52 Plays in 52 Weeks: Week 6

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee

Recommended by Laurence C, Rowena M, Karen B

I had the pleasure of watching a rather exceptional student perform “The Story of Jerry and His Dog”earlier in the year and I have to say I was blown away by his skill. I didn’t realise at the time that the piece was from The Zoo Story. I’ve taught Absurdism before (for teaching suggestions check this post out) but I’ve always taught Waiting for Godot rather than The Zoo Story. It was nice to finally give myself some time to sit down and read the entire play.

It’s short and captures Absurdism beautifully (which I get and totally love). Jerry is truly the focus of the play as he is the one with the most dialogue and who drives the story. He needs to play off Peter however so Peter’s role is vitally important, particularly towards the end. So not only is The Zoo Story brilliant for a male student looking to present a monologue but also as a text to study in a unit on The Theatre of the Absurd. You could also use parts of it for short scene work when looking at the elements of drama and also direction and staging. Not a lot of specifics were given as to where Jerry should move around the stage so it would be interesting to see how student’s interpret particular moments.

I really connected with Jerry. I fell in love with his desire to simply want to have someone to talk to. He seemed geeky, a little annoying but I could see that he just wanted to chat. His retelling of the incident with the dog is beautiful and his interactions with Peter made me wish that all conversations could be like that sometimes. This is why the ending of The Zoo Story is so shocking and very unexpected. I can’t say I’ve ever had a play move me to tears but this one came pretty damn close.

I think Absurdism would have to be one of my most favoured theatrical styles. Absolutely brilliant.

You Tube has a stack of clips from both The Zoo Story & “The Story of Jerry and the Dog.” I didn’t want to pick one in particular (because I so enjoyed the student’s performance that I saw) so simply search either The Zoo Story, The Story of Jerry and the Dog or The Zoo Story Monologue and something should pop up.

If you like Absurdism too Sydney Theatre Company will be presenting Waiting for Godot next year featuring Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh.

Image Credit: Bench / Ville Miettinen / CC BY-NC 2.0


52 Plays in 52 Weeks

Last year was my first year marking HSC Drama. It was an enriching experience because it exposed me to so many plays and ideas to use in my classroom. Every monologue I watched that I enjoyed a made sure I looked in the student’s logbook and got the name of the play that it had come from. Many of these are now on my Suggestions for Monologues page. I also wanted, however, to have the time to read a lot of these plays from start to finish. I wanted to do this so as to deepen my knowledge as to what plays would be appropriate for my classes and individual students and to really broaden my knowledge of plays. Now I struggle to find time to read at the best of times. It’s a bit like going to the gym for me. I’ll find any excuse to avoid it these days and I used to be an avid gym goer.

I recently caught up with a teaching colleague @clarindabrown and I queried her on a challenge she had set herself: to do some form of exercise, every day, for at least 20 minutes, for one year. She called it the #365daychallenge. I was amazed at her disciplinen and it reminded me of this idea I had awhile back but had not put into action: to read 52 plays in 52 weeks.  One for each week of the year. I found another blog that was doing a similar thing and I thought it was a brilliant idea. It really isn’t that many but it is more than I would’ve read otherwise. The beauty with plays is that they don’t take that long to read. Knowing I can share what I’ve learnt with other Drama Teachers gives me a little more motivation to read them too. It should make me more accountable to ensure I am enriching my knowledge base about Drama. It’s also an excuse for me to finally use my Kindle.

So beginning this Sunday September 2nd, once a week I’ll post a little bit about the play I’ve read, chuck in some photos and some clips and add some suggestions for how it could be used in the classroom. You can follow it on Twitter at #52plays52weeks. If you have any suggestions for plays I just have to read please add it to the comments below.

First cab off the rank: The Cagebirds by David Campton.

Image Credit: 100 Rubic cubes / Sam Greenhalgh / CC BY 2.0

Pygmalion – A Review

The lights come up and a sparse stage is revealed. No props. No set. No people.  A rectangular opening at the back of the stage appears, rain is falling heavily and a woman stands in it, soaking and shoeless. She has come to find Professor Henry Higgins to ask him to give her speech lessons. To help her “become a lady” so that she can “make her own life”. Thus is the opening to The Sydney Theatre Company’s current revamping of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”

Based on Ovid’s” The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue” from Metamorphosis, Pygmalion explores the relationship between Professor Higgins (Marco Chiappi) and his flower-girl and cockney accented Eliza Doolittle (Andrea Demetriades), as he attempts to transform her into a “duchess” so as to win a bet made between himself and Colonel Pickering (played by Kim Gyngell). He is outdone by Eliza who grows into a woman who can think and argue for herself.

