Greek Theatre: A Mini Unit of Work

greektheatre

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.

Resources

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:

Have you taught Greek Theatre before? What are some teaching and learning/assessment strategies that you use? Please share your thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Ania Mendrek via Compfight cc

52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 2

Antigone by Sophocles

One of my Twitter pals @clarindabrown suggested this text as part of my challenge. I staged the opening scene with my Year 11 students three years ago when I created a mish mash drama production of scenes from various theatrical time periods. It was my first attempt at a major drama production since starting at my school two years earlier. I liked the idea of trying my hand at directing a range of theatrical styles and Greek Tragedy is iconic for the mark it has made in terms of drama and theatre and its development since then so it was a no brainer to include it as part of the show.

Tragedy is offered as a unit of study in the HSC Course. As part of this challenge I went and had a look at my syllabus documents because I hadn’t really considered it as a unit I would be interested in teaching my kids – until now. The cool thing about it is that it is a comparative study. Students choose one classic Greek Tragedy (either Antigone or Oedipus Tyrannus) and compare it with a modern day tragedy (either Death of a Salesman or Angels in America: Part 1).

Before now I’ve really stuck to what I know (Boal and Meyerhold) but have been feeling the need to venture into new territory. As such, this year I taught Verbatim Theatre for the first time. Now I’m looking for options for my next Year 12 class in 2014. Yeah, yeah, early I know but I feel like exploring all my options thoroughly before committing to anything this time.

The edition of Antigone that I read was part of The Theban Plays trilogy in which chronologically Antigone was the last play that Sophocles in the series. It had an introduction so I had a bit of a read so as to set myself up with some context before launching into my reading. It was great to delve back into I guess, study mode. Learning, relearning and devouring stuff that I’d kind of shelved because up until now, I haven’t really had any need for it.

There were two things I really liked about Antigone: firstly, the strong female character. Brilliant as a monologue if any student is not studying Tragedy for the HSC and is also doing Individual Performance. There are gorgeous chunks of dialogue with her passionately espousing her beliefs. The second thing I liked about Antigone is how the Greek playwright provokes thought about things of moral value, such as good versus evil and all those “external forces that appear to govern his (man’s) life.” The tragic character of King Creon struck such a chord with me initially because of his arrogance and short sightedness. Then he filled me with pity and not much remorse because of the result of his actions. He too would be a fabulous character to play either in monologue or in a unit of study. I’m definitely going to investigate Tragedy as an option for when I next teach Studies in Drama and Theatre.

Do you teach Tragedy? What is your favourite Greek Theatre play?

Next week: Five Women Wearing The Same Dress by Alan Ball. Recommended to me by @alupton

If you have a suggestion for  me, let me know in the comments.

Image Credit: Antigone, karlao, 2012

An Introduction to Masked Theatre

Masked Theatre is such a fantastic unit to teach your students because there are so many styles of masked theatre that you can explore. It also allows students to think about their physicality.

I have recently just started Commedia dell Arte with my Year 10 students. Here are some ideas for introducing Masked Theatre to your students:

1. Show & Tell

Collect a selection of different types of masks or pictures of different types of masks and lay them on the floor for the class to look at. I use a selection of masks that my previous classes have made. You can also find a selection of masks from films, masquerade, Commedia, Noh, Kabuki, tribal etc. Discuss what they notice about the masks (colour, size, features). Ask the students to consider why masks were used in early performances.

2. Disguising and Revealing.

Provide some reading material on the background to masked theatre. I like to focus on information that looks at the duality of mask. That it not only has this way of concealing an actor but also forcing a revelation of character through other means, such as their physicality. Consider using “An Overview of Mask” from Clausen’s textbook Centre Stage. It has a fabulous explanation of the history of mask.

You can then either:

– Choose a path. That is, specifically look at Greek Theatre, Noh, Kabuki or Commedia.

-Or provide an overview all of them.

You could show clips here or provide brief informative text snippets of each. I set a mini in-class research task for my students to complete and they have to learn about one of the masked theatre styles (either Noh, Masquerade or Greek).

I then specifcally provide information on the background to Commedie dell Arte. There is a heap of stuff on the Internet about it but I would also recommend the Commedia Chapter in the Navigating Drama textbook.

3. Types of Masks

Using what the students know from the initial show and tell and the background informatioe, give the students some notes summarising the types of masks. They are:

  • NEUTRAL MASK: Expressionless, no character. Usually full face.
  • CHARACTER MASK: Includes features which exaggerate the sex and expressions.
  • FULL FACE MASK: Covers the entire face. Can’t speak.
  • HALF MASK: Shows character. Can speak.

4. The Rules of Mask Work

It is also at this point, before we hop up and start to have a play, that we discuss the rules of maskwork. In particular:

  • Turning away to put the mask on or leaving the room.
  • Not playing with your hair or fussing with the mask.
  • Not touching your face throughout a performance.

I also like to point out that many people, when performing in mask, actually feel liberated and less self conscious. That even a neutral mask can look different on different people and that ultimately the effectiveness of masked theatre is dependent upon the interralation between the actor’s body and their mask.

5. Exercises

Warming Up

I specifically look at warming up the body before working with the masks. In particular looking at neck stretches.

  • Stand in a circle. Stand in neutral.
  • Stretch your neck slowly to the left and then right to strengthen.
  • Turn your neck to the left and then right.
  • Turn to your left and massage the shoulders and neck of the person in front of you.

Peep Show

  • Find a wall, door or whiteboard that you can bring into the performance space.
  • Have students begin to practice putting on their mask following the rules.
  • Student’s go behind the wall, door, whiteboard and have to “peep” around revealing their character, keeping their back straight and their neck to one side. Ensure the actor’s eyes are looking straight ahead.

Pulled By a String

  • Have student’s walk around the room pretending that a nominated body part is being pulled by a string. For example, stomach, pelvis, chest, eyes, one shoulder, forehead.
  • Have a discussion with the class about how the neutral masked character changes as a result of this physicality.

Emotions

  • Form groups.
  • As a class brainstorm different emotions and write them on the board.
  • Select one of the emotions on the board.
  • Each member of the group wears a neutral mask and uses body language to express that emotion.

Check out what my kids created for the emotion of “HOPE.”

Image Credit: Máscaras / Mário Tomé / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

“Yr 10 Drama – Masked Theatre, Hope” by karlao, 2012

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)