Quick Ideas for Physical Theatre, Inspired by Soccer Players!

Hello loyal followers. Long time no write.

I apologise.

It has been one hectic year and I haven’t been able to prioritise the blog as much as I would like. Ah, the joys of starting at a new school.

I have a stack of posts I want to write and hopefully as the year winds down and we head into summer break here in Australia, I can catch up and get some new material out. I have a heap of stuff I would like to share and have been meaning to for some time.

Having said that, I was sitting down watching television the other night after a long day at work and one of the segments was about the creative ways soccer players celebrate after they shoot a goal. I thought to myself, “These clips are brilliant for my Year 9 Drama class.” They really are an excellent way to show how to use the body to tell a story or make an object. They could be a great way to start off a lesson or link in when you are talking about movement and using your bodies to make shapes etc.

Below are a just a few that I thought were pretty good but if you have a bit of a search around YouTube there are plenty more.

1. The Fish Celebration


2. The Rowing Celebration


3.  The Swimming Celebration


4. The Grenade Celebration



Actors and The Space: Some Teaching Suggestions

I have a Yr 9 class this year and our first unit is always an introduction to Drama. We look at the toolkit that an actor needs to be successful on stage in preparation for looking at what a director needs in his/her toolkit. It’s difficult to separate the two but in the end it comes down to what you want to focus more on. I’ve really been working on getting my students to explain what they are seeing on stage using all the drama terminology of the elements. I’ve also been focusing on how to make performances more dynamic and engaging. I’ve posted before on some of the activities that I do with the elements of drama. Here are a couple more that I have been trying out this term, particularly to do with character/role and spatial relationships (in particular, proximity and distance) that I have found really make the improvised scenes much more interesting to watch:

Give the student’s a single line of dialogue. For example, “I have something to tell you.” Pair student’s up and have them face each other. One person will deliver the line but they must deliver it with the following constraints on their space:

  • At opposite ends of the room. Take one step towards each other until toe to toe. At each step deliver the line again.
  • Both seated.
  • One seated and one standing.
  • One facing away from the other.
  • One behind the other.
  • Back to back.
  • One lying on the floor.

Discuss the effect of these staging positions on the audience. Consider the following questions:

  • How does the audience’s sense of the character change depending on where they were when they delivered the line?
  • Did the meaning of the line change depending on the spatial relationship?
  • Which position was most/least powerful?
  • What relationships are suggested by the use of these levels and proximity?

At the conclusion of this exercise, try the following exercises:

  • Break into groups of three. Call out an action (e.g. painting, repairing, rehearsing, admiring, rejecting, greeting, opening). Each member of the group has to pose doing that action. Each person in the group must, however, be on a different level. Present them to the class and discuss the effect on the audience. Compare it with the same poses but all on one level.
  • Improvise scenes with dialogue and have pairs of characters meeting with others pairs of characters (e.g. grandparent and child on a bus meet a businessman and his wife).

During the improvisations encourage students to become aware of how they adapt their tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture when saying lines in different spatial positions. Discuss who has the greater status in the scenes and how all these things together can determine for an audience which relationships between characters are more formal than others.

Photo Credit: loungerie via Compfight cc

8 New Improvisation Games You Need to Try

I had the pleasure of meeting @ivanwschew at an Improv Night a little while ago now. It was being hosted by some friends of a friend who have taken advantage of a council grant and created a puppetry workshop (amongst other things) in an old shop.

I hadn’t been along to see any adult improvisation for a long time so it was refreshing to see some energetic, quick thinking actors on stage. Several of the games they played I hadn’t heard of before.

I had the opportunity to speak with Ivan at the end of the evening and I asked him if it would be OK to share these games. Ivan’s life was changed by improv and drama. His story is a fascinating, uplifting one of someone unlocking something that was hidden inside themselves by taking a chance with drama and improv. Now he’s not looking back.

The thing I loved about the whole night was seeing people who are passionate about their craft sharing it with others. I felt very inspired and uplifted by it. Below are the eight games I learnt from Ivan and his team of improvisers. You could use them in an improvisation unit or perhaps as a way of developing character or storyline in a unit of work.

Ivan hosts workshops for those new to Improv. You can find out more at his website.

Also, be sure to listen in to his radio show on Tuesdays 3-5pm, Community Radio 2RDJ.

1. Accent Rollercoaster – Audience members provide suggestions (“ask for’s”) for accents and a location. Actors are given a situation and throughout the scene the host will call out the accent that they need to use and they must accept and progress the action.

2. Spoon River – Two actors are on stage. Both are dead. They must recount how they came to die. A country/location, an unusual food dish, catastrophic event and dark descriptive words must be used and these are suggested by the audience.

3. Marshmallow Mania – Actors are given a situation. Each time an actor says something funny and the audience laughs they are given a marshmallow that they have to put in their mouth, not eat and continue the scene. Please be aware this may cause choking. The game has been banned in some circles so practice with care.

4. Character Swap – A location and situation is given. When called, the actors need to switch characters and continue the scene.

5. Lining the Bucket – A series of one liners are written out and placed in a bucket. Actors pick a line from the bucket before they enter the space. As they enter they must say the line. They can also pick out lines during the scene. This game is great for less experienced improvisers.

6. Playbook – Situation is given. One of the actors is restricted to the lines of dialogue from a script.

7. Pop Culture – Situation is given. Actors play the scene but they can only use lines from pop culture such as songs and movies etc.

8. Crime Endowments – Audience suggest a crime, location and famous actor. The actor being interrogated is in another room at this time. They enter the space and are questioned by another player. Audience react as the actor gets closer to guessing the crime, location and actor. There is also the variation “Teenage Endowments” (see comments below).

