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

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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.

Lesson Lovenotes: Teaching Theatre History

This year I have Year 11 Drama. This term we are learning about theatrical traditions and performance styles.

I personally think it’s a good unit to start with because you can dabble 🙂 Dabble and play. Dabble in a range of different styles of performance. This works well because students can get a taste of the possibilities in Drama. Especially considering a good portion of students may not have taken Drama as an elective in Year 9-10 so it is all very new to them.

It’s often eye opening because the styles that can be explored are some of the weirdest! In the students eyes they often think acting is very much film and TV based with that very neutral, I’ve-barely-moved-my-eyebrows kind of look. A lot of posing basically. This unit really provides teachers with a platform to really get their kids working with their entire body as a form of expression.

I personally choose to look at DADA performance art and then move into the Theatre of Absurd. The ideas are very left of centre for the students. They start to think in an abstract way and they get to play and feel silly and find enjoyment and ownership in that at the same time. It builds confidence and creates a positive learning environment.

To provide some context for these theatrical traditions and performance styles I always run a theory lesson whereby we look at the development of theatre through time and how it has been influenced by politics, religion and popular culture.

I recently did a very general Google search and found a fantastic Interactive Theatre History Timeline at the Glencoe Online Learning Centre.

We were working in the library and I used the lesson as an opportunity to also introduce the students to the Year 11 Drama group that I had created in Edmodo. I have written about Edmodo before here. I uploaded a worksheet I created to Edmodo and got the kids to download it and save it onto their home directories. In doing this they could then edit and save their own material, save it to USB, email it to themselves etc.

Students had to work through the sheet, which I had broken up into particular theatrical time periods and add dates and significant theatrical events as well as any corresponding world events that were considered important and relevant in that time period.

I then got the students to compare what they saw happening in the world perspectives column with the actual theatrical event and to see if either were influencing each other.

To develop this exercise further you could then ask students to choose a particular time period or theatrical event of interest or allocate ones yourself and get the students to research them further.

Was this love note helpful? What suggestions do you have for teaching theatrical traditions and performance styles?

This is a new section of my blog where I will share some of the resources I have been using to teach with in my classroom. I like the idea of calling it a “lovenote” because it’s being sent with teacher love!…and it’s not too long of a post.

To create the screen shot above I used the Snipping Tool and added the text using MS Paint.

Image Credits:

Busra Theatre, by Hovic, Attribution – NonCommercial-No Derivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)