Theatre of the Absurd Workshop Series

Since my honest post a couple of months ago I have been very grateful for the many positive comments and messages of support for the blog. So, thank you very much. I am timidly returning to regular blogging and share this with you today.

I often receive emails of support, encouragement and requests for resources.

One of the most viewed sections on the blog is the lesson ideas for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s a tricky theatrical style to break down and teach. Over the years I’ve scaffolded and scaffolded so that finally I have a workshop series that seems to capture the essence of Absurdism. I often end up emailing this to various people who message me with resource requests which is quite often. So, to make it a little easier on me and you, I’ve added it to this blog post today or you can find it on my Resources page (click on the link in the left hand tool bar). It should be used in conjunction with these suggested teaching strategies: Absurdism 1 and Absurdism 2.

I’ve recorded a short video to explain how to read the table. You can check it out below but it is also available at my YouTube channel.

Here is the Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd PDF referenced in the instructional video.

A little reminder: These resources are not designed for assignments or assessments for University students. If you wish to use these resources for this purpose please send me an email requesting permission.



The Theatre in the 21st Century

After a much needed break over Christmas I have started to prepare for the new year ahead. I have Year 9 and Year 11 this year.

In preparing for Year 11 I have looked over my scope and sequence, program and resource booklet that I use. I like to do this every time I am preparing for a unit because there are always things that you learn to do better or differently once you’ve actually taught a program.

I’ve blogged about my Theatrical Traditions and Performance Styles unit on The Theatre of the Absurd before (you can find it here) and I’ve also shared a post with you about a context activity that I teach in this unit about Theatre History. In revising the activity I was looking over the information available for the 21st Century. What does theatre look like in the 21st Century?

In having a search around on the web I came across this lecture presented by Rod Carley. This resource is long but can be used in two ways:

a) If you are looking for a visual/aural version of theatre history, perhaps in addition to the timeline that I’ve blogged about before, the first half of this lecture is very good for that.

b) The last 20 minutes has some views on the theatre now and in the future. The student’s ask questions at the end which may be a good place to start a discussion.

It is useful but also positive in that it certainly reassured me that theatre has a place and will continue to hold its own in the future.

Numeracy in Drama

I thought I’d post a couple of quick ideas to get you thinking about how you could used numeracy in the Drama classroom. We’re all supposed to be teaching it in some way or another and it often gets missed under the pile of everything else that needs to be done. I have found that these ideas can seemlessly be incorporated into a lesson. Just like vegies hidden in the bolognaise, the kids won’t have a clue that they’re even doing maths.

  • I learnt this one from one of my fabulous prac student’s: when forming groups tell everyone to imagine they are a 5 cent coin. Have the student’s walk around the room and then call out different amounts. The “coins” have to join with other “coins” to make the correct amount. If any of them can’t make a group they are the “change.”
  • When preparing for a performance evening get the student’s to create a map of the theatre with the chairs in their appropriate arrangement. Ensure they number the rows correctly and that the rows correspond with the ticket. Have student’s calculate how much they will make if every seat is sold. Have student’s calculate how many seats they need to sell to break even.
  • Count rhythms and beats in some dialogue or when doing script work or soundscapes in improvisation.  Vary the pace of the rhythms and beats and look at the effect on dramatic meaning.
  • This last one is my favourite. When teaching the elements of production to Year 11, I like to do a little activity called Hey, Mr Producer. The student’s form groups and imagine they are running a theatre company.  They are producing the musical “Chicago” (you can choose whatever play/musical you like). Allocate them a set amount of money. I give them a fictional $1 million. Provide them with a spreadsheet that lays out all the areas in which they would need to cover their costs, for example royalties, costume, set, promotion, food and beverage, lighting/sound equipment, actors fees, staff etc. Be specific about how much light and sound equipment is needed as well as how many hours you need the actors to work and for how many days. Provide the student’s with a list of websites that give information on prices for all the various areas. Even encourage them to email or call some of the shops for quotes. Have them decide on the best possible price and report back to the class on how much they spent on their version of the show.