9 Must Watch Ted Talks About The Arts

I’ve blogged about my discovery of the Ted Talks website some time ago now and I’ve been meaning to share with you some of my favourite talks that focus on The Arts. There are some really insightful talks that get you to really connect with the Arts in a way that you may not have before or that you may not have indulged in for a time because I think we get too caught up in our day to day school lives to really think about these sorts of things.

I ask you to indulge in at least one of these that takes your interest. Choose any one which sounds interesting.

Trust me, you will feel better about what you do once you watch it.

Consider it your 20 minutes of free professional development/reflection that you may not have had in a while. Enjoy.

1. Chris Bliss: Comedy is Translation

If you teach Comedy or enjoy comedy this talk is all about the truth that can be found in comedy.

2. Charles Hazelwood: Trusting the Ensemble

Hazelwood discusses the role of trust when leading an ensemble. I think some of the ideas are translatable to other areas of the Arts.

3. Handspring Puppet Co: The Genius Puppetry Behind War Horse

The creators of Joey in War Horse share the complexities of bringing the puppets to life on stage.

4. Charles Limb: Your Brain on Improv

This is my favourite. Limb explains what happens when you improvise when playing music. I also think this is relevant in Drama.

5. Ben Cameron: The True Power of the Performing Arts

Cameron discusses how the Performing Arts must compete in an Internet age.

6. Thelma Golden: How Art Gives Shape to Cultural Change

Golden discusses the meaning of Art and how can it redefine culture.

7. Amy Tan: Where Does Creativity Hide?

Tan analyses her own creative processes to see where it starts and flourishes.

8. David Eggers’ Wish: Once Upon a School

If you’re looking for something that’s pro-public school and teachers. This is it 🙂

9. Anna Deavere Smith: Four American Characters

A great soloist performing some interesting characters. A possible source for Individual Project: Performance.

What NOT to do When Improvising

Some colleagues showed this to me a while back and I watched it again the other day and had to share. A perfect example of what not to do when improvising:

The 7 Steps to Better Scene Work

I’m really fortunate this year to have an absolutely fantastic Year 10 class. They progressed through Year 9 willingly and enthusiastically. So this year I am really looking to challenge them and refine the skills they developed last year. Before we launch into playbuilding later in the term, I want to bring out a couple of things in their performances. I’ve found that they rush their dialoague and don’t critically think about their theatrical choices enough. Some of the things I’d like to work on include:

  • Dramatic Tension
  • Belief
  • Focus
  • Motivation/Objective and its translation through movement and dialogue choice.
  • To create polished, confident scenes and performances

I had a look in two great drama resource books that I encourage every drama to purchase if they haven’t already: Centre Stage by Matthew Clausen and Acting in Person and in Style by Carol Wimmer. I used them to create my own scaffold for working with my kids on their scenes. So full credit must be given to them and the work they have both done in this area.

We are using selected scenes from “Summer of the Aliens” by Louis Nowra. So far, this structure is working.

  • Scene Read Through – Complete full read throughs of the scenes. As many as are needed but at least two or three. Swap roles if student’s aren’t sure which character they want to be. Do not exert any effort to “act.” Just gather information and facts from the text about your character.
  • Communicate More – This should be about the third or fourth read through of the scene. This time student’s should try to make maximum eye contact with the other actor’s in the scene and include any physical contact if necessary.
  • Walk & Talk – Groups should improvise the scene in their own words with free movement and activity. Try to reveal all the information learnt in Step 1. Don’t hold the scripts. It will be too tempting to look for cues.
  • Script in Hand – This is the point where groups should explore the scene through guided improvisation. Try each run through with something different in mind. For example, each character has a single goal in mind, perform the scene whilst eating or drinking something, perform the scene with an opposite value (e.g if it’s a love scene play it as if it is a hate scene), perform focusing on entrances and exits, perform with each actor swapping roles, play music during a performance of the scene, perform with focus on vocal delivery, gesture and mannerisms.
  • Set All Business – Finalise blocking and incorporate props and costumes. Finalise character and any emotional decisions. Establish a motivating force.
  • No Interruptions – Run the scene without interruption to set up a flow or rhythm. Focus on energy, tension and belief.
  • Preview & Perform –  Run through the scene two or three more times. Perform the scene in front of the class. Follow with a written evaluation. De-construct the performance with verbal feedback from the class and teacher.

What things have you tried to improve your student’s performances? Comments appreciated.

Image Credit: Scaffolding: Not just for construction workers anymore / Kevin Dooley / CC BY 2.0

Warm-Up of the Week: Chain Mime

This game is a bit like Chinese Whispers…

1. Split your class into groups of about 4-5.

2. One of the groups exits the classroom and lines up outside.

3. The group remaining in the classroom has to come up with a scenario that one of their group will perform. Keep it simple. Something like coming home from school and pouring a glass of juice.

4. The group in the classroom selects the member of the group who is going to perform the short scenario. The group watch them perform it and then sit down in the audience space.

5. The first member from the group outside comes in and sits in a chair. They then watch the group member selected to perform picking up on everything they are doing and saying.

6. The person who has come in from outside then stands up and performs what they saw and heard as close as possible to what was presented to them by the other group, to the next person who comes in from outside.

7. This continues until all the group members from outside has entered the room and performed.

8. The original member of the other group who started off the chain mime then performs again and the class discusses how the mime changed from the beginning to the end.

9. Switch the groups so that the student’s who were originally in the classroom coming up with the scenario are now outside waiting to be performed to.

We also tried this with everybody going outside and only one person coming up with the scenario. My class only has 12 students in it so it worked fairly well but I don’t think it would work so well with classes that are larger.