Peter Evans’ interpretation brings the themes of identity, nature vs nurture, social convention and the battle of the sexes into the modern era with a very contemporary visual interpretation (aided by the designs of Robert Cousins and Mel Page) that helps to highlight how these ideas have changed or, for lack of a better word, metamorphosised over time. With most of us fraternising in an online world and struggling with insecurtities the world of celebrity and the magazine image can bring, this issue of identity and the social standing it brings, is still a relevant one.

For me, the theme of identity was the one I connected with most. It was wonderful seeing Eliza blossom and to be able to stand up to Higgins at the end of the play and tell him what she thinks. That is something that I feel has certainly equalled out over the years. This battle between the sexes. At the same time, whilst women have moved forward in leaps and bounds, I do feel there is still this underlying belief that we are second rate to men and that chauvinism is certainly highlighted by Higgins.

This plays out most clearly in the final scene between Higgins and Eliza in Act 5. Demetriades is subtle as Eliza and Chiappi captures much of Higgin’s arrogance in his swift, snobbish line delivery. I’m not sure that the tension between Eliza and Higgin’s is fully realised and the ending is very ambiguous. However, David Wood’s is hillarious as Eliza’s father, really highlighting the social difference between the characters in the latter half of the play. I loved Wendy Hughes as Higgins’s mother and Deborah Kennedy as Mrs Pearce. They are further examples of the strength of feminism and the subtlety with which we can have power over men.

This is a play that is 100 years old this year and proves that theatre can transcend time and still be as relevant today as it ever was.

Image Credit: Gérôme, Pygmalion et Galatée, 1890 / leo.jeje / CC BY 2.0

30 Australian Plays for School Use

In my previous post about The Elements of Drama I mentioned that a good strategy for looking at character/role and/or time/place/situation is to do some script extract work.

With so many plays available sometimes it is difficult to choose which ones would be best for school use. Here I’ve compiled a short list of plays that would work well for either Years 7-10 (Stage 4-5) and Years 9-12 (Stage 5-6). The main differences being that in the plays in each list deal with different themes and require a certain maturity level.

They are all Australian plays which works well for teacher’s in Australia who have to teach an Australian text at some point in their programming. However, international teachers may like to use these as a way of gaining perspectives on other countries.

When preparing to use a play in a class it is important that you:

  • Read the entire play before you start working on selected scenes.
  • Have a discussion or do some activites that provide a context for the play as well as discussing the themes and issues in the play.

Year 7-10 (Stage 4-5)

  • Fossils by Manuel Aston
  • Spitting Chips by Peta Murray
  • Two Weeks with the Queen  by Mary Morris
  • Blabbermouth by Mary Morris
  • No Worries by David Holman
  • Beauty and the Beast by David Holman
  • The Small Poppies by David Holman
  • What’s the Matter with Mary Jane? by Wendy Harmer

Year 9-12 (Stage 5-6)

  • A Property of the Clan by Nick Enright
  • Cloudstreet by Nick Enright
  • The Venetian Twins by Nick Enright (also great for Commedia dell’ Arte)
  • Gary’s House by Debra Oswald
  • The Club by David Williamson
  • Don’s Party by David Williamson
  • Stolen by Jane Harrison
  • Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron
  • 7 Stage of Grieving by Wesley Enoch
  • Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler
  • Norm and Ahmed by Alex Buzo

The following plays may not be suitable for all school’s but short extracts could definitely be used:

  • Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thompson
  • Navigating by Katherine Thompson
  • Wonderland by Katherine Thompson
  • Wolf Lullaby by Hilary Bell
  • Running Up a Dress by Suzanne Spunner
  • The Black Sequin Dress by Beatrix Christian
  • Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell
  • Summer of the Aliens by Louis Nowra
  • Cosi by Louis Nowra
  • Away by Michael Gow
  • Secret Bridesmaid’s Business by Elizabeth Coleman

Can you recommend any other good Australian plays or play book series that would be great for the classroom? Share them with us in the comments.

Image Credit:Sydney Harbour Bridge / Christopher Chan / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0