I’m looking for more numeracy strategies. Have you got anything to share? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Pi Day (to the 69th digit)! / Mykl Roventine /

Lesson Lovenotes: Elements of Drama Teaching Suggestions

The Elements of Drama are the absolute bread and butter of the drama sandwich. In every which way possible, whether it is in individual lessons or in your programming and scope and sequencing, you must, must, must, must, must come back to the elements of drama.

The Elements of drama can be studied individually or collectively. Ideally you want to be designing lessons that may focus on an element or particular elements at any one time. In the end though, they all work together to create a drama performance.

The Elements of Drama are (I’ve grouped them together in the way that I like to teach them):

  • Focus
  • Space
  • Character/Role
  • Time/Place/Situation
  • Tension
  • Structure
  • Language/Sound
  • Movement/Timing/Rhythm
  • Atmosphere/Mood/Symbol/Moment
  • Audience Engagement/Dramatic Meaning

My initial unit of study when my student’s come into Drama for the first time in Year 9 is an introductory unit that looks at the Elements of Drama and combines Theatre Sports. Here are some suggestions that I like to use in my classroom when introducing the Elements to my students:

  • SPACE: “Simon Says, UpStage Left!” – a great little game exploring the physical stage space. Have students move from one part of the stage to the other depending on what you call out. The slowest person to get to the spot is out. Have the last two student’s have a”face off”. Have two rounds and the champions from each round can go head to head. Also great for teaching terms such as prompt, opposite prompt, masking and sightlines. You could also look at exploring types of stage spaces such as proscenium arch stage, thrust stage, amphi-theatre and theatre in the round.
  • FOCUS: Look at generating short scenes that look at a) the focus of a scene, b) the focus of the audience, c) the focus of the character and/or d) the focus of the actor. Discuss, compare and contrast scenes that have actors walking around the space doing nothing, the same scene again but with actor’s looking for something and then again but this time it’s a bomb and it will explode in 20 seconds. Discuss how the energy and tension of the scene changes.
  • CHARACTER: Character exercises are a whole post in themselves but you want to start with exercises that focus on awareness of facial expression, tone of voice, body language and movement. You could incorporate Theatre Sports here or choose excerpts from scripts. Some concepts you might also like to explore here are making offers, accepting offers, accepting  and committing to the fiction, conviction/belief, status, action/reaction.
  • TIME/PLACE/SITUATION/TENSION: Improvisation is key here. Play around with scenes that allow student’s to explore not only some typical situations but some unusual ones as well e.g. underneath a rock, at the bottom of the ocean etc. Really focus on the concept of conflict here. Get student’s to improvise scenes that look at man vs. man conflict, man vs. himself and man vs. nature.
  • LANGUAGE/SOUND: Voice workshops are a brilliant starting point. Have student’s become aware of their breath, throat and diaphragm. Consider doing an accent workshop. Have them working with scripts to explore clarity, volume, pitch, pace, inflection, emphasis and pause. Consider how atmosphere can be created using soundscapes and body percussion. Explore scenes that use no sound or language (mime).
  • MOVEMENT/TIMING/RHYTHM: No drama class is complete without a movement workshop. Consider exploring the Laban Movements and putting on music to dance to. Look at physical offers in improvisation as a starting point for a scene.  Look Look at the physicality of characters and the use of space to show relationships. Look at the blocking in a scripted scene. Consider the effect of stillness, contrast, intensity, tableau and expression in a movement piece.
  • ATMOSPHERE/MOOD/SYMBOL: Watch some film excerpts that use music to guide the audience’s feelings in a scene. Consider the use of colour and set in costumes and what they mean to the audience.
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT/DRAMATIC MEANING: At the conclusion of every exercise always ask the class what it was about the element of drama that made the audience feel engaged in the action on stage and what they understood was happening on stage because of that element. In adding this in to your classroom discussion you are effectively making your students become critical thinkers and theatre appreciators.

Image Credits: The Drama Room 5, karlao

Lesson Lovenotes: Improvisation Using Theatresports

So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone in this post.

  1. I’ll share with you some tried and tested ways of improvising in the drama classroom;
  2. Test out my skills at movie-making using Xtranormal;

That’s not asking too much of myself now is it? No… *rolls eyes* 🙂

Honestly though, the reason I’m doing all this is because I’m trying to improve how enaging my posts are for readers as well as trying to experiment with some of the new tools I’ve been reading about through my Twitter feed and on various other blogs. There’s a lot available out there and sometimes it seems like I’ll never get round to trying all of it out! Also, like I mentioned the other day, I’m trying to build readership and navigating the world of blogging is a little tricky. I only set up Hootsuite I few months ago as part of the Kick Start Your Blogging Challenge and it’s a pretty detailed little website that I’m still learning all the in’s and out’s of.

But first what is Improvisation?

I used this an opportunity to test out Xtranormal and it is a pretty nifty site.Once you’ve created an account you can choose from a range of styles and characters. In mine I chose robots but there are super heroes, gangsters and all kinds of things. The most you can use is two actors per film but the ability to control shot choice, music and sound effects is really simple and all of it can be done on the one screen. You can watch your film back at any time and you can save it and work on it later if you have to go away and do something else. You can also create “Series” folders to put your movies into. I created a “Teaching and Learning in the Drama Room” folder in case I decide to create any more films that are Drama related. Once saved, the videos become available for people to watch on the Xtranormal site or you can publish them to YouTube as well if you prefer.

The only difficulties I had were embedding the clip into my blog from the Xtranormal viewing page. I then uploaded it to my YouTube Channel (which is a whole other post in itself) and embedded it directly from there. If you want to make your own Xtranormal clip, use these instructions.

Here’s the clip that Lionel mentioned in the video about the brain and how it works when improvising.

OK, what exactly is Theatre Sports?

Google Theatre Sports in Australia and you’ll be amazed at what you will find. There are so many groups out there that provide opportunities for people to participate in Theatre Sports. I currently have an Intermediate Team of four Year 9 students preparing to enter the School’s Theatre Sports Challenge in a couple of weeks. We have been preparing by doing extra rehearsals in the holidays to ensure we have a strategy, know all the games and communicate together as a team. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to see what they are capable of as actors and to see what other school student’s are doing in their local area. I am feeling like we have a pretty good chance.

Why Play Theatre Sports?

Improvisation and in particular, Theatre Sports as a tool for improvisation is great for student actors for a number of reasons. It allows them to learn to think quickly and sponatenously, adapt to situations and problem solve, work with student’s they may not be familiar with, create a range of characters and use a variety of voice, facial and physically expressive techniques.

How should I structure my Improvisation unit using Theatre Sports?

There are two ways I feel Theatre Sports can be used in the classroom:

  1. As a unique mini-unit on it’s own or
  2. As a series of warm-ups that link to a larger concept being explored in the lesson.

That’s the great thing about Theatre Sports. Whilst you can make a whole mini-unit out of them, there are so many games that the possibility to incorporate them into other areas and units of work is very easy. You really have such a huge arsenal of games that can be adapted to any area of drama.

I personally incorporate Theatre Sports into my introductory study of Drama at the beginning of Year 9. We learn about the elements of drama and use Theatre Sports games to help us understand some of these concepts.

I also hold an In-School’s Theatre Sports Competition at my school as an extra-curricular activity. Anyone from Year 7-12 is invited to make a team. I hold workshops after school to show the teams how to play each of the games. I invite other teacher’s to judge and score each team and I award certificates at the end of the competition to all team members and winners.

Have a look at my Picasa Web Album here of my recent competition.

So, how does it work?

I model my unit and my In School Theatre Sports Competition on Impro Australia’s School’s Theatresports Challenge.

Try something like this:

  • Choose a series of games for a number of rounds. About six is sufficient.
  • Each game in each round should vary in length. You should try to make them get longer and the games a little bit more challenging each round.
  • Score each team after each game on things like a) how well do they follow the rules?,  b) does it make sense? and c) are they entertaining?
  • Teams can create a team name and team costume. Maybe even chants for their team.
  • Choose a time to preview and “advertise” what the student’s are doing either through a school assembly, newsletter, noticeboards, posters, You Tube clip, Edmodo. Whatever will get them in.

Web Resources

Book Resources

I would also strongly recommend Improvisation: A Guide by Lyn Pierse. It’s my bible and can be ordered here.

Video Resources

What’s your experience with Theatre Sports? Do you have any other ideas, suggestions or feedback? Let me know in the comments.

Image Credits:

Thank God You’re Here, from Thank God You’re Here Official Site, Copyright © 2011 Yahoo!7

Lesson Lovenotes: The Theatre of the Absurd, Teaching Suggestions and Resources

I recently posted some teaching and learning activities for the teaching of Dada Performance Art in the classroom. I mentioned in the post that Dada is an excellent pre-cursor to teaching The Theatre of the Absurd. Here are some of the strategies I like to use in the classroom when teaching The Theatre of the Absurd to my students.

Introduction to The Theatre of the Absurd

There are two main concepts students need to understand in order to start to understand the basic ideas behind The Theatre of the Absurd:

  1. The random, lack of connection between actions, objects and words.
  2. The playfulness between the actors in being able to convey this randomness.

The first point links to the social, cultural, historical and philosophical viewpoint of Absurdists. The second links to the execution of this philosophy by the Absurdists.

Remembering that drama is a visual medium, it is important to understand the viewpoints of the Absurdists. However, the intricacies of the execution with which they manifest their beliefs through their plays is what is of real interest. You want your students to be able to identify these, interpret and perform them in new and existing ways and to also be critical of them and review and appreciate the process of making an Absurdist performance.

There are two activities I always like to use in the classroom to convey this.

1. A Non-Sensical Scene: Place a number of random objects around the room. Have each student line up at the entrance to the classroom. Each student must take a turn at entering the space, picking up an object and using it in a way that it would not normally be used. Secondly, students pair up. The first of the pair enters the room and picks a different random object and uses it in a way it wouldn’t normally be used. As they are doing this the second of the pair comes into the space and whispers a line of dialogue into their partner’s ear. It should have nothing to do with the object or what the person is doing with the object. The person then says it aloud. It is important at this point to have the students discuss their experiences of the exercise. Use questions that engage them with the idea and the connection that what appears on stage is not literally what is intended. Often something different may be meant.

2. Watch Clips of Absurdist Scenes: In the years since Beckett, Albee and Ionesco many have treaded the boards of Absurdism. These include the Marx Brother’s, Abbott and Costello and of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There are several excellent clips on YouTube that show what an Absurdist piece can look like but the key concept to be drawn from these clips at this point in the students learning is that commonly, not always, but commonly, Absurdist plays featured two main, male characters who were seemingly clown-like.

Before viewing these clips may I also suggest rather than watching the clips straight from YouTube you consider downloading them and saving them permanently on your computer. I have written a post about this previously that you may be interested in to help you with this.

The Marx Brother’s – A Day at the Races

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Dead Parrot

Abbott and Costello – Who’s on First?

Working Through the Concepts

There are some pretty heavy concepts dealt with in the Theatre of the Absurd. In particular, their philosophical viewpoint, the idea of existentialism. Consider starting your theoretical study of Absurdism with a discussion about this. Link to the Wikipedia page or perhaps consider the use of another video to get the students thinking about what it is. Essentially what they must understand is that Absurdists believed life had no purpose or meaning and only till you experienced anything could you place meaning onto it and what it means to you may be different to someone else.

Other things to consider in your theoretical study include:

  • The historical context: Absurdism was a creation born out of WWII. Get students to consider the effect the war had on people at the time and why some people may have felt it necessary to create theatre like this.
  • The social/cultural context: Absurdism was not well received by theatre audiences. Have students consider (and perhaps research) what kinds of plays people had been watching up until then and the kinds of expectations they had of an evening at the theatre and why this (Absurdist Theatre) was so outrageous at the time.

Acting It Out

Next comes the fun part 🙂 The experiential learning. Students need to be up and actively engaging with the texts language and stage directions in order to fully understand the purpose and dramatic meaning of the text. Most of the suggestions below are based around Waiting for Godot but can certainly be adapted to suit any of the other texts available for study. Consider the following:

1. Pick a play: There are heaps to choose from including most famously Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (notice my tree reference in the image above), The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I prefer to use Waiting for Godot because there is a lot of material available on this play both online and in books. Ensure also that you are able to study the play chosen because certain syllabi have text lists and texts are not be studied across more than one curriculum area.

2. Moved Reading + Video: Have the students perform a moved reading of the script. Alternate students playing each of the parts at different times during the play and alternate students to also read the stage directions (these prove very important later on in the experiential study of the plays). If you can source a video of the play, watch it after the moved reading. Personally, I prefer to watch the film at the end of the unit because I like to see how the kids interpret the dialogue and stage directions without the films impressions in their minds but that is a decision best left to you, the teacher.

3. Clowning Workshop: After the students have read the play I delve into getting the students to understand and interpret the relationship between the characters. Many of the Absurdist plays, as mentioned above, tend to centre around two main, male characters. The dialogue is like a tennis ball bouncing between them and the ins and outs of their relationship are moulded by it. The clowning workshop looks at interpreting the physicality of each role. Look at facilitating certain activities such as master/servant, look at the different types of clowns, the way they dress, speak, walk, stand, show facial expressions, enact with other clowns (consider slap stick and tricks here like falls etc). Have students create their own clown character. Pair them up with another student and get them to create a short skit that demonstrates some of the elements explored in the workshop. To take the workshop one step further, have the students apply their knowledge of clowns to specific scenes from the play. Incorporate props (e.g. the bowler hats that Estragon and Vladimir wear). Have the students perform it to the class and have them discuss the effects of the performance on the audience in terms of dramatic meaning and the relationship between characters.

4. Voice/Dialogue Workshop: Similar to the clowning workshop and linking some of the elements of the voice workshop mentioned in my Dada post, choose sections of dialogue to experiment with pitch, pace, pause, tone etc. Pitch and pause are two commonly used conventions in Absurdist plays. Another one is intonation and punctuation. A fantastic example of this is Lucky’s speech towards the end of Act 1 in Waiting for Godot. There is not a single punctuation mark for over two pages. Many students will interpret it as being read in one long, fast, continuous breath. However, watching various interpretations and trying to work out what it could mean to Lucky generates some interesting interpretations and deliveries of his dialogue.

And The Rest…

In addition to all of that it’s a good idea to look at the following:

  1. Biblical Allusions: In Waiting for Godot there are many. Have the students find out what they mean and why they have been referenced.
  2. Who is Godot?: Obviously this is specific to Waiting for Godot but it is an essential question to ask. Also, whether or not he is in fact real needs discussing.
  3. Dramatic Form: The cyclical nature of the play both in Act 1 and Act 2 are relevant and link in with the Absurdist philosophy of existentialism. Explore this.
  4. Elements of Production: Minimal sets, lighting, sound and costumes are used. Have students look at pictures of past productions or use the stage directions or inferences to set pieces in the stage directions as a means of discussing the dramatic meaning for the audience.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

Image Credits:

3005 Waiting for Godot, melomys, Licensed Under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching DADA Performance Art

One of the units in the NSW Year 11 Drama syllabus is called Theatrical Traditions and Performance Styles. I stumbled upon DADA when researching new and different styles to teach my student’s. There was something really wacky and totally left of centre that I liked about it. So I decided to create a mini unit as an introduction to theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I think DADA works well as an introductory unit for a number of reasons:

  1. It is simple for new and unfamiliar students of drama and
  2. It encourages random, spontaneous creativity and ideas because there is no right or wrong.

The thing I tend to find with most of my student’s, whether they have taken drama since Year 9 or coming fresh to the subject after not having done it in the junior school, is that the student’s ideas of what drama actually is and what it actually involves is very different to the reality of having to stand in front of an audience and perform. Somehow, they all seem to miss this rather important concept.

Thus, my daily challenge as a drama teacher is to try to make the classroom environment comfortable enough for the student’s so that they attempt a performance.

The difficulty with senior drama is that there is little time to indulge fears and boost confidences. You’ve got to be prepared to get up and perform no matter what. The difference in quality is often determined by whether or not a student took Drama in the junior school or whether they are in fact new to the whole subject. There tends to be a great divide in the classroom initially because of this. However, I think DADA fixes all of that.

Below is a list of strategies that I have used to teach my student’s about DADA. I think it links in well with the Theatre of the Absurd which is what I teach after this unit because it frees them of any fears they may have and helps to set a context that can be developed further through the Theatre of the Absurd. I hope you find them helpful.

  • Fruit Salad: This exercise can be used as a practical/experiential starting point to Dada.Give each student a small square of paper. Ask the student’s to think of their favourite fruit. They are not to tell anyone what their chosen fruit is. Ask the student’s to write down five words that they would use to describe their fruit. Have the students share their five words, one student at a time. Ask the student’s to then think of one movement or action that they can repeat over and over again whilst saying their words. With the teacher as facilitator, experiment with performing the sequence individually and then integrating different pairs together. At the conclusion of the exercise discuss what the student’s observed. If you get responses like “random”, “messy”, “weird”, “it didn’t make sense” then you’re on the right track.
  • Learn about DADAists: This can be used as a theoretical introduction to Dada. There is a fantastic site called the International Dada Archive created by the University of Iowa. I use the Online Bibliography link as a starting point to get student’s exploring what some of the Dadaists created. A lot of it is art and manifesto type stuff but you can use that as a starting point for discussion. It’s also good to get them to research the leaders of the movement. People like Hugo Ball, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara.
  • Get the student’s to watch some clips: I find this part of the mini-unit very important. Drama is visual so student’s need to see what these performances looked like. From there you can dissect them looking at things like the dramatic form, theatrical techniques and conventions used and elements of production used. Here a couple I’ve been using directly from YouTube:

Karawane – Dada Sound Poetry

Gadji Beri Bimba – Dada Sound Poetry

The ABC of Dada – A great three part video with a lot of background info, pictures and sound examples.

  • Do a voice workshop: A lot of the Dada performance work was nonsense, sound poetry. This part of the mini-unit is an excellent place to bring in some technique workshops looking at the role of voice and breath control, warming up the voice and face muscles and using that to manipulate and experiment with sound creating soundscapes, different moods and atmospheres using rhythm etc.
  • Create a mini-performance with costumes and all: What was unique about Dada was the way they produced their costumes. A lot of them used masks and cardboard for costumes. They looked childlike. I get my student’s to split into small groups and create their costumes using cardboard. They then can either manipulate their fruit salad sound poem, one of the ones they created during the voice workshop or something completely new. I give them a lesson to create their costume and a lesson to discuss and improvise and playbuild their performance. In the third lesson they perform for the class and feedback is given on each of the groups.

The mini-unit in its entirety should take no more than 3-4 75 minute periods.

Each of these exercises ties in really nicely with the elements of drama so before and after each exercise use the discussion time as a place to reflect on how these were all used.

Did you find this article helpful? Please leave your comments below.

Image Credits:

The Discreet Charm of The Bourgoiesie, DerrickT, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)