Documenting Process in Drama

A significant part of the theory aspect of drama is the documenting of process. How did the students get from this point to this point? This is an essential part of creating drama because it requires the students to be reflective of the creative decisions they have made and the way they are going to move forward to deal with potential problems.

The way in which most drama teachers assess this is through a logbook.

I’ll be honest and say that I have always struggled with the logbook.

I see its validity and perhaps it is just my students but I find I’ve had to heavily scaffold the structure of responses and constantly nag my students to make sure that they are doing it.

At one point, I attempted to get them to do it at home for homework but this discipline could just not be instilled in them. I’ve allocated significant lesson time (between 15-20minutes) to writing reflections which takes away from the practical aspects of class, which, when you only see them twice a week, is valuable time lost. Allocating class time I have found works a lot better but I just am not sure if it is really achieving anything.

What I’m asking is, what makes a valid reflection? Does it need to be a whole written page, need it only be a class discussion, can it be in video format (this is something that I have tried of recent)?

As teachers, we do need solid, physical evidence that a student has produced their own work from go to woe. In needing that I have heavily scaffolded the teaching of the logbook to the point where I have given page by page specifics of what I want in the logbook.

I guess the next thing I’m asking is, am I right to be teaching the logbook so explicitly? Am I right to be teaching how to be reflective at the end of all tasks?

I’m interested to know how you mark your logbooks, what you ask your students to include. If you don’t use a logbook, what do you get your students to do in order to document process? I recently tried video diaries with mixed success. I’m looking for other ways to make this part of my teaching a little bit more inspiring and a little less of a chore.


Photo Credit: rbbaird via Compfight cc


11 Devising and Performance Ideas for Commedia dell Arte

Here are some of the ideas I’ve collected over the years to help you sequence a series of practical lessons on Commedia:

1. Explore the Stock Characters – Go through each of the main stock characters in Commedia including how they walk, talk, stand, dress etc. Get the students to fill out a table identifying each of these.

2. Tell Jokes & Say Tongue Twisters – To prepare for Commedia it is important to get students to start thinking about jokes, what makes them funny and how they are told. Get the students to think of ones that they know or give them a selection to say to the class. Tongue-twisters are a great way to warm-up for any vocal performance. They can also be incorporated into Commedia performances as part of the dialogue.

3. Create a Nonsense Scene – Provide the students with a series of nonsense words and get them to create a short improvised scene that is based around and features that word. The scene could tell the story of the origin or meaning of the word.

4. Create a Comic Scene – Create short, comic scenes that illustrate the origins of morals or sayings. For example, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

5. Watch some “Lazzi” – Lazzi is the Italian word for “comic accidents” and can be done with real props or mime. Watch a few of the famous comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and some more modern day comedians such as Lano & Woodley. Focus on how they draw out the dramatic tension of the scene.

6. Practice “Lazzi” – Have a go at stage fighting both with and without props, comic retrievals (e.g. trying to pick up a pencil but it keeps “running away” from you because it’s attached to a string and someone is pulling it away), trips and falls are always fun. Have the kids come up with some rules as to how best to perform the lazzi and have them teach it to the class. Acting in Person and In Style has some fantastic suggestions for this as does  John Rudlin’s Commedia dell Arte An Actor’s Handbook book.

7. Experiment with Dance, Music and Acrobatics – Commedia performances often incorporated live music, dance and acrobatic skills. This is a fantastic opportunity to seek out the musicians in your class and give them a special role. Likewise with the dancers and anyone who has acrobatic or a specific party trick up their sleeve. Look at the effect of each of these elements on the performance and how it could help or hinder a scene (think about mood and atmosphere here).

8. Devise Improvised Scenarios – Once students have an idea of the stock characters start providing them with opportunities to incorporate lazzi into a dramatic structure. Provide them with some scenarios that were typical of the Commedia era. Create some more modern versions of scenes to provide an opportunity to discuss how masked performance is still translatable, relatable and performable (??) in this day and age.

9. Practise Scripted Scenarios – Use some traditional scripted scenes to give students the opportunity to understand the tone and language of the characters from the Commedia period and how they may like to differentiate their tone and language for their own character in either a traditional or modern day scene. John Rudlin’s book Commedia dell Arte An Actor’s Handbook is a fantastic resource for this.

10. Devise Your Own Scenario – Once students understand the components of Commedia, have them form groups and devise an original performance based around the concepts of Commedia. That is, an original stock character modelled on an animal, a master/servant relationship, a clear conflict that is played out using lazzi, utilising a traditional stage space (long and rectangular) and elements of production such as costume, lighting and sound to help with dramatic meaning and audience engagement.

and finally,

11. Find An Appreciative Audience – Give your students a reason to be creating the performance. Whilst it is fantastic to be able to perform to your classmates, a much larger, varied audience is always good. You might like to suggest a couple of performance opportunities in front of different audiences and get them to reflect on the reaction from each. I’ve taken my students to the local area Hospital School for the last couple of Commedia performances to perform for sick kids and it has always been a really enjoyable outing.

Image Credit: Charlie Chaplin, twm1340, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Using Google Docs in Drama

I recently started a project based learning project with @malynmawby. If you don’t follow her you must! She is a fabulous educator with lots of great ideas. Visit her Love2Learn blog.

One idea or tool rather that Malyn introduced me to was Google Docs. This is seriously THE BEST web tool I have come across in ages.

Essentially Google Docs is one core document (this could be anything from a Word document to an Excel spreadsheet) that can be accessed and edited by more than one personat the same time via the web obviously.

Why, you ask, is it the best web tool in ages? Because I think it is absolutely perfect for any kind of collaborative script building in Drama and it’s such a simple way to incorporate ICT into Drama lessons. It’s like every Drama Teacher’s scriptwriting nightmares have all been cured at once!

When I was working on my PBL project with Malyn I was totally tripped out by the fact that I could see her typing onto the document whilst I watched on my screen. Likewise for her I’m sure. Malyn had set up the document and allocated sharing and ownership rights. This feature allows you to control who views and edits the document.

What I also liked was the comments function. Malyn had left me little “virtual post-it notes” on the side of the document that I could reply to when I had made the adjustments in the document which made it easy for Malyn to reference exactly where I had made changes and how I had addressed her initial notes. We didn’t have to be online at the same time to work on it but it’s pretty cool when you are!

Anyway, throughout the whole experience I just had visions of lots of little playwrights in my Drama class collaborating on their DER laptops, all their little ideas planting roots into the ground to make a big strong tree 🙂 They were all working on one version of the document that could either then be emailed as a final copy to me, posted on Edmodo and even, if they so desired included me in the sharing and viewing rights so I could see what they were all doing, add suggestions and offer advice.

I’ve included the YouTube instructional clip and simply encourage you to visit Google Docs yourself and have a play or introduce it into your Faculty because I think it has enormous potential not just for student’s but teachers also (programming anyone?)

Note: I’ve since heard that Google Docs is blocked to student’s on the DER laptops. If you are keen to experiment with this tool in your classroom I strongly urge you to contact Tech Support to get it unblocked.

Image Credit: Knots of Time / Sabrina Mae / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

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)