for an audience. As a class we looked at simple movements that we could make that could look effective when performed in a large amphitheatre.
The students were then broken into small groups and had to put these movements together so that they were being performed in unison and in time. They then added dialogue to their movements. They had to keep in mind that their costumes could impede their movement which traditionally were toga like outfits.
The second exercise we did was to actually go outside onto the oval and perform a scene. At the back of my school oval there is a little bit of a hill which leads up to the farm. This worked perfectly as the “amphitheatre” and the oval itself acted as the stage. The students were able to experience the difficulty in having to project their voices and be expressive through their body movements so as to communicate what was happening in the story.
To prepare the students we did some simple vocal warm-ups so as not to damage their voices and practiced walking and moving around the space in large strides and using their arms and torso to exaggerate simple movements.
I then followed these experiential activities up with reflection activities so that the students could consider what they had learnt.
Costume & Mask in Greek Theatre
To finish the mini-unit, we briefly looked at the mask designs for tragedies and the costumes worn. Students then dressed in the toga like costumes and performed a scene. You may also like to consider having the students perform in masks or make their own masks.
My assessment of this unit was a half-yearly exam. It wasn’t something I particularly liked as a task and would consider changing in future.
In preparing my resources for this mini-unit I found a few resources online that I thought were of a good quality. I would recommend the following:
- National Theatre’s Discover – Greek Theatre Playlist
- Google Cultural Institute – Greek Theatre
- City Dionysia – A Greek Theatre Resource from The Kennedy Centre
- Greek Theatre – A student made blog
Have you taught Greek Theatre before? What are some teaching and learning/assessment strategies that you use? Please share your thoughts